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Italy and Japan: cultural differences at work

Italy and Japan are two countries with very marked cultural differences, both in social and work life.

It’s therefore necessary to carefully analyze these differences to reach a better understanding of Japanese behavior at work. Here two examples: the exchange of business cards and the so-called ring system.

The possibility of misunderstanding or dislike due to the lack mutual knowledge is very high when people from different cultures meet.
Although there have been significant changes in Japanese way of life, the differences of mindsets compared to Western cultures remain evident and, to some extent, have strengthened. At work, in fact, companies maintain patriarchal aspects. Company implicitly is seen as a family, where the head of the household is the president and executives and managers elder brothers, even outside working hours. Working for the same company in Japan lasts in fact more than in Italy and in general in the West.

A very important situation (and somewhat delicate) is the exchange of business cards (meishi) between two people who meet and will work together. Giving business card to the higher rank person first, and then to those of lower rank, according to the descending company’s hierarchy, is vital.
Any prolonged discussions and exchanges of views (including technical ones) with subordinates must be approved by higher rank manager, who is still the last one to take a decision.

The so-called ringi system is the time when a decision is taken and all workers are involved, formally letting to the manager of higher rank the approval of the decision. There are two main advantages: all the participants are involved and the responsibility is shared by a department as a whole, not by a single person, as in Western countries.

Decision making process is often inevitably longer, especially when an important strategic decision should be taken: than the process needs the backing of a manager of still greater rank than a department chief, and so on up to the highest positions.

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Posted in Featured, Intercultural Compass, Working in a global context: differences in daily life