But after all, what are the Japanese philosophies in business?
Japan became famous for showing train station workers pointing and talking to themselves, as if they were reciting some poem. In fact, it is shisa kanko (指差喚呼), a method in work safety to avoid mistakes, pointing out important indicators and verbally declaring your status.
The ‘Point and Calling’ method, as it is also called, is an active safety behavior that has been shown to reduce human error by nearly 85%, according to a research report by Japan Railways. Workers who completed a simple task without pointing and calling made 2.38 errors per 100 actions, while workers who practiced pointing and calling made only 0.38 errors per 100 actions.
A millenary culture, with a super-evolved job market, the Japanese people have always interacted with a multitude of philosophies outside their native boundaries, most prominently Chinese, Indian, Korean, and Western. So they have benefited from a rich trove of ideas and theories on which to draw in developing their own distinctive philosophical perspectives.
In this article I summarize some of these philosophies and their proposals – who knows, you may be able to appropriate some of them to improve your professional functions:
- SHUKKIN NIPPO, Daily work log (出勤にぽ日報) - every morning, before work, the employee describes their routines and plans for the day, increasing focus and awareness of what has to be done;
- KAIZEN, continuous improvement (改善) - Kaizen is the word of Japanese origin that means change for the better, used to convey the notion of continuous improvement in life in general, be it personal, family, social and work;
It is a concept that refers to personal activities that, when repeated daily, continually improves itself. The concept involves all those who carry out some activity, from the CEO to the workers on the assembly line. Kaizen also applies to processes such as purchasing and logistics. It has been applied in health, psychotherapy, life coaching, government, banking, etc;
- IKIGAI, reason for living (生き甲斐) - Iki means 'life' or 'alive' in Japanese, while Gai means 'value' or 'benefit'. The combination of these terms means what gives meaning, value and purpose to your life;
- POKA-YOKE, mistake-proofing (ポカヨケ) - it is the philosophy that directs people to avoid (yokeru) errors (poka) or defects, preventing and/or correcting them, or calling attention to them as they occur, it is derived from POKA HO YOKERU (ポカを避ける).
A simple poka-yoke example is demonstrated when a driver of the car equipped with a manual gearbox must press on the clutch pedal (a process step, therefore a poka-yoke) prior to starting an automobile;
5S in the Japanese workplace
5S is a workplace organization method that uses a list of five Japanese words:
SEIRI, classifying (整理) - is sorting through all items in a location and removing all unnecessary items from the location;
SEITON, set in order (整頓) - is putting all necessary items in the optimal place for fulfilling their function in the workplace;
SEISO, shine (清掃) - Seiso is sweeping or cleaning and inspecting the workplace, tools and machinery on a regular basis;
SEIKETSU, standardize (清潔) - Seiketsu is to standardize the processes used to sort, order and clean the workplace, with the goal of establishing procedures and schedules to ensure the repetition of the first three ‘S’ practices.
SHITSUKE, sustain/self-discipline (躾) - is the developed processes by self-discipline of the workers. Also translates as "do without being told", with the goal of ensuring that the 5S approach is followed.
TENKO, Roll call (点呼) -
Before leaving for an external role - a delivery, for example, the employee must write on a form, details of his/her itinerary and immediately read that form aloud so that his/her boss hears, mentioning his/her full name, role, the safety rules and company policy on the task.
When returning from external service, the employee must do one more Tenko, by law this data must be kept for one year.
CHOREI, morning meeting (朝礼) - is a brief meeting that happens every morning before starting work, 10~15 minutes per day only. The main goal of Chorei is to try to make everyone in the Company feel more like a team. Most Japanese companies that do chorei usually have their employees share their vision, goals, or company motto every morning;
SENPAI & KOHAI (先輩), senior & (後輩) junior - represent an informal hierarchical interpersonal relationship found in business organizations, associations, clubs, and schools. The concept has its roots in Confucian teaching, but it has developed a distinguished Japanese style, ultimately becoming part of Japanese culture.
There is a relationship of mutual respect in which Senpai plays the role of mentor and initiates Kohai into working traditions.
Normally, at the end of the period, Kohai waits for Senpai to leave, and then leaves. However, when the one who withdraws before, he must say:
"Osaki ni shitsureishimasu (お先に失礼します)", translated as "excuse me, I'm going ahead/first".
So, then Sempai replies "Otsukaresama deshita (お疲れ様でした) translated as "thank you for your effort/work".
OIJI (お辞儀の種類) types of bow
Eshaku, keirei and saikeirei are the three typical categories of ojigi practiced in the business world in Japan. No matter which type is chosen, it is important to pay constant attention to one's muscles and posture:
Eshaku (会釈) is generally performed with a slight inclination of about 15° of one's upper torso, usually performed between colleagues with the same status;
Keirei (敬礼), is the most commonly used variation of ojigi in Japanese business, is performed with an inclination of about 30° of the upper body;
Saikeirei (最敬礼), which literally means "the most respectful gesture", is, as the name suggests, the ojigi that shows the uttermost respect towards the other party, with an deeper inclination of one's upper body than keirei, typically somewhere from 45° to 70°. Additionally, as saikeirei is used only in grave situations, one is expected to stay still at the bowing position for a relatively long time to show one's respect and sincerity.
HANKO(判子)INKAN (印鑑), stamp -
is a carved stamp that can be used in any situation where an individual, or an individual on behalf of a company, might otherwise use a signature or initials. Signing contracts, doing your banking (at a bank) or receiving a parcel are just three such cases. The necessity for a hanko and even the type of hanko may vary depending on the situation.
Although the Japanese government is (reportedly) phasing out the use of hanko in many situations, you should expect the seals to stick around for a good few years yet.
RADIO TAISO(ラジオ体操), Radio Calisthenics -
Japanese companies may have found a way to boost employee health and improve productivity, through morning exercises, a tradition that has taken hold in Japanese culture to foster better health and fitness.
There is a morning exercise called “Rajio Taisou” or “Radio Exercise.” The radio comes on, employees gather together, and the exercise routine begins. It can be as short as three to four minutes, but the positive effects may continue throughout the day.Rajio Taiso (ラジオ体操) or Radio Calisthenics is a common routine of exercises broadcast on NHK radio every morning from 6:30. The first broadcast took place in 1928, since then, this tradition of Rajio (radio in Japanese) Taiso has been incorporated into a lot of Japanese people's morning routines.
The good part about this exercise program is that it's been designed for anyone at any age to do on their own, without any equipment required. Everyone from children to the elderly can join in, and there's even versions that you can do while seated.
These are the standard 13 motions in part one:
1. Rotate and stretch your arms
Raise your arms up from forward, stretch your back and down your arms from your side;
2. Cross and spread your arms while bending your legs up and down
Swing your arms and bend your knees;
3. Rotate your arms
Swing your arms in full circles to the outside then inside;
Spread your legs to the left, shoulder wide, and swing your arms then stretch your chest with an inward breath;
5. Twist your body sideways.
Bend sideways with one arm up, over head, stretch your side from the right side twice, then the left side;
6. Bend your body back and forth
Bend forward to touch the ground 3 times and bounce with hands on your waist and backbend;
Swing your arms and twist your body, to left then to right;
8. Stretch your arms up and down
Hands on your shoulders with your legs spread to the left, stretch up then down;
9. Bend your body diagonally downwards and chest out
Bend at the waist for your right toe twice then up and open your arms, stretch your chest then down for the left;
10. Rotate your whole body
Make a circle your upper body one way, then the other way;
11. Jump with both legs
Hop on both feet up 4 times, then spread and close your legs twice;
12. Spread your arms then bend and stretch your legs
Swing your arms while doing light squats;
13. Breathe deep while stretching both arms slowly
Control your breath, take deep breaths in and out with your arms going up and down.
KAGAMI-BIRAKI (KAGAMI-NUKI) 鏡開き「鏡抜き」
When starting a new business, venture, project, or even a wedding in Japan, a ritual called Kagami Biraki is usually performed, a traditional ceremony in which barrels of sake are broken with a hammer and served on the 'masus' at a feast.
Originally this ceremony is based on the Kagami-mochi (鏡餅, literally "mirror rice cake" in Japanese), with which the Japanese decorate their altars during the New Year holidays. Kagami-mochi are round rice cakes, stacked in two layers, with ferns at the base, displayed during the New Year holidays on January 11th. People have the custom of making "Kagami-biraki", that is, breaking the mochi and eating the crushed pieces.
Whether it's a Mochi or the cap of a sake keg, both Kagami Biraki's have their strong connection to rice, the raw material of both sake and mochi, and thus have been considered sacred offerings to the gods since ancient times. The concept of receiving the power by drinking the sake after it is offered to the gods is pretty much the same as eating the pieces of mochi.
Still regarding the tradition of breaking the lid of sake kegs (called komo-daru) with a hammer at a party, it is worth noting that this comes from the fact that liquor stores used to call the top lid of a keg of sake kagami (mirror). Despite being popularly called 'kagami-biraki', the correct name for the event should be kagami-nuki (鏡抜き).