Gaijin - a Foreigner

Japansee characters expressing FOREIGNERWhen you do business in Japan, you are treated as a Gaijin, a foreigner. A foreigner means not only a person from other country but also a outsider of a group. In this case, Japanese, your customer and co-workers. Although you have been welcomed, you are not accepted as a member.
You might have seen similar situation over times in movies, dramas and books. When a person happened to meet natives or locals by accident, there are 2 typical reactions of members, rejection and hospitality. Mostly, the leader of the member let them treat him or her as a guest after small confrontation between No. 2 of the members. Then, the guest does something unusual against local rule but the head of the clan forgives him or her the mistake. You still have no credit at all if they treat you as a guest. Later on, the person is accepted by saving members in a great danger and so on. At last, they open their minds.

There are many myths in Japanese business etiquette and you could find over billion pages in the internet. They might be true and learning your customer culture is a good start to know your market. The truth is that not all Japanese can do everything in the book. For example, seat position in a taxi is a well debating issue. One says the lowest rank person should get in first and the other says you should let your customer get in first. Actually, the answer differs in situations such as the customer prefer to sit a specific position, 4 persons have to ride or one of them are too fat or tall. If you thought of others even a bit, you would be passed the test. It would take sometime to be accepted in the group and may be more than anywhere but it may be the same thing everywhere in the world.

Japanese might prefer to distinguish things into inside and outside. If you could get into the inside, you would be easy to do business in Japan. Of course, it might take much time and effort and, in most cases, things go business like without any significance. Once you were a member, they expect you to do the same thing. If you fail, disappointment would be more and take twice time and effort to recover.

the great wall of China as an image of barrierThe next - There is another barrier after you have been accepted. Your customer may be in a certain company group called Keiretsu. If so, you would have trouble with selling your products to a company in a competing group against the group your customer are belonged to or you would be rejected because of that.

Major Keiretsu is originated from Zaibatsu, combines. Most ones established in Meiji era in the middle of 19th century after opening market to the world. They were great merchant in prior Edo era and became a bankers. They gradually took over government-owned factories and companies and built their own next. They had every sector of business in each group before the WWII. They could make anything form battle ships to trains in the group. You could find similar case in Korean economy.
Samurai rule was applied in the group and a group worked like a clan. Hierarchy was existed and subcontractors must have no choice of work and wage. They were officially dismantled by GHQ under occupation after WWII to democratize whole industries. It was not always bad to be in Keiretsu and they last. Subcontractors did not have to do sales work and could get a certain amount of job.

Toyota is famous for not only Kaizen, improvement, but also Just In Time (JIT). Subcontractors deliver parts to a factory just in time so that the factory have no need of parts stock. This could not be realize without great cooperation of subcontractors. As for supplier's point of view, you could not have contracts from both Toyota and Nissan at the same time in decades ago because they are in different Keiretsu. This has been changed drastically after crush of the Bubble Economy in 1990's. They can not afford to keep their own Keiretsu any more to reduce further cost down with less amount of production. Denso is the one of example. They started as Toyota Keiretsu and now they deliver parts to all car makers in Japan.

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