A Comparative Examination of Japanese and American
Management Styles, and Their Respective
It is widely recognized that Japanese and American styles of business management practice differ broadly across the range of supervisory style, decision-making, communications, management controls, and interdepartmental relations. These specific distinctions are rooted in the contrast between Japanese paternalism, which has sometimes been characterized as giving rise to "industrial feudalism," and American individualism, which might more accurately be characterized as personalism.
It is proposed that the underlying factor in all of these distinctions is the Japanese group orientation, in which an individual's self-esteem is based upon group perceptions, or what has sometimes been called "saving face." The Japanese manager sees himself as a samurai, having duties and loyalties running up and down. In contrast, American managers' self-perceptions are far more internalized, and less shaped by the reactions of colleagues. The lone cowboy, reliant only on himself, is the underlying American business ideal, and his obligations to others are ultimately secondary to his duty to himself.
Beginning in the 1970s and early 1980s, the successes of Japanese industry in penetrating American markets, and in providing American consumers with affordable products of superior quality, focused great attention upon Japanese styles of industrial management. A number of works, such as William Ouchi's Theory Z (1981), have sought to explicate Japanese management approaches in terms familiar to American managers and students of management.
In response to this challenge, some American firms made attempts to incorporate elements of Japanese management thought, such as "quality circles," in their own management systems. Some of these efforts were serious attempts at improvement. However other attempts were sheer window-dressing, seeking for examp...