today is in throes of major transition. Twice before in
modern times the Japanese have embarked on sweeping
reappraisal of their cultural and social institutions.
The first time was when the
Meiji Restoration of 1868 compelled them to find a
way to absorb the impact of Western civilization and yet
preserve their culture after centuries of feudal
seclusion. The nineteenth century kaikoku, or
opening of the country, was accomplished with
astonishing efficiency. The second time was when Japan
was forced to come to terms with disarmament and
democratization during the Allied Occupation after
World War II.
postwar reforms constituted an even more thorough-going
kaikoku, which was also negotiated more or less
successfully. What is happening right now could possibly
be called Japan’s third kaikoku. Three major
factors account for this.
slowdown in Japan’s economic growth and the
resulting constraint on corporate expansion, which
has exposed corporate inefficiencies in terms of an
excessive labor force, a cumbersome decision-making
process, and lack of innovativeness in generating
new products and ideas.
- Japan can no longer compete on
the basis of production efficiencies alone; it is
facing severe competition from other low cost
China, and Taiwan. It must, therefore, compete
in the area of
high technology, which is associated with a high
degree of risk and uncertainty, conditions for which
the Japanese management system is ill-suited in its
- Japanese people are themselves
changing, and new generations are less apt to
respond to traditional incentives and to conform
rigidly to traditional social norms.
changes are having a significant impact on the
traditional employer-employee relationship. Although
its dimensions are not yet clear, certain observations
can be made. The
success of lifetime employment is based on a dual
set of expectations and mutual obligations between
employers and workers. The employer guarantees a
lifetime job at reasonable rates commensurate with the
company’s own growth and profitability. The employee is
expected to work diligently and dedicate himself to the
success of the employer. So as more and more companies
begin to lay off excess workers, those workers feel
betrayed. Those who remain behind realize that it is not
“their” company any more, and that they may also be
discharged if the company decides it cannot keep them.
When older workers are forced to
take early retirement in increasingly large numbers,
a sense of abandonment adds to the feeling of betrayal.
The changes adversely affect employee loyalty and
morale, making the work-force less dedicated and