How the values of Shima are a reflection of Japanese corporate reality?

Shima Kosaku Manga series depicts the joys and frustrations of a salaryman’s life. It provides us the insight into the life and values of a typical salaryman. This comic is largely based on the world’s largest manufacturer of consumer electronics company, Matsushita Electric. The founder of this company is Konosuke Matsushita, who is widely regarded in Japan as the supreme master of the “Way of Wa”1. In the 1970s, Matsushita codified his wa approach to management in seven objectives, namely national service through industry, harmony, cooperation, struggle for betterment, courtesy and humility, adjustment and assimilation and gratitude. We can see that Shima’s values are mostly based on the “Way of Wa”. However, many of his values are better known as ideals rather than in reality. Over here, we are going to look at the values that are held by Shima which is the way of wa and also diligence.

National service through industry

Shima holds on to the belief that social contribution is an important aspect. Hence he’s involved in corporate philanthropy. (Book 1, 142, 160). Even though it was in the midst of recession, he believes that the company must serve the society first rather than their own interests. This is also one of the values held by the founder of Hatsushiba. They are willing to cast aside company gains, for the benefit of the nation.

Harmony

In the Manga, we often seen many drinking sessions held after work to foster better relationships with one another. We often found Shima in drinking sessions more than in his office. This shows that Japanese are typically fond of doing things together in groups, whether they are social events or business occasions. Hence one of the core values commonly shared by Japanese in the business world is harmony and group orientation. In Japan, one must fit into many social groups harmoniously rather than to stand out. They place a high value on group conformity, where emphasis is place on teamwork, rather than individual action. When introducing themselves, Japanese businesspeople describe themselves first as members of a group, and then give their names within the context of their position in the company.
In the Manga, Shima refused to conform to the group norm of throwing used appliances into the river. In so doing, he angered his supervisor. This is more of an ideal than reality. Most Japanese salaryman would conform and not voice out their private opinions, afraid to offend their superior. However, often, the role of Shima contradicts the emphasis placed on group conformity. Shima does things according to what seems right to him, even if it means not conforming to the group norms. Following one’s own values and not afraid to challenge the norms, which are wrong, is a dream to most Japanese salaryman rather than a corporate reality.
One of Shima’s friend cheated in one golf competition. The friend went to a isolated area to retrieve his golf ball, however, instead of using his golf stick to throw the golf out, he used his hands. Someone saw this and took a photo of it and showed Shima. Shima did not expose his friend in public but confronted him in private. Most Japanese will not directly confront or expose the mistakes done by other people, due to the great concern on social harmony.

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In an incident where Shima has to lay off a capable and devoted man, Mr. Kitano because he violated the culture of respecting his superiors. He humiliated his boss, even though what he said was completely correct but because he did not save his boss’ face in the meeting, the personnel department fired him. Even though Shima is his direct supervisor, he can’t have any say in this matter. The personnel department decides the laying off of people. There is often ambiguity in who is the main person in charge of laying off and transfers of workers. (Book 1, pg 110, 118) Many would avoid using direct or excessive feelings or emotions and being talkative is not only likely to be offensive to others’ ears but can be harmful if harmony is to be maintained. Adults who speak their minds freely also tend to be scorned. Hence, most Japanese often don’t mean what they say, and don’t say what they mean. They prefer conformity than individual voicing out.

Cooperation

As Shima moves on to be a managing director. His duties are to attend conferences to conferences. In the Manga, he was willing to forsake this work responsibility to celebrate the retirement of his colleague. (pg 49 book 1) Due to the emphasis on group orientation, most Japanese place maximum value on interpersonal relationships and cooperation. Shima is someone who has high regard for interpersonal relations as we can see from the above example.
We can also see a number of faction alliances formed in Hatsushiba. They cooperate and exchange news with one another to help the most senior person in the group to promote. In the Manga, we saw four managing directors come together wanting to discuss ask the director to step down. (action form to rebut the charity work or to prevent the boss to become director)

We saw in the Manga, many of the clients bribe the salaryman in order to secure their cooperation for giving them the business deals. This is a trend in Japanese business, to pull strings and to go by the ‘back’ door. However Shima challenged this norm by refusing to accept bribery. He and his colleagues were in charge of choosing a manufacturer for the company dolls. He refused to accept the car given by one of the manufacturers and rejected his invitation but went to visit the former manufacturer. He refused to cooperate with the new manufacturer because he felt that the new manufacturer only wanted to make profits. But the former manufacturer really put in efforts in making the dolls for the good of the company, not just to make profits. However, this shows the reality that most salaryman has no power as to choose the business partner of the company, even if they are the one in charge.

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Struggle for betterment

Shima wants to be perfect in whatever he does. This can be seen in the way he searched for the ‘perfect’ wine for the company. He went high and low and made use of many connections just to secure that wine for the company. In order to strive for betterment, Japanese people places emphasis on aesthetics and perfectionism. During the 1940s, Konosuke Matsushita, founder of Matsushita Electric, in launching a campaign to sell the company’s high-value added items, left this message to company employees: “As industrialists, whether in manufacturing or sales, the only way to gain the confidence of customers is to provide them with only quality products which meet their needs in every way… we must be perfect in satisfying.”

There was once in New York, Shima came up with an advertisement for the company. His advertisement did not include the products of the company but rather there was a lady in the poster to portray the image of the company. (Book 2, pg 164) However, his Japanese colleagues could not agree with his idea. This reflects the traditional mindset of most Japanese people. They are fixed in their styles of doing things and are not so willing to adopt new ideas or innovations, which are in fact better. However, from this we can see that, Shima is different. He is constantly interested in adopting foreign ideas and innovations in the company. In doing so, Shima strives to be relevant in his work as he keeps up with global changes. This makes the quality of his work excellent.

Courtesy and humility

The Japanese social culture infiltrates into the company. Upon meeting someone for the first time, a businessperson will first bow instead of shaking hands. Shortly thereafter, business cards are exchanged.

Adjustment and Assimilation

Shima went to China for business trip. Over there, he’s willing to try new cuisines and listens and respect for the Chinese over there. Most Japanese feels that they are more superior to the rest of the countries. Furthermore, most Japanese businessman is bound by traditional ways of doing things. However Shima is not a reflection of that. He’s flexible and willing to keep up with the changes of the world by adjusting himself, in this case, his eating styles and habits. He is also constantly observing other people in Vietnam, New York and China, with the intention of bringing what he observes as excellent back to his Japanese company. From the advertisement example, we can see that he assimilates the idea of the ‘Western’ style of advertising into his own.
Shima also has very good foresight. He foresaw that there’s a growing ageing population in Japan. Hence his company must provide services such as delivery services to cater to the needs of the older population. He recognized the trend of moving from DIY period to meeting needs period. So he adjusted his company working styles to suit this changing social situation.

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Gratitude

Shima is very loyal to his company. He found out that his girlfriend was a rebel and wanted to steal information and equipment from the company. His girlfriend asked him to cooperate but he refused. He even asked the girlfriend to quit the company. Another example is he readily accepts any new posts and transfers without complaints and conditions. (Book 1, Pg 220) The typical Japanese company provides various benefits for its employees. Employees have the security of lifetime employment, assurance of housing and more importantly, most employees owe the company for their identity. This can be seen when giving an introduction of themselves at business meetings. Employees introduce the company name, followed by their position in the company before their own names. The company gives them a sense of belonging and is sometimes referred to as their home. As such, most salaryman remains fervently loyal to his company.
One retiree actually cried on the day of his retirement. He even knelt down outside Hatsushiba and shouted “Hooray for Hatsushiba” very loudly. He was not just loyal to his company but felt a sense of gratitude for the company who took care of him in terms of providing him a home and salary. Over here, it shows us that most Japanese salaryman feels that they owe who they are or what they have accomplished to the company; hence this strengthens their gratitude and loyalty to the company.

Diligence

When Shima first entered the company, he and his supervisor went to install a television set for their client. After the work was done, instead of heading back to their office, his supervisor told him to laze around before going back to the company. But Shima did not agree with his supervisor’s work ethic. Furthermore, we often see from the Manga that Shima worked wee hours into the night. Even on Christmas Eve itself, Shima worked till late hours just to get the report done on time for his boss. Another core value of a Japanese businessman is diligence. Many Japanese devote long hours to their work. They place high value on someone who approaches a job persistently and wholeheartedly and who devotes long and untiring hours for its successful completion. They hold on to a “Work is Life” attitude, which is clearly displayed in Shima’s life. Even though diligence is a virtue evidently seen in Japanese salaryman, there are some Japanese salaryman work hard only when the boss is around, but skive the moment the boss is gone. We can see this from the life of Shima’s supervisor mentioned above. This is due to the security of lifetime employment. They knew that even if they do not work hard, the company would not lay them off. So they can afford to do the minimum amount of work to fulfill their duty as an employee.

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About the author

Nadia Petrova

I'm running this blog because I love Japanese culture, especially the art of geisha. When I was a little girl, I used to dream of becoming a geisha myself. In my spare time, I enjoy watching good anime and reading some manga.

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