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Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


The Purported Death of On-The-Job Training in Japan

Japanese companies have been having difficulty with their new recruits for some time. Companies deliberately take on more recruits than they need to allow for wastage of those that can not cope with Japanese company culture. Recruits leave large companies appalled at the way that they, from prestigious universities, have to start at the bottom. The reason why recruits must start at the bottom is because Japanese companies believe, fundamentally, in on the job training, and not in the bookish learning provided by universities.

There are those such as Dr. Greg Story, whose article was quoted in Japan Today, who argue that on the Job Training should be left to die. Dr. Story (shown in the above video) writes,

"Most countries have moved on from this model but, mainly thanks to the OJT, elements of the imperial forces linger here, in the form of giving orders not praise, condemning not complimenting, and criticising mistakes rather than motivating."

I think that Dr. Story, who is president of the Dale complement-people-to-win-friends Carnegie Institute, is trying to sell Western culture in Japan, marketing Western Culture as something that countries "move on" towards. In sum, ego-massage is the future. 

First let's recap. Cultural psychologist, Steven Heine's theory of motivation in the USA and Japan is as follows.

Westerners see themselves as being independent "entityl theorists," seeing success or failure as largely a product of innate abilities. They attempt to find the field in which they shine. They are motivated by success and praise, particularly self-praise, which they do liberally and wholly unrealistically. The important thing is that they hype themselves up, win, and feel motivated to hype themselves up and win some more. Think Mohammed "I am the greatest" Ali, or indeed perhaps, Dr. Greg Story.

The Japanese are interdependent, "incremental theorists" believing that the self is malleable and success or failure is largely a product of effort. They attempt to find the ways in which they are not achieving (i.e. their failures) and by correcting them improve and recieve support and integration with their groups. Doing things for self-praise is considered pretty silly (jigajisan 自画自賛). The Japanese are motivated by failure, and the challenge to improve themselves so that they do not fail next time. A good examples of this sort of psychology is found in Japanese baseball players, who are the best in the world. Another is the business philosophy of Uniqlo president Tadashi Yanai who recommends that we forget about our successes and learn from our failures.

Steven Heine's website is here. And the paper which demonstrates that the Japanese are motivated by failure experiences is here.

Alas, legions of very self-confident people Greg Story have convinced Japanese university educators, and the Japanese Governmental Eucation Department that the Japanese need to have higher self esteem, and turn into self-enhancing Westerners, which has rather put a spanner in the works of Japanese culture, as noted in this article. Will the Japanese be able to become people like Mr. Story? Or will they chuck his advice out the window? Is there a third way?

I add a twist to Heine's theory as follows.

The Japanese are able to be self-critical, or "condemning" linguistically. They can take and dish out criticism in words liberally towards themselves and in-group members (e.g. spouses, and co-workers). But they are not completely self-less as the above theory would have it. In the visual domain, that is in their own reflection and reflective imagination (which the Japanese are very good at - as if they carry a mirror with them all the time), they have very positive self-representations.

This is the main reason for the importance of on the job training or "watching and stealing" (見て盗む), because it is only by seeing, doing, copying, and making it there own that the Japanese become ego involved.

Finally while there is a lot of linguistic criticism going around in Japanese companies, there is a lot of love if you turn off the sound as it were. Unfortunately people like Mr. Story can't feel the love, because what matters to him is his self-narrative, his cogito, or "ego".

The paper that shows Japanese are sort of always carrying a mirror with them is here.

I would like to argue that sense can be made of past and future prime minister Abe's policy of a "beautiful Japan," (美しい国) as the goal of perfection through "reflective imagination" (反省).

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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.