Cultural Differences Between USA and Japan Affect Business

An analysis I wrote for my course in International Strategic Management during the spring semester of 2012. This text was written together with Elisa Tervakoski.

hofstede cultural dimensions power distance masculinity

CC-BY, Mike Licht

When doing business across cultural boundaries it is important to try and understand the cultural differences. If no time is spent on mapping and comparing differences the negotiations might break down because of basic misunderstandings that could have been prevented. The following analysis is done using Hofstede‘s theory of cultural dimensions. The case study analyzed can be found on in the book Deresky; Helen (2008) International Management; Managing Across Borders and┬áCultures. Pearson, Prentice Hall

Power Distance
Japan and USA has a fairly similar Power distance. USA on 40 and Japan on 54.

We can still see some differences between the two countries. One is that Moto has a problem using first names for people he doesn’t know very well. Moto would like to know the background but for Kubushevsky and his boss it’s not very important.

In japanese culture the person in a lower position is the one that has to pour the drinks. This can be seen when Moto pours a drink for Kubushevsky which is normally the role for a junior (when Kubushevsky shows Moto around he takes on the senior position).

Uncertainty Avoidance
The differences in Uncertainty Avoidance between Japan and USA are very big which can be seen at the different approaches to this deal the firms have. The japanese spent a year and a half researching before approaching Allmack. In comparison the American boss says he “has a good feeling about this deal” which points to much more willingness to take risks.

Another episode that shows the huge differences between the two countries is when Moto asks for records from the past five years of the cement place. Kubashevsky does not understand this at all and thinks it should be enough with his trust. At the end they accept their differences and Kubashevsky gives Moto any kind of papers he asks for.

A third example of Uncertainty Avoidance can be seen when Kubashevsky increases the speed of the car and Moto becomes very nervous.

Japan is a much more masculine country than USA. Moto takes great pride in his achievments such as being a top English student at University, knowledge about US history and customs and also taking ettiquete lessons to be more knowledgeable. Most of the skills his accumalated can be seen in his business card which the Americans are quick to dismiss by not even looking at it.

We can also see that the Americans are quite masculine since they interrupt the talk by bragging about being “best in the business”. The boss also wants to show off his house that “he had an architect” build for his wife (amplifying the different gender roles in American society). Some more feminine values can be seen from Kubushevsky when he complies with the requests from Moto of seeing more papers. He works towards integration and harmony. Another big difference is when Moto says that Tokyo might understand that the lawyer was female since this was America.

Japan is a collectivistic society and there is clear contrast to the individualistic society in USA. The collectivist side of Japan can be seen in that Moto’s wife is very involved in the business by spending a long time selecting the perfect dolls to gift the Americans. The dolls symbolic importance would be explained better “when they knew each other better”. When Moto gives the dolls and Crowell “dismisses” the gift by planning to give them to his kids Moto pretends he doesn’t hear to avoid “losing face”. This protection of honor can also be seen at the negotiations when the presidents eyes were closed to avoid shame.

Kubashevsky shows several examples of how individualistic the Americans are. He has “no home” and loyalty is lacking when he tells Moto he will leave the company and suggests he should join him. This disloyalty to the “extended family” can also be seen when he calls Crowell’s wife a dog.

When the Japanese and American compared their families a big difference can be seen. Kubushevsky hardly ever saw his wife and two kids. Kubushevsky’s bond with his family was very weak. Moto missed them a lot being so far away. Moto adjusts to this individualism a bit at the end where he had accepted that Kubushevsky would eventually leave the company. Another acceptance of change can be seen where Moto did not care about the loss of face from the argumentative closing of the deal.

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Josef Ohlsson Collentine

A transparent and kind American/Swede who likes cultural patterns and Social Media. A creative early-adopter who sports, discusses and explores. More about me
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