Japanese style management 2437

proclivities commonly associated with work
organization in Japan. In the process the cul
turalist view was undermined by a growing
acknowledgment that JSM practices were
found primarily in Japans large firms. Never
theless, although firms with over 500 employ
ees accounted for only 12 percent of the labor
force in 1975 (and only 8.9 percent in 1999)
(Mouer & Kawanishi 2004: 119), it was asserted
by many that the models significance was less
in its prevalence as an actual reality and more in
its role as an ideal to which many in the Japa
nese workforce aspired. Myth or not, the fact
remains that notions of nihonteki kei ei and the
entire set of emic terms used to describe com
ponents of JSM have become important as a
Japanese vocabulary for talking about work
organization in Japan.
In the 1980s western managers, unionists,
and academics made a concerted effort to find
out more about JSM. Managers motivated by
the desire to acquire a new kind of competitive
advantage traveled to Japan to discover the
secrets of JSM and to find quick fix solu
tions. Unionists, however, came to feel the pres
sure of certain anti union tactics which were
seen as being characteristic of some Japanese
investment in their own countries. Some of
these views were captured in North America
in the film Gung ho. The efforts of these practi
tioners tended to shift attention back from the
alleged essence of Japanese culture to the more
easily observed concrete structures that could
more easily be implemented in their own socie
ties. By the early 1990s the literature had come
to provide a more comprehensive view high
lighting a number of structural features central
to the functioning of JSM. Outside Japan a
debate developed between those who saw JSM
primarily in cultural terms as a post Fordist
phenomenon and those who saw it more in
structural terms as an ultra Fordist approach.
The structuralists paid attention to the
very complex system of delayed wage payments
and the importance of performance linked cri
teria which markedly differentiated the age
wage (seniority) trajectories on which individual
employees found themselves. Just in time sys
tems (which had been contrasted with more
costly just in case systems) were introduced
without the full realization that the costs saved
by the final assembling plants with reduced
stocks of parts had not been removed from
the overall production process, but had rather
been simply shifted further down through the
production process, a situation reflected in con
tinuing firm size differentials in working condi
tions. Other ways in which internal and external
labor markets were segmented especially in
terms of employment status and the distinction
between regular employees and a huge range of
non regular employees also came to be seen as
integral to how the Japanese system of inte
grated production actually functioned. The use
of excessive regulation and an opaque perfor
mance management system have also been men
tioned as factors goading workers to work long
hours and to accept assignments which physi
cally removed them from being involved in their
family on a day to day basis. These facets came
to be documented by Kumazawa (1994, 1997)
and by many others from the late 1980s onwards.
Further to these correctives were studies show
ing that many Japanese firms governed by JSM
were actually not very efficiently run; privatized
public enterprises (from the Japan National Rail
ways in the early 1980s to national universities at
the end of the 1990s), retailers, and many finan
cial institutions provide ready examples.
Mouer and Kawanishi (2004) argue that JSM
needs to be understood in a broader social con
text in which choices at work have been fairly
limited for many Japanese employees, including
those in large firms. The absence of adequate
safety nets for unemployment and the segmen
ted approach to providing health insurance and
pensions require all employees to think very
carefully about choices which increase the risk
that they might experience some form of down
ward intragenerational mobility as they are
shifted out of Japans more privileged labor mar
kets and into its less attractive ones. Since the
turn of the century a good deal has been written
about widening income differentials and the dif
ficulty of achieving intra and intergenerational
upward mobility (e.g., Sato 2000). Changes in
the power relationship between peak organiza
tions representing labor and management mark
edly affect the likelihood of progressive legislation
being introduced to affect social welfare.
In recent years, however, Japans affluence
and a relatively high standard of living have
altered the relationship between labor and man
agement in the labor market. Fewer Japanese