Episode 9: Shugyo: Training for Intuitive Wisdom

Episode 9: Shugyo: Training for Intuitive Wisdom

Shugyo: Training for Intuitive Wisdom

Most Westerners prize practical knowledge and hands-on experience above all other kinds of learning. They are also condition to approach work and other challenge is directly, aiming for the “the shortest distance between two points”.

It is therefore, inevitable that Westerns in Japan, and those working for the Japanese companies abroad, will be mystified and frustrated by a great deal of typical Japanese behaviour, for to the Japanese the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line; indeed, both practical knowledge and experience can be a handicap in functioning well in a Japanese environment.

I know this sounds bizarre, but bear with me as we explore the Japanese code word for intuitive wisdom training.

Americans, in particular, are extremely inpatient for results once they begin any kind of training or enterprise. And you have to chuckles at the novice foreign students of Zen Buddhism and how they pester their masters, wanting to know when they are going to “learn something“ the new foreigner employee hired by a Japanese company wants to put their experience to work immediately, almost always causing distress and social discomfort amongst the company members.

In Japan, the cultural element in training and work often and take precedence over results. This is particularly true in the early stages, but generally applies in perpetuity. 

In the Japanese value system, the way things are done outweighs what is done. 

For example, young students practising the ideograms used in writing Japanese are expected to learn more than just mechanical strokes necessary to reproduce correct characters. They are also expected to learn form, order, aesthetics and harmony.

The first obligation of young employees of Japanese companies hired directly from school is not to learn work routines so they can immediately become productive. No no, not that indeed, the first obligation is to learn the company philosophy and culture, so their personal behaviour in the work decisions they make in the future will be “correct”.

One of the most important words in the Japanese corporate world is “shugyoo”, which usually translates as “training”, but shugyoo has far deeper and broader implications than this English translation implies.

Shugyo in its full Japanese contacts is better translated as “apprenticeship” in the old, traditional sense of the word, when it refers to a young person being apprentice to a journeyman or to a master for at least 10 in sometime as many as 20 years.

The goal of shugyo in a Japanese company is for the new employee to gradually absorb knowledge about the company and how it functions, and to determine intuitively what the responsibilities and duties of the new employee are. 

Like the apprentices of old, new employees get little or no direct feedback regarding the work performance for many years. Managers and supervisors do not stand over newcomers, instructing them about what to do and how to do it. The employees are expected to figure that out for themselves.

You can be assured in this strict and hierarchal society things are not made easy for Japanese students or apprentice workers. 

The Japanese believe that the harder something is to learn and the more effort  it requires to learn it, the more valuable than knowledge or the skill. 

Furthermore, the ultimate goal in Japanese training is perfection, which cannot be achieved, so theoretically there could be no end to training or to learning, and shugyo is seen as an ongoing process.

This Japanese attitude about learning is in sharp contrast to that of the western mindset, again, particularly Americans, who after reaching a certain level, tend to either rest on their laurels or take so much pride in their learning that they do not open themselves up to learning more. 

There is another important characteristic in Japanese training and employment that sets them apart and motivates them to continue learning and striving to improve. 

Because they receive no direct, explicit feedback about their work, they never know where they stand. In this atmosphere, peer pressure and the fear of bringing shame on themselves and their coworkers forces them to continually strive to improve their performance.

The true challenge for any foreigner entering a Japanese company is to have a clear understanding of the concept of shugyo and internalize it when navigating the mysterious complex Japanese corporate work culture.

Thanks you so very much for dropping by today to the Land Of The Rising Son. If you found this podcast to be interesting and informative please share it on your social media, and as you do so Amaterasu Oomikami will continue to shine on you, as she does on everyone. And until we meet again next time here in the Land Of The Rising Son; sayonara, sayonara, sayonara.

Episode 8: Equality

Episode 8: Equality

Equality

The concept of byodo, or equality, among people is a western invention that apparently evolved from the Christian theological beliefs that all human beings are created equal in god’s eyes. 

Of course, and as we know, there has never been a time in history of any society when all people were treated as equals, however,  Americans as well as others have passed laws over the centuries that tries to force the foreign concept upon not only the Japanese, but are readily spreading their version of freedom and democracy and equality all over the world now.

This is such an alien concept to the Japanese, they have no such historically based concept for them to conceptualize what the occidentals paints as equality.

Is Equality A Myth - Land Of The Rising Son

Neither of Japan’s two main religions, Buddhism and Confucianism, have ever recognize or taught the principles of byodo or equality.

In fact these two belief system are based on exactly the opposite premises. 

Over the centuries the primary structure of Japanese society was based upon inequality, that is, on the categorization of people in carefully delineated classes and ranks, with individual behaviour determined and control by institutionalized and ritualized inequalities. 

This exceptionally foreign ideas to the Occidental mindset is exceptional in that it has created the unparalleled and orderly society of Japan, a society that I have chosen to live my entire adult life based upon the societal harmony and the conventions which are fundamentally adhered to in Japan. 

The Japanese Salarypeople - Land Of The Rising Son

Although, as I say this, it obviously also comes with a price and what those in the occidental mindset perceived as inequality is indeed that price.

The American military forces have some success in introducing the idea of equality during their occupation of Japan which was from September 1945 to May 1952. The feudalistic structure of the family was outlawed giving wives and children rights they have never had before. 

And yes, political reform gave people more rights as voters, and workers got the right to bargain collectively. However, these booming decrees coming from up above alone will never be enough to make the Japanese change their entire culture in a short period of time, or, from where I sit, ever. And undoubtedly the concept of inequality continues to prevail in virtually every nook and cranny of this society, even until this very day. 

Right around the 60s as Japan accelerated its rise to become an economic superpower the first postwar generation of young Japanese began to demonstrate many characteristics of equality in their relationships among themselves, and the pace of the trend, was to speed up from that time on. 

Showa Family circa 1946 - Land Of The Rising Son

But make no mistake about it, these demonstrations of equality among the young did not extend outside their own personal spheres. 

Inequality to the very day remains the prevailing principle in schools and in all economic and political organizations.

No matter how strongly individuals in the younger generation may have embraced the concept of equality in their private affairs, even to this very day, they were forced to conform to the prevailing concept of inequality the moment they begin their education and join the workforce. 

In today’s Japan, people generally claim they are inherently equal to everyone else, but this is only “in principle“, and what we refer to as tatemae, or “the constructed reality to which everyone pays lip service.”

Despite the general acceptance of the principle of all people being created equal, the lives of the Japanese continue to be based upon the concept of fubyodo or in other words inequality.

In practice, the Japanese continue to recognize that sex, age, education level, school attend, and family background determines a persons rank in the overall hierarchy of it every group or organization, and that rank establishes both guidelines and limits to what and how an individual can do things. 

Is Sameness a Strength or a Weakness - Land Of The Rising Son.jpeg

It is therefore very important for foreigners dealing with Japanese and professional organizations, companies and government agencies to be aware of the general lack of equality in Japan, and how this affects the individuals with whom they have direct contact.

The main factor where foreigners are concerned is that the behaviour of the individual Japanese who they deal with is controlled by the reality of their hierarchical rank within their organizations, and the behaviour that is approved for that rank. With the rare exception, even executives of the highest rank cannot act on their own initiative.

All Japanese are also extremely sensitive about the extent of the responsibilities and privileges that come with their place in the hierarchy, and they are very protective of their own turf.

If a person does not follow a precise protocol in dealing with people higher and lower in rank, considerable trouble can result for all people involved. I have seen this played out time and time again. It is very interesting to compare the concepts of the Japanese and those of a Western mindset. So, for example in English it is said “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” where as here in in Japan they say, “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” If somebody puts their hand up in Japan, and it’s out of place, they just get hammered down. Where in Western setting, perhaps the person putting up their hand would get a promotion for being proactive. 

出る杭は打たれる!では

Also, keep in mind that even though the image of the Japanese is one of groupism there is still plenty of self-interest here as there is every where one may go. For instance, some managers in Japanese company will sometimes keep things to themselves, either because they think an outsider proposition has no merit or would not be benefit the said manager, or because they think it is a winner and they want to get as much credit as possible by keeping it to themselves for long as they can.

Indeed Westerners, and the Americans in particular, often have much difficulty understanding and accepting the limitations ranking puts on the Japanese behaviour, and they often expect, and sometimes even demand responses from the Japanese that would seriously endanger their image. This is a grave flaw in the thought process of Western mindset and they would be best to obtain a deep understanding of this Way of Japan, equality or, should I say truthfully, fubuodo, inequality. 

For the Japanese do not understand, nor really, to any extent have an inkling of how they would go about to change this system to where all became equal, and for which the Japanese already know and understand here in the Land Of The Rising Son, that equality is a myth and is only to remain a “constructed reality to which every one pays lip service.”

本音と建前

Thanks you so very much for dropping by today to the Land Of The Rising Son. If you found this podcast to be interesting and informative please share it on your social media, and as you do so Amaterasu Oomikami will continue to shine on you, as she does on everyone. And until we meet again next time here in the Land Of The Rising Son; Sayonara, sayonara, sayonara.

Episode 7: Nation of Nitpickers

Episode 7: Nation of Nitpickers

Nation of Nitpickers

When Westerners first encounter the Japanese writing system, which is an application of the much more ancient and complex Chinese system, they look at it from several different perspectives.

In my particular case I stand in wonder as to the aesthetic aspect of written Japanese, or actually one can say that Japanese is drawn in stylized calligraphy. 

Most are overwhelmed by the sheer complexity and the enormity of the system, and never bother to learn it at all. 

Nation of Nitpickers

Episode 6: Shikitari; The Herd Instinct

Episode 6: Shikitari; The Herd Instinct

Episode 6: Shikitari; The Herd Instinct

One can say that to the Westerner eyes that Japan is the land of contradictions, everything good or positive about Japan always seems to have a flipside that is negative or unfavourable. Indeed you could say this about all societies, but here this contrast may appear to be much more pronounced.
The Herd Instinct

Episode 5: Itadakimasu & Gochisosama

Episode 5: Itadakimasu & Gochisosama

Itadakimasu & Gochisosama

There are two very important words in Japanese with deep meaning but no equivalent sentiment in the English concept of language. Itadakimasu and gochiso sama are very important parts of the dining etiquette in Japan. Itadakimasu is said just before eating, it literally means “to receive” or “accept ” but in this context more like a DNA infused Japanese Way in a ritualistic connotation, you could almost say it’s like a prayer.

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Episode 6: Shikitari; The Herd Instinct

Episode 4: Ongaishi: Covering With Obligation

Episode 4: Ongaishi: Covering With Obligation

With only a few exceptions, virtually every interaction with the Japanese of any kind begins with, and is based on, a personal obligation as opposed to what some would regards as higher principles.

The Japanese have traditionally been known for their generous hospitality that they typically bestow upon visitors and on people with whom they want to develop a professional or business relations.

 

 

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