One often hears people say that Japan’s industrial products have shown great improvement since the end of the war, that they seldom break down, and that servicing is speedy and efficient.
I’m convinced that the reason behind this reputation is the compulsive perfectionism of the people of Japan. In other words, their conscience suffers when something they have made proves faulty.
Thus, it was the desire to provide high-quality products for their customers that has won them such a good reputation abroad.
This is based upon a way of thinking held by the Japanese themselves since ancient times. It appears that the concepts of shame and pride, not only in the case of product quality but in all other areas of life as well, are important ruling forces in the activities of the Japanese people.
Feeling of shame at losing to others and failing to do a good job have spurred greater effort, resulting in superior products. The joy of doing a good job contributes to even greater pride in one’s work, and this, once again, encourages one to make even greater efforts, and so on in a constantly escalating spiral.
The same thing can be said of the act of work itself. One feels shame if one is enjoying oneself while someone else is working hard. This sense of guilt is the basis of the idea that “work is good, play is bad”.
Foreigners often ask why the Japanese people work so very hard. But I think the Japanese attitude toward work is only natural given that they are basing their thinking on the concept I have just mentioned.
But it is also true that this single concept is not the whole story. There is an old saying in Japan: “If there is pain, comfort will follow”. In other words, there is always hope for the future as long as effort is exerted in the present. And this, I feel, is also one of the reasons for the diligent work attitude of the Japanese.
It can also be said that the Japanese people have an extremely strong sense of belonging. This sense of belonging is particularly strong in relationship to the family and the hometown, and once a person has taken a position in a company, that company also becomes the object of this same attitude – one always has a place to return to.
In Japan, it is traditional for a person to stay at a single company for his entire working life. It is for this reason that the sense of belonging to one’s company is so very strong. People always speak of the company where they work as “my company” or “our company”.
And when Japanese people are asked what sort of work they do, it seems to be common practice to begin explaining their job by giving the name of the company to which they belong.
They spare no pains for their company. They work with the idea that such an attitude benefits themselves and that through policies of the company it also benefits the nation as a whole.
The company, for its part, places extreme importance on maintaining a sense of family among all its members, and this sense is nurtured through such social activities as company outings and sporting events.
History shows that the nation has been visited many times by typhoons, earthquakes, tidal waves, and volcanic eruptions. It was the cooperative effort to rebuild the villages that nurtured the strong links and solidarity among the people of Japan.
As is seen in the saying, “turning a disaster into good fortune,” the Japanese people have a general attitude of optimism toward working to turn the tide of fortune and turn a disaster around in a positive direction.
This was clearly seen at work during the postwar reconstruction of the nation. It is because everyone combined their strength and cooperated that it was possible to bring about such an extremely speedy recovery.
Today, when a great deal of noise is being made about trade imbalances and economic friction, there is no way to predict just what the future will bring. I’m certain that the Japanese will continue to work as hard as always, and that in the end they will discover for themselves a positive solution to their problems.