The Power of Events, Meetings, and Time Together in Japanese Culture
Donald Richie is a renowned writer who is best known for his exploration of Japanese cinema and culture. Born in Ohio, United States, Richie first visited Japan in 1947 as a soldier with the American occupation force. Fascinated and thrilled by a life in Japan that was so different from his native Ohio, Richie returned to settle permanently in 1953. Kris Kosaka explains Richie’s impact in the Japan Times1, writing “Donald Richie didn’t just open a window on Japanese cinema — the renowned film critic broke down a wall and put in a cultural door.”
That cultural door swung both ways and Richie spent much of his writing life at the intersection of Japanese and American culture, mediating between the two. In A Lateral View: Essays on Culture and Style in Contemporary Japan published in 1992, Richie wrote,
“Japan never considers time together as time wasted. Rather, it is time invested.”
Investing time in building strong relationships is a cornerstone of Japanese work culture. Learning how to be more productive is often rooted in the happiness of staff members(2), and by using lessons from Japanese culture you can go a step further and use events to create a powerful sense of belonging that will encourage creative collaboration and take your business to another level.
There are three ways you can use events to invest in your employees’ time together, learn how to be more productive, and create positive change in the workplace.
Encourage a fairer and more sociable work culture by promoting informal gatherings and events for employees. Spending time together outside of the office encourages employees to bond. Your employees then bring this united front back into the workplace, tackling problems and striving towards goals as a team.
In Japan, it is very common for colleagues to socialize after hours. Grabbing dinner together on the way home from the office or enjoying a few drinks before hitting up the local karaoke bar is a normal part of office culture. But creating a work culture that is truly bonded takes more than sharing a few glasses of sake.
Japanese corporate culture is considered more egalitarian than that of other developed nations. Take the case of Misao Sota, CEO of Kikanshi printing company in Tokyo. Profiled in The Guardian3, Sato explained that even though he heads a multi-million-pound business, he quietly takes a seat alongside his employees in the staff canteen at lunch, shares the train journey home his modest home in the commuter belt of Tokyo, and always keeps his door open.
“The management and staff work very closely together,” Sato says. “We decide what to do as a group; we don’t like doing things in a top-down style.”
A more egalitarian workplace fosters greater respect among employees. Only in a truly respectful environment can employees embrace their social natures and form bonds that have a positive impact on the workplace as a whole.
Encourage a collaborative work culture through special meetings and events such as JCD’s motivation meetings, to give your employees the space to feel truly heard.
When employees feel their voice is being heard and their opinions matter, they are more invested in their work. Change in the workplace is inevitable. New projects and ventures require new ways of working and employees must be flexible to keep up with their company’s demands in a changing industry. However, change must be managed and companies that include their employees as active agents in that change are more successful.
In Japan, this concept is known as nemawashi. Taken in this context, nemawashi is a casual process of gathering information and feedback on the proposed change. Management considers all employee feedback and ultimately seeks approval before a big change or new project goes ahead. Nemawashi is one of Japanese car manufacturer Toyota’s 12 core principles4 and goes some way in explaining the company’s enduring success.
Hosting regular meetings and corporate events are the best way to practice nemawashi in your workplace. Getting your workforce together, especially if you have employees who work remotely, to explore a new venture or proposed change in person and in detail is invaluable to the health of your overall business.
Large events, like trade shows, exhibitions, or award ceremonies also encourage employees and others in your industry to spend valuable time together. Hosting such an event brings people in your field together face-to-face, something they may rarely experience. JCD holds an annual award ceremony to bring all of our valued employees into one room. This event gives all of our staff the chance to mingle and meet the president of our company. Having organized hundreds of events like this, JCD offers the epitome of professionalism and sees first-hand how great events motivate and bond employees.
Each event has its own objectives. Some events are celebrations, carried out to recognize a great achievement, others bring people together to solve a problem or demonstrate advancements in a particular industry or sector. Whatever the objective, one outcome is always the same. Employees leave events feeling motivated and inspired to get back to work, having made connections with dozens of new employees.
Another aspect of Japanese work culture that is remarked upon but often misunderstood by non-Japanese people is meishi, the exchange of business cards5. Sharing information about yourself and your company, especially if you’re selling a particular service, is common in most business cultures around the world. But in Japan, meishi dictates that no business can begin until a ritual of exchanging business cards has taken place. This ritual is less about actual business cards and more about establishing the beginning of a fruitful business relationship. The card is a representation of the givers’ pride and commitment to their work but also a token of the time they have spent in your company and the time they hope to work with you in the future.
Hosting an event invites employees and others in your field to spend valuable time together helps create a positive work culture and often marks the start of new, collaborative business relationships. Contact JCD today so we can help you to invest in your employees’ time together. As Donald Richie recognized, in Japan, this is never time wasted, rather it is time invested.