Japan has developed a reputation for leading the way in new, groundbreaking technology. This reputation is one that the country takes great pride in. Western business leaders look to Japan for innovation and the business opportunities that are presented by that innovation. For Western business leaders, collaborating with their Japanese counterparts can be a challenge if they do not have an understanding of the very significant differences in the leadership styles of the two cultures.


The word ‘Hourensou’ is not one known to many in the West. However, in Japan it is a word of great significance. For the Japanese, this simple word embodies the full meaning of leadership. If ‘Hourensou’ is split into its constituent parts, it is easy to understand. ‘Hou’ stands for ‘Houkoku’, the Japanese word for ‘reporting’. ‘Ren’ comes from ‘Renraku’, the word for ‘informing’. ‘Sou’ is derived from ‘Soudan’, the word for ‘consulting’.

For Japanese leaders, ‘Hourensou’ shows how important the reporting of information and the exchange of information is. In Japanese culture, exchange of information between levels of management signifies that collaboration is occurring and management is effective. Every member of the team should be involved in every important issue. This collaboration assists in creating a supportive work environment, and guarantees that every team member has input into important decisions.
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Problem solving techniques vary across cultures, so it becomes important to keep that in mind when collaborating and negotiating between different cultures. In general, Westerners frequently focus on solving the problem quickly; whereas the Japanese spend more time focusing on properly understanding the issue and carefully defining the problem. They believe that problems can be effectively solved only after the issue is thoroughly understood.

Because of this cultural standard, the Japanese usually do not make decisions during the process of negotiating. This can be frustrating for Westerners and cause tension between the different sides of the negotiation. The best approach for a Westerner is to explain the problem to their Japanese colleagues thoroughly and clearly, then be willing to give them the time necessary to reach a decision through a collaborative process.

Like all cultures, Japanese culture is complex and really can’t be simplified as we’ve tried to do here. Still, the insight provided by this information can provide an important indication of what to expect with Japanese leadership style and culture.

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