Key Cultural And Learning Attributes Of A Japanese Workforce
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Learning Attributes Of A Japanese Workforce To Help You With Localization

In our experience, one of the more difficult languages to convert training content into is Japanese. As you will see, the differences between the US and Japan are significant. Ideally, logic should tell us that content created in the US for a US audience, might not (should not) transfer well to your Japanese counterparts without some serious considerations. However, the element of culture often seems to be overlooked, therefore causing training to be ineffective, inefficient, and not relevant.

Japanese Society

In Japan, the family, school, and community teach children how to be members of Japanese society. In home and at school, a child learns to develop self-discipline (hansei) and hard work. The effort and persistence exerted toward a goal are considered more important than achieving said goal. Children will learn the phrase yareba dekiru, meaning that if you try hard, you can do it. Japanese society is built upon the principle of Kata, where established roles ensure balance and harmony.

Japanese Schooling

Progressing into elementary school, Japanese children are taught to be strong, be kindhearted, and to be diligent in study. Their teachers frame classroom rules and enforce those rules depending on the children and their relationships. The students are often divided into small teams for activities, including cleaning the classrooms, halls, and yards. Their cleaning duties are so extensive that many schools have no janitors or custodians. The first three years of school are for establishing good manners and developing characters. Students will take small tests but will not take exams until they reach 4th grade (age 10).

Most Japanese students enter preparatory schools or attend after-school workshops to improve their chances of earning admission into a good junior high school. Almost all students wear a uniform, and in general, learning is a far more serious matter than in the United States. 85% of students feel happy in school, and most never skip class.

Japan is a “masculine” society according to Hofstede’s dimensional studies. As a feminine society—relative to Japan—American employers cannot consider age, race, or sex in hiring decisions, which, combined with the greater ethnic diversity, creates a heterogeneous workforce. A homogeneous workforce, in regards to basic knowledge, willingness to learn new skills, and ability to function as team members, is ideal.

Japanese Culture

Considering other dimensions of national culture, Japan ranks high in uncertainty avoidance and short-term orientation but ranks low in indulgence. So Japanese citizens tend to prefer fixed habits and rituals, and they value long-standing traditions that provide a moral compass.

Japanese Workforce Vs. US Workforce

Masanori Hashimoto, professor of economics at Ohio State University, studied the efficiency of American and Japanese autoworkers, the latter of whom builds a higher quality car in fewer hours. Hashimoto argues that technical training must include training in employment relations. Training in employment relations aims to teach employees how to better share information and responsibilities, how to teach colleagues, and how to deal with conflict. Japanese workers tend to be inherently better at these things because of their rigorous curriculum and cooperation in schooling. Another benefit from their schooling; Japanese workers are more likely to nurture inexperienced workers since their school teachers were rewarded for producing capable students. That tradition manifests in the workplace, helping to lower the cost of technical training. However, that tradition relies on the intelligence of new workers. A manager at a Japanese car factory in the US stated that he cannot rely on self-study for technical training, partly due to the diverse levels of basic knowledge of the workers.

American companies favor applicants who already have the necessary expertise for a job, theoretically reducing training to a minimum. Japanese companies will overlook inexperience if an applicant is intelligent, has high energy, and is malleable. In some cases, Japanese managers in an auto factory thought it better to train than retrain new employees to meet company standards.

New recruits in Japanese companies attend orientation sessions in safety and culture. Thorough technical training follows. Yet as stated, training never truly ends, as experienced workers mentor them. Additional formal training may also be supplemented. To facilitate employment relations training, Japanese workers are more likely to socialize with their colleagues than American workers.

When training Japanese workers, it is important to offer all available training tools. They will expect an in-depth training program that brings them up to speed and informs them of every aspect of their job. Summaries are not enough—they want to understand the details and nuances. This is why so many microlearning courses are not received well. Japanese learners expect longer training sessions since the presumption is that no details are being left out. Combine the technical training with clear information about the company’s policies and culture. Ensure the company’s hierarchy and expectations are clearly defined. Make any new employee feel welcome and include them in a small group of experienced workers who they can turn to for support and information. Japanese workers consider it a duty for managers and senior workers to train new team members.

If you need help localizing content for a Japanese workforce, there are companies that can help you with that today! We, for instance, understand the cultural differences between language, culture, and location. We are the only company dedicated to helping you create the highest level of engagement for your localization and eLearning content initiatives.

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