“What is Special about the Japanese Experience?” was the opening discussion for the Association of Japanese Business Studies annual conference in Istanbul, July 2nd – 3rd 2013. It turned out to be a slightly plaintive cry from the assembled Japan specialists, from what is known as “Area Studies” in academia – a discipline under threat apparently, and likened by one speaker to the Gaulish village holding out against the Romans in the Asterix comics.
Any attempt to submit an article about Japan to journals in other disciplines is met with “Why Japan? China is where it’s at now”. And yet being too obviously “cross disciplinary” is apparently career suicide for academics.
One other challenge noted by several participants was the need for more up to date case studies on Japanese companies, and yet case studies are seen as a non-essential activity for career furtherance, unlikely to help you to get tenure, however essential they are to teaching.
The Matsushita case study written in the 1970s by Professor Hideki Yoshihara is still a popular case study for the strategy track of MBA courses, and was revised by Bartlett and Ghoshal, and adopted Yoshihara’s Global Integration and Local Responsiveness framework.
This inability to generalise from the Japanese specifics was also pointed out by another keynote speaker, Kiyohiko Ito, who noted that Japanese companies have many effective concepts or business models as alternatives to the classic keep costs down and sales up profit maximisation model, such as monozukuri, but they are seen as specific to individual Japanese companies.
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