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Cultural Similarities and Differences Between India and Japan: Communication in Business

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    In choosing two countries to compare culturally, India and Japan seemed the most appropriate as my place of business works with these cultures more than others. Given the knowledge I have of both cultures, I expected to see glaringly apparent differences between the two. However, even though there are a few opposing cultural dimensions, these countries are much more similar than I anticipated. The first topic is one of Power Distance, which is how the culture distributes power and the acceptance of that structure by those with less power; leaning toward authoritarian or collaborative communication (Baack, 2012).

    In a culture with a high power distance there tends to be an evident hierarchy in both social and business settings, and workers tend to be dependent on their management to provide direction (Bissessar, 2018). India scored a 77 in this dimension, indicating a strong tendency toward a considerable power distance, which may present itself in several ways: acceptance and respect for the power hierarchy, limited access to higher level management, or communication being passed top to bottom in the form of directives (Compare Countries, n.d.). Japan, although viewed by non-Asian cultures as one with very high power distance, tends to be less so than other Asian cultures (Chayakonvikom, Fuangvut, & Cannell, 2016). With a score of 54 in this dimension, Japan is slightly in favor of a hierarchical society, believing that all citizens are equal and have unlimited potential, but also respecting the power structure and ensuring that all levels are included in decision-making (Compare Countries, n.d.). The next dimension is Individualism, described as the individual or collective mentality of members; the propensity toward valuing personal status or group loyalty (Baack, 2012).

    Individualism is one of the dimensions where India and Japan are very similar. Scoring 48 and 46 respectively, both cultures are considered moderately collectivist. With a group-oriented mentality, these cultures value collaboration, loyalty, and group acceptance and respect over personal gain (Bissessar, 2018). With a “face-saving and shaming culture with regard to punishment and domination,” social harmony is a primary focus (Chayakonvikom, Fuangvut, & Cannell, 2016, p. 80). Once again, other cultures view Japan differently, seeming more collectivistic by Western and more individualistic by Asian cultures. Masculinity relates to whether a society is predominantly male or female dominated, showing characteristics of strength and assertiveness or quality of life and caring for others (Bissessar, 2018). In a masculine culture, we will typically see similarities to the Power Distance dimension, but in the case of India and Japan, those traits present a little differently (Baack, 2012). As mentioned, India had a high propensity toward a greater Power Distance, but with a score of 56, is only a slightly masculine culture (Compare Countries, n.d.).

    Inversely, Japan scored a 95 on this dimension, which highly contrasts their borderline hierarchical Power Distance (Compare Countries, n.d.). The slight contradiction of these two dimensions leads to almost blended masculinity traits. India, with many spiritual and religious beliefs, values humility but also shows a desire for power and success (Compare Countries, n.d.). Japan also has a culture of competition and the passion for proving superiority, but more so within a team than individually (Compare Countries, n.d.). Another area where India and Japan differ significantly is Uncertainty Avoidance: the cultural preference of planning and ensuring absolute results or allowing for ambiguity when appropriate (Compare Countries, n.d.). India scored slightly low here, at 40, indicating that they do not require well-defined outcomes to begin a journey and may find themselves skirting the rules to find other paths (Compare Countries, n.d.). Japan, with a score of 92, requires more structure and pre-planning, with no tolerance for behavior or actions outside of what is scripted (Bissessar, 2018). Long Term Orientation, focusing on short-term or long-term goals, also shows significant differences between Indian and Japanese culture. India, with its many spiritual, religious, and philosophical views, scored a 51, showing no preference for long- or short-term orientation (Compare Countries, n.d.). Japan, on the other hand, scored an 88 and is one of the most long-term oriented societies in the world (Compare Countries, n.d.).

    In Japan, the belief is that your current life is only a fraction of time, focusing on improvement toward long-term successes for future generations, instead of immediate goals (Compare Countries, n.d.). The final dimension to consider is Indulgence: the tendency to indulge in impulses or restrain from them. We see a high level of restraint for both India and Japan with scores of 26 and 42, indicating they both tend toward cynicism or pessimism and focus on responsibility rather than leisure, seemingly a result of societal norms (Compare Countries, n.d.). Given the similarities between India and Japan, there may be a bit of cultural overlap and complementing priorities when conducting business together. These cultures are both moderately individualistic as well as collective. Although there is a focus on individual actions and appearance, ultimately, they both seek approval and respect from the larger collective. Issues may arise during initial collaboration, as both cultures value respect and “saving face”; asking questions may be viewed as a sign of weakness and may hinder communication (Chayakonvikom, Fuangvut, & Cannell, 2016). In addition, both cultures value restraint over indulgence, which can be a valuable commonality in the business world. There will likely be some difficulty when considering that both cultures have moderate to high Power Distance scores, as each may be inclined to define a power hierarchy where they place themselves above the other. Finding an acceptable organizational structure that satisfies both parties may be awkward at first, but coming to an understanding at the beginning of a venture is of utmost importance. How to communicate will also need to be determined, as India prefers information to flow from top to bottom, where Japan consults each level of the hierarchy by working from the bottom up.

    The most significant difference between the two seems to fall on Uncertainty Avoidance, where they are almost opposites. In India, it is more common to find ways around the current system, almost as a general practice; in Japan, there is no tolerance for anything outside of pre-defined policies or procedures (Chayakonvikom, Fuangvut, & Cannell, 2016). This one characteristic could be the catalyst to the failure of the entire business relationship; careful discussion and consideration should take place. Proper business communication would serve both parties well, finding common ground and establishing appropriate expectations to alleviate the friction they both may feel. Knowing that your business partner shares the same values can lead to a balanced relationship where both cultures feel appreciated and validated.

    References

    1. Baack, D. (2012). Management Communication [Electronic version]. Retrieved from https://ashford.content.edu Bissessar, C. (2018).
    2. An application of Hofstede’s cultural dimension among female educational leaders. 8(2), 77. doi:10.3390/educsci8020077 Chayakonvikom, M., Fuangvut, P., & Cannell, S. (2016).
    3. Exploring education culture by employing Hofstede‟s cultural dimensions to evaluate the effectiveness of the current ERP training approach in Thailand. 4(10), 79-89. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=EJ1111356 Compare Countries. (n.d.). Retrieved from Hofstede Insights: https://www.hofstede-insights.com/product/compare-countries/

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