November 30th, 2004 (4:16pm)
In a few days I will embark on a very long business trip to the US to support one of our larger (erm, largest) customers. I will be there from the beginning of December all the way till the beginning of Feburary, living out of a suitcase and eating things that are probably not the healthiest for me.
In any case, it's always change that brings understanding of what's around. I was made aware of an aspect of Japanese business life that I have never touched upon before, the beauracracy of the whole thing.
An international business trip seems to be a big deal. I mean, with a fairly large company of several thousand people and many overseas offices and customers, international trips would be quite frequent. However, every single one must be reported to the president himself directly, and without his approval, the trip will not take place. This is not just our company, apparently, but pretty much everybody - the only difference is whereby our company only have one president overseeing a few thousand people, companies like SONY would have fleets of presidents for this purpose on a much grander scale.
For this purpose, there is a weekly or sometimes bi-weekly (depending on the number of trips that needs to be approved) meeting of high-level managers including the president that hears about all the planned international business trips and approves or denies them. This makes an interesting schedule for the person doing the trip: For me, I must submit all the documentation (trip purpose, estimated expenses, export control documentation, etc) for approval well in advance so that they can be stamped by seveal levels of managers, and then approved by the regional director (who will attend the high-level manager meeting mentioned above), at least before the last high-level manager's meeting before my scheduled trip takes place. It's a shocking amount of paperwork. Plus, besides all the expense reporting and daily activity reporting, upon return the traveller must submit a detailed trip report along with the expense related reports, etc.
People always kind of wonder why Japanese companies move so slowly - I think this is one of the main reasons. There is a tremendously strong mindset of beauracracy within the company, and the rules are always followed, all the time. Well, I have to say, inasmuch as the beauracracy exists, i cannot deny that they are at least quite efficient about it, unlike some devil-incarnate organizations usually known by letters D, M, and V in most states, especially NY and Illinois, I think.
Recently there was a big commotion about the pension system. The short of it is that the government pension is in trouble, and while the company is trying to cover the slack, it is unable to keep doing so. The company asks everyone for approval to reduce the pension payment, which is a permanent change: the pension received by those retirned now will be reduced, and those currently employed will also look forward to a smaller pension when they retire.
Nonetheless, everybody was eager to agree to the proposal because it helps the company. Even though it does not even affect me, I was asked to vote so that we can pass the resolution. It's one of those times that you can almost reach out and touch that huge culture gap that hangs between Japan and... as far as I can tell pretty much everywhere else. I know for a fact that the US isn't like that, and China has not been like that for a few decades now. The whole world operates on the "dog-eat-dog" principle, and I can understand why people here take solace in their ability to depend on eachother to make sacrifices for the common good. The company depends on the employees to be selfless, and the employees depends on the company to take care of them through the rough times. This even extends to the society as a whole. Of course there are always exceptions to this rule of conduct - after all the lure of greed and power has great abitily to corrupt - however, I do think that it gets quite tiring after a while when you have to watch your back for your whole life. Maybe that's why longevity is renouned on these islands; you are always part of something greater and it takes a great chunk of stress out of one's life.
On a smaller note, I turned 25 a few weeks ago; wondering where are the cheaper insurance rates, cuz I sure don't seem them here.