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Chapter 2 Enterprise as Cultural Community

Hirochika Nakamaki

Abstract A company operates a business and engages in profit-making activities, though it has as its face a cultural community. As an organizational structure, a company is a group which shares particular values and ways of behavior. Taking Sony as an example, this chapter explores initiation process into a company. It identifies Sony's distinctive features and discusses its character as a cultural community in relation to the lifetime employment. History of the initiation ceremony is introduced first, and then seating rules and dress codes are analyzed. Welcome speeches by CEOs are discussed in the light of a community, bound together by common fate. In the end, van Gennep's theory of rites de passage is applied to interpret company rituals.

2.1 Introduction

A “company” operates a business and engages in profit-making activities. The Japanese word kaisha is a translation of “company” in English, société in French, or Gesellshaft in German. It has been used in referring to a corporate body having the purpose of making profits. It is therefore similar to the British company limited by shares or the American corporation.

A company, however, has as its face a cultural community, which is different from the juridical body defined by laws. As an organizational structure, one aspect of the company is a group which shares particular values and ways of behavior. Japanese companies are organizations which pursue rational, functional, and efficient activities, but at the same time, they are groups of people who share foundation stories, chant company mission statements and mottos, and conduct company initiation ceremonies and funerals.

This chapter focuses on the fact that the “company” is a cultural community as well as an economic organization. An ethnic group is an example of a cultural community characterized by a particular language, common myths and rituals, and similar ways of living and production. It shares a “we” consciousness and a sense of exclusivity. A company also has cultural standards which separate its own identity from others. Organizational integrity is sought by the internal and common sense of belongingness. To this end there exist company myths and rituals, as well as a unifying philosophy (business creed) and a museum facility, which is comparable to a shrine or temple.

If it is possible to conceive of a company as cultural community similar to an ethnic group, we must be able to write companography patterned after ethnography. A companography is described in a different style from the company's history. It pays attention to the synchronic structure and function of company activities rather than diachronic sequences of events. And questioning the meaning is the bulk of a companography.

People who appear in a companography are mainly employers and employees. Constituent members of a company have been classified as capitalists and workers, bourgeoisies and proletariats, and white collar and blue collar. In Japan, however, a new term salaryman was invented in the 1910s and has been used in referring to employees as a whole. More recently the term OL, which signifies office lady, is widely in use. It is not unusual to find a “salaryman president” who is not a capitalist.

Moreover, around a company, there exist other companies, like other tribes. There is also a trade circle which speaks in common technical terms that serve to differentiate its business from others. Separation of one's own culture from others is applied not only to a company but also to a trade circle. Companies culturally construct themselves through complicated relations and endeavor to behave properly in the business world.

In this manner, a company can be seen as a cultural community which is obliged to behave culturally in the business world. Cultural phases are taken into account in management and are also expected to exert a positive influence on the company's business. An anthropological study which focuses on company management is said to have stimulated the birth of keiei jinruigaku (anthropology of administration).

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