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2.2 Keiei Jinruigaku: Fusion of Business Administration and Anthropology

There are two origins of the term keiei jinruigaku (similar to business anthropology, but literally meaning management/administration anthropology) in Japan. One was created and fostered in The Academy of International Management Cultures and Transdisciplinary Studies, led by Motofusa Murayama, professor at Chiba University, and is sometimes referred to as the Chiba School of keiei jinruigaku (Murayama and Ogashiwa 1998).

Another group originated in the National Museum of Ethnology (commonly referred to as Minpaku) as an interuniversity research project called “The Cultural Anthropological Study of the Company and Salaryman,” starting in 1993. It was organized by two persons: Koichiro Hioki and myself, scholars of business administration and the anthropology of religion, respectively. Six books have been edited by these two scholars and published by Tōhō Shuppan, in Osaka, under the same title of keiei jinruigaku (but rendered into English as “the anthropology of administration”). Two other books were also put out by this group through the same publisher, with the title of “company [or corporate] anthropology” (kaisha jinruigaku), consisting of collections of short essays on company life.

Now the question is: what has happened during the course of this fusion of two major disciplines? On the one hand, anthropologists began to study their own culture, instead of other cultures, and moreover focused on highly systematized organizations such as the company and bureaucracy. On the other hand, scholars of business administration also took part in fieldwork – something that they had not previously done.

The first common target of research was the company museum. Over the years, we visited more than 100 such museums together or individually throughout Japan. Hioki, for instance, looked at the veneration of company founders in museum displays and wrote about their legitimacy. Nakamaki, on the other hand, regarded the company museum as a pantheon and compared displays of history and business as analogies of the Buddhist temple and Shinto shrine, respectively, in that the former mainly concerns ancestor rites and the latter promotes mundane prosperity.

Our next project was to tackle company funerals. These funerals flourished during the period of rapid economic growth (1960s and 1970s) and continue to be observed in Japan, although nowadays hotels are preferred over Buddhist temples as ritual spaces. A company funeral is financed and managed by the company itself in honor of its VIPs and is usually held at a much later date on a large scale, while the bereaved family has a smaller private funeral immediately after the deceased has passed away. We analyzed this peculiar phenomenon of a social event which represents the change of human and corporate relations in company life (Chap. 10 by Yamada).

More recently, we have challenged company mythology. Hioki assumed three types of mythology: the founding myth, hero myth, and brand myth. Members of the group contributed papers in which they tried to decipher mythological themes in the business world. In the founding myth, for instance, the founder of a restaurant, who had had experience in a Zen temple in his youth, established a training course for his employees to enhance their service with a “Zen mind.” In the hero myth, there is a paper about an employee who was about to be punished as a scapegoat, but who suddenly became a hero through practicing the logic of “making gain after loss.” In the brand myth, a company history was treated as a mythological text and analyzed as a process of mythification in which an anecdote from the founder's discourse, “Try to do it,” became a company style of business. Others among us have asserted that cultural organizations such as public museums and orchestras also produce myths (Chap. 3 by Hioki and Nakamaki).

If there are distinguishing features of our group's approach to keiei jinruigaku, they may be seen as follows. One is that we look at the company not only as Gesellshaft but also as Gemeinshaft – in other words, as cultural community, which has already been mentioned. Each company has its uniqueness as an “ethnic group” and possesses rituals and myths. Our efforts have been to decipher the meanings of corporate rituals and company myths. The company history registers its diachronic occurrences in its commemorative volume but also is reflected in the company museum where its most valuable persons and items are displayed. The company is a cultural entity which is productive and creative in its “company climate,” which can be described in companography. As a whole, our approach is not purely scientific, nor objective, but rather hermeneutic in the sense that we try to decipher “story making” and “ritual practice.”

In July 2010, an international forum was held by the leading members of the keiei jinruigaku research group at Minpaku and was entitled “The First International Forum on Business and Anthropology.” The term “Business Anthropology” (without the “and”) was carefully avoided on the grounds that we feared that we might lose the participation of some scholars of business administration. Distinguished scholars of business anthropology were invited, including Brian Moeran, Ann Jordan, Tomoko Hamada Connolly, Mitchell Sedgwick, Dixon Heung Wah Wong, Han Seung-mi, and Zhang Jijiao, to name some of those who attended from abroad.

Note: the revised papers presented at the conference were published in English (Nakamaki 2013). The IFBA was subsequently held at Hong Kong University in July, 2011, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in December, 2012, and Yongsei University in December, 2014.

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