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7.3.2 Development After the 1970s

There is no dramatic difference between before the 1980s and after in terms of the basic nature of management philosophy's role in Japan. Between the 1970s and the 1990s, however, Japanese corporations experienced several serious international and domestic problems, such as the oil shock, the Nixon shock, increasing trade friction with the USA, and the collapse of the “bubble economy.” Management philosophies were also subject to alteration.

Facing the new problems mentioned above, Japanese corporations were increasingly aware of the need for “strategic” management in addressing them. The “management strategy” concept, imported from overseas, made much sense to Japanese managers. This strategic management, whatever it meant, was also seen to be linked to management philosophy. Some scholars such as Mizuyachi (1992) claimed that management philosophy gave rise to management strategy. Kitai and Matsuda (2004), reviewing studies from the 1980s and 1990s, claimed that diffusing a management philosophy throughout the whole organization allows the management strategy to be properly formed and practiced successfully.

This association between strategy and management philosophy was also implied in the association of the new management idea of “corporate culture,” imported from overseas in the 1980s with management philosophy. This view of corporate culture suggests that people will spontaneously act (without needing to be forced) based on values when those values permeate all members of the organization as an ethos. Here also, the importance of management philosophy was reaffirmed by being described as the core component of the values to be spread within an organization.

I found it interesting that although the term “corporate culture” was widely known in Japan in the 1980s and 1990s, Japanese “cultural” anthropologists paid no attention to this phenomenon, leaving the discussion to management studies instead.

The new key “corporate governance” concept, which came from the USA and spread nationwide after the 1990s, not only made the corporate world aware of the importance of management philosophy as the core of governance but also significantly influenced the way companies display their philosophies to the public on their home pages and in PR publications. Many management philosophies comprised a few simple words, phrases, or sentences until around the turn of the century. Now, they are much more complex and systematized. The intended audiences for the messages used to be only vaguely conceived, probably just the general public and company employees. Now, companies clearly categorize their messages' recipients, such as general consumers, investors, clients, employees, and even the community near the factory. Many companies also openly display “code of conduct” that every employee must follow. Thus, under the influential concept of “corporate governance,” management philosophies are now much more strategically deployed.

This development suggests that it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine what “management philosophy” refers to. It used to refer merely to some words, phrases, or sentences but is now a complex composed of a systematized set of values centered on a value-driven core.

So far, we have very roughly surveyed the history of management philosophy in Japan and of its study including a brief introduction to its overall nature. We found that anthropology has not been involved in this study, while acknowledging that anthropologists need not cover every single aspect of Japanese society.

It is nevertheless unfortunate that anthropologists have not studied this subject because it involves important issues such as the cosmology of organizations, the dynamic relationship between values and practices, and Japanese values as represented in modern business organizations.

Partly to fill this gap, I started studying this subject along with scholars of the anthropology of administration in 2006 (see Sumihara 2014a: Introduction). This study group was multidisciplinary, being composed of business management, sociology, and religious studies scholars, as well as a couple of cultural anthropologists. This multidisciplinary nature led us to new horizons concerning this subject, which I will discuss in the following section.

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