Low into high, but not high into low

by September 29, 2010

Yoshinori Fujikawa at Hitotsubashi ICS

The global success of Japanese companies can be measured by the recitation of familiar names: Toyota, Hitachi, Honda, Nissan, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba. These seven are among the world’s one hundred largest corporations, and the latest Fortune Global 500 has 64 more Japanese names on it, a predominance second only to that of American companies.

Yet the Japanese total is skewed toward manufacturing companies and away from services. According to Yoshinori Fujikawa, assistant professor at Hitotsubashi University’s graduate school of International Corporate Strategy (ICS), one of the key reasons for this can be found in anthropologist Edward T. Hall’s theory (set out in his 1976 book, Beyond Culture) of high-context and low-context cultures. As Fujikawa recently told the Hitotsubashi university magazine, HQ:

In a high-context culture like Japan, unseen aspects such as customs, beliefs, and values play a more important role than obvious aspects like language, behaviour, and structural mechanisms. The opposite is true in a low-context culture like the United States.

In a low-context culture, the service provision process and service content are made more codified and visible to employees and customers. It should therefore be easier to transplant the concepts and know-how when bringing these services to other cultures, including high-context ones. In contrast, where such effort toward codification have not proceeded in high-context cultures, this can be expected to hamper attempts to transfer service businesses to low-context cultures.