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The film depicts the working environment at Assan Motors, a Japanese company that relocates its activities to the American town of Hadleyville. A car factory is reopened in the small town, and because it was his idea, Keaton becomes the partnership's "employee liaison." During the course of business activities, Keaton discovers the cultural disparities between Americans and Japanese citizens are to blame for the clash in their approach to management. Despite their friendship, Hunt and Kazihiro clash in the warehouse, a rivalry fueled by the disparities in their respective cultural perspectives. As a result, the company disintegrates as Assan Motors withdraws and American employees leave. When Hunt and Kazihiro reconcile, the firm is reconstituted, and both the Americans and Japanese grew to appreciate the cultural differences that define them. Thus, they began to collaborate as opposed to competing for cultural supremacy and succeeded in their operations.
Individualism and Collectivism
Kazuhiro's first address to the American workers insists on collectivism where he urges them to work as a team towards the benefit of the firm. In promotion of the team spirit, he asks them to work out together as a group. Hunt manages to convince the resistant employees to exercise by doing it himself. However, they refused the Japanese style of calisthenics and opted for their own.
Shimano's attempts to show Wendt the Japanese way of painting a car is met with hostility by the American who does not understand why he should not be left to perform tasks his way. Shimono on the other hand expresses his belief in learning everything in a group and that he did not consider anyone to be unique. Hunt steps in to explain that Americans desire to feel special and his request to have workers returned to their fields of specialty is rejected.
Further conflict in the principles of collectivism and individualism is seen when Turturro takes time off one afternoon to be there during his son’s medical procedure. Hunt explains to the manager that the worker prioritizes family. On the contrary, Kazihiro feels like work is at stake in that case. The manager believes that people should make sacrifices for the benefit of the company yet the employee thinks that his well-being is paramount.
High and Low power distant styles
American workers’ believe in low power distant style of administration that requires the input of employees in the decision-making in the firm. The Japanese, on the other hand, consider it the responsibility of the management to make decisions that should be adhered by all subordinates. Based on their beliefs, American workers would challenge the authority in various instances, for example, when they make decisions on labor union. The Japanese interpreted that as a sign of disrespect judging it from their power distant style of leadership, while Americans felt proud of themselves for standing up for their rights. Each party believes that their outlook on management is ideal and conflicts arise from these differences.
Management Styles and Practices
Leadership Style and Concept of Authority
Both Americans and Japanese believe in authority as a body that gives guidance. However, according to the Japanese, leaders do not have to consult with their followers. The decisions made are final, and anyone challenging it is disrespectful. On the contrary, American leaders seek the inputs of their subordinates and perceive resistance as a plea by people to express their displeasure. For example, Kazihiro felt offended when the American workers contested their decision on labor unions.
High and Low contexts of Communication
Americans opt for direct communication whereas Japanese communicate indirectly. For instance, Hunt used a low-context style to describe his deal using slide presentations, but the Japanese remained silent. For hunt, the lack of a verbal response meant that his proposal had been declined. He was however surprised when Assan Motors came, and for the Japanese, that was their high context communication of acceptance.
Japanese require people to work as a team while the American perspective focuses on individuals. For example, Shimono’s sentiments after an employee refused to learn a new skill implies that Japanese people believe that individual effort is minimal if it does not add up to the overall group output. Hunt reminds him that Americans prefer to specialize and they require their work to be appreciated.
Japanese culture considers business affairs to be a male domain whereas Americans believe that both genders can equally take part. That is evident when Kazuhiro implies that Audrey should leave them with Hunt to discuss business after dinner. Audrey challenges that by reminding them that she also needed to hear how the company was performing.
Japanese tend to walk away from conflict while Americans face it head-on. When a player cheated in a softball game, the Japanese accepted defeat and left whereas the American workers challenged the labor decisions that did not consider their needs.
Softball Game and Cultural Differences
The fact that the two culturally different groups agreed to play together shows a similarity in their view of leisure. However, when the American intentionally injures a Japanese, the afflicted team did not complain and asked for justice, something that an American would do. The difference in response highlights the variance in the cultural beliefs that make their perception entirely different.
Role of Work and Family
Americans in the movie value family and it is the fuel that drives them to work. Japanese on the other hand, think that the family should be sacrificed for work. For example, Turturro left the workplace to go to the hospital when his son’s tonsils were to be removed. On his return, Kazihiro told him that he needed to have foregone that to remain and work. Notably, the Japanese prioritize work whereas family comes first for the American.
From the movie, one learns the importance of cultural humility and competence in the business environment. The Americans and Japanese in the film lacked the humility to accept and embrace the differences in their cultural beliefs. Instead, each competed for superiority which threatened the existence of the company. Notably, intolerance prevents businesses from being culturally competent in a world that has become globalized. Learning about diversity in modes of communication and leadership helps one in understanding people and the uniqueness of their outlook. In the absence of cultural miscommunication in the film, it would have been easier for Hunt to fathom what silence meant in negotiations with the Japanese. Similarly, Kazihiro would not have viewed American workers resistance as an act of disrespect for authority. In pursuit of business partnership in future, one learns to be accommodative of the diversity in other people’s cultures.
Blum, D., Ganz, T., & Howard, R. (1986). Gung Ho. Paramount Pictures, USA.
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