Thursday, December 22, 2011

Edo Period 1603 - 1868 Part I Japan is Locked Down

The Edo (or Tokugawa) period was very important for the forming of modern Japan that we all know. In the decades leading up to the Edo period the territories were in disarray and separated by various small warring regions. 
The ever handsome Ieyasu Tokugawa

The three leaders whom united the country, Oda Nobunaga, Hideyoshi Toyotomi and and Ieyasu Tokugawa led in the beginning by Oda, fought hard to conquer and unite the regions in the latter half of the 1600s century. Highlighted by a strong orthodox approach to daily life and commitment to family, community and most importantly the Shogun, these three strong characters, native to the Nagoya, Aichi region of Japan, rallied to create three power structures. These three main power centers were eventually consolidated  by Ieyasu Tokugawa at the final battle at Sekigahara in the year 1600. With Oda dying by ritual suicide in 1582 and his successor Toyotomi dying from illness in September 1598. The Sekigahara battle was crucial, and managed to consolidate power and for Tokugawa he was able to win over his rivals to formally establish a new capital city at Edo (aka Tokyo), Japan. Soon after establishing the new rule as Shogun of Japan the fate of the country was sealed and for the next 250 + years the country was absolutely locked down and was sealed off  from the outside world. There was virtually no contact with the outside world beyond the small island in which a small community of Dutch could reside. We will take a brief look at these ages and the resulting art and entertainment that reflected the people and their times. The period can be best broken down into the three centuries that spanned the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s all obviously with their own characteristics:

  •  the shogun established himself as the unchallenged leader
  •  the family was the smallest unit of power (individual had no rights)
  • the state/provincial leaders called ‘daimyo’ were strictly controlled
  • it was mandatory that the leaders families live in Edo and leaders must live there every other year
  • these leaders kept control over there regions but the real power lied with the local village councils
  •  Samurai became bureaucrats
  •  bourgeois culture develops yet is limited due to heavy restrictions on class mobility and more importantly geographic mobility
  • Severe punishment (often sudden execution/suicide) for going against the wishes of the Shogun or disturbing the societal ‘norm’ although the ‘norm’ has no set of policies and was more or less under the watch of the local village and the samurai

Arts/Entertainment: For painting and calligraphy the three main artists that we will mention created the Rinpa school which is often regarded as the most popular painted art form of this century.  These three were Koetsu (1558-1637) Sotatsu (d. c.1643), and Ogata Kourin (1658-1716) the latter with who proved to create a new unique style of painting on screen depicting timeless stories from the Heian period. 
Ogata Korin - Fujin
Two of the most popular themes used by these artists came from the Tales of Genji and the Tales of Ise. Both of these were typically hosted on gold leaved folding screens and were accomplished with a strong sense of detail. The distinct style is either of items of nature such as flowers, trees, and birds or mammals or as mentioned themes from traditional stories from earlier periods. 

The objects surroundings were typically inlaid with gold leaf. The school developed more design and refined techniques as time passed on with Sakai Hoitsu rediscovering the form in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Other forms, which became popular in this period and the next century were the famous ‘ukiyo-e’ or floating world art styles which started as a Shinto ideal of transition but as we find in the 1700s became famous for something other than divine spiritual passage (wink and nudge ;).

Our next look (Part II) we will be at the 1700s and the Rise of the Merchant Class.

Sources: Discovering the Arts of Japan by Tsuneko S. Sadao, Stephanie Wada
A History of Japan by Kenneth Henshall
Wikipedia; Rimpa School, Ogata Korin, Edo Period, Nobunaga Oda

Friday, July 22, 2011

Seeking Consensus in Japan - Nemawashi

Japan Culture : Nemawashi…nema what..?
In short, nemawashi means to seek a consensus before a decision is made.

What does it mean to have all the information before someone asks you for opinion in front of your colleagues?
What is the difference between the Japanese approach to life and business vs. the western approach?

Japan’s ancient principles of wa (wah) – perfect harmony and amae (ah-my) – absolute trust were designed to eliminate conflict in al relationships, personal as well as business. Over many generations these concepts were to become a part of the psyche of the Japanese and influenced every aspect of their culture to a significant degree…one of the ways that the Japanese attempted to conform to the dictates of wa and amae was to devise a way to deal with each other – in business as well as private things – that avoided disharmony and protected everyone’s face (meaning to save ones face or to not be embarrassed or feel public humility).
- From Bilingual Books: Japanese Nuance in Plain English (pp63)

What does nemawashi really mean? I suppose it is one of those traditional cultural qualities that when mentioned to native Japanese you receive nervous laughter about how you really understand the Japanese heart, and yet they hope that you don’t.

Nemawashi to me really highlights the difference between Japan and the ‘west’. That means the focus on the group vs. the individual. In Japan all emphasis is put on the will of the group, at all costs.

In Japan, when we are discussing business in meetings and items of significant change it is paramount to discuss with all or your key contacts before presenting. The western way or approach would be for us to draft our own great new idea and to ‘blow everybody away’ (impress everyone) at the next meeting with our great new idea with an eye on a promotion or accolades. This works in the west but in Japan will almost always fall on shocked and embarrassed meeting members. Japanese people don’t like surprises; they avoid confrontation at almost all costs. This is why it is not only common but also an absolute must to gain the feedback and positive push from key members before any meeting. The logic is simple, you go to the key people who will support you or you need for approval of your idea or plans, more importantly you will receive feedback on the groups needs.

How to engage Japanese people using ‘nemawashi’ to earn trust, build relationships and ultimately move forward with business or relations?

( Above a Japanese Izakaya lantern aka a Japanese pub)
Some humble tips:
1. Find out who will be involved in the key decision regarding your ‘business’ or relationships
2. Find times and ways to engage with these key players (with the help of a translator if necessary) by:
a) small informal meetings ‘one on one’ within or outside the organization
b) have lunch with key members who are too busy to go out after work
c) take the members out or ask them to take you out (if a visitor in Japan) and casually engage with them individually (i.e. each one at a time, not as a group discussion) over dinner or drinks, asking for their opinion on your ideas and seek their honest feedback, be genuine.

3. Have you listened and understood their feedback? Good. Now find ways to input those recommendations into your plan without crediting them outloud, i.e. as simple nod when mentioning the idea in your presentation will show you did your due diligence and acknowledge them discretely.

Overall though this just seems to be common sense to seek input from all the interested parties beforehand and when it comes time to officially (in a meeting format) put forth your idea to do business you will be in a position where all key members have already heard the ‘pitch’ and will be far more likely to move forward.

(Cheers or Kanpai in Japanese)

If it is the first time they are hearing the official ‘first pitch’ in a meeting they probably will not be interested or you may need to go back and start again. You will probably need to engage in nemawashi at some point regardless so why not do it first! Good luck!

I welcome any feedback and comments on my take on the Japanese idea of nemawashi…what have your experiences been?