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The Historical Origins of Companyism From Westernization to Indigenization


During the 180s bubble economy, social scientists in Japan and elsewhere showed great interest in Japanese-style management and Japanese-style administration. Although the bubble has burst, this interest persists. Now, however, instead of praise, the formerly admired patterns are subject to criticism.

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An important theme in investigations into Japanese-style management has been the effort to uncover the historical origins of the system. Given the severe economic problems of the first postwar decade, it is not surprising that scholars initially tended to look back to the prewar Showa period. The following statement made in 15 by the well-known economist Takahashi Kamekichi explains this tendency

Japans capital accumulation decreased greatly as a result of wartime waste. At present it has sunk to levels as low as the Meiji period. . . . Unfortunately, many of the countrys present financial, administrative, and political leaders are people who established their careers during the prewar period when Japans economy peaked. They have no experience with poverty and, therefore, do not know how to cope with it. This is one of the most serious problems in present Japan. 1

Takahashis assessment of the prewar economy may be difficult to accept for Japanese who grew up being taught that prewar capitalism was very undeveloped. It also flies in the face of the frequently expressed notion that Japans aggressive actions in Asia were a result of domestic poverty. Nevertheless, according to Takahashi, the Sino-Japanese War broke out in 17 when the Japanese economy was at its highest point. This view was endorsed by the famous White Paper on the Economy published in 156, in which the following assessment appeared

In fiscal year 155 the Japanese economy exceeded prewar standards in all areas except trade. Real national income was 11 per cent of the average of the three years from 14 to 16. Coincidently, the figure was identical to that of 1, the highpoint of prewar Japan. Also, in fiscal 155 the output of mining and manufacturing industries exceeded that of 144, the highest previous total. In fiscal year 155, therefore, the Japanese economy exceeded not only the prewar average but also its peaks.

____________________ I am grateful to Mr Michael Cuttler, Dr Dean Kinzley, and Professor Albert Craig for their help in completing my English text. All the quotations from Rodo were translated by Mr Cuttler, Dr Kinzley and Professor Craig corrected and revised my English draft.

Industrial Relations and the Union Movement


I. Introduction

It is a truism that Japans labour-management relations are highly cooperative. This cooperation is widely believed to be rooted in particular features such as culture and employment practices such as lifetime employment and enterprise unionism. It is, however, a historical product rather than an intrinsic feature ofJapanese society.

Only since the mid- 170s has Japans harmonious system of industrial relations come to be highly praised. Before the oil crisis of 17, many Japanese regarded the industrialized societies of the West, including their systems of labour-management relations, as models for emulation. Labour leaders generally believed in an adversarial system of labour-management relations, in which labour and management might cooperate but had different interests. The labour movement sought to overcome the defects of enterprise unions by establishing a movement based on industrial unions and socialism (or social democracy); in essence, it strove earnestly to change itself into a Western-style labour movement. The spring wage offensive, or shunto, led by the left-wing labour federation, Sohyo, represented an attempt to conduct Western-style industrial unionism based on an adversarial relationship between labour and capital, whereas Domei, the right-wing labour federation, sought cooperative relations with management.

Despite efforts to promote industrial unionism and other supposedly Western practices, the distinctive features of the Japanese employment system did not disappear. Indeed, they gained new prestige in the early 170s when the OECD published a report praising the three treasures of lifetime employment, seniority wages, and enterprise unions. Moreover, organized labours response to the oil crisis of 17 presented a sharp contrast to the response of unions in the West. In Japan, as concern for the economy deepened, labour came to accept wage restraint and downsizing. The change in the labour movements economic strategy helped strengthen the Japanese economys international competitiveness from the mid-170s, gaining favourable attention


Unless otherwise indicated, place of publication of works cited in the notes is Tokyo. Japanese names are ordered according to the convention family name first, followed by first name.


1. Takahashi Kamekichi, Zaikai Shiwa ( A Business History of Meiji Japan) ( Chugai keizaisha , 15), 1.

. Keizai Kikakucho (ed.), Showa sanjuichinen keizai hakusho ( The White Paper on the Economy of 155) ( Shiseido, 156), .

. James G. Abegglen, The Japanese Factory Aspects of Its Social Organization (Glencoe, Ill. Free Press, 158; repr. Salem, NH Ayer, 184), 1-.

4. Hyodo Tsutomu, Nihon ni okeru roshi kankei no tenkai ( Development of Management-Labour Relations) ( Tokyo University of Tokyo Press, 171); R. P. Dore , British Factory-Japanese Factory The Origins of National Diversity in Industrial Relations ( Berkeley, Calif. University of California Press, 17).

5. Chalmers Johnson, MITI and the Japanese Miracle The Growth of Industrial Policy, 15- 175 (Stanford, Calif. Stanford University Press, 18).

6. See Ch. 5 below.

7. Noguchi Yukio, 140 nen taisei ron, saraba Senji Keizai ( The 140s System Goodbye to the Wartime Economic System) ( Tokyo Toyo keizai shimpo sha, 15).

8. Albert Craig, Japan A Comparative View ( Princeton, NJ Princeton University Press, 17), 5-8.

. See Andrew Gordon, The Evolution of Labor Relations in Japan Heavy Industry, 185- 155 ( Cambridge, Mass. Harvard Council on East Asian Studies, 188).

10. On the importance of labour unions commitment to their firms, see Ishida Mitsuo et al. (eds.), Roshi kankei no hikaku kenkyu ( A Comparative Study of Management-Labour Relations) ( University of Tokyo Press, 1), 1-8.

11. Rodo ( Nov. 15), 1.

1. Rodo 8 ( Aug. 15), 1.

1. Rodo 87 ( June 15), 16.

14. Rodo 65 ( Aug. 1), 1.

15. Rodo 8 ( Jan. 15), 8.

16. Hazarna Hiroshi (ed.), Nihon romu kanri shi shiryoshu (Sources for the History of Japanese Management-Labour Relations), vi (Gozan shoten, 187), 7-.

17. Rodo 74 ( May 14), 0.


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