best books on Japanese business

I had a conversation yesterday with someone about what books would be our top recommendations on Japanese business and culture. I found it VERY hard to answer, as I have read so many and written one and an audiobook too! But here’s what I came up with.

Personally I tend to think that some of the older ones got it down the best, so everything on my list is an oldie-but-goodie.

Although it’s been a long time since I read it and if I were to re-read it again now I might feel differently, but The Outnation: A Search for the Soul of Japan stood out for me at the time as very effectively explaining for Americans some of the real basics of the fundamental differences in outlook. I think it’s significant that this book is not by a Japan expert, but by someone approaching Japan from a western perspective and trying to understand it from that framework.

The Engima of Japanese Power is of course a classic and anyone interested in Japan must read it! I still remember how I could not put it down when I first bought it. It articulated so many things I had been thinking/wondering about, backed up with lots of data. The fact that it’s still in print after 20 years says something I think.

It’s a shame that Mark Zimmerman passed away just before publication of How to Do Business with the Japanese, as I think it’s one of the best basic books on this topic and he could have made other wonderful contributions if he had lived longer. I re-read it recently and although some parts are a bit dated, it still really nails it.

For those interested in anthropology, For Harmony and Strength: Japanese White-Collar Organization in Anthropological Perspective made a big impression on me when I read it in college and I think it has to be viewed as a classic that really explains how traditionally Japanese employees related to their firms (I notice it’s still in print too…)

Oh, just one more I have to add, Japan’s Managerial System by M.Y. Yoshino. 40 years old but all the observations on how decision-making works in Japanese firms is still right on the mark!

The person I was talking with said his choice for best book on Japan was Ian Buruma’s Behind the Mask which I have never read but it’s now on my wish list!

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