The Importance of Dealing with Japan’s Dynamic Diligence Factor!

Boyé Lafayette De Mente

 TOKYO—In 1953 as a fledgling journalist in Tokyo I went to the dean of foreign correspondents in Japan [the Far Eastern Bureau Chief for a major London newspaper] and asked him if he thought it would be a good idea for me to stay in Japan—if there would be opportunities for me to build a worthwhile career, or if I should go home.

     His instant response was: “Japan is never going to amount to anything! Go home!”

     Just ten years later Japan was already on the verge of becoming the second largest economy in the world…and fortunately, I had not taken the famous correspondent’s advice.

     There are several reasons why Japan was able to recover so rapidly from the destruction of World War II. Two of these reasons are especially outstanding. First was the hundreds of millions of dollars pumped into the Japanese economy by the Allied Forces during the Occupation of the country from September 1945 to the spring of1952. And second was the fact that the United States bought hundreds of millions of dollars worth of supplies from Japan during the Korean War [1950-1953].

     An obvious third factor in why Japan was able to become an economic superpower by 1970 was the fact that from 1948 on Japanese manufacturers [that had sprouted up like weeds following the end of WW II] were inundated by American importers who began flocking into the country by the thousands seeking consumer goods of all kinds at cheaper prices, giving this mass of new Japanese companies total access to the American market. [By the mid-1950s Sears had 65 buyers permanently stationed in Tokyo alone.]

     But undergirding all of the effort that went into the creation of the world’s most efficient export industry were a litany of national characteristics that made the Japanese both unique and formidable competitors.

     One of the most important of these deeply ingrained cultural characteristics is subsumed in the word monozukuri (moe-no-zoo-kuu-ree)…a word that is so new it does not appear in most [if any!] dictionaries of Japanese words.

     The applied meaning of monozukuri evolved from the meanings of its parts, including original thinking, the application of extraordinary efforts to achieve goals, craftsmanship, and diligence—all of which have traditionally been readily discernable in the character of the Japanese.

     While all of these traits have made vital contributions to the economic success of the Japanese the one that is the most visible—at least to foreigners—is their built-in diligence.

     For me, this remarkable trait was underscored in the 1970s when I was at a New York hotel for a business meeting that included a number of Japanese managers. I came down to the hotel restaurant before 6 a.m. for an early breakfast and found myself standing in line behind the Japanese.

     I commented in Japanese to the man next to me that he and his co-workers were starting the day early. He replied with great emphasis and without smiling: Kimben na Nihonjin desu kara! [“Because we are diligent Japanese!”]

     The level of diligence in Japan is far higher than in most countries, and it expresses itself in everything they do…from the finish and the packaging of the products they make to the meticulous attention they pay to forging and maintaining their business contacts.

     Many of the failures of American companies and U.S.-made products in Japan have been because they did not live up to the diligence standards of the Japanese.

Monozukuri is a concept that must be taken to heart by any company wanting to succeed in the Japanese market.


Boyé Lafayette De Mente has been involved with Asia since the late 1940s as a member of a U.S. intelligence agency, journalist and editor. He is a graduate of Jōchi University in Tokyo, Japan and Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona, USA. In addition to books on the business practices, social behavior and languages of China, Japan, Korea and Mexico he has written extensively about the moral collapse of the U.S. along with books on his home state of Arizona. To see a full list of his books go to: Recent books include: CHINA Understanding & Dealing with the Chinese Way of Doing Business; JAPAN Understanding & Dealing with the NEW Japanese Way of Doing Business; AMERICA’S FAMOUS HOPI INDIANS; ARIZONA’S LORDS OF THE LAND [the Navajos] and SPEAK JAPANESE TODAY – A Little Language Goes a Long Way!