Japan has stood significantly as one of the most powerful nations in contemporary times, particularly due to its strong political and economic foundations and technological advancements that have since led it to become a strong innovator. Although Japan took only less than three decades to rebuild itself following the devastation brought by its defeat in the Second World War, one could not simply ignore the fact that it has also went through a vast series of historical maladies and errors (Mason & Caiger 361-374).
The intriguing circumstances behind the formation of Japan as one of the most politically and economically powerful nations in the world greatly attribute to no less than its colorful history. The phenomenal success of Japan has historical underpinnings rooted in deep factional conflict and the interference of other nations. Thus, this study aims to provide concise yet comprehensive information on Japan through a country report outlining its country profile and a profile of one of its major multinational corporations – Toyota. The first part, country profile, consists of the following components – history, cultural analysis and economic analysis. The second part, focusing on the multinational company profile of Toyota, includes the history of the company and its key characteristics related to its present size and operations.
Ancient, Classical and Medieval Japan. For over 30,000 years, people have populated much of the islands that presently form part of Japan. There is a theoretical understanding that land bridges during the last Ice Age have linked Japan to mainland Asia, causing an influx of people to travel in between. The disappearance of land bridges after the last Ice Age, estimated to have happened between 12,000 BC and 10,000 BC, has made people who have stayed in the now-separate islands of Japan the ancestors of the Japanese (Sansom 12-40).
The Jomon Period, which lasted between 13,000 BC and 300 BC, is the first historically documented part of Prehistoric Japan characterized by heavy reliance on a culture of hunting and gathering resources. The Yayoi Period came after the Jomon Period in 300 BC and lasted until 300 AD. During the Yayoi Period, the Japanese learned different skills such as farming cloth weaving and building tools out of bronze and iron, as they formed class divisions based on those skills. The Kofun Period marked the end of the Yayoi Period in 300 AD and ended in around 500 AD. The prevalence of military states in Japan and their subsequent defeat by the imperial state of Yamato towards creating a united empire characterized the political landscape of Japan during the Kofun Period (Mason & Caiger 19-24).
The era of Classical Japan, divided into the imperial periods of Asuka, Nara and Heian, feature the rise of Shintoism and Buddhism as the prominent religions of Japan. The Japanese began a syncretic observance of Shintoism and Buddhism - Shinto beliefs for factors related to the living world and Buddhist beliefs for matters related to the afterlife. During the Asuka Period, the emperor made Japan a centralized empire divided into provinces and characterized by an organized taxation system (Mason & Caiger 25-51). The Nara Period saw the city of Nara become the permanent capital of Japan in 710 AD, in observance of a Chinese practice that superseded the previous convention of transferring capitals every time an emperor dies to avoid bad luck (Mason & Caiger 52-63). Yet, pressure coming from Buddhist monks has eventually urged the Japanese imperial household to move to Heian - now present-day Kyoto, in 794 AD. The Heian Period oversaw the development of Japanese arts and education, highlighted by The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, touted as the first novel in the world (Mason & Caiger 91-97). Towards 1000 AD, the strength of the Japanese Empire waned outside Kyoto due to the growing power of wealthy landowners, called daimyos, and their private armies formed by samurais (Mason & Caiger 64-80).
Medieval Japan started with the dominance of the shogunate under the Minamoto-Hojo Period, effectively making the Japanese emperor a mere figurehead. The emergence of Zen Buddhism – which focused on meditation, went alongside other cultural innovations in Japan such as gardening and the tea ceremony. The Minamoto-Hojo Period ended in when Shogun Ashikaga Takauji and Emperor Go-Daigo tussled for political dominance by ruling in two separate imperial seats in Japan. The Ashikaga Shogunate proved the more powerful political force as the Muromachi Period – named after the Muromachi District of Kyoto that housed the Ashikaga family, flourished between 1333 and around the 1570s. While the Ashikaga Shogunate enjoyed vast political powers, issues over succession earmarked their eventual downfall through civil wars fought by daimyos. By then, the centralized political authority that ruled much of Japan under the emperor and the shogun soon disappeared. Struggles over political control by the daimyos intensified with the introduction of European firearms such as guns and cannons through interaction with Portuguese traders in southern Japan, particularly in Nagasaki. The Tokugawa family, under the leadership of Ieyasu, eventually emerged as the dominant daimyo that ruled Japan from 1603 to 1868 (Sansom 339-385; 451-470).
Modern Japan. Much of the history of modern Japanese history has heavy attributions to the Tokugawa Shogunate and the gradual exposure of Japan to foreign forces. Initially, the Tokugawa Shogunate permitted European foreigners to visit Japan to interact with the Japanese people through trade and Christian missionary activities. However, the Tokugawa Shogunate sought to close Japan from outside interaction as they deemed Christianity as a security threat. The sakoku policy, which mandated the closure of most of Japan to the rest of the world, limited foreign interaction to the ruling class so that they could inform themselves on the latest developments in world affairs. Until 1868, the period of the Tokugawa Shogunate saw the rise of commerce and the arts in Japan, although security remained a contentious matter that time due to rebellions coming from peasants and powerful families. Towards the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the United States (US) constantly pressured Japan into accepting goods from them and the rest of the West. Other nations such as Great Britain and Russia followed the US in urging Japan to forge trade treaties with them (Mason & Caiger 190-219).
The failure of the Tokugawa Shogunate to protect the sakoku policy by resisting the trade treaties from Western greatly upset most of the Japanese people and eventually led them to call for the restoration of the emperor as the most powerful political force in Japan. Such led to the rise of Emperor Meiji, who installed a number of reforms such as the abolition of daimyo private armies and the absorption of samurais into the newly established national army, introduction of a constitution patterned after the German model, and the establishment of the parliament called the diet. Understandably, not all Japanese sat well with the reforms that came with the Meiji Restoration, in turn manifested by several revolutions. Moreover, Japan began to spearhead its imperialist agenda towards adjacent areas in Asia, particularly through the Sino-Japanese War of 1895 that led to the annexation of Korea and parts of China under Japanese control (Mason & Caiger 257-303).
Japan underwent an intensive process of recovery following its defeat in the Second World War. Through strong cooperative measures between the government and industrial partners and sharp professional ethics, Japan became highly proficient in turning itself into one of the most major technological forces in the world in just a little over three decades after the Second World War (Kingston 31-39). However, the Japanese economy came to a major standstill at the start of the 1990s due to the asset price bubble accruing from surplus labor and capital and massive debts of Japanese firms that grew in the 1980s. Although Japan narrowly regained economic strength at the start of the 21st century, its economy has occasionally fluctuated following the global financial crisis in 2008 (CIA The World Factbook, n.d.; Kingston 81). The 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, deemed the most powerful that struck Japan, further added to the economic woes of the nation (CIA The World Factbook, n.d.). Nevertheless, Japan remains one of the most economically powerful nations in the world – fifth in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP), owing to its cultivation of advanced technological skills and development and its tested responses to political, economic and social problems honed over time (CIA The World Factbook, n.d.).
Four main islands predominantly make up the territorial domain of Japan – Kyushu, Shikoku, Honshu and Hokkaido, alongside 6,848 islands lying on the East Asian portion of the Pacific Ocean. Collectively known as the Japanese Archipelago, mountains and forests that could not sustain residential, industrial and agricultural needs predominate an estimated 70% of the islands. Therefore, Japan features livable areas that have heavy population densities at par with some of the highest in the world. Moreover, Japan is located at a highly active area of the Pacific Ring of Fire, which explains the high frequency of earthquakes in the nation due to recurrent volcanic activity. Although varying by region, the entire territory of Japan features a generally temperate climate – the northern areas have longer winters, while the southern areas are more humid (CIA The World Factbook, n.d.).
Gender roles in Japan typically distinguish men and women in their households and professional careers. Men in Japan generally take on the role of breadwinners, thus making them more engrossed in their professional careers, while women have the greater tendency to stay at home to take care of household affairs. While it has become more acceptable in Japanese society for women to pursue their professional careers, the realities of marriage and motherhood tend to cut that short, thus compelling them to tend to their respective households instead. Such provides for the worrying trend of gender-based wage inequality in Japan; given the foregoing circumstances, men tend to earn more money while women tend to earn less (Miville 169, 223).
Education in Japan is a requirement at the elementary and lower secondary levels mostly through public schools, while private schools tend to be more popular at the higher secondary to college or university levels. With zero illiteracy rate and a 100% enrollment rate in elementary and lower secondary levels, Japanese education is among the best in the world. The nationwide enrollment rate for higher secondary levels in Japan is around 96%, while 46% of those who graduate proceed to college or university education. The Ministry of Education serves as the national governing body of Japanese education responsible for regulating educational standards throughout the nation (Ellington).
Under Article 20 of the Constitution of Japan, Japanese people face no restrictions concerning their religion. A majority of the Japanese population – 80-90%, have a syncretic adherence to Shintoism and Buddhism, which means that most Japanese people practice both religions simultaneously. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the rates of adherences to both Shintoism and Buddhism only relate to the people registered on temples. The rate of actual adherence to religion in Japan has become dubious at best, as survey results involving the Japanese people have shown that around 80% claim that they do not adhere to any religion (Clarke 208; Mason & Caiger 25-51).
Most people in Japan – around 99%, claim that they speak Japanese as their first language. Several honorific words underline one of the main characteristics of the Japanese language as one that pertains to its highly hierarchical nature. An agglutinative language using syllabaries and characters with individual meanings combined to form new ones, Japanese has its roots from the Chinese alphabet, deriving characters therein in both traditional and simplified formats to form the hiragana and kanji alphabets. For Romanized words, the katakana alphabet is used. A small minority in Japan speak the Ryukyuan languages – for some people living in Ryukyu Islands, and the Ainu language – a language spoken by now a few members of the Ainu tribe (Miyagawa).
As of July 2013, Japan has a population of 127,253,075 people, making it the 11th most populous nation in the world. Japan has a noticeably large adult population at 38.3%, while its elderly population is noticeably huge as well at 24.8%. The economic power of Japan is apparent in its GDP (PPP) of $4.576 trillion - the fifth in the world, and GDP per capita of $35,900 (both figures are estimates from 2012). Japan has a comprehensive network of railways – both provincial and city level, with a total of 27,182 km. Roadways in Japan form an extensive as well at 1,201,251 km total. Japan has 175 airports nationwide, making many of its areas highly accessible by air. Heavy Internet (99.182 million Internet users as of 2009) and mobile phone (138.363 million as of 2011) usage characterize the nature of communications in Japan. Furthermore, Japan has a labor force of 65.55 million as of 2012, ranking the nation 9th in the world in that aspect. The Japanese Yen is the official currency of Japan – one dollar is worth 79.79 Yen as of 2012 (CIA The World Factbook, n.d.).
Multinational Corporation Profile – Toyota
The Toyota Group is one of the largest multinational companies in the world (14th as of the end of 2013), with a total number of an estimated 340,000 employees around the world as of 2013. Based in the city of Toyota in Aichi Prefecture, Japan, Toyota has produced the largest number of automobiles in the world in 2012, which has exceeded over 200 million vehicles with a 10 million-a year production in the same year. In terms of market capitalization and revenue, Toyota is the largest company in Japan as of 2013 (Toyota Global - Overview).
Brief History and Background of Toyota
Kiichiro Toyoda founded Toyota in 1937 through the company owned by his father – Toyota Industries. Previously, Toyota was a department under Toyota Industries, yet as early as 1934, it has already produced its very first automobile engine – the Type A, in turn used in its very first automobile – the Type AA. Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC), the formal corporate entity of Toyota, has since spawned five vehicle brands throughout the years – Toyota, Lexus, Scion, Hino and Ranz. Moreover, TMC owns 51.2% of the shares of Daihatsu and 16.66% of Fuji Heavy Industries, among many others. Joint-venture firms such as Toyota Kirloskar in India and GAC Toyota in China, among many others, add to the reputation of the Toyota Group - within which TMC is a major component, as one of the largest multinational companies in the world (Toyoland; Toyota Global - Overview).
Products, Marketing and Operations
Products. Vehicles are the main products Toyota produces. Among its most popular vehicle products are the following – passenger sedans such as the Yaris, Corolla, Camry and Avalon, sport-utility vehicles (SUV) such as the RAV4 and Land Cruiser, and vans such as the Sienna and Previa. Lexus is the luxury vehicle brand of Toyota that typically produces luxurious versions of Toyota vehicles under different names. Hino produces heavy-duty trucks, while Scion produces sports cars specifically targeting the younger adult population. Additionally, Toyota produces several kinds of hybrid electric vehicles, the most notable one being the Prius and vehicles under the Ranz brand (Toyota Global – Product Lineup).
Marketing. Vast networks of dealerships coming under different names, typically based on the types of vehicles sold, sell Toyota vehicles in Japan. Some of the Toyota dealerships in Japan are the Toyopet Store (for the Corona and Toyopet trucks), Toyota Diesel Store (diesel vehicles, sometimes with Hino products) and Toyota Corolla Store (Imai 41-54). In the US, Toyota sells its products under the Toyota and Lexus brands. Advertising catchphrases aiming to reflect affirmation towards products sold by the brand have become typical of Toyota in the US, with the most recent one being “Let’s Go Places” (Adage).
Operations. Toyota has since undertaken its operations, formally identified as the Toyota Production System, under its so-called The Toyota Way 2001, which consists of five principles: Challenge, Improvement (Kaizen), Go and See (Genchi Genbutsu), Respect and Teamwork. The existing literature has since described the following items as characteristic of the Toyota Way: long-term ideas, problem-solving processes, value-added management and organizational learning via root-problem solving (Liker 3-14).
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