Our articles often focus on the way cultural roots such as history, philosophy or even religion are reflected in a country’s current business culture.
Everywhere in the world, including Japan, the world of work has been undergoing extreme change for several years. And yet some peculiarities remain, as can be seen in the following example.
The Japanese railroad company Sotetsu has created a very poetic ad:
It’s about a father and his daughter who can be seen growing older while riding the train. The background of the clip is a plan to connect the Sotetsu train network more directly with Tokyo to make travel there faster.
Once we try to analyze how exactly the effect was created with the dozens of father/daughter pairs it gets really interesting. Here’s a clip from a very popular US Youtube series where CGI professionals try to guess how exactly a visual effect was created.
(the topic ends at 13:13)
As you can hear, the commentators on the couch come up with the wildest ideas about how it might have been pulled off. In other words, if a similar movie had been made by a US production company, it would all have been done with computer effects. Probably every single father and daughter pair would have been filmed separately and then placed behind one another in the editing program.
The actual solution and here we get back to the topic of this article, is completely analog and incredibly Japanese.
In order to film the whole clip “in one take”, dozens of actors and 100s of people behind the scenes are utilized. (the latter group to synchronize the movement of the compartments, for example).
Here is the whole “behind the scenes” film:
Coordinating (wo)manpower at this scale is not uncommon in Japan, where people are raised from an early age to blend into groups and aim for perfect team work. As a result, even larger Japanese teams achieve a kind of synchronicity and accuracy that would simply be impossible to ensure in most other countries.
For this reason, even in a business context, the argument “we can’t do it that way because we’d need too many people” is usually not accepted when a plan is being reviewed.
To this day, in Japanese companies the one resource that is almost always available are employees that can be deployed in all fields, even if they may not specialists for this particular task.
“Strength in numbers” is one of the Japanese principles that continues to apply to date.