Structure of Japanese companies – Part 1

The structure of the Japanese enterprises is very rigid. There is a standard system that applies to all levels in most Japanese enterprises.

Some analysts say this system is too rigid and it causes changes to develop very slowly. For example, in order to decide about issue A, forms B, C and D must be filled out, there needs to be meetings with person E, F and G, and blah, blah, blah. Besides, let’s remember that in Japanese society the consensus between all parts without confrontation is always sought after. That way, if someone says that he doesn’t agree with this or that, even if it’s one against 20 people, they’ll pay attention to him and they’ll try to find a solution that satisfies everyone. This, sometimes, may become very annoying and slow.

The good thing about having a system so slow is that when, having to think about something over and over again, having to be seen by a thousand people, etc., the end decision is usually very good.

Let’s take a look at the standard structure of Japanese enterprises:

Shachou (社長): is the president of the company. According to a coworker, his responsibility is to attend dinner after dinner and play golf with other “Shachou”.

Buchou (部長): are the chiefs of every department (Human Resources, Sales, R&D, etc.). “Shocho” (directors of one of the company’s factories) and “Shitencho” (directors of one of the company’s head offices) also belong to this category.

Kachou (課長): are just below Buchou and they’re the chiefs of every subsection within departments. In order to become a Kachou, you usually need 15 years or more of dedication to the company.

Kakarichou (係長): are the supervisors in charge of assigning specific tasks to the lower-level employees. They usually are in charge of groups of 5 to 10 people.

Kaishain (会社員): the lowest level in a company.

In Japan when you finish college you are usually recruited as a “Kaishain”. The company expects you to spend all your life with them; meaning that as soon as you finish college, you have a job for the rest of your life.

That is very different to the Spanish system I was used to, consisting of looking for poor souls who have just finished studying, hire them for a few months as apprentices so they can do all the dirty work, and then find the next graduate to continue the work of the previous one.

After years of hard work and dedication, employees are promoted from level Kaishain to Kakarichou, then to Buchou and finally, and hopefully, to Kachou when you are 50 years old. If you are a master of golf you could even become a Shachou (president).

That is to say, Japanese enterprises take really good care of their employees, and their employees love their enterprises because they are their life.

4 Comments
  • 7

    November 26, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Does that structure apply for all types of Jobs? Even programmers? even though programmers have different titles?

  • kirai

    November 26, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    If you stay being a programmer you are always at 会社員… it sucks! 🙂 If you want to evolve you have to move to managerial positions.

  • inoasa

    November 29, 2009 at 7:36 am

    It’s very odd that you interpret “会社員” to “the lowest level in company”.
    For example, “課長” is also “会社員”, because “会社員” means just “an employee in company”.
    “平社員(hirashain)” is suitable for “the lowest”, I think.

  • paul

    November 29, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    that kind of sucks.programmers cant advance through the ranks