Unity and Diversity
Edited by Bruce E. Kaufman
Chapter 12: The evolution of human resource management in Japan: continuity, change and enduring challenges
Human resource management (HRM) in Japan is commonly said to have evolved through four distinct historical stages. In chronological order they are: the familistic system before World War II; seniority-based system in the immediate post-World War II (WWII) years; merit system from the 1970s to the mid-late1980s; and performance-based system from the 1990s to today (Hazama 1964, Ujihara 1980, Mori 1989, Shirai 1992, Nakamura 2006). This categorization provides insight because it successfully identifies the defining feature of the Japanese HRM system in each time period. A full account, however, must also identify the key socio-economic factors that explain the origin and structure of these HRM systems and why each transitioned to the next. In other words, to understand the evolution of HRM in Japan the subject must be embedded in the larger context of the evolution of Japanese society and economy (Polanyi 1957; Granovetter 1985). Evaluation of the characteristics and performance of the Japanese HRM system is also historically and culturally contingent. When compared to the model used in industrialized western countries, for example, the Japan-style familistic system before WWII and the seniority-based/enterprise union system in the 1950s–1960s were often considered idio syncratic and peculiar to Japan, being characterized as underdeveloped (Okochi 1952, Fujita 1961). However, sentiment started to shift in the 1970s as Japan and other Asian Tiger economies began to challenge western nations.
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