Japan’s Supreme Court Discourse and Lifetime Employment: Cultural Cognition and U.S. Labor Relations

Charles T. Tackney, Toyoko Sato

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    Our study explores cultural cognition in comparative U.S. – Japan employment relations through interdisciplinary analysis of Japanese Supreme Court regulation of the post-World War II lifetime employment system and the latest data available on Japan's collective bargaining-based approach to employee participation in managerial prerogative. The comparative social policy aim is to examine and account for observed employment relations variance in the U.S. and Japan, given their similar labor legislation. Japan’s Supreme Court recognizes lifetime employment as an institutionalized practice and we report all 236 references to the term “lifetime employment” in Japanese case law: 178 regional cases, 43 regional superior cases, and 15 Supreme Court cases. Quantitative analysis of Supreme Court cases contextualizes these references in post-World War II history; qualitative analysis focuses on the Court's discourse. Causally related to this recognition, management councils (a form of employee participation in managerial prerogative) are also a defining feature of Japanese employment relations at the enterprise level. Despite unionization rate declines in both nations, the persistence of Japan's participatory employee relations system contrasts sharply with recent U.S. state-based legislative assaults on long-standing collective bargaining, particularly for public sector unions. The concept of cultural cognition, recently deployed in legal studies to account for domestic U.S. risk, public policy and voting preferences, offers theoretical grounds for better understanding of the observed comparative variance in employment practices. We conclude with proposals for organized labor in the U.S. to strengthen prospects for informal network proliferation and employee participation, with the goal of enhancing national competitiveness.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationFrederiksberg
    PublisherInstitut for Interkulturel Kommunikation og Ledelse, IKL. Copenhagen Business School
    Number of pages40
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012


    • Social Issues
    • Cultural Cognition
    • Informal Networks
    • Industrial Relations
    • Comparative Labor Law
    • Japanese Management
    • Lifetime Employment
    • Judicial Discourse

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