Go to contents

How Do Companies Win in Japan? They Bow

Posted December. 28, 2005 03:19,   


The Kinki Sangyo Shinyo Kumiai, known as the Kinki Credit Association, was established by chairmen Ryu and Gwak to give some financial breathing space to ethnic Koreans in Japan. It is also still discriminated against in the Japanese financial sector.

The association located near the JR line’s Suruhashi Station, which runs through the city of Osaka.

The neighborhood is the city’s Korea Town, with bulgogi restaurants lining streets near the station exit.

On the first floor, I asked where the office of staff secretary was, and a gray-haired worker said, “Please get off on the sixth floor” three times and bowed three times. On the sixth floor, a female secretary greeted me near the elevator door with a bow as well.

The politeness was very appropriate: not too little, not too much.

A little later, found myself before Chairman Ryu. I started off my interview by asking him to explain the MK Taxi Company slogan, which is “kindness.”

What is the meaning of the slogan?

-“To make the others happy.”

What is most important in kindness?

-“The greeting.”

What does it mean to greet?”

-“That is a person’s personality and the basic characteristic, but it took 10 years to teach greetings to MK Taxi drivers. We train them to say: “This is MK. Thank you”; “Your destination is …”; “Your driver today is …”; “Thank you,” and “Have you checked your belongings before you leave?”

Chairman Ryu announced in 1976 that if a driver does not say the four greetings as above, he would not receive the fare from a passenger, a big shock to taxi businesses. At that time, Japanese taxis were known to be rigid and blunt.

As of now, Kinki Sangyo Shinyo Kumiai, the most profitable credit association in Japan, has the number one sales tactic – greeting.

“At 8:20 a.m. every day, all the workers of the association go out to the street and greet people. There are many Japanese who deposit their money here because of the good impression they got from this. More than 90 percent of those applying from loans are ethnic Koreans in Japan, but deposit-wise, more than 60 percent are Japanese.”

Chairman Ryu always emphasizes to his employees that even people who come into the office building to ask for directions are customers.

But he is more than a manager who is merely good at bowing to customers.

Mobilizing all possible means, like easing regulatory pressures, Ryu managed to make the transit administrative authority eager to stop fare reductions, and rival companies succumbed to him after more than 10 years of legal struggle.

It was virtual suicide in a collectivist country like Japan, known as “the kingdom of red tape.” So why was he so obstinate?

“’My Car’ or a passenger car, was always my rival, not a taxi,” he said. To survive in a market where people drive their own cars, the first thing was to lower the fare to affordable levels. My taxis had to be more convenient and clean, otherwise I thought they would be outrun by personal cars.” Over the ever-more severe tensions between Korea and Japan, he came up with a solution based on his own experience.

“Visiting the Yasukuni Shrine and history distortions arise because Japan’s national power is greater than ours. Japanese tend to trample down others no matter what when the others try to exceed Japan, but when they realize others are superior to Japan, they immediately give up and try to learn from them. Catching up with Japan and surpassing it is the only way for Korea to constructively overcome the mutual tensions. To that end, Korea needs to take lessons from Japan such as frugality and diligence, while making efforts two or three times bigger than Japan’s.”

It is said that Ryu donated two billion won with Gwak to Korea University, hoping that it would focus on active research and awareness campaigns to win over Japan.

He said, “If we gather our efforts and minds together, we will be able to catch up with Japan in 10 years,” adding, “I can see it coming by looking at the public servants from the city government involved in MK Taxi training and greeting the locals.”

After the interview, chairman Ryu’s brother, Ryu Tae-sik (69), the chief director of the Kinki Credit Association, came to the door on first floor to see me off. I felt I had to hurry, because I had the feeling he would just stand there until he no longer saw my back. I couldn’t think of any better idea. How kind the brothers were!

Kwang-Am Cheon iam@donga.com