A Japanese Approach to Moral Capitalism

I recently read a short book by Kengo Sakurada, President and CEO of SOMPO Holdings, titled Bushido Capitalism: The Code to Redefine Business for a Sustainable Future.

Sakurada takes the ethic of Bushido, the way of service as a Samurai, as interpreted by Inazo Nitobe.  Nitobe wrote his book, Bushido: The Soul of Japan, in English for publication in New York in 1899.

I was taken by Sakurada’s recommendation of this virtue ethic for business because another Japanese business leader, Ryuzaburo Kaku, then CEO of Canon, contributed his Japanese ethic of kyosei to the Caux Round Table Principles for Business, the basis for a moral capitalism.

The experience of the Japanese over the centuries in articulating a balance between individual mindfulness – Zen – with participation in natural environments and community – Shinto – has given their culture insights into living well through virtue ethics.

The Bushido code has 7 principles, each of which Sakurada applies to business to enhance both its profitability and its sustainability.

The first principle is justice – achieving success through assuming responsibility.  Self-seeking narcissism won’t work.  Decisions must be supported by reasoned consideration and be in the interest of the many.

The second principle is courage.  Courage is needed to constantly ask questions, scrutinize everything high and low, near and far and be ready to leave the status quo behind.

The third principle is a duty of care.  Empathy, compassion, even a tenderness towards others, keeps them within the compass of our lives.  This principle is to acknowledge our emotions and not suppress them.

The fourth principle is politeness.  This should be a natural, free-flowing, outward manifestation of a sympathetic regard for the feelings of others.  Sakurada advises that respect should never be conditioned on selfish benefit.

The fifth principle is veracity.  This requires never exaggerating or underplaying your skills and being brave enough to admit mistakes and acknowledge your limits.

The sixth principle is honor.  Honor comes to us when we act as if we deserve to be honored and esteemed by others.  How you think of yourself in providing service and meeting your responsibilities rebounds in how others do or do not show you honor.

The seventh principle is loyalty.  Loyalty is commitment; accepting a vocation or higher calling which makes demands on you and tests your selflessness.  The virtue of loyalty enhances one’s ability to work with stakeholders.

In thinking about these virtues, I am reminded of the sensibility of the American poet, Robert Frost.  In his poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” he was evocative of a life worth one’s commitment to excellence:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.