“Japan and America: Cultural Differences Shown Through the Toyota Recalls”

“Japan and America: Cultural Differences Shown Through the Toyota Recalls” Product Liability and Tort Law is clearly unique all over the world. One wouldn’t think this to be too odd because of the various cultural and structural differences associated with each country. This difference can be seen in the differences in product liability and tort law with regards to the United States and Japan.

This is not to say that the actual laws differ, but more the way the law is used and the ways the cultures deal resolving disputes with the law. This is because Japan’s government and legal structure is much like the United States due to the consequences of United States Occupation after World War II. While this true the cultures and perceptions of these laws significantly vary.

A prime example of the theory is the current Toyota recall saga. This saga is playing out currently and highlights the many differences that are evident in both cultures. The recall is happening in both countries, but the company is handling each differently do to the cultural differences involved in each country. It is through this event that the cultural differences with regards to tort and product liability law can be seen despite the fact the countries actual laws vary only slightly but are mostly the same.

Toyota’s problems with their products quality has been something as a surprise to most Americans, because of their long standing tradition of producing quality cars. The popularity of the car brand even surpassed the automobile companies of the United States such as Ford, and General Motors. With the light of these new problems Americans have began to doubt the quality of the automobiles that Toyota is selling, and this can be seen with the emergence of discontent in the public and the rise in lawsuits and extensive recalls.

As described on MSNBC the public view of Toyota has changed extensively, with values of cars dropping and overall demand falling to unprecedented lows. “As Toyota continues to deal with the recalls and wavering public confidence in its vehicle safety, its biggest financial fight may be in the courtroom.” Also another fall out in the United States for Toyota is the reduction of residual values of existing Toyota automobiles, which is causing many Americans to join existing class action lawsuits to regain some of this loss.

On top of this Toyota also must worry about the numerous wrongful death lawsuits they are facing in the United States. Thomas Baker of the University of Pennsylvania Law School outlines how bad it may get for Toyota on MSNBC "A super-big injury case would be $20 million. But you could have millions of individual car owners who could (each) be owed $1,000. If I were Toyota, I'd be more worried about those cases."1 While there have been over 50 class action suits in the United States filed for several reason the exact opposite is true for Japan.

In Japan there have been zero lawsuits with regards to the Toyota recall problems. There are many underlying factors that contribute to this fact but it’s extremely odd considering the number of lawsuits filed to date in American courts. While minor differences occur in American and Japanese law, it isn’t so much different that there should be such a difference in lawsuits filed. One thing that contributed to this was the different regulations regarding recalls due to safety concerns in each country. In the United States there are a lot stricter rules on recalls and safety, which may have lead to the large difference in numbers of vehicles recalled in each country.

Also in the United States punitive damages are often awarded to winners of liability and tort lawsuits, but in Japan lawsuits normally only receive compensatory damages and rarely award punitive damages.

This is shown in the Wall Street Journal “Japanese courts rarely award punitive damages beyond compensatory damages, discouraging consumers and lawyers from suing companies hoping for fat payouts.” This makes Japan’s culture focus less on expensive court battles and more quick solutions to problems. Another cultural difference that will likely keep the number of lawsuits in Japan to a minimum is the culture of avoiding confrontation.

This can be seen in the Wall Street Journal as well “Others shrug them off, saying they are a typical overreaction by the aggressive American consumer and that such a confrontational style doesn't belong in Japan's harmonious culture.” This shows that Japan is likely to deal with the recalls in different ways then the American public is. There are also other reasons why there may be a disproportionate amount of lawsuits in each country. This is because of the way Toyota has handled the problem in each country.

Americans are so aggravated over the subject because of Toyota’s unwillingness to acknowledge the problems occurring for so long on many of its vehicles. In Japan companies are known for quality control and it is something that they take great pride in, but unfortunately this cause companies to sometimes not recognize problems immediately because they are written off as one time events or small problems.

Recently Toyota has been asked to answer questions with regards to why it took them so long to recall several vehicles that were appearing to have safety issue. As seen on Bloomberg.com “Toyota didn’t act on the first sticky pedal report because the “problem was not reproduced and no other similar” reports were received, according to the timeline.

“Toyota decided to monitor the situation in the field.” This shows how Toyota first reacted to the problems, and is possibly the main cause of the large up roar in the United States. The company only recently offered an apology to all of its customers on February 25, 2010 in front of congress as The Guardian reports “Toyota's president, Akio Toyoda, offered sympathy to the relatives of those killed in crashes involving runaway Toyota cars: "I sincerely regret that some people actually encountered accidents in Toyota vehicles."

It is possible that the backlash would not be so outlandish if this statement had become more time relevant to the mistakes but unfortunately it wasn’t the way Toyota took, and this blunder or at least some of it can be traced to the culture of Japan. This is evident in the way that Toyota has handled the ordeal with regards to its Japanese market. In Japan Toyota is very much a national icon, and is the center if a lot of pride for Japanese. While many people of this country may have cars that are Toyota’s they are more willing to forgive the company that is ingrained in their DNA.

Toyota will not have to do as much damage control in Japan as it will all over the world and it is likely that the Japanese will focus less on punishing Toyota for there mistakes, but are more likely to lend support to the company in tough times ahead. This is outlined by many in Japan’s belief that Americans are overreacting to the recalls, and even down playing the severity of the event. Many Japanese are even accusing the American media of deliberately damaging Toyota’s reputation so that American car companies can benefit. There are also accusations that politicians in America are attacking Toyota for the sake of the nearing November elections.

This can be seen on website Japanfocus.org “Still suspicion lingers in Japan that the controversy is as much political as technological. With US by-elections looming, politicians there “are rushing to get in their two-cents worth about the recalls,” This shows that many in Japan believe that the situation has been blown out of control by American culture, and comes down to Americans wanting there car companies to be the best. They believe the media firestorm is fueling the large amount of lawsuits in the United States, and this is why there is a discrepancy in the difference in the number of lawsuits in each country.

While resentments in Toyota’s home country are predictably forgiving and ready to move on, the cultural difference between American and Japan is emphasized because many Americans are trying to understand why this happened and what can be done. Toyota in America and around the world is perceived as arrogant and boastful as they rose to the top of the automobile industry, taking the coveted spot away from American automobile giant General Motors.

This was done by rapid expansion across the globe and self proclaimed superior product then any other automobile producer. Americans are also looking into the way the Japanese automaker cut production costs significantly while it took its meteoric rise to the top. Many believe it is these cut costs that allowed for Toyota’s quality control to slip and ultimately led to these trying times for the company. Also Americans believe that Toyota grew to fast and were to focus on taking General Motors mantel as top auto producer.

It is this thought that has fueled much resentment in this imposter company for Americans, while the Japanese will not see Toyota in the same light. Instead there pride in the company is a driving reason why their support in Japan has not withered like it has in the United States. This can be seen on japanfocus.org “They were cutting costs faster and harder than other car companies, while bringing in new plant and people. Expansion and cost cutting puts a strain on any organization. Something was bound to give.” This shows how people feel that Toyota sacrificed quality for the ability to produce a cheaper product. Americans see this negligence and is another reason for the high number of lawsuits.

The cultural differences between Japan and the United States can also be seen in the ways the different countries have approached the scandal. The United States has demanded answers and has called for several key members of Toyota’s executive branch to attend hearings in front of congress. These hearings that took place on February 25, 2010 were aimed at figuring out how and what was to be done about the massive amount of recalls Toyota that would be needed to make its cars safe for consumers.

Many officials in the government were not impressed by the way Toyota handled the latest recalls and also investigated claims that vehicles were still malfunctioning after they had been fixed. This is highlighted on the website insideline.com “On Friday, a congressional committee said it wants "answers" about recalled Toyota vehicles that were mechanically corrected but continue to experience sudden-acceleration problems.” Also the United States Government has also been looking into different ways to punish Toyota with monetary fines and other sanctions. Toyota recently announces more recalls on Lexus’ SUVS.

Due to this new round of SUVS being recalled, the United States have hit the Toyota automobile company with 16.4 million in fines and some say the total would have been more in not for caps in place. This can be seen in a New York Times article “If not for that cap, Toyota could have been ordered to pay $13.8 billion instead — $6,000 for each of the 2.3 million vehicles — the agency’s chief counsel told the company in a letter this month.” This shows how the United States would have been tougher on Toyota if the law would hallowed.

While the Japanese government isn’t exactly defending Toyota for their recent failures in consumer safety and car production, they ware not going to the degrees that the United States Government took. This is because of the cultural differences that occur in each country. The Japanese government looks more to change the law so incidents like these are less likely to occur again and if they do it will not be with this amount of severity.

Also unlike the United States the Japanese government rarely issues large fines or looks to hamper the company with sanctions, instead they will focus on the problems and make sure they are resolved. They do this because they believe that the outcome of the problem will always be bad for the company, and if the company is to succeed they must be helped to correct their failures.

This is so because the Japanese have a strong sense of community and the common good and if a big corporation like Toyota is to suffer then it is likely many Japanese citizens who rely on that company will suffer as well. The aim of the government isn’t for its citizens to suffer, and this can be seen on insideline.com “that his company is working to regain the trust of customers, according to media reports. The Japanese government has been putting pressure on Toyota to fix its recall problems to avoid any kind of sanctions against the country.”

This clearly shows how the Japanese government is very worried about the grand scope of things and is willing to apply pressure where needed. The major differences in the cultures of tort and product liability of the United States and Japan can be seen in the way the Governments’ of these too countries has handled the Toyota recall problem Through the Toyota recall it is very clear how differently product liability and tort law is viewed in the United States and Japan. Each country has similar laws and conducts governmental business much in the same fashion, but what causes the differences between these two countries are their cultures.

Clearly two different countries will have different cultures but for these cultures to influence laws that are so similar is very unique. These cultures form the way tort and liability laws work in their countries and clearly make the handling of the laws unique to each country. It is through the Toyota recall case that the differences of Japan and the United States’ with regards to product liability and tort law can been exemplified.

  • McNeill, David. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Toyota and the consequences of the drive to be the world’s No.1." March 1, 2010.http://www.japanfocus.org/-David-McNeill/3311 (accessed April 18, 2010).
  • McNeill, David. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Toyota and the consequences of the drive to be the world’s No.1." March 1, 2010.http://www.japanfocus.org/-David-McNeill/3311 (accessed April 18, 2010).
  • Lienert, Anita. "Toyota Recalls: Toyota Goes Gunning for Critics." March 8,