Japan's ever-growing business success may be tied to its cultural qualities, and if that's true, the United States will have a hard time competing, a Japan business expert said Wednesday.

Walter Ames, a professor in Brigham Young University's anthropology department who has studied Japan, spoke in the honors department's Flea Market of Ideas lectures.Ames said Japanese people are very different from Americans, and their qualities contribute to their business success.

"It has dawned on the Japanese slowly that they are the richest people on the Earth. They're saying: `We're the richest people. What does that mean? Let's throw our weight around a little bit.' Japanese behavior is almost clanlike behavior," he said. "It's kind of like having the same last name. They feel like they're related."

Because of the homogeneity among the Japanese people, they are comfortable working together, and the hospitable atmosphere in the work place improves business output, he said.

Although the Japanese love to work together, they have a hard time working with people from other countries, Ames said. In fact, some American business people think the Japanese are impossible to understand.

"Some people will argue that the Japanese are so different that they're like another species. Well, they're not another species, and they're not just like us. We're probably the most Western of all Western societies, and Japan is probably the most Oriental of all Oriental societies. It's an important relationship, but it's an odd couple on a colossal scale."

Americans must not make the fatal mistake of believing that the Japanese are getting lazy in the wake of their great economic success. They will never sit back and relax, Ames said, because that is not a part of their culture. Survival of the group is more important to them than individual advancement.

"They just can't tolerate failure, so when they say quality control, they mean quality control. Their culture promotes business success," he said. "There's not a lot we can do about that. That means we're going to be in for a long struggle."