If you dream about living and working in Japan there are a few things you need to know. While there are positives to working here there are also a lot of negatives. Your attitude and flexibility will determine how you adjust the changes. I’ve known several people who quit after just a few days while others adapt quickly to a different work environment and stay for years.
Here’s what to expect when working in Japan.
If you found a job teaching English in Japan then the hours worked each week might be straightforward. About 40-45 hours is normal when teaching English. Usually what you don’t know when taking the job is that the 40-45 hours is usually classroom time. You’ll need to accomplish lesson planning and grading papers on your own time.
With each teaching job, you’ll have a different experience. Some companies will count non-teaching hours. Make sure you ask questions before taking an English Teaching Job.
Working a non-teaching job in Japan and you can usually go home after 40 hours. Japanese understand that you’re a foreigner and are not going to work long hours. However, don’t be surprised when you’re passed over for promotion. If you want to climb the corporate ladder in Japan you’ll need to work like Japanese work. 60-80 hours is common but you usually only get paid for about 50 hours.
Don’t forget the long train ride to and from work. This factor will put some workers in the 100 hours a week range. Reports of workers sleeping under their desks are not exaggerated.
With long hours comes a 6 or 7 day work week. It’s impossible to plan anything in your life except for work. If you do plan something then be extremely flexible because your boss can contact you at the last minute to come in and work. The only answer they want to hear is that you are on the way.
Your time off is flexible so be ready to cancel that dinner date at any time. Japanese companies expect workers to put the company first. Even when you request a day months in advance the company will expect you to work on that day if you’re needed.
Check out my complete guide on moving to Japan here.
Have several different days in mind when requesting a vacation in Japan. These are not days in a row but different days throughout the year. Japanese companies make it so difficult to take a vacation that many Japanese don’t bother with asking.
You can have a vacation if the company is okay with the days you picked and the number of days you request off. Usually, no more than 3 days in a slow time of the year. It’s not up to the worker and pushback can remove you from the promotion list or have you fired.
I know a person who needed a vacation to return to America for an operation. Their company didn’t approve of the vacation so the person went anyway. When they returned to work they had been replaced and were no longer needed.
Japanese companies have meetings about when to have meetings. Several of the meetings are unproductive and a waste of time while others are crucial to the project. Sometimes it’s difficult to know which meeting is productive because one minute you’re reviewing the project and the next you’re planning who is buying drinks tonight.
Usually, in Japan, your manager knows your job because workers tend to stay with one company. That’s not always the case anymore but there are still a lot of managers who stay with the same company for years and are promoted from the bottom up.
Unlike managers from other countries, managers in Japan know how to help you do your job not just tell you to do something and expect results. However, you will probably need to ask the manager several times to help until you can understand their vagueness.
After work socializing is just as important to getting ahead as working hard. It’s not uncommon to visit the local restaurant or bar with co-workers, managers, or even the CEO. There is no after work hierarchy as everyone is considered equal and can say whatever they want without repercussion.
Companies in countries like America have a non-fraternization policy but in Japan, you are encouraged to spend quality time with your superiors and even get passed out drunk with them.
Japanese work culture is non-confrontational and everyone is polite and courteous. This is the polar opposite to most other countries where politeness doesn’t exist in the workplace and management creates a toxic work environment.
Japanese, from an early age, learn fantastic teamwork skills. This carries over into the workplace where everyone on a team is supportive and helps with tasks. It’s unusual to have a team member who is confrontational or works on their own.
Learning Japanese is difficult but working for a company that requires you to work in Japanese is more difficult. It’s not enough to become fluent in the language. You’ll struggle until it’s natural and you don’t need to think about what you’re saying or reading and writing.
Your Japanese co-workers may also avoid you until you learn enough Japanese to communicate with them.
Indirect and vague communication
If someone in Japan says that they don’t dislike something it means they dislike it. Your Japanese co-workers will go out of their way to not say no. This indirect communication is confusing until you get used to it.
While you’re trying to figure out if the Japanese like your work you’ll also be processing vague communication or non-communication. Some managers just expect you to know what to do without instruction. They’ll say do this without telling you how to accomplish the task.
Don’t expect your manager to praise your success. They tend to focus on improvements or problems. This is difficult for non-Japanese who need to know if they did something correctly.
Attention to Detail
You’ll notice that there are meetings covering tasks that would be overlooked in another country. People will be pulled from teams to focus on this small task that you feel is unworthy of the resources. This usually happens near the end of the day and will cause everyone to stay late into the night.
Perfection is good but can be taken too far.
Foreigners are often stuck in a dead-end job while working for a Japanese company. The career path for a Japanese worker is not clearly defined but for a foreigner, the path is uphill all the way in a blizzard.
If you work or have worked for a Japanese company and would like to share your experience please leave a message in the comment section below.
Do you have questions about working for a Japanese company? Please leave a message in the comment section below and I’ll do my best to answer the question.