Working in a Japanese Company – The Beginnings

I started my first day of working in a Japanese company on December 1st,  2014 and just completed my first month of work. I had studied about working in Japanese companies during my MBA program in Kyoto, Japan and in University, but none of that could prepare me for the real deal…. especially the cultural differences that come with it. So today, I will be sharing with you some of my experiences from beginning to work at a Japanese company.

The first big difference I noticed on my first day of work is the office itself. The office is one room with no cubicles; just two rows of desks lined up next to each other, with one desk at the head of the room for the head manager. This is a very different experience than when I had my internship in America where all the desks were cleanly divided cubicles and you had to pop your head out to talk with someone else. Also, in America the head people had their own office and weren’t seen unless you went inside the office. In Japan, the manager is in the same room as you.

The next big difference is overtime. In a Japanese company, it’s normal to do overtime, and you might not even get paid for it. At my company though, we are properly paid for overtime, which I am grateful for. I knew all of this from studying and living here, but I didn’t think about the differences between overtime in America and Japan until my mom asked me my first week of work “Oh, was your manager okay with you working overtime? Did you get permission?” I had forgotten that in America, most of the time you have to ask permission to do overtime if your company pays you to do so. That’s because overtime is a huge cost to a company and in order to reduce costs, you don’t do overtime unless you absolutely have to. If your work requires so much overtime, then it would probably be more cost effective to hire someone else to help out with that job instead of paying the employee overtime, as overtime is more expensive than a regular salary.

The last big difference that I found so far is drinking parties. I think this was partly because it was the end of the year in Japan and there are many “Bounenkai” 忘年会, or “end of the year parties” at this time of year, but going out to drink and have dinner with your co-workers is normal and expected. If you don’t go, it cam be seen as not getting along with your co-workers in your company and anti-social. The President of my company came to the Osaka office, and every young person under 30 was required to attend the drinking party, even though it was announced suddenly and many of us already had plans. We were told in a typical Japanese fashion “it’s okay, you don’t have to go if you have really important plans, and we won’t force you to, but….”, subtly saying it’s not a good thing if you reject, unless it’s for a very good reason. This is a bit different than America, where your reputation at work mostly is determined on the work that you do, not the relationship you have with your co-workers. Of course, getting along with your co-workers in America is important, but it’s not as important as it seems to be in Japan.

There you are!  3 differences I noticed while working in my first month in Japan in a Japanese company. If you would like to hear more about this topic, please comment below and let me know! What about your country? Is this different than your own country’s working environment? Let me know about this in the comments below as well!

Go to Part 2

*This post was edited June 2019 to fix grammar and context


10 thoughts on “Working in a Japanese Company – The Beginnings

  1. I totally agree that no matter how long you are in Japan, unless you have an actual job where you go to an office, you won’t understand working culture. I get along better with my Board of Edu. coworkers, since they are younger and have more free time. The teachers at my school are nice but always running around “working” or in their classrooms, and after school I don’t get paid for overtime and I don’t have a job after class is over, so I leave, but they can’t. The social pressure makes them stay, but it also makes them feel closer. I think they don’t really see me as a real employee because, since I have a lot of schools and another office to report to, I can’t ever go to their drinking parties. It’s kind of sad and I feel left out, but honestly they are all older and don’t have much in common with me, so it’s less stressful for me to do my blog or read at work when I have downtime. I do socialize with the English teachers and some of them are good friends of mine. But working culture in Japan is mostly about stressing people out in order to get them to do things like be “friends” and go drinking. Everything is mandatory so it doesn’t seem like much fun. When I worked in America, it was nice to find friends who would actually meet up with you after work because it was a sign of real friendship. I have trouble trusting Japanese people at work because I sometimes feel the relationships are superficial. No one wants to be seen not getting along, but I’ve been yelled at behind closed doors and it really makes me feel like people are out to get me. This was long hehe but I really love talking to you about this ^^ I feel like you are finally in the same situation 🙂


  2. Definitely interested! May I know which industry you’re working in? I am still considering if I want to work in Japan, but the sheer lack of information for foreigners is a huge deterrence…


    1. I work in Manufacturing on a Manufacturing Control team. I deal with my company’s factories and send the products to our customers, almost like a middle man, so to speak.
      and yes! There really is a lack of information for foreigners here, besides teaching English. That’s why I wanted to help by providing at least one perspective on it!

      Thanks for the comment! I hope you will look forward to other posts related to this topic in the future.


    1. Exactly :/ I really don’t like the passive aggressiveness at times. I would rather be told to my face, but in a nice way and the reason behind it too.

      Thanks for your comment as always! ^_^


  3. Reblogged this on Neo Kei and commented:
    This is a really interesting article. I’ve never been to Japan, but I recognise a lot of these characteristics from dramas I’ve watched, especially Angeo and Real Clothes (some of my earliest introductions to dramas).
    Having to get overtime approved first is the same in the UK as it is in the US. It’s good to know in Japan that you’ll get paid, but it must be difficult to always keep proper social plans.
    I think I would actually like work parties to be more of UK culture. I’ve worked in a lot of offices where most of the staff has been older than me, so it’s been difficult to find chances to socialise apart from Christmas. Also I believe that networking can be really beneficial to careers so it would help to know my colleagues better. But again the impact on personal social plans must again it must be tricky to put work ahead of social life. I’d also worry about how to socialise with my managers.
    Hope things remain good for you at the company, looking forward to reading more about it.


    1. Not all Japanese companies pay for overtime, though there are laws about it.I am lucky that my company pays for overtime properly.Having a social life is really hard, except on the weekends ahaha. I always have to be prepared to do overtime.

      My branch of the company that I work at is small, with only about 20 people and most of the people are older than me. They are all very nice, but it’s not a good environment for networking outside the company at all.Especially if I want to get into another industry in the future. I have to start looking for more opportunities outside of work from now on.

      I hope this post and other posts about this topic will be interesting and helpful to you! Thank you for reading!


  4. Wow, this is an amazing and insightful look into this aspect of the Japanese work environment! Thank you for blogging about this. I’m looking into possibly doing this as well in the future. And haha on the whole idea of being subtle and not saying no outright. It’s a different kind of pressure and a feeling of obligation for sure. While a little off topic, how has the winter been over there? I’ve only been to Japan in the summer and I struggle with the heat and humidity there.


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