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