After completing my second month at my job here in Osaka, Japan and I’m back with more thoughts and observations about working in a Japanese company. I apologize in advance if it is a little bit harsh, but I am going through a bit of a “cultural shock” phase right now. Since I have just starting working at this company and I am still in the process of learning and figuring out my way of working as a foreigner in Japan. With that being said, let’s dive right in!
Last time I left you all I had just completed my first month of work and I did still not understand much at all about what my job entailed. In the past month, there have been many ups and downs, I learned a lot, and the person who was training me left the company. I feel a bit more empowered now that I am completely responsible for the job and no one is looking over my shoulder, but it’s also hard because I don’t know anything about what was going on in the company prior to starting in December.
There are a couple of new things that I have observed:
“Hanko” 「ハンコ」or “Inkan” 「印鑑」is everything in a Japanese company. This is your “signature” and is a stamp that you have to stamp on everything that you send inside and outside of the company, but is mostly used for matters concerning money, but also for matters that need approval. They aren’t just used in companies, but for banks or anything requiring a signature. In my company, there are at least 2-3 or sometimes more on each document that I send out, one from my boss and then another from the head boss and sometimes the accountant.
The purpose of a Hanko is checking documents for any errors before being sent out. This is the purpose, but personally I think that it really isn’t the case at all, at least from my experience. The head person in the office doesn’t know the day-to-day work of each employee, so why should he have to look at all the documents and just stamp it for the sake of stamping it? For this, I think there are too many checks before sending a document out and the process takes too long. Often I find papers sitting on my desk for close to a day because I have to get the head boss to stamp them when he is hardly in the office. I think this Japanese culture of “checking” I would like to delve into more at a later date, but for now this is one part of this “checking” culture.
“Dame” 「ダメ」and “wakaru?” 「分かる？」are used constantly. “Dame” translates into “No” or “Don’t” and “Wakaru?” translates to “Understand?” This wasn’t just in this company, but when I did an internship and even on the streets from random strangers, I would hear the same thing. I personally don’t like these two phrases because I feel like a child when they are used to me. I know it is a cultural difference and that they even do it to other Japanese people, but it seems to be in particular to my fellow co-worker and I who are foreigners. It is almost like we are children because our first language isn’t Japanese. I was also surprised because my perception of Japanese people is that they are too scared to speak up, but that isn’t the case. I get told “Dame” for anything from “don’t take your cellphone into the bathroom” to “don’t sit down” when I was at a trade show. At my internship in the summer, they didn’t sugarcoat anything and just told me no and no, over and over again until I got it right. It’s very similar to my company now, but at least they take the time and explain things better to me than my internship did.
That’s it! I hope you enjoyed and learned something from this. Please keep in mind that this is soley based off of my personal experiences.
Please let me know what you think in the comments! Is this different from your own home country?
*This post was edited July 2019 to fix grammar and context
8 thoughts on “Working in a Japanese Company – Part 2”
I remember when I first took classes at Ritsumeikan, I was in the “everything is awesome!” stage until my Japanese professor (teaching a class in English to foreigners and students who had studied abroad) told us she felt so stuck in her position because she wasn’t allowed to do anything, not even plan a simple event, without getting a stamp of approval from most of the staff she worked with. She said she had so many ideas but none of them would ever come to fruition because of this tiring way of doing things, and that most of the time she couldn’t track down people, and if even one person refused to stamp the proposal, it would be rejected.
I felt so bad for her, and ever since then, I started to look more critically at the system. They want to make sure everyone is on board with every decision, and while as a concept it sounds admirable, in reality it hinders progress and necessary change, and becomes a nuisance that blocks people from doing things. Eventually, after someone gets rejected enough times, I’m sure they give up and stop trying to change things at all. At work, I first thought I was respected and was hired to change things and make improvements, but now I realize that they just want to keep up appearances by having a foreigner (and also, elem. schools would never get real English education were it not for foreign teachers since there is no requirement for elem. school teachers to be proficient in English).
Japan gets some things really right but in my current stage at my job I really get frustrated most days at how behind they are. Faxing instead of emailing, terribly old computers, outdated books and ways of teaching. New teachers are mentored by old ones and are not allowed to deviate, so the system repeats itself. I think teaching is a profession that needs a lot of innovation and constant updating, but Japan needs a rehaul to be able to compete in this world anymore. I really hope your job goes well and eventually you get to work in a much better environment! 頑張ろう！
This is just sad. So very sad…
Japan’s greatest asset are her people, but bureaucracy is killing it.
Wow, I didn’t thought that it would be so extreme with the stamps.
While I lived 1 year in Japan I saw my japanese boyfriend stamping his official documents for tax and so on with 2 different stamps. Even so I didn’t need them, I got the people from the bank and the postman troubled sometimes. ^^”
I think it could be useful to have one (when I start working in Germany I had to sign sooooo many documents, my hand hurted at the end) but needing to get everyone everyday at work to stamp your things… that’s so troublesome 😮
I hope you will let us know more about your worklife later on (^ω^)
In America, there is a recent trend to push for more individuality and break down command and control. That the “best idea” should win and it shouldn’t matter where that idea comes from, be it from a Vice-President or from one of the workers on the line.
This is a philosophy pushed by business and management theorists like Patrick Lencioni and John Maxwell, and has been used by leaders like Steve Jobs.
Where do most Japanese companies stand on this?