Working in a Japanese Company: Part 9 – 5 Differences Between Working in the USA and Japan

For this next part of my working in a Japanese company series, I wanted to talk about differences between working in the US and Japan. Having experience working in both Japan and the US, it’s fascinating to see what is normal and not normal in both business cultures.

Transportation to Work is Paid For By the Company

In the US companies don’t pay for transportation to work as a benefit normally, but in Japan they do! I get my commuter pass for the train and a company car to get to work everyday, which is a HUGE savior because I work far out of the city and that would cut into my monthly expenses. It’s normal even for contract employees to have transportation paid for to go to and from work. Pretty sweet, right? I also don’t have to worry about car insurance or paying for gas or dealing with the maintenance of a car!

Taxes are Filed by Your Company

In the US you have to file your own taxes every year but in Japan, taxes are typically filed for you by your company, especially if you are a “regular employee”, or「正社員」”Sei sha-in” in the company and sometimes when you are a contract employee, 「契約社員」”Keiyaku sha-in”. At the end of the year the company will give you tax forms, also known as 「年末調整」”nenmatsu chousei”, or end of the year adjustment. If you are single and don’t have any insurance or don’t own any property or investments just fill out a single form with just your personal information and your done! The company will then submit it to the company accountant and if there is a refund as an adjustment it will be paid to you in your salary with it showing up on your paystub in a section called the same 「年末調整」”nenmatsu chousei”. Now, if you have other streams of income besides your job at the company things can get a little bit complicated and you may have to file again separately for that stream of income. ALWAYS tell your employer before joining the company if you have other job commitments. Some companies in Japan aren’t okay with you working another job on the side for tax reasons but also because they don’t want your focus to be divided.

Salary is Paid Monthly and at the end of the NEXT month

In the US your salary is normally paid bi-weekly starting immediately but in Japan salary is typically paid by month the NEXT month at the end of the month, typically on the 25th or the business day before the 25th. So, if you join the company on June 1st, you won’t get your first salary until July 25th. An advantage is that if you leave one job and start another job immediately after, you will still be getting paid for the last job when you start your new one…. but when you first start working you won’t get a salary for 1 month and you should keep this in mind for expenses and budgeting. Out of the 4 companies that I’ve worked for, only 1 company paid the next month, but I’ve heard that it’s normal in other companies. Simply ask your employer before starting what their pay cycle is! My company’s cycle now is actually the 15th of the month until the 15th of the next month, meaning when I joined the company I got paid a half month’s salary in the same month I started because I started on the 1st.

Bonuses are included in your contract and yearly salary

In the US bonuses are not typically stated in your contract, except maybe a signing bonus, but are given out if business is good. In Japan, bonuses are included in your contract and are typically paid 2 times a year, summer and winter. What I mean by this is if you have a yearly salary of 3 million yen a year (approx. $30,000 USD) it will be broken up into a monthly salary plus bonuses all adding up to to the 3 million yen. A bonus is stated as “x times your monthly salary”, (for example “2.5 times your monthly salary”) and changes depending on your company. That amount is divided by the 2 bonus periods in the year unevenly, with one usually being bigger. The company can also tack on more to that amount if they are doing well, but a “bonus” in Japan is actually the company holding back your yearly salary to certain points in the year instead of dividing it up in the regular monthly payments. Please remember that sales commissions are not included in this bonus and that not all companies provide bonuses, but most do. 2 of the 4 companies I worked for did not pay bonuses at all.

Documents are not signed, but stamped with a “seal”

In the US official documents are signed with a signature but in Japan they are stamped with the persons seal. A seal in Japan, called an 「印鑑」 “inkan”or 「判子」 “hanko”, (both are correct) and are typically the person’s last name. Even all companies have an official seal to use for documents for banks, for registering a business, and other official documents. Outside of business, everyone uses a seal as well to sign personal contracts and signatures are not typical in Japan still, though slowly foreigners are allowed to use them more and more now. I even have 2 of them! 1 for official bank documents/ important documents and one for internal documents at the office or simple documents outside of the office.

And that’s a wrap! Let me know in the comments below what you think about these differences and tell me about if your country has any of these too.

To Part 8|Part 10 (coming soon)

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