Working in a Japanese Company: Part 7 – 5 Mistakes to Avoid Working in a Japanese Company

Adapting to a completely different work culture in another country can be a huge learning curve. I live in Japan and have been working here for almost 5 years at a regular office job as an “OL”, or an “office lady” the term for a woman working in an office here in Japan. Throughout my experience working here I have a few things I have learned to avoid doing while working in a Japanese office, so here are 5 things that you should avoid doing while working in a Japanese company.

Being Late

Being late is a HUGE faux pas in Japan, especially in the workplace. Being “fashionably late” is not a concept here (unless you are the big boss) and in fact, you should be 5-10 minutes early to anything to be prepared. This is the same for when you come into work to begin the workday; I always make sure I am about 10 minutes early to work. My first job actually required me to be to work about 20 minutes early to do radio exercises with everyone and be prepared to start work on time.

Not knowing and practicing “Ho Ren So”

“Spinach??” you might think, but this is a business concept in Japan that stands for “Houkoku, Renraku, Soudan”, which translates to “Report, Inform, and Consult”. This is the basic process on how you interact with your boss/ superior about your tasks in your job that a lot of companies in Japan swear by. Report means to report what you are doing, Inform means to inform all parties involved of the information/ decision from the boss and Consult means to get advice from your boss about your tasks if you are having trouble with something or the boss gives his input into what you are doing. Coming from a western background this concept can seem like you are being babysat by your boss and you cant make your own decisions, but it’s important to know and follow in order to interact with your boss properly in Japan. Not all companies are like this and there are different levels of this depending on how your company is set up, but this is a generally good concept to know so you can understand how these companies operate. Read this article here for more information on this concept!

Not Helping To Clean the Office

Surprise! The workers in the office clean the office, not a janitorial team. You see this often when talking about Japan with the school system, but it actually permeates into the workplace too. Of course, if you are in a huge corporation in a huge building then there might not be cleaning duties, but at a small-medium size company in its own building, you will most likely be required to do some type of cleaning in the office, especially women. More traditional companies will only make the woman rotate cleaning duties, but in more modern companies everyone helps out with the tasks such as taking the trash out, vacuuming, and tidying the break room/ kitchen area etc. So don’t try to wiggle your way out of this! Even try to be the first one to speak up about cleaning duties when you first start at the company as sometimes your Japanese co-workers might not want to bother you as a foreigner. They will really appreciate you helping out!

Not Taking Notes

In my first company in Japan I was CONSTANTLY told to take notes. Now, in school I was the type to not take that many notes and still somehow pass the classes well, so I fought tooth and nail against this but after a while I realized that the co-workers in my first company were in fact correct that I needed to take notes. I ALWAYS forget small things that my boss tells me off handedly to do and having a notebook with me at all times when I talk to him has been a life saver to remember them. On top of this, if you don’t have a notebook and a pen in a meeting it is seen as rude and you are not engaging and absorbing the information presented in the meeting.

Forgetting Proper Greetings

“Aisatsu” or greetings in Japan are essential in all-around in daily life, not just business, so if you do not say the proper greetings throughout the day it can be seen as rude to your co-workers. In the morning when you come into the office you always say “Ohayougozaimasu”, which is “Good morning”, and before you leave for the day you say “osakini shitsureshimasu”, which is a polite way of saying “Excuse me, I’m leaving before you” in combination with “Otsukaresamadesu”, 「お疲れ様です」or “Thank you for the hard work” a phrase that is used in the workplace A LOT. If there is one greeting/ phrase that you NEED to know in a Japanese company it is “Otsukaresamadesu”. It is not only used when you leave for the day but when you greet a co-worker throughout the day or on the phone. For example, when your boss or co-worker calls you on the phone you pick up with Otsukaresamadesu if you know it’s them or after you know who is calling, when you pass a co-worker in the hallway or in the breakroom you say it and when you enter into another part of your office you say it to them as well. You do NOT say it to someone outside of your company, as there is another phrase that you say to a customer or someone outside your company you interact with for work.

What did you think? Do these differ from your country and which ones do you find the strangest? Let me know in the comments below!

Go to Part 6 | Go to Part 8 (Coming soon!)

How to Get a Non-English Teaching Job in Japan Through Higher Education

When talking about landing a non-English teaching job in Japan, there are many different options, like Japanese language school or a  working holiday, but the option that I chose to come to Japan was higher education. I wanted to talk about this route that not many people seem to address  much when talking about moving and working in Japan.  Since I wanted a long term solution to living in Japan, I decided that investing in higher education was the best route for me.  Here is a bit of my story:

DISCLAIMER before I get started: I am NOT an expert in Japanese visas or in the process of higher education in Japan but I do have my own experience going through these things so I am sharing my story in the hopes it will help someone!

I graduated from University in the United States in 2012 and went straight to get my MBA in Japan at a program that was in all in English just 5 months after graduation in the US. The program I chose was Doshisha University’s Global MBA program in Kyoto, but there are lots of other schools in Tokyo and in Japan in general that offer Master’s degree programs that are not just business. I chose business because that was my major in undergrad and I had alway knew I would get my MBA at some point, but If you don’t have a university degree yet, never fear! As an alternative, you can apply to go to regular University in Japan on a full program in English like Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto or Sophia University in Tokyo.

Important to note: Even though I say the programs are in English, in this route it is essential to learn Japanese fluently. Even though some companies are becoming more international and letting people work in English, its still an exception to the normal, so you must be able to work in Japanese in the Japanese way of working. I took my MBA in English because I only had conversational Japanese at the time, so I applied to the English program in order to get to Japan to practice Japanese and immerse myself. I even took Japanese classes as well and made the effort to study Japanese as much as I could while I was there. By the time job hunting came around, I could interview in Japanese and was able to get a job that was mostly in Japanese, where my level went from intermediate-conversational to Basic Business Japanese through immersion after 1 year of working. Now after almost 5 years of working in Japan in mostly Japanese,  my level is in-between N2 and N1 on the JLPT.

Now, why is a degree from a Japanese University beneficial?

#1,  Japan Immigration weighs a degree from a Japanese University higher than a degree from a foreign university when deciding your visa for working later on, so its the “gift to yourself that keeps on giving” so to speak.  If you go to graduate school in Japan for your masters degree, this works even more in your favor because Japan has been giving more priority to highly skilled workers in Japan, which having a masters degree counts as being “highly skilled”. Of course a Master’s degree from a non-Japanese university is still considered highly skilled, but it weighs even higher if its from a Japanese university. Plus, you will get more connections in order to get a Job which leads to #2, which is networking.

#2 If you get your higher education in Japan, you will be able to network around while you are going to school and learn the ropes of job hunting, as well as the name of your school will give you a boost for jobs. Whenever I tell anyone I went to Doshisha, they immediately say “oh you must be so smart!”, even if I follow up with “oh, the program was in English though”. Names DO matter, so be sure to choose your school wisely! Also, the school will have a career development office that can help you, but be aware that they are still very traditional and will mostly operate on the standard Japanese job hunting schedule. Though this is the case, you can still get valuable information on how to act in an interview, how to set up your resume, etc.

TIP:  I recommend during the job hunting process that you contact recruitment agencies while you are job hunting and get advice from them and have them connect you to jobs in Japan. I actually worked together with a recruitment agency in Tokyo that got me a few interviews for jobs that were looking for foreigners, one in Nagoya and one in Kobe.  Also, go to Job fairs whenever you can and dish out the money to go to Tokyo to go to the big international job fairs there. You can speak directly with hiring managers and get interviews right on the spot. This might not lead to jobs right away, as you have to play a “long game” so to speak, but through these you will get valuable interview experience and practice interviewing in Japanese as well and see what companies are looking for out there.

Now lets talk about some Cons:

#1 This route costs money and you cannot work full time while you are going to school to support yourself, because you must be on a student visa. My tuition for an entire course (without scholarships) was 1M yen, and that did not cover living expenses which was about 150,000  yen a month in Kyoto for 2 years. (Expenses can be less than this based on the type of accommodation that you decide to live in) Part time work is okay up to 20 hours a week with special permission on your student Visa from immigration. With that being said, there  ARE scholarships for international students so its not impossible, but it still is an investment.

#2 This route takes 2-4 years until actually landing a job in Japan. You might be able to shorten this if you take on more course work or get an internship with a company or begin working while working on your graduation thesis etc., but more than likely your main job will be studying for this time, so it is a pretty long time-commitment. If you are looking for a short term solution to come to Japan ASAP,  Japanese Language school or a working Holiday visa is probably a better option for you. Higher education worked out the best route for me, but it certainly isn’t for everyone.

And that’s a wrap! Does anyone here have a different experience with higher education here? Have any questions regarding higher education in Japan? Comment below and I can make a follow up post!

Working in a Japanese Company: Part 6 – It’s Been 4 Years

A lot has changed in the past 4 and a half years since I began working in Japan. I have grown from a 24 year old woman just starting out and adjusting to work life, to an almost 29 year old humbled by a variety of experiences under her belt. So, when I look back on all of the previous  “Working in a Japanese Company” posts that I made in my first 6 months working, I actually cringe a bit inside. Now I don’t mean cringe in a bad way… I mean cringe as in I have empathy for what past Lauren had been going through, but also wishing I could go back in time and let her know that things will work out in the end. Only now when I look back that far do I see how far I really have come in my cultural understanding of working in Japan, but also how far I have come to have found a company that was finally the right fit for me.

I bounced around jobs a bit; a combination of both my doing and outside forces. I won’t get into details of the companies I had worked for/ work for and why I left, but I can say looking back at them they weren’t a good fit. I can also say that I gained valuable life experience (though quite harsh and not the kindest at times) and became fluent in Japanese because I went through those experiences.

I’ve also gained A LOT of knowledge, which has changed my mind about and kind of contradicts some of the things I said in those previous posts. For example, when I talked about the “stamp rally” that Japanese companies have with the Hanko system. I said I didn’t think that it was an effective use of time when things sat on my desk for a long time, and I still stand by that the system my first company used wasn’t the best system at all, but after experiencing 3 other companies after that I realize that each company culture is different for how those documents are handled and if there is a “stamp rally” or not, as well as the contents of your job affects it too. I don’t need to Hanko as many documents anymore as I did at my first company, as I was sending out important orders on a daily basis and handling a lot of finance related matters at the time. At my second company, I hardly stamped anything except for approval for days off and the occasional form to submit to the HR department. At my 3rd company I didn’t stamp anything since it was such a small start up company and  HR procedures were not in place.  At my current job, I only stamp something when I am submitting for a day off or for an expense report at the end of the month. I will say though that having to get a contract signed or a requisition through ASAP and having the HR department not be flexible for timing is one example of when this “stamp rally” isn’t the best system.

Where is my future from here? Well, I will renew my visa towards the end of the year and I plan on being at this company for a while and from there….I am not sure yet. I know that I want to continue living in Japan for the long term though. I’m trying to gain experience in digital marketing and overall business planning at my position here and on the side I want to expand the amount of content that I make here on my blog and on my instagram.

I want to continue this series, so what information do you want to know about working in a Japanese company? Let me know in the comments below!

Go to Part 5 | Go to Part 7

“When are you moving back home?” Answering the Question of Do I want to live in Japan for my entire life?


“When are moving back home?”

That phrase is something I get commonly asked when I make my way back to the US, especially at social functions. It’s almost like there is this default setting on everybody that one day you will just press “home culture” and return back.  Everyone is fascinated by the fact that I live overseas, like I am that “weird Aunt” that lives in some exotic place and is always talking about her adventures that no one can relate to, but somewhat enjoys hearing about.  Ultimately it comes down to “well, are you even planning to come home?”. Now, this question is a very valid question to ask, whether out of pure curiosity or simply they assume that you wont stay “away” your entire life but when I was younger, I dreaded this question. Mostly because I thought it was rude, but also because I didn’t know how to explain in words how I felt about the subject.

For one thing, I never felt comfortable living in the US anyway. I was a small person (4’11 or 147cm) in a place with so much space and excess, as well as I never felt like I was listened to because I wasn’t as loud and extroverted as others around me.  My formative adult years were all in Japan and I blossomed when I moved here, rather than in High School or University, because Japan gave me the opportunities to, rather than the suppression I felt in the US. On the other hand, I learned quite quickly that Japan will never accept me like a real Japanese person, no matter how much I try to culturally integrate into their society.  I never want to become Japanese, but being accepted as knowledgeable and culturally aware is something that I am passionate about, but because I am as foreign looking as you can get, I get a lot of default English and awkward questions about things from abroad.

This question is hard to answer because I feel this pressure to press that default “home culture” button eventually because if I don’t, I will be in this kind of purgatory of cultures because I wont be in my home culture, but I also will never fully be accepted into Japanese society.  At the same time, I feel the Japanese culture suits my personality more, as I am naturally more patient and don’t like as much aggression during conflict. So, I answer mostly with “For the meantime, I want to stay in Japan”, which ultimately leads to the question “Will you live in Japan forever, then?”.

To that I say “I don’t know”. Right now, I feel at home in Japan and after I get my visa renewed this year, I want to lay down my roots more, like with long term financial investments, etc. With that being said though, I am open to moving to another country if the opportunity arises and I think that it would be the change that I need in life, but I think I will always be connected to Japan somehow.

That, however, probably does not mean moving back to the US though. In my heart of hearts, I feel that the US would be the last place that I would want to return to settle down for many reasons, but ultimately I feel that it wouldn’t suit me in the long term. I have seen my home country in a very different light for all of these years and I’m not comfortable with going back into that fully again. I would rather accumulate into another culture,  than re-accumulate into American culture again. Now, will I say I will NEVER move back to the US? No. Life happens and there is a plethora of situations that would call for me to go back to the US for whatever reason, but my preference would be to not go back if at all possible.

What do you think? Have you felt this way about living overseas? Let me know in the comments below!

7 Tips on How to Prepare For Natural Disasters in Japan

Moving to another country can be scary in many ways, but nothing as scary as natural disasters. On March 11th, 2011 a huge earthquake shook the Tohoku region of Japan, leading to a tsunami and leaving widespread destruction in its wake. In 2018, there were 2 big earthquakes, 2 typhoons, and flooding that rampaged through the Western part of Japan (one earthquake in Hokkaido), which lead to the 2018 kanji of the year to be “Disaster”. This was a wakeup call to many, including me,  to be prepared for the worst. For the most part, Japan is a safe country to live in in terms of crime rate, but Earthquakes are a part of daily life. But when a big one hits, it’s best to be prepared for the worst. Not just for earthquakes, but for any type of Natural Disaster that can happen in Japan. Here are my 7 tips on how to prepare and cope with Natural Disasters in Japan.

*DISCLAIMER* These tips are only to be a compilation of information for people in Japan to be prepared for disaster, not a direct source of help. Please contact the respective agencies and resources that I list here for emergencies and direct help. 

  1. Know what types of Natural Disasters happen in your area

    Landslides, Floods, Typhoons, Earthquakes, Volcanic eruptions and Tsunamis are all types of natural disasters that can happen in Japan, depending on the area. Depending on where you live in Japan, there are different types of disasters that occur more often than others.  As an example, Okinawa is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so it is one of the places in Japan that is the most prone to Typhoons during Typhoon season. If you are near the mountains, landslides/ mudslides could be a problem. Living near the sea you are more prone to Tsunami’s if an earthquake hits. Are you near an active volcano? The answers to these questions can be as simple as asking a local, or asking your local ward office what types of natural disasters occur in the area. From there you can see how to prepare in case one of them does happen in your area.

  2. Check the Japan Metrological Agency website frequently – especially during typhoon season

The Japan Metrological Agency website is the most direct source of up to date information out there on Typhoons and Earthquakes and other weather-related information. The website is in English and has a lot of good information on when a typhoon is coming, as well as information on all of the different earthquakes that have occurred. You will be surprised how many earthquakes Japan has in a day. You just don’t feel them!

3. Turn on the Television for the most recent updates during a natural disaster

The first thing I do when there has been an earthquake in my area is turn on the TV if I am near one and check where the earthquake had happened and what the damage is so far. For typhoons, most news channels will have constant updates on where the typhoon is and any urgent evacuations or new developments, so its best to keep this on in the background just in case. They even provide train line updates, as the train lines shut down automatically after an earthquake to inspect for any damages. Back in June of 2018 when the earthquake hit the Kansai region, I kept the TV on in my apartment all day to get the most recent information on damage and train lines.

4. Have an earthquake emergency kit Ready in your home

After the earthquake in Osaka in June 2018, my roommate and I decided to get serious and to finally gather an earthquake kit. You can buy a pre-made one at a store or you can look up what should be needed and make one yourself! We decided to make one ourselves and it contains basics like bottled water, canned food, first aid kit, etc.  Ideally, it contains 3 days of essentials in for the worse case scenario.

To build your own kit, check the advice HERE from the US Embassy in Japan. There are also a lot of other helpful disaster tips contained there too! Japan Info Swap also has a helpful article too.

For an already prepared earthquake kit, check HERE at Rakuten.

5. Know where your evacuation centers/ safety points are

Go to your ward office website and check where the evacuation points are, as each ward handles the evacuation points. Most of this information is in English. For example, type in “Chou Ward Osaka” and the website in English should pop up with a link for evacuation points.

6. Coordinate with Friends and talk about disaster BEFORE it happens

Its a very good idea to talk about disaster scenarios with your friends before I happens, no matter how “morbid” it sounds. When you’re living by yourself in a foreign country, it can be hard to be together with someone at the time of disaster, but make sure to talk with your friends and have a general plan on how to contact them or where to meet up in the case of a disaster. Safety is better in numbers! Someone will know if something happened to you and its another safety net to make sure you are accounted for during a disaster.

7. Register with your country’s embassy/ consulate

Most countries run a program for people living or traveling overseas to register with them in the event  something happens to the traveler or a disaster strikes. If you register with them, they know that you are in the country and will come looking for you if there is a disaster in your area. This also gives a point of contact to family members if they cannot get in contact with you for whatever reason. They can contact the embassy and ask them to give updates on your location etc, and its more helpful for the embassy if they already have your information on file.  The USA embassy program is called STEP and it can be found HERE.

Any tips that I missed? Any other tips or information that you would like to see? Let me know in the comments below!

Questions About Living in Japan – Is It Hard to Get a Job?

Questions about Living in Japan #1

Living in Japan can be a challenge for foreigners and for people looking for information before making the leap to move over here. I reached out on Instagram and asked followers there if they had any questions about life in Japan, and I got some great responses! I want to answer each question in an individual post, so this is the first of a series of posts that I plan to make on questions about living in Japan. The first question is about getting a job in Japan and about the working attitude.

Question 1: Is it hard getting a job there [in Japan]? How is the working attitude there?

Finding a job for a foreigner can be easy for a native English speaker wanting to teach English, but outside of that it can be kind of difficult. A lot of people use teaching English as a springboard to getting a non-English teaching job after. You have to have a high level of Japanese for non-English speaking jobs, for the most part, maybe not an engineer or programmer, and you have to prove you want to live here for the long term…. as per my experience. You should also have experience in that field that you want to work in (masters degrees counting in my opinion) as with any job back in your own home country. You also have to be aware that it is competitive out there. Just because you can speak English and Japanese fluently doesn’t mean you get an easy foot in the door. There are tons of Japanese-English bilinguals out there and the competition is tough… you have to have some sort of other skill that you can contribute, not just language. 

As for the working attitude, I can only speak for non-English teaching jobs, but for the most part, Japanese people are very hard working and expect the same from you. At the beginning, they might be sympathetic to you, but they will teach you Japanese business practices bit by bit, if you don’t know them already, and expect you to follow them. Some of these include coming in before work begins to prepare for the day even though the workday hasn’t started yet, radio exercises (Yes… my first company made us do it EVERY single day), answering the phones even though you are a foreigner, etc. 

Some of these things are company-specific though. The company culture differs from company to company and the size of the company as well, so keep that in mind. I suggest when going for an interview, have a list of what you are looking for in a company and during the interview ask smart questions to see if that company is a right fit for you. For example, if you want to travel overseas a lot, a job just sitting at a desk won’t be right for you. If you want to work on new projects all the time, a job where you are taking over from someone else and the job is pretty much decided is probably not the right fit for you. If you want direct communication with your boss, ask for details about what type of working environment you’re walking into.

There are many ways to ask questions in interviews to see if you will be a good fit for that company, and don’t be afraid to…. an interview is just as much them interviewing you as you are getting a feel if you want to work for them. I made that mistake so many times because I was desperate to get out and move on to “something better” when in reality it wasn’t the best fit for me. I’m on my 4th company here in Japan and I finally found a right fit for me but it took me about 3.5 years to do so… so with that know sometimes you might not find that perfect job fit right away and you can quit if you want. 

On the other hand, I highly recommend you try to stick it out in a company for more than a year though so it doesn’t seem that you are job hopping constantly. There are cycles of liking and disliking your job, just like in your home country, and there is a difference between being harassed/ not agreeing with the company values and wanting to leave after the honeymoon period has died down. You might also be going through some tough projects or work at that moment, so I highly recommend thinking very thoroughly about why you want to quit before you do and also have something lined up before you leave so you can pay your bills.  

Let me know if you want information on how to quit your job in Japan properly! I’ll consider making a blog post or video about it in the future. Also, if you have a question about living in Japan please answer in the comments below! If you have experience with jobs here as well, feel free to comment on your experience.

Seasons of Japan – July 2017 | nihonchique

Seasons of Japan July

July was a very busy month consisting of job hunting, my mom and sister visiting from America, and lots of traveling! I took my mom and sister around Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, and Hiroshima. All of those places are some of my favorite in Japan. This was the month I truly realized I love photography and traveling. Unfortunately, in the months following afterwards I didn’t get the time to do much of any of that, but it is something that still lingers in the back of my mind quite a lot.

I guess life gets in the way and balance becomes hard when you start a new job, especially one that doesn’t have consistent days off.  Taking from the future,  the the time from then until now was a hard journey that I still am on at the moment. Juggling friendships, boyfriends, new hobbies, and a new job is extremely difficult and still something I am not too sure how to handle. Though that is the case, I feel a lot more wiser than I was back in July of last year and I am continuing to grow.

Despite that, July was an amazing month of traveling and I was finally able to take my sister around Japan for the first time since I had moved to Japan 5 years before. I visited Fushimi Inari, Miyajima, Todaiji, Nara Park, Himeji castle and more, eating our way through many parts of Japan, as my sister is a Major foodie! I am glad she enjoyed all of the food I recommended to her.

Would anyone be interested in a Kansai travel guide? I think that would be fun to make and I can introduce you to some of my favorite spots in the Kansai region! Let me know in the comments below if you are interested.

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Visited the famous Todaiji Temple in Nara! 🦌

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Miyajima with the little sis @prncess.di ⛩!

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