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)

Working in a Japanese Company: Part 8 – 5 More Mistakes to Avoid Working in a Japanese Company

Back by popular demand from the previous post, here are 5 more mistakes to avoid working in a Japanese company. These are a bit more

Eye Contact

Eye contact is actually considered aggressive in Japan, and not just in a business setting. You will notice that people, especially people of “lower rank” then you won’t make direct eye contact very often. Coming from the west this can be seen as the Japanese being “shy” but that’s not the case at all. It’s just impolite and aggressive to be making direct eye contact for a long time and makes them uncomfortable. When receiving criticism from a boss this is prevalent in a work setting, as it’s seen as not being cooperative to your boss. Don’t look down, but don’t stare directly into his eyes either. When I go in and see a higher up in the company to talk to them about something, I normally put my focus a bit off to the side like I am thinking and absorbing the information, write notes (like I mentioned before), and every so often turn and acknowledge him with brief eye contact. Don’t be scared though! Most of the time they understand that foreigners have different habits than them, but just be aware that direct eye contact too much can be seen as aggressive.

Not Being Aware of Seating Hierarchy

In a traditional Japanese company, seating charts and the position people sit in is VERY important. This goes for company “Nomikai” as well, elevators, cars, EVERYTHING. This is called “sekiji” 「席次」, or the “seating order” and the ranks are Kamiza” 「上座」the most important seats going down to “Shimoza” 「下座」 means the lowest ranking seat. Most of the time the most important person will sit in the back corner of the room, or at the back head of the table farthest from the door, with the rank going down from there towards the door. If the door has seats facing it, the higher ranked people will sit facing the door with the highest ranked farthest from the door. Rank changes depending on who the people are at that moment in the meeting or in the room, but normally the higher ups in the company are the Kamiza, followed by guests. Guests will trump higher-ups in the company to my knowledge if they are in the room at the same time. For more in depth information about this, check out this article I found with graphics from bunkablog. If you are confused, simply ask a co-worker! Don’t be afraid to ask as you are learning a new culture. I have been working in Japan for 5 years and I still mess up.

Giving a person a handshake when you meet or greet them

This might seem obvious, but handshaking is not normal in a Japanese company. When meeting someone for the first time, stand up if they have come into the room, face them directly state your name and give them a small bow and “yoroshikuonegaishimasu”「宜しくお願いします」, which directly translates to “please treat me well” but its more treated like a “its a pleasure” more than anything. Within the company, walk into a room and slightly bow with either “otsukaresamadesu” 「お疲れ様です」or “shitsureshimasu”「失礼します」(a greeting when entering or leaving a room or a house), but don’t go and shake someones hand. I don’t think I’ve ever shaken my boss or CEO’s hand. It’s not a taboo, but if you want to fit in more it’s better not to shake hands.

Referring to another person in your company as “-san” when talking about them without them present To someone outside the company

That was a mouth full! This is more of a Japanese lesson, but I had a hard time with this when I started speaking more business Japanese. Almost everyone knows that you put “-san” at the end of someones last name in Japan, but when referring to them without them present or on the phone, both instances to someone outside the company, “-san” is not put at the end of their name. There really isn’t any meaning behind it, its just not done in Japan and Japanese people will probably think it’s weird if you keep on saying it. Here is are two examples:

In person:
Customer: When can you get the data to us by? Can you ask Takana-san?
Me: I will speak with Tanaka to double check, but I think by Friday.

Customer: Can I please speak with Tanaka-san?
Me: Oh, I am sorry Tanaka is not at his desk right now, can I get your name and number? I will have him call you back right away.

Serving coffee to your co-worker or boss before serving the guest

Serving guests in the office is normally the job of women in the office to serve coffee or tea to guests or for higher ups in the company for meeting, but I think it’s a good thing for everyone to know. When a guest comes into the office they trump everything. The guest should be served before your co-workers and then should be done by rank. They should already be seated by rank, so follow the rank seating chart I mentioned above and you should be set!

How do these mistakes compare to mistakes in your country? Have you made any of these mistakes before? Let me know in the comments below!

Part 7|Part 9

5 Things About Dining in Japan You Should Know Before Arriving

Dining in Japan doesn’t have to be complicated! Use these below tips to help you navigate the food scene in Japan and you will be all set to enjoy a foodie’s dream! Here are 5 things about Dining in Japan you should know before arriving.


This is a classic, but it must be said just in case…. There is NO TIPPING in Japan. This is for restaurants as well as services like hair, nails, concierge at a hotel, tour guide, etc. There is no system like in the US of a waiter’s “section”, all of the waiters will help you if you ask for something. The waiters are paid a normal wage and are not reliant on tips to subsidize income. Don’t say “keep the change” either…. they are very particular and will give it right back to you. It’s rare, but you might see a “1 yen jar” or a “Tip jar” at the register so that is your chance to put change in if you want to.

Food is not normally customizable

If you go to restaurant in Japan and ask to substitute something that you don’t like for something else you have seen on the menu, most of the time the waiter will give you a blank look and say no…unless it is already something on the menu about choice, like in a meal set that you can choose what you want. If you ask about something on the menu, the waiters normally won’t know exactly what is in it like if there is dairy etc., unless it’s a high class restaurant. They are not trying to being mean or rude, they are just not trained or set up to do things like this. Culturally, what have on the menu for that item you ordered is what you get and that’s the way it is… I believe it is actually impolite to the chef or person who prepared your food to ask for substitutions because it means you do not like their food or the way they prepared it. In Tokyo it’s becoming more common to ask about allergies, have English menus with icons that explain if there are allergens in the food and for the waiters to know about what is actually in the food, but for the rest of Japan it is still rare. Exceptions to this are fast food chains like McDonald’s or specifically foreign food chains that already have a culture of substitutions and customization to their menus.

TIP: If you have REALLY have allergies, please take the time to research how to say your allergies in Japanese and take it with you everywhere on a piece of paper or on your phone to show a restaurant and they should help you. I helped out someone a while back with a nut allergy and here is what I told them:

DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a doctor and I am not an expert, but this translation was verified by my Japanese co-workers for ONLY nut allergies. Use this at your own risk and please do your own research to make sure what I am saying is correct yourself in case something does happen.

I have a serious nut allergy, these are the types of nuts I am allergic to below:

・大豆(だいず)Soy bean
・小豆(あずき)Red beans
・くるみ Walnut
・アーモンド almond
・カカオ Cacao
・カシューナッツ Cashew nut
・ピスタチオ pistachio
・ペカンナッツ Pecan nuts
・ヘーゼルナッツ Hazelnut

I am allergic to not just nuts, but also will have a reaction to nut products.

I need to have anything containing nuts prepared separately from my food or I will have a reaction.

Am I able to eat here at thus restaurant?

What am I able to eat at this restaurant?

If I cannot eat here, can you please recommend another place that I can eat at that can accommodate my allergy?

“Doggie Bags” or taking extra food home is not a thing

The portions are not big in Japan, and people eat everything on their plates because, again, it is considered rude to the people who made your food to leave food on your plate. With this, the concept of take-out and packing leftover food up to take home with you is still rare. Restaurants offer take-out separately via services like UberEats etc, or by a specific take out order, but in general the restaurants don’t want liability if the customer gets sick off of their food they took back home. In fact, most restaurants don’t even have containers to pack away food for take out unless they offer take-out, in which they will normally advertise on the outside of the restaurant.

I have two stories about this, one in 2011 and one last year in 2019, but I will tell the most recent one. Last year my mom came to Japan and took a class of college students on a course she was teaching to Japan. I arranged a restaurant for them to eat at with a set menu but a good majority of them went back to the hotel and didn’t eat everything and there was a lot of food left over. At the end when we settled the bill, I asked the restaurant if I could take a small plate of the left over food home because I knew they did take out and had containers. I had to talk with them back and forth for about 10 minutes in order to convince them to let me do it and tell them it was only for lunch the next day at work, less than 24 hours away, and I wouldn’t be complaining to them if I got sick on it, and they reluctantly let me take some of the food back.

Moral of the story is please don’t expect to be able to take extra food out if you don’t eat it all.

Be aware of “Last Order”

At pretty much all restaurants in Japan you will see on the sign with operating hours a “L.O.” that is normally between 30 minutes to an hour before closing time. That is called “Last Order” or the last time you can place an order before the restaurant closes in order for the kitchen to start to clean up. Sometimes food and drink have different last order times. This is to ensure the restaurant closes on time and people can’t come in and order right before closing time. If you are already seated at a restaurant and last order comes up, the waiters will come around and ask if you want anything else before the kitchen closes and then will ask you to leave politely once the restaurant is actually closed. So, be aware that if online the restaurant says “closes at 10pm” on google, that will probably not reflect the last order time and to make sure you come to the restaurant an hour before before closing just in case.

Eat ALL of your food you put on your plate at an all-you can eat restaurant

Japan is famous for their “Tebehoudai” 「食べ放題」or “all you can eat” restaurants. All you can drink is called “Nomihoudai”「飲み放題」。Normally they give a set amount of time to eat anything on a specific menu… but there is a catch. At these restaurants you normally have to eat everything on your plate before you can order a new plate, same with drinks. For buffet restaurants or what Japan calls “Viking”, 「バイキング」and if you leave a lot on your plate at the end they can charge you extra for that. So before going and piling your plates high to the sky with food, make sure you can actually eat all of it…. I suggest taking small trips back and forth to the buffet or ordering a few plates at a time to make sure you can eat it all. Don’t be totally freaked out though, if there is a tiny bit of food left on the plate, they won’t say anything but in general just avoid having plates full of food at the end of your meal.

And that’s a wrap! Let me know if your country does any of these things or what you think of these dining tips in Japan.

Why I Say No to Fukubukuro, Japanese “Lucky Bags”

The end of December brings the announcement of lots of retail shop’s Fukubukuro 「福袋」, often called Lucky Bags or Happy Bags. If you are not familiar with the concept, these are bags of goodies that have a set price to them and most of the time you don’t know what you are going to get inside but the price is a LOT cheaper than you would normally pay for items at that store which is an incentive for people who like that particular store. People wake up early on January 1st or January 2nd depending on what the shops open and rush to get these discounted bags of goodies, kind of like Black Friday in the west. Nowadays though, a lot of brands let you pre-order the bags from the comfort of your home and allow you to reserve at the store to reduce the rush of shoppers at the beginning of the year.

I focus on clothes in this post, but stores like Starbucks and Lush also do these types of things as well. Each store has a different type of lucky bag; some stores only tell you how many items are in the bag, some tell you the types of items (like a sweater, dress, top, etc.), some will tell you 1 of the items (like a coat) that you can pick the color but the other items are a secret, and some stores will only tell you the equivalent of what the content would cost at normal price. And the best ones, in my opinion, are the ones that tell you most everything in the bag like a discounted set.

When I first came to Japan I was fascinated with these bags and I bought a bunch the first few years I lived here. I was all about those discounted clothes! But… as the years rolled on I began to notice I wouldn’t even use half of the clothes I got in those bags; I would pick out a few good pieces and the rest would be sitting in packaging over the years. I can’t even remember how many cheap winter coats I got and wore about 1 time before stuffing it into the back of my closet.

Why did this happen? I really did like those brands! Well, the downside to these lucky bags is this is many retailers’ way of getting rid of dead stock and things that didn’t sell through the year or even years previous. One year in particular, this was made VERY clear to me through my favorite brand Noela. In January 2016 I ordered a happy bag from there and when it arrived I opened it only to be disappointed that it was basically ALL clothes that I wouldn’t have worn. I had the epiphany I had spent about ¥11,000 yen (about $110 USD) and not 1 piece was really wearable and I could have used that money to buy just 1 piece from the same brand that I loved and would have used a lot. That was the beginning of not buying happy bags anymore (especially clothes) and I haven’t since then from what I can remember.

Now, if happy bags are in your budget and you like bargain hunting then its a great opportunity! BUT if you are more like me and like to invest in just a few good pieces than happy bags are not the thing for you. So, my recommendation before you buy happy bags is to consider if you want to gamble that money (because its essentially what it is) or make sure to pick happy bags that explain the contents more so that you are sure what you are spending your money on.

Have you bought a happy bag before? Did you get anything good in it? Let me know in the comments below!

5 Ways To Survive Winter In Japan From A Native Floridian

Winter in Japan varies where you are visiting, but most of the country gets consistently to 0 degrees celsius or colder during the winter, so it gets pretty cold… at least to me. I went from not knowing anything about how to survive winter, being a native Floridian, to being thrown into the Kyoto cold when I first moved to Japan. Here are 5 tips from a native Floridian on how to survive winter in Japan.

Layering Clothing and UNIQLO Heattech

This may seem obvious for some people, but I was never taught layering or even how to “winter” properly being a native Florida and in fact, I never even owned a “proper” coat until about last year. When I say proper I mean investing in a coat that is thick and made to last years…. I always bought cheap under $100 USD coats that didn’t last very long and weren’t very warm. I now have a coat from my favorite clothing brand NOELA that is a short duffle that doesn’t button but zips up in navy with a fur hood and I am in love with it! It goes with everything and the next coat investment I want to make is a medium size single breasted coat that is a bit more classic, but that will be probably for next winter.

Layering is extremely important to survive the winter here in Japan as when you are outside you want to bundle up but with the harsh heater inside you don’t want to bake and sweat like a pig. I ALWAYS check the weather in the morning and see how cold it will get. I practically live in jeans and sweaters during the winter with the occasional skirt and dress if I feel like dressing up, but in those cases I will make sure I have a thick cardigan and wear UNIQLO Heattech.

In the west we have “long johns”, or undergarments made to keep you warm but in Japan UNIQLO has heattech technology that is similar but so much more light weight and is extremely affordable at around $12 or 1000 yen. They have all different of types, such as tank tops, short sleeve, long sleeve, boat neck, crew neck, turtle neck, everything you can imagine! They have socks and bottoms as well for those who’s legs get cold easily. Another key element for me in winter in Japan is cashmere, which once again I find cheaply at UNIQLO. Cashmere is thick and soft sweater material that keeps you super warm and is quite expensive. UNIQLO has good quality cashmere for a great price, normally 8999 yen (USD $88) and on sale it can get down to 6999 yen ($68 USD). They don’t just have sweaters, but scarfs and other accessories too. I also get cashmere infused socks for 1000 yen for 3 pairs at TUTUANA, a socks and tights store here and they are my favorite socks to wear during the winter.

Kairo Hand Warmers

Hand warmers are a LIFE SAVER and I had no idea they existed until l moved to Japan, as I don’t even think they are a thing in the US (although I didn’t live in a area that got real winter weather… Florida is either hot or HOT HOT…). I don’t like wearing gloves unless I’m outside for a long period of time, which is not on a daily basis for me. BUT my hands get extremely cold and having a hand warmer on me during the winter is a must for me. I buy a huge pack of them at the beginning of the season and normally I use a few a week so a pack of about 24 lasts me for the entire winter season. There are two types: Stick (貼る) and non-stick (貼らない). I always get the non-stick because I like to hold it in my hands, but the stick kind you can stick on your cloths or body under your clothes to keep you warm or stick them inside your shoes. I prefer to control by body temperature through layering my clothes, so I do not use this option usually.


Onsen are hot springs in Japan and I cannot survive winter without them! There are so many local onsen around the Kansai area where I live and I like to go on a day trip out there, eat a nice meal and hop into the hot spring, especially the outside ones called Rotenburo「 露天風呂」. I love the contrast between the hot bath and the cool air; I always feel refreshed afterwards! Some places in Kansai I recommend for a day trip are Arima Onsen in Hyogo and Awajishima in Hyogo, they are both day trips and you can find day-trip plans that have food included. One last tip is that to go into these hot springs you will have to go to a hotel or ryokan. There are normally many options in the area for budget and for splurge so I recommend researching a bit before going and book ahead of time for the best trip.

Now and alternative for people who do not like to get naked is foot baths that most of these onsen have as well. Warm up by soaking your feet in the warm hot springs!

Heated Blanket and Kotatsu

Heated blankets aren’t revolutionary either, but in Japan the heater and air conditioning are not central air conditioning so it gets very drafty and cold easily. At night most people do not sleep with the heater on and opt to use a heated blanket instead. I slept with the heater on the first few winters in Japan and it was way too dry and didn’t help at all so I decided to pick up a heated blanked instead. They are easy to find on Amazon or at your local Bic camera/ Yodobashi camera and are normally decently priced at about 5000 yen, or $49 USD and I have had mine for over 5 years now and its going strong.

Another alternative is a kotatsu, basically a heated table with a blanket over it to keep the inside warm and a lot of Japanese people live in them during the winter to save on electricity. I actually prefer the heated blanket to as in my apartment we do not have a lot of space to sit under it even though we have one. If you want to try one out there are actually restaurants that you can sit under a Kotatsu and eat a nice mean, usually nabe!

Take the Underground Passages

If you are in a big city in Japan there are almost always underground passages in the main parts of the city. I live in Osaka and the entirety of Umeda is basically accessible underground, which is perfect when it is a bitter cold day. Shibuya in Tokyo is also another good example of where a lot of main attractions, like Shibuya 109, are all accessible via underground passages. They can be a bit of a maze, but if you read the maps and follow the signs carefully you can successfully navigate almost anywhere, all while staying toasty!

How do you survive winter in Japan or winter where you live? Are there any special things that you do to keep warm? Let me know in the comments below!

5 Realities of Living in Japan as a Foreigner

Living in Japan as a foreigner is such a fulfilling experience. I’ve been living here for over 7 years now and can’t imagine living anywhere else, but with the good comes the bad and there are some realities of living in Japan as a foreigner that some people might not be aware of before they move here. There are so many realities of living abroad, but the ones I wanted to talk about this time are Japan specific. So let’s take off those rose colored glasses for a few minutes and discuss 5 realities of living in Japan as a foreigner.

1. Life in Japan is NOT an Anime, Manga or J-Drama

Japan is the land of anime and manga, but it isn’t the reality of daily life here. I grew up watching anime and dramas and reading manga and it taught me a LOT about how life in Japan was, but in reality it’s a stretch of the real day-to-day life here. It’s the same as watching Friends or Disney channel movies and shows to learn about the US…. it shows only a snapshot of real life in Japan. In fact, real life is probably more boring and mundane than you think and and not so different from other countries. We all commute to school and work, go grocery shopping, see friends and family etc. After a while the novelty of the convenience stores wears off (though I still think they are convenient and use them every day!), riding on trains with people sleeping on you starts to annoy you and your foreign “charm” wears off on the people around you. So please… don’t expect to come to Japan and believe that real school life or work life is like in an anime OR that everyone reads the same manga here. If you do want something that is relatable and pretty accurate I highly recommend “Love Is Hard for Otaku (ヲタクに恋は難しい, Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii) as an AMAZING slice of life anime about adult life as an otaku though!

Speaking of liking anime and manga, there are so many options of entertainment in Japan and everyone has their own preferences here, so not everyone will share your same interest. Of course you will find people with similar interests if you look for them, but please don’t assume everyone likes what is “mainstream” outside of Japan.

2. Foreigners will always be outsiders

Now this one is probably more for the non-asian foreigners in Japan. I’ve been living in Japan for over 7 years now and am fluent in the language and yet I still get treated as a foreigner… because I AM one and look like one. I know the culture pretty well (though not an expert) and know how to navigate society here decently, but I still get talked to like I don’t understand. I still get spoken to in English a lot when people first talk to me, in which I politely respond to them in Japanese. People will automatically assume that I can’t speak Japanese just by looking at me. I will always be asked “foreigner questions” and will always be told “your Japanese is so good!” when they only heard me say 1 phrase. Yes, I know this is the Japanese people being polite, but for someone living in Japan for so long it can be disheartening when you have spent so long learning the language and the culture. I accept this and I am always polite because I know that the Japanese people don’t mean harm but it’s something to be aware of as a foreigner here.

Something that all foreigners here can Japan can relate to along the lines of this is the string of extra paperwork and procedures that you have to go through because you are a foreigner. Some phone companies won’t give you a contract for monthly payments for a phone unless you pay for the price of the phone upfront if your visa is shorter than the contract amount. You will be discriminated for renting places (though in Osaka I have never had that experience) because you are a foreigner and you have to jump through hoops to get a loan from the bank and credit cards from banks are almost impossible to get at times as a foreigner. Unless you get permanent residency you will have to deal with most of this for the entire time you live here in Japan.

Random fact: You can’t actually become Japanese unless you give up your own country’s citizenship because Japan doesn’t allow dual citizenship. Also, something I learned recently that people born to non-Japanese parents (both are foreign not just 1 foreign) are not Japanese citizens. They are given a special “zainichi” visa but not citizenship.

3. Japan will NOT change to accommodate you

Japan has its own unique culture and ways of doing things and just because you are foreign doesn’t mean it will change to accommodate you, nor should you force Japan to change itself. Foreigners are still outsiders in their eyes and telling them something is wrong or they should change an aspect of their culture is not respectful. When in Rome, do at the Romans do. There are rules and regulations in place for a reason, so before raising up in arms and try to change it, take a minute to ask why it is in place and try to understand why first. Of course there will still be things that make absolutely no sense, but at least you know the reason why. If it’s too hard to do this and understand why, then Japan might not be the place for you.

4. Its hard to build deeper relationships with Japanese people (but not impossible)

Japan is a very heterogenous country… only abut 2% of the population are foreigners as of 2017. With this comes the automatic barrier and pride of being Japanese. Now, not all Japanese people are like this, but it’s very common for Japanese people to approach you to “learn English” or have you be the “token foreigner friend”, or just be plain cold to you because you are a foreigner. They will be nice and polite to you, but it will stay at surface level or “drinking buddy” level and rarely go deeper than that. There’s also the element of not knowing them for very long. I mention this because A LOT of Japanese people still have relationships with people from when they were in grade school that they still keep up with and you will not be able to compete with that, unfortunately. There is the final element Japanese people are just plain busy. Working in a Japanese company means long hours and not much time for rest, and days off can be all over the place depending on your job, which means a good majority of the time Japanese people just can’t meet up because of work obligations sometimes.

Now, it isn’t impossible to make friendships with Japanese people and though most of my close friends here in Japan are not Japanese, I do have a handful of Japanese friends that I can ask for advice or contact to hang out with. Also, when you are in a Japanese company your co-workers are decently close to you so you have a support network there most of the time too. In the end though, the reality is that the people I make the most connection with are my foreign friends because they understand what I am going through and I am most comfortable talking to them in my native language.

5. Bureaucracy and following strict procedures are the norm

There is hardly any bending the rules here and you are always filling in tons of inefficient paperwork. Foreigners may come from different countries where things are more efficient and the corporate structure is looser, but in Japan when there is a rule set the rule is going to be abided by come hell and high-water. The littlest things are checked down to the most minute detail and corrections are made over and over again until perfect. Even if you go to a restaurant it’s still rare to be able to customize and substitute something in your meal and if you ask for what is inside of it or to change it you will get a blank stare from the staff and they won’t be able do it. Banks are a nightmare with tons and tons of paperwork you have to fill out and very strict guidelines on how to fill it all out or you have to re-write it all over again. Despite being perceived as one of the most technologically advanced nations, they are still mostly living in an era of paperwork and paper money and ancient computer systems.

I say this particular point inside of realities for foreigners because this is a HUGE point for some people for leaving Japan and not staying for the long term, they can’t adapt to these procedures and some of the “ridiculous” bureaucracy and they eventually go back to their own home country. It can be quite annoying when it seems you have to jump over hurtles all the time and I don’t blame people for turning back and heading home.

All in all, I love living in Japan and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but there are some downsides to living here. What are your thoughts on these? Would these be deal breakers for you to live in Japan? Let me know in the comments below!

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

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!