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!)

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!

Seasons of Japan – June 2017 | nihonchique

June 2017. This is the month that marked the last in a chapter of my life. I can’t believe it has taken me this long to get past this month in my life, almost like my blog was kind of frozen in time until I figured out what I was doing. I still now dont know what I am doing and what direction I am going in, but in June 2017, I had the huge high of the NEWS NEVERLAND tour in Tokyo dome with a close friend, followed straight after by the disappointment of hearing that the department/ website in my company I was working for for a year and half would be shutting down and my contract would not be continuing because of it. I was devastated and was extremely hurt that a company I had worked so hard for for a year and a half would just cut me so simply, but despite this I took this as a learning opportunity and got searching for jobs as soon as possible. (Spoiler, I found one and started it at the beginning of August 2017!).

On the topic of the NEWS NEVERLAND tour in Tokyo Dome, that was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had in my life. “U R not alone” since then has become my anthem and even when the DVD came out in January of this year, I cried again right long with them at “U R not alone” and had no shame. As I said in the 4th picture, the end of the NEVERLAND tour isn’t the end, and we truly are not alone. NEWS has been along with me on this journey for almost 10 years now. I feel like I have grown with them and they have supported me all of these years, almost half of them being in Japan.  Thank you NEWS. Thank you and I look forward to seeing you in Hiroshima for the EPCOTIA tour in April, 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working in a Japanese Company – Part 2

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?

Read Part 1 | Go to Part 3

*This post was edited July 2019 to fix grammar and context