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 4 – Basic Japanese Business Vocabulary

March was the first full month that I worked pretty much 100% by myself. There were many things I still did not understand, but I did my best and I understand more and more each time I do my monthly tasks. What helped me learn faster was that the Japanese fiscal year starts on April 1st and ends on March 31st, so March consisted of closing the monthly sales early, as everyone wants to properly close the fiscal year as soon as possible and everyone was working overtime in order to make everything come together in time. I am still learning how to time everything each month, but things seem to be falling into place now and I feel more confident about the work I do now than I did before.

In this month’s post, I wanted to talk about some everyday Japanese business vocabulary that’s very important if you work in a Japanese company. First concept is the concept of “Inside the company” vs. “Outside the company”. What you write in emails and say on the phone changes depending on if you are talking to someone inside the company or outside of the company.

Inside the company

Inside the company when you see someone in the morning, or for the first time that day, you say 「おはようございます」”Ohayougozaimasu”, which basically translates to “good morning” or a greeting of hello when you see the person for the first time that day (the later use is mostly used for Hotels and other instances where people work around the clock though. This also pertains to the entertainment industry). You can use this in the morning with people outside the company, but I personally think it’s better to stick with “osewaninarimasu”, which I will get into later.

Next up is 「お疲れ様です」“Otsukaresamadesu”, which is a phrase that you only use with people inside the company. It basically translates to “Thanks for the hard work,” or “you have worked/ you are working hard”. This is a greeting that is used at all times during the day as a greeting to people inside the company. When you are just walking down the hall, or when you are leaving for the day, this phrase is a must when you work in a Japanese company. Writing emails to people inside the company, you always write this right after you write the person’s name. When you pick up a call from someone inside the company, you always say this after they state who is calling.

Outside the company

The most important phrase you can learn for working with someone outside the company is 「お世話になります」”Osewaninarimasu”, which translates into “We are in your care/ Have been in your care”, but is a way of saying “thanks for doing business with us”. You always use this on the phone when a customer calls, after they state who they are and what company they are calling from. Even if they are not your customer and are not calling for you, you always say this when you answer the phone, at the person is doing business with your company and not just you. You also write this in the next line after the person’s name at the beginning of the email and put 「様」”sama” after their name as an honorific.

Both Inside and Outside the Company

Last, but not least, is 「宜しくお願いします」”Yoroshikuonegishimasu”, which translates to “Thanks in advance” or “thanks for doing this for me”. This is complicated to translate into English because I think it is a very Japanese cultural thing to say, but you use it when you are asking anyone to do something for you, or after you have discussed something with someone as a follow up to basically say “Thank you for doing it for me in advance”. You write this at the end of any emails as an ending like “Sincerely” or “Best Regards” is in English business emails, and you say it after talking to anyone on the phone.

Now, everything I wrote above are basic rules and they can change depending on the situation and what you are talking about during work, but they are a good starting point in understanding basic Japanese business vocabulary.

What do you think of some of these Japanese Business Vocabulary terms? Please let me know in the comments below! Also, please let me know if you want some example emails or phone call conversations. I can make one whole post about it!

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