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?
データはいつに納品出来ますでしょうか?田中さんと確認を頂けますか?
Me: I will speak with Tanaka to double check, but I think by Friday.
念のため田中と話しますが、金曜日ぐらいに納品出来ると思います。

Phone:
Customer: Can I please speak with Tanaka-san?
田中さんはいらしゃいますか?
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.
申し訳ありませんが田中は只今席を外しておりまして、名前と電話番号を頂いたらすぐに掘り返しさせて頂けます。

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

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.