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.

Advertisements

Working in a Japanese Company – Part 5: Attention to Detail

Over the past few months, I have noticed a particular trend inside my company. This trend is attention to detail, which is something that I lack personally. It frustrates me to no end and sometimes I feel it goes against my very up bringing as someone from a western culture. Sometimes it can even be laughable at how detailed a Japanese company can get. I will give a few examples of some instances that I have encountered so far.

First up is my handwriting. I have known from a young age that my handwriting has been bad, but the people in my company never fail to poke fun at my handwriting. In Japan, having bad handwriting means that you don’t take enough time to write thoroughly. It’s seen poorly for the most part, but not in all instances. It just is an issue of attention to detail.

Second was a time I had ordered samples from our warehouse and it came in 3 big boxes. They were heavy, so I started to use my feet to slide them a bit over to the side. My boss saw this and said to me “Don’t touch the boxes with your feet. They are our products that we send to the customers and it is disrespectful to kick them or to use your feet to move them”. I stood there puzzled for a minute thinking “… there are no customers here that would know that I had pushed the boxes with my feet…That’s taking it a bit far I think…” I then began to think and realized that he meant in general that it is disrespectful, even if the customers don’t see it. Feet in Japan are seen as dirty in general, as they take their shoes off before going into the house and other places they want to keep sanitary. With this being said, touching things or people with your feet back in old Japan meant that person/ thing is lower than you, so I think this partially stems from that as well.* It’s also our feelings and respect that we have for our own products.

Another instance is the way that I stamp my hanko, or my own personal seal. In my previous post I mentioned that in a Japanese company, this is the equivalent of your signature, but it’s more than that in Japan. Every time I stamped my hanko and then handed the paper to my boss for approval, he would take a look at it and turn to me and say “Your hanko is crooked, try and be more careful next time”. This happened time and time again, and I still was never able to get it right until very recently. I attribute this fact to that I didn’t use a hanko until I started to work in a Japanese company and don’t know the “etiquette”, but also that a signature isn’t as strict as a hanko is. Please let me know in the comments below if you would like me to talk about the hanko in general and how to use it properly.

The last instance was quite recent. I was preparing an envelope for my boss to take to a customer and I was in a hurry. I did not want to handwrite because my handwriting is bad and my kanji isn’t the best either, so I decided to print it out from Microsoft Word and cut it to a label size to put on the envelope. When I printed it out, since I was in a hurry, the edges were not straight but I pasted it to the envelope anyway. I handed it to my boss, who took one look it and told me to re-do it. I admit, that the first try was horrible. The edges were slanted horribly. I printed it out again and this time I cut it with a proper cutter, not by hand. I pasted it to the envelope again, and my boss tells me again it’s not acceptable. I looked at it and didn’t understand why; it looked perfectly straight to me. Both my boss and one of the ladies in the sales team looked at and agreed that it wasn’t done well, when I could see no difference. The sales lady, who deals with customers on a daily basis, then proceeded to fix the label for me all while telling me why it was wasn’t good to not make it properly. It was the same reason for the box issue above, it was about the feelings of the customer. My boss then asked me “would YOU like to receive something like that?” I admit, the first one I would have raised an eyebrow at, but the second one I wouldn’t take a second glance at it because it was such a small difference. At times like this, I see how the Japanese detail to orientation is both a blessing and a curse. What about you? Would you like to receive something like that?

What did you think about this topic? Do you have any thoughts regarding Japanese attention to detail? Let me know in the comments below and also tell me if this sparks any other ideas. Please give this post a like if you enjoyed it!

*Thank you to my wonderful Editor, Meghan, for this piece of information!

Working in a Japanese Company – The Beginnings

I started my first day of working in a Japanese company on December 1st of 2014 and have just completed my first month of work. I had studied about working in Japanese companies in my MBA program in Kyoto, Japan and in University, but none of that could prepare me for the real deal, especially the cultural differences that come with it. While I can deal with many things, because I have lived in Japan for over 2 years now and have studied abroad here 3 times in university, working is a totally different environment. So today, I will be sharing with you some of my experiences from beginning to work at a Japanese company.

The first big difference that I noticed on my first day of work is the office itself. The office is one room with no cubicles, just two rows of desks lined up next to each other, with one desk at the head of the room for the manager. This is a very different experience than when I had my internship in America, where all the desks were cleanly divided cubicles where you had to pop your head out to talk with someone else. Also, in America the head people had their own office and weren’t seen unless you went inside the office. In Japan, the manager is in the same room as you.

The next big difference is overtime. In a Japanese company, it is normal to do overtime, and a lot of the time you don’t even get paid for it. At my company though, we are properly paid for overtime, which I am grateful for. I knew all of this from studying and living here, but I didn’t think about the differences between overtime in America and Japan until my mom asked me my first week of work “Oh, was your manager okay with you working overtime? Did you get permission?” I had forgotten that in America, most of the time you have to ask to do overtime if your company pays you to do so. This is because overtime is a huge cost to a company and in order to reduce costs, you don’t do overtime unless you absolutely have to. If your work requires so much overtime, then it would most likely be more cost effective to hire someone else to help out with that job instead of paying the employee overtime, as overtime is more expensive than a regular salary.

The last big difference that I found so far is drinking parties. I believe that this was partly because it was the end of the year in Japan and there are many “Bounenkai’s” 忘年会, end of the year parties, at this time of year, but going out to drink and have dinner with your co-workers is normal and expected. If you don’t go, then it is seen as not getting along with your co-workers in your company. The President of the company came to the Osaka office, and every young person under 30 was required to attend the drinking party, even though it was suddenly announced and many of us already had plans. We were told in a typical Japanese fashion “it’s okay, you don’t have to go if you have really important plans, and we won’t force you to, but….” Basically, what they mean by that is that it’s a bad thing if you reject, unless it’s for a very good reason or you will not have a very good reputation at work. This is a bit different than America, where your reputation at work mostly is determined on the work that you do, not the relationship you have with your co-workers. Of course, getting along with your co-workers in America is important, but it’s not as important as it seems to be in Japan.

Here are 3 differences that I have noticed while working in my first month in Japan in a Japanese company. If you would like to hear more about this topic, please comment below and let me know! What about your country? Is this different than your own country’s working environment? Let me know about this in the comments below as well!