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!)

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.