Working in a Japanese Company: Part 9 – 5 Differences Between Working in the USA and Japan

For this next part of my working in a Japanese company series, I wanted to talk about differences between working in the US and Japan. Having experience working in both Japan and the US, it’s fascinating to see what is normal and not normal in both business cultures.

Transportation to Work is Paid For By the Company

In the US companies don’t pay for transportation to work as a benefit normally, but in Japan they do! I get my commuter pass for the train and a company car to get to work everyday, which is a HUGE savior because I work far out of the city and that would cut into my monthly expenses. It’s normal even for contract employees to have transportation paid for to go to and from work. Pretty sweet, right? I also don’t have to worry about car insurance or paying for gas or dealing with the maintenance of a car!

Taxes are Filed by Your Company

In the US you have to file your own taxes every year but in Japan, taxes are typically filed for you by your company, especially if you are a “regular employee”, or「正社員」”Sei sha-in” in the company and sometimes when you are a contract employee, 「契約社員」”Keiyaku sha-in”. At the end of the year the company will give you tax forms, also known as 「年末調整」”nenmatsu chousei”, or end of the year adjustment. If you are single and don’t have any insurance or don’t own any property or investments just fill out a single form with just your personal information and your done! The company will then submit it to the company accountant and if there is a refund as an adjustment it will be paid to you in your salary with it showing up on your paystub in a section called the same 「年末調整」”nenmatsu chousei”. Now, if you have other streams of income besides your job at the company things can get a little bit complicated and you may have to file again separately for that stream of income. ALWAYS tell your employer before joining the company if you have other job commitments. Some companies in Japan aren’t okay with you working another job on the side for tax reasons but also because they don’t want your focus to be divided.

Salary is Paid Monthly and at the end of the NEXT month

In the US your salary is normally paid bi-weekly starting immediately but in Japan salary is typically paid by month the NEXT month at the end of the month, typically on the 25th or the business day before the 25th. So, if you join the company on June 1st, you won’t get your first salary until July 25th. An advantage is that if you leave one job and start another job immediately after, you will still be getting paid for the last job when you start your new one…. but when you first start working you won’t get a salary for 1 month and you should keep this in mind for expenses and budgeting. Out of the 4 companies that I’ve worked for, only 1 company paid the next month, but I’ve heard that it’s normal in other companies. Simply ask your employer before starting what their pay cycle is! My company’s cycle now is actually the 15th of the month until the 15th of the next month, meaning when I joined the company I got paid a half month’s salary in the same month I started because I started on the 1st.

Bonuses are included in your contract and yearly salary

In the US bonuses are not typically stated in your contract, except maybe a signing bonus, but are given out if business is good. In Japan, bonuses are included in your contract and are typically paid 2 times a year, summer and winter. What I mean by this is if you have a yearly salary of 3 million yen a year (approx. $30,000 USD) it will be broken up into a monthly salary plus bonuses all adding up to to the 3 million yen. A bonus is stated as “x times your monthly salary”, (for example “2.5 times your monthly salary”) and changes depending on your company. That amount is divided by the 2 bonus periods in the year unevenly, with one usually being bigger. The company can also tack on more to that amount if they are doing well, but a “bonus” in Japan is actually the company holding back your yearly salary to certain points in the year instead of dividing it up in the regular monthly payments. Please remember that sales commissions are not included in this bonus and that not all companies provide bonuses, but most do. 2 of the 4 companies I worked for did not pay bonuses at all.

Documents are not signed, but stamped with a “seal”

In the US official documents are signed with a signature but in Japan they are stamped with the persons seal. A seal in Japan, called an 「印鑑」 “inkan”or 「判子」 “hanko”, (both are correct) and are typically the person’s last name. Even all companies have an official seal to use for documents for banks, for registering a business, and other official documents. Outside of business, everyone uses a seal as well to sign personal contracts and signatures are not typical in Japan still, though slowly foreigners are allowed to use them more and more now. I even have 2 of them! 1 for official bank documents/ important documents and one for internal documents at the office or simple documents outside of the office.

And that’s a wrap! Let me know in the comments below what you think about these differences and tell me about if your country has any of these too.

To Part 8|Part 10 (coming soon)

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

Over the past few months, I have noticed a particular trend inside my company: 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 upbringing 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 that  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 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…” but then I  began to think and realized that he meant in general that it is disrespectful, even if the customer doesn’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.* It’s also our feeling 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 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 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…. the first try was horrible, as the 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 attention to  detail is both a blessing and a curse. What about you? What would you do if you received 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!

Go to Part 4 | Go to Part 6 (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!

Go to Part 3 | Go to Part 5