Working in a Japanese Company: Part 6 – It’s Been 4 Years

A lot has changed in the past 4 and a half years since I began working in Japan. I have grown from a 24 year old woman just starting out and adjusting to work life, to an almost 29 year old humbled by a variety of experiences under her belt. So, when I look back on all of the previous  “Working in a Japanese Company” posts that I made in my first 6 months working, I actually cringe a bit inside. Now I don’t mean cringe in a bad way… I mean cringe as in I have empathy for what past Lauren had been going through, but also wishing I could go back in time and let her know that things will work out in the end. Only now when I look back that far do I see how far I really have come in my cultural understanding of working in Japan, but also how far I have come to have found a company that was finally the right fit for me.

I bounced around jobs a bit; a combination of both my doing and outside forces. I won’t get into details of the companies I had worked for/ work for and why I left, but I can say looking back at them they weren’t a good fit. I can also say that I gained valuable life experience (though quite harsh and not the kindest at times) and became fluent in Japanese because I went through those experiences.

I’ve also gained A LOT of knowledge, which has changed my mind about and kind of contradicts some of the things I said in those previous posts. For example, when I talked about the “stamp rally” that Japanese companies have with the Hanko system. I said I didn’t think that it was an effective use of time when things sat on my desk for a long time, and I still stand by that the system my first company used wasn’t the best system at all, but after experiencing 3 other companies after that I realize that each company culture is different for how those documents are handled and if there is a “stamp rally” or not, as well as the contents of your job affects it too. I don’t need to Hanko as many documents anymore as I did at my first company, as I was sending out important orders on a daily basis and handling a lot of finance related matters at the time. At my second company, I hardly stamped anything except for approval for days off and the occasional form to submit to the HR department. At my 3rd company I didn’t stamp anything since it was such a small start up company and  HR procedures were not in place.  At my current job, I only stamp something when I am submitting for a day off or for an expense report at the end of the month. I will say though that having to get a contract signed or a requisition through ASAP and having the HR department not be flexible for timing is one example of when this “stamp rally” isn’t the best system.

Where is my future from here? Well, I will renew my visa towards the end of the year and I plan on being at this company for a while and from there….I am not sure yet. I know that I want to continue living in Japan for the long term though. I’m trying to gain experience in digital marketing and overall business planning at my position here and on the side I want to expand the amount of content that I make here on my blog and on my instagram.

I want to continue this series, so what information do you want to know about working in a Japanese company? Let me know in the comments below!

Go to Part 5 | Go to Part 7

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

Working in a Japanese Company – Part 3

The third month was my first month doing the job all by myself and it was quite a difficult, but rewarding. I find that when I am empowered and am able to do the work on my own, I feel the most rewarded at work. The other thing  I learned is that I have a hard time processing Japanese in my head sometimes. I understand what they are telling me, but knowing how to process it for myself inside my head is very difficult at times. I am thinking double time compared to other people, as Japanese is my second language. Recently though, I have been complimented by my co-workers on how my comprehension and ability to communicate in Japanese has gotten better, and I think we are finally all starting to understand each other more and more.

Since my last post on working on a Japanese company was a bit of a downer, I thought I would change it up and mention some fun things that I have noticed throughout the 3 months I have been working here.

Radio Exercises. Almost every Japanese person knows about radio exercises, and throughout my years living in and traveling to Japan, I have too. I also knew that some Japanese companies still did these exercises every morning, but I never expected to have to do it at my company. At first I had no idea what I was doing, but now it’s a routine for me. Every morning after settling in at my desk, the bell rings (much like at a school) and we all go up to the roof of our building. We then proceed to do a 3-minute set of easy exercises designed to help you energize yourself for the day. I thought it was ridiculous at first, and it was a bit embarrassing to do it in font of other companies at a trade show before it started every morning, but I have grown fond of it and it has become a part of my work routine. Click HERE to try these radio exercises for yourself!

Snacks. Snacks galore! The Japanese custom of “Omiyage” doesn’t stop with just family and close friends, but it also seeps into the work place. Whenever someone in the company goes on a business trip, they always bring back a small snack as a gift for the other people in the company. This is normally for the division they work for, but since my company is very small, everyone gets something. “Omiyage” in Japanese means “souvenir”, but in Japan, snacks that are individually packaged and bought in bulk are popular as souvenirs, as compared to key chains or small trinkets in other cultures. Besides this, people who come and visit our company also bring snacks to the workers. So, there is never of shortage of snacks if you get hungry during the day!

Writing Notes. From my personal experience, this is a very Japanese like cultural trait. Of course, this can extend to individuals and other cultures as well, but the Japanese never fail to remind you to write things down. As a bit of background, I have never been the type of person to write things down. I have always had bad handwriting and have never liked to handwrite, so even in school I hardly ever took notes. I relied on reading through the textbook and my computer to get through everything all the way through graduate school. When I started working though, especially at a Japanese company, I found it was a must to write things down. I still dislike it, but with people coming to you, inside and outside of the company, with many requests in a day, it is difficult to keep track of things. I now have a “master list” of things to do on my desk at all times and I write down even the smallest things to remember what to do. It also helps me organize myself everyday and prioritize when I should complete things. I have slowly started to become more organized since working, and I am not sure if it has to do with working in Japan or not, but I am grateful. I am now able to take on many more tasks than I used to in the past because I can see everything at my fingertips easily.

What do you think of this month’s observations? Would you like to try the radio exercises? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Go to Part 2 | Go to Part 4

*This post was edited July 2019 to fix grammar and context

Working in a Japanese Company – Part 2

After completing my second month at my job here in Osaka, Japan and I’m back with more thoughts and observations about working in a Japanese company. I apologize in advance if it is a little bit harsh,  but I am going through a bit of a  “cultural shock” phase right now. Since I have just starting working at this company and I am still in the process of learning and figuring out my way of working as a foreigner in Japan. With that being said, let’s dive right in!

Last time I left you all I had just completed my first month of work and I did still not understand much at all about what my job entailed. In the past month, there have been many ups and downs, I learned a lot, and the person who was training me left the company. I feel a bit more empowered now that I am completely responsible for the job and no one is looking over my shoulder, but it’s also hard because I don’t know anything about what was going on in the company prior to starting in December.

There are a couple of new things that I have observed:

“Hanko” 「ハンコ」or “Inkan” 「印鑑」is everything in a Japanese company. This is your “signature” and is a stamp that you have to stamp on everything that you send inside and outside of the company, but is mostly used for matters concerning money, but also for matters that need approval. They aren’t just used in companies, but for banks or anything requiring a signature. In my company, there are at least 2-3 or sometimes more on each document that I send out, one from my boss and then another from the head boss and sometimes the accountant.

The purpose of a Hanko is checking documents for any errors before being sent out. This is the purpose, but personally I think that it really isn’t the case at all, at least from my experience. The head person in the office doesn’t know the day-to-day work of each employee, so why should he have to look at all the documents and just stamp it for the sake of stamping it? For this, I think there are too many checks before sending a document out and the process takes too long. Often I find papers sitting on my desk for close to a day because I have to get the head boss to stamp them when he is hardly in the office. I think this Japanese culture of “checking” I would like to delve into more at a later date, but for now this is one part of this “checking” culture.

“Dame” 「ダメ」and “wakaru?” 「分かる?」are used constantly. “Dame” translates into “No” or “Don’t” and “Wakaru?” translates to “Understand?” This wasn’t just in this company, but when I did an internship and even on the streets from random strangers, I would hear the same thing. I personally don’t like these two phrases because I feel like a child when they are used to me. I know it is a cultural difference and that they even do it to other Japanese people, but it seems to be in particular to my fellow co-worker and I who are foreigners. It is almost like we are children because our first language isn’t Japanese. I was also surprised because my perception of Japanese people is that they are too scared to speak up, but that isn’t the case. I get told “Dame” for anything from “don’t take your cellphone into the bathroom” to “don’t sit down” when I was at a trade show.  At my internship in the summer, they didn’t sugarcoat anything and just told me no and no, over and over again until I got it right. It’s very similar to my company now, but at least they take the time and explain things better to me than my internship did.

That’s it! I hope you enjoyed and learned something from this. Please keep in mind that this is soley based off of my personal experiences.

Please let me know what you think in the comments! Is this different from your own home country?

Read Part 1 | Go to Part 3

*This post was edited July 2019 to fix grammar and context

Working in a Japanese Company – The Beginnings

I started my first day of working in a Japanese company on December 1st,  2014 and just completed my first month of work. I had studied about working in Japanese companies during 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. So today, I will be sharing with you some of my experiences from beginning to work at a Japanese company.

The first big difference 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 head manager. This is a very different experience than when I had my internship in America where all the desks were cleanly divided cubicles and 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’s normal to do overtime, and you might not 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 permission to do overtime if your company pays you to do so. That’s 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 probably 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 think this was partly because it was the end of the year in Japan and there are many “Bounenkai” 忘年会, or “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, it cam be seen as not getting along with your co-workers in your company and anti-social. The President of my company came to the Osaka office, and every young person under 30 was required to attend the drinking party, even though it was announced suddenly 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….”, subtly saying it’s not a good thing if you reject, unless it’s for a very good reason. 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.

There you are!  3 differences I 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!

Go to Part 2

*This post was edited June 2019 to fix grammar and context