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.

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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 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