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!)

How to Get a Non-English Teaching Job in Japan Through Higher Education

When talking about landing a non-English teaching job in Japan, there are many different options, like Japanese language school or a  working holiday, but the option that I chose to come to Japan was higher education. I wanted to talk about this route that not many people seem to address  much when talking about moving and working in Japan.  Since I wanted a long term solution to living in Japan, I decided that investing in higher education was the best route for me.  Here is a bit of my story:

DISCLAIMER before I get started: I am NOT an expert in Japanese visas or in the process of higher education in Japan but I do have my own experience going through these things so I am sharing my story in the hopes it will help someone!

I graduated from University in the United States in 2012 and went straight to get my MBA in Japan at a program that was in all in English just 5 months after graduation in the US. The program I chose was Doshisha University’s Global MBA program in Kyoto, but there are lots of other schools in Tokyo and in Japan in general that offer Master’s degree programs that are not just business. I chose business because that was my major in undergrad and I had alway knew I would get my MBA at some point, but If you don’t have a university degree yet, never fear! As an alternative, you can apply to go to regular University in Japan on a full program in English like Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto or Sophia University in Tokyo.

Important to note: Even though I say the programs are in English, in this route it is essential to learn Japanese fluently. Even though some companies are becoming more international and letting people work in English, its still an exception to the normal, so you must be able to work in Japanese in the Japanese way of working. I took my MBA in English because I only had conversational Japanese at the time, so I applied to the English program in order to get to Japan to practice Japanese and immerse myself. I even took Japanese classes as well and made the effort to study Japanese as much as I could while I was there. By the time job hunting came around, I could interview in Japanese and was able to get a job that was mostly in Japanese, where my level went from intermediate-conversational to Basic Business Japanese through immersion after 1 year of working. Now after almost 5 years of working in Japan in mostly Japanese,  my level is in-between N2 and N1 on the JLPT.

Now, why is a degree from a Japanese University beneficial?

#1,  Japan Immigration weighs a degree from a Japanese University higher than a degree from a foreign university when deciding your visa for working later on, so its the “gift to yourself that keeps on giving” so to speak.  If you go to graduate school in Japan for your masters degree, this works even more in your favor because Japan has been giving more priority to highly skilled workers in Japan, which having a masters degree counts as being “highly skilled”. Of course a Master’s degree from a non-Japanese university is still considered highly skilled, but it weighs even higher if its from a Japanese university. Plus, you will get more connections in order to get a Job which leads to #2, which is networking.

#2 If you get your higher education in Japan, you will be able to network around while you are going to school and learn the ropes of job hunting, as well as the name of your school will give you a boost for jobs. Whenever I tell anyone I went to Doshisha, they immediately say “oh you must be so smart!”, even if I follow up with “oh, the program was in English though”. Names DO matter, so be sure to choose your school wisely! Also, the school will have a career development office that can help you, but be aware that they are still very traditional and will mostly operate on the standard Japanese job hunting schedule. Though this is the case, you can still get valuable information on how to act in an interview, how to set up your resume, etc.

TIP:  I recommend during the job hunting process that you contact recruitment agencies while you are job hunting and get advice from them and have them connect you to jobs in Japan. I actually worked together with a recruitment agency in Tokyo that got me a few interviews for jobs that were looking for foreigners, one in Nagoya and one in Kobe.  Also, go to Job fairs whenever you can and dish out the money to go to Tokyo to go to the big international job fairs there. You can speak directly with hiring managers and get interviews right on the spot. This might not lead to jobs right away, as you have to play a “long game” so to speak, but through these you will get valuable interview experience and practice interviewing in Japanese as well and see what companies are looking for out there.

Now lets talk about some Cons:

#1 This route costs money and you cannot work full time while you are going to school to support yourself, because you must be on a student visa. My tuition for an entire course (without scholarships) was 1M yen, and that did not cover living expenses which was about 150,000  yen a month in Kyoto for 2 years. (Expenses can be less than this based on the type of accommodation that you decide to live in) Part time work is okay up to 20 hours a week with special permission on your student Visa from immigration. With that being said, there  ARE scholarships for international students so its not impossible, but it still is an investment.

#2 This route takes 2-4 years until actually landing a job in Japan. You might be able to shorten this if you take on more course work or get an internship with a company or begin working while working on your graduation thesis etc., but more than likely your main job will be studying for this time, so it is a pretty long time-commitment. If you are looking for a short term solution to come to Japan ASAP,  Japanese Language school or a working Holiday visa is probably a better option for you. Higher education worked out the best route for me, but it certainly isn’t for everyone.

And that’s a wrap! Does anyone here have a different experience with higher education here? Have any questions regarding higher education in Japan? Comment below and I can make a follow up post!

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

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.

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