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 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