I’ll cheerfully admit that I do my share of writing (aka complaining) about work-related issues in Japan. The expected overtime (and karoshi, or “death from overwork”), intensely rigid bureaucracy and gender-related discrimination are all important topics to discuss and work on improving. However, constantly thinking only about the negatives of working in Japan is intensely demotivating, so I keep an ongoing list of things to be for which to be grateful.
While some are very specific to my situation, such as getting to experience the Japan travel boom firsthand, and others are really silly (for instance, my sheer adoration of fresh tofu) there are a few that should be universal.
1. Health Insurance
Depending on where you come from, something as basic as having a decent health insurance plan may seem obvious. However, for expats who come from countries (such as the United States) where those in power are trying to make being alive a “pre-existing condition,” the security of being able to get company-covered health insurance is a very big deal. While the amount of coverage you get depends on the type of policy your company provides, being able to get medical treatment for a small fee (or even for “free”) and not having to worry about ¥30,000 charges for five minutes of a doctor’s time makes me incredibly grateful.
In addition to insurance, companies in Japan require their employees take part in a yearly health check. While getting poked and prodded for a couple hours is certainly not my idea of fun (and the lack of privacy about the results is also not ideal), I know several people who have caught major potential health issues in the bud thanks to these regular check-ups.
2. Commuting Allowance
As someone who has spent her entire working life in Japan, it’s easy to forget that in other countries most companies do not cover the commuting expenses of their employees! Considering that my pretty standard 40-minute metro commute costs about ¥20,000 per month, this is nothing to be scoffed at. Interestingly, this coverage is not only valid for full-time jobs, but for those working part-time as well.
The best thing about teiki (commuter passes) is that they are valid for any part of the train lines you use to get to work. So, even when you use your commuter pass to go out on weekends or are running errands around town — you are not charged if it’s on your route. There are many ways of using this to your advantage. One of my favorite weekend activities when I just started working in Tokyo was going on “teiki adventures” by discovering all the various stations on my train line for free. Even if you are not a fan of exploring, I’ve calculated that thanks to my teiki, I save between ¥5.000 to ¥9.000 per month on non-work related train rides.
3. Job Security
Although this is only applicable to full-time workers, in general, it is much harder for Japanese companies to fire employees without a very clear cause. Job security is very important in Japanese society, and as such most companies will go to extreme lengths to not to let their employees go even in times of crisis. Instead of cutting people off, it is common to move them to different positions, implement hiring freezes and look for other ways to cut costs.
While this reticence to fire certainly does have its issues (as anyone who has dealt with a colleague who has no clue what they are doing or has been stalked by another member of staff knows far too well), it does have the benefit of allowing people to make mistakes without the threat of an axe hanging over their heads.
4. Mastering Customer Service
It is no secret that the level of customer service in Japan is world-class, leaving visitors in awe and those of us who live here in culture-shock when we return to our own countries for a visit. From conbini staff calling out irasshaimase (welcome) to a sales team getting billion yen contracts, the expectations are very high when it comes to the care and delicacy with which you treat your clients.
At times this omotenashi culture may appear to be a bit over-the-top and rigid, but learning from the rigorous training and practice of Japanese-style service will make you a better business person — no matter your job description. Not directly disagreeing while still holding firm, making customers feel special and cared for, even a simple “thank you” make all the difference. Plus, it can be reverse-engineered when you are dealing with service industry professionals. I have gotten more exit row seats and discounts since learning Japanese customer service, by using the same level of courtesy as the person I am speaking to.
I hate doing taxes. Probably everyone (except accountants — and even then we can’t be sure) gets stressed out by those long forms with lots of odd abbreviations, additional bits of required information and the search for that one document that you know you safely stashed away and now can’t find to save your life! Now, it is true that by doing them yourself you can save some money. However having your company take care of your taxes for you, spreading the payment over the entire year and not having to read all those kanji in fine print makes life so much easier. An additional benefit is that it makes budgeting much simpler as well since you are unlikely to be hit with a surprise fee in April.
During tax season make sure you are extra nice to the folks in HR, admin and payroll departments, and bring them large cups of coffee and chocolate. They just might keep you in mind when it comes to reimbursements… okay, probably not, but it never hurts to try!
Please note that these are pretty basic perks of working in Japan, so if your company does not provide you decent benefits, perhaps you might want to look into finding one that does.
Does your company offer any special perks? I would love to hear about it in the comments!