5 Quirks Of Working In A Japanese Company

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On June 16, 2014
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I was born and raised in Japan, but moved to Southern California to go to college. I briefly moved back to Tokyo after graduating from college and have worked for several Japanese companies but these were all part time contracting jobs so I do not pretend to understand what it is really like to work for a Japanese company.

However, my father is one of those extremely dedicated Japanese salary men. I am forever thankful for all his hard work, as he worked under enormous pressure to support our family.

There are pros and cons of working for Japanese companies, and it is a matter of personal preference but here are some differences I’ve seen between Japanese and American work environments and conditions.

Long Hours:

No matter what you do and where you work in Japan, you are expected to show your dedication as an employee by working long hours. Japanese culture tends to value hard work. If you want to move up the ladder in Japan, do not clock in and out on time! Try to arrive in the office at least 15 minutes before your scheduled start time. Before you leave your work, ask your coworkers if they need any help.

When I worked as a part-time waitress at the restaurant, the lead waitress in her late 30s scolded me for clocking in and out on time. I was told that I should always ask if other waitresses need any help and if they do, I should stay and help. Harmony and teamwork are extremely important in Japanese companies.

This is especially true for Japanese salary men. These career employees often work up to 16 hours a day or even longer without overtime pay. We do that here in America also but it is much more common and even more excessive in Japanese.

After-Hours Drinking Party (Nomikai):

My sister’s husband is a salesman at a Japanese medical device company, and even after working long hours each day he is still expected to take his clients for drinking (it is called “settai”) after work.

Drinking after work is considered part of the job for Japanese salaryman. Drinking parties wasn’t the only thing that kept my father busy for all these years. He was expected to participate in sports activities sponsored by his company, which often meant he wan’t home on the weekends.

Open Office Layout:

Another interesting thing about Japanese companies is the open office layout. I do have to say that I like working in America better because you are often given a larger space with your own cubicle or even your own office.

In Japan the most common office type is an open room filled rows upon rows of desks. Usually Japanese firms do not have cubicles, instead, Japanese employees sit right next to each other. Japan is a small country, so unless you have an executive level position, you are most likely not going to have a spacious private office.

office

Long Inefficient Meetings

My American friend who works for a Japanese firm told me an interesting story about her meeting with her Japanese boss and other colleagues. She was complaining about the inefficiency of their meetings and how her Japanese boss and her colleagues need to reach an absolute consensus before they can wrap up each meeting. In Japan, consensus is more important for Japanese management than reaching certain conclusions.

Whenever we go into a meeting at my American company, we already have an agenda with discussion items, and we try to not waste any time and have our boss review and make quick decisions on these items. “Time is money” in America so my work in America usually sticks to the agenda and try to wrap it up and make decisions within the scheduled timeframe.

Morning Exercise:

When I was in elementary school in Japan, it was mandatory for us to do a calisthenics in the playground. It is silly, but many Japanese firms incorporate this exercise into the daily morning meeting since they believe that this exercise improves the employees’ productivity level. My Japanese friend Yoshi works for Toshiba, and he told me that he had to do exercise in front of his boss every morning. That is a great way to start a day but he also told me that he felt like a kid doing this exercise in a playground again.

Summary:

There are pros and cons of working for Japanese companies, and given the drastic differences between Japanese and American work environment, it is hard for me to simply say that American work environment is better. It all comes down to your personal preference.

If you grew up in Japan and are comfortable with traditional Japanese corporate culture, you shouldn’t have any problems finding and sustaining the job. It has changed in recent years but Japanese companies normally offer high quality pension plans and also offer a life-long career plan.

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Japan born, US educated, language teacher.
  • MIMH says:

    All very interesting, but you left out nemawashi. (excuse my poor Japanese). The inefficient meetings are just the ceremony, the decisions have all been made in advance. It is probably the most important thing to learn working for a Japanese company.
    You need to work all this out for yourself, its like you are playing a game but you don’t know the rules. Tell me the rules of the game before hand then I can play too!

  • Oi-Ocha says:

    Morning calisthenics? You know what would really improve performance…..Not working 16 hours a day.

  • maulinator says:

    The only thing that is different from working in a US company and a Japanese one is the morning exercise. I think that all th other aspects of the job have been experienced at US companies. Settai or entertaiing clients goes with the territory. This only happens with client facing positions. IF you are an engineer, you probably do not have settai. YOu may go out with co-workers but these drink fests are not mandatory (but it does help your career). Long hours are expected, take IB in the US, most analysts work 16 hour days. 12 hrs minimum. Most Japanese comapnies I have seen these days allow you to take off when yo finish your work. The idea that you have to stay art least until your boss leaves is pretty much archaic now. There are people who work late every day, but that pretty much means they are inefficient workers and should either ask for less workload or get help.
    Also who hasn’t attended long inefficient meetings. I think they are a part of every corporate culture I have seen. The more people you add to the meeting, the less efficient it gets. 4 or more and you might as well forget about getting anything done.
    Open office layout is getting to be the standard in the US too. It is easier to communicat with co-workers that way.
    At US banks at least, the open office, inefficient meetings and drinking are a part of the culture. THe long hours are not mandatory, but you see a lot of younger kids doing it as they have to do their bosses’ work and then they get to do their own work afterwards, but it is part of paying your dues. If you are at a US startup forget going out or going home you are coding 24/7. Even the executives are there late because they are understaffed (on purpose) and everybody has to do everything….
    So the things mentioned here in general I do not think are quirks of working in a Japanese company but you will experience most of these, except for the exercise thing, working for any company. I am more interested in the photo. That is actually quirky……

  • haha.. yes this is Japan!

  • Chuckmo says:

    When I started with a Japanese company two years ago, I was astonished by some of these things. Particularly the long, inefficient meetings. We also have a morning 朝礼 (chourei: morning assembly meeting) every day at 9:00. And men must wear white shirts with their suits.

    I felt like I had gone back in time to 1960.

  • Yumitolesson says:

    yes that is very fortunate! My friend who works for Toshiba as an engineer had to work long long hours..but it’s a bit different.

    • Nawal Fsv says:

      Consensus, team work, harmony … All originated from work culture of the village farmers from the old Japan

  • Yumitolesson says:

    I have to say that job security..in America, you can get hired immediately..^_^

    • Anthony Joh says:

      Hired or fired? I guess it’s both but in Japan there is the fabled promise of lifetime employment.

      • Yumitolesson says:

        Yes it is very true. Even a contracting job, they usually give you a notice but you can get fired the next day in America..of course depending on your occupation ^_^

  • Tamas Kalman says:

    north american startup culture is pretty much the same.

  • Ron says:

    Where are the pros of working in Japan?

  • kurodon says:

    Almost none of these apply to the IT/gaming industry here though…luckily 😉

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