Culture Matters: A Beginner Guide to Japanese Work Culture

Tue, 22 Sep 2020

Each country has its own work culture, and Japan is no different. Long renowned for its lengthy, ritualized working hours, hierarchical relationship, few holidays, and pursuit of harmony, the Japanese work culture encompasses the moral code and customs of its culture as a whole. It also reflects on how the Japanese regard people who work with them.


If you’re someone who wants to take their career abroad, you’re in great luck. Starting in 2019, Japan has opened its doors for foreign workers who want to impact and further their career path in Japan, providing over 340,000 opportunities all across the 14 blue-collars sectors.


Nevertheless, if you’ve never gone to Japan or unfamiliar with Japanese culture, their workplace dynamic might come off as shocking. To make it worse, only 20-30% of Japanese can speak English fluently, meaning that you’ll have to be prepared with advanced Japanese proficiency to survive in an all-Japanese workplace.


It’s always better to be safe than sorry. To help you, here we’ve garnered a beginner guide to understand the Japanese work culture and how to fit in.


Without further ado, let’s dive in!


The Advantages

Being one of the most developed countries, working in Japan comes in many advantages. Here are some of the things both Japanese and non-Japanese like in working for a Japanese company. Of course, the characteristics may differ from one firm to another.


Japanese workplace focuses on collectivism

Unlike western companies who boast on individualism and autonomy, Japanese workplace culture upholds teamwork and collaboration. Colleagues are generally supportive of each other, which leads to a strong sense of belonging in the office.


Quoted from Richard Lewis’ book, “When Culture Collides,” he stated that “[Japanese] tend to have a Confucian hierarchy, where the group is sacred, and leaders are seen as benevolent,” which speaks to how collectivism is highly regarded.


Hence, this is why learning Japanese in the best Japanese course is essential when you want to work there. If you can’t speak Japanese well, you won’t be able to build a broad network.


After-hours socializing

Another Japanese workplace culture, you’re socially expected to hang out or spend time with your colleague once the office hour has ended. This can be in the form of having dinner together, attending a nomikai or a drinking party, or karaoke together.


After-hours socializing has a significant impact in forging a deep bond with your colleague. Additionally, the formal gesture will help you in climbing the ladder later.


Consensus in decision-making

Speaking right to their strong teamwork. Instead of giving one person to make all the decisions, the Japanese workplace prefers to ensure that everyone in the board agrees to the said decision. Both Japanese and non-Japanese highly appreciate this consensus-based approach because it shows that everyone’s voice is regarded all the same.


The organized and detailed planning process

Some workplace prefers to do things in a rush and revise once the product is done. However, Japanese workplace culture is not like that.


Focusing on a meticulous and organized approach to the planning process, they make sure that everything is covered, including the small details. This results in a high-quality product and a highly-disciplined employee culture.


The Challenges

Consequently, while Japanese workplace culture is praised for many things, it’s not all sun and rainbows. There are some challenges that even native Japanese struggle with. If you’re a non-Japanese working in Japan, there’s a big chance that you’ll be needing this advice.


The language barrier

Ah, yes, the classic problem.


As previously mentioned, Japanese isn’t the best at English, and if you want to land a job in a Japanese company, you must obtain at least N2 proficiency.


If you don’t speak Japanese, you will miss some credible information. Additionally, you’ll have a hard time conversing with your colleague, leading to minimum communication or, worse, miscommunication.


Currently looking for a Japanese language course? LingoTalk can be your one-stop solution. Offering a 100% 1-on-1 online class experience, learn Japanese into fluency with our adept tutors and conversation-focused curriculum. With LingoTalk, you can personalize your schedule and verbal lessons to fit your needs best.


Japanese workplace is considerably more formal

Unlike the American workplace, which is generally more laid back or the Indonesian workplace which can be a mix of both, the Japanese workplace is all about formal attire and attitude. If you board on a commuter full of salarymen and women, you’ll only see an ocean of black or grey suit.


Furthermore, calling your colleague with their first names is also considered rude in the Japanese workplace, or Japan in general. Usually, Japanese call someone whom they’re not close to with their last name, following “-さん”/“-san” honorifics as a form of respect.


Lengthy working hours

It’s not a secret anymore that the Japanese are expected to be okay with overtime. The length can vary based on the company, from mere minutes to a punishing one. However, many companies in Japan begin to restrict working hours as a part of the “workplace reform” efforts to humanize employees.


Real-life experience is the best teacher

Japanese workplace culture comes in many advantages, yet, unquestionably, not-so-easy challenges. From the tough language to its far-different culture, it’s a part of the challenge to adapt and make a name for yourself there.


In the end, everything comes back to language skills. If you can’t understand and speak Japanese, you won’t pass the interview phase, let alone working there. Hence, taking a high-quality Japanese course is essential if you want to stand out in your new workplace with a nativelike tongue.


However, don’t feel discouraged! If you just started on your dream to work in the land of sakura, there’s always time to hone your Japanese skill and achieve your goal. There’s nothing such as too late when it comes to a dream.


In LingoTalk, you’ll be trained by our skilled tutors and hone your Japanese skill into fluency. To make it better, you won’t only learn about the language, but also Japanese culture. After the course, you’ll be ready to take your journey forward to Japan!


So, are you ready to leap?


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