Working in Japan

Working an Office Job in Japan, Common Mistakes and Useful Tips

Working at a new office can be tricky, add in a foreign language barrier and the uniqueness of Japan, and it can be very easy to trip up. Today we are going to look at some mistakes and how to avoid them.

Working at a new office in any country can be tricky at first, but add in a foreign language barrier and the inevitable weirdness of Japan, and it can be very easy to trip up. With the Japanese passive style, you might not even know you are making a faux pas! Don’t fret though, if you make an effort a good employer and good colleges are usually forgiving and understanding of your situation. Today we are going to look at some mistakes made by myself and contemporaries, who have after many years come to see a glimmer of sense in it all, so that you can avoid and recognize mistakes and keep on everyone’s good side.

Ask Questions and Participate with Colleagues

The Japanese style of treating new recruits is to essentially assume they know nothing. It is not uncommon for art graduates to be employed in software, or Science graduates in sales. Unlike western countries, at least to an extent, your major doesn’t seem to matter that much. Naturally this point applies less to the top companies. What this means though, is that questions are expected! Mistakes are expected too. If you flounder or progress in silence, management will assume you are slacking off, or are too introverted. If you are not sure about anything, seek advice and help. Even if you are confident, play the role and at least pretend to know less than your elders. It’s unfortunate, but merit is less rewarded than playing the game in most Japanese companies.

Work Life Balance

Japan has a reputation for being bad at work life balance. It is not unearned. The standard work life balance in Japan would be off balance in many other countries, so if you find yourself in a bad environment in Japan, it’s probably very bad. Fortunately, both law and the culture have been pushing Japan in a more balanced direction. What this means is if you don’t let yourself fall into this trap, you won’t be severely ostracized for it. If you are, I honestly recommend finding a new job. Set boundaries between your on and off time. Don’t check emails after hours, and don’t normalize thinking about and being available to your job after hours.

Office Mannerisms

To start with the most basic, keep your desk clean! You will be judged by this by at least one coworker. It’s a simple thing to do, so just do it. Another good tip is to try to be an active participant in meetings. This can mean anything from being truly constructive if you have something to add, or just confirming or paraphrasing something if you don’t. People seem to really appreciate it, and it will do more for you than any great work you do that no one else ever sees.

Be aware of the dress code, and dress better than at least someone. If you’re lucky to work in an office that is a little more relaxed, and allows “Cool Biz” in summer, try to be aware of when customers or outside people are expected to visit. The dress code often reverts to full suit and tie on those days, and you might not be told in advance.

Finally, this may be more relevant to office work in generally and not just Japan, but be careful about gossip. Co-workers will gossip about you, and private details don’t stay private. Be careful about what you share about yourself, and what you reveal about yourself.

Overtime Work

You will often hear cynical remakes about the office in Japan. They may seem overly negative, and some are, but there is often a grain of truth within. It is good to know about such insights, and use your judgement on how to apply such knowledge.

The most prominent such point is in regards to overtime work. You will notice coworkers staying well past there clock off time, browsing Rakuten or Yahoo News. Of course, some workers do work in overtime, but many do not. There is a myriad of reasons for this behavior, an unwillingness to go home, peer pressure to not go home earlier than everyone else (making a sad loop), over work allocation and so forth. The reason it seems to be tolerated by management is because work can come in waves, and it normalizes overtime, thus employers are available and willing when real work needs to be done. What all this means is unfortunately, depending on the office environment, you may be expected to stay overtime, even when there isn’t actually any work that needs doing. You might be judged worse for going home than just watching YouTube at your desk! Naturally all this depends on your work environment. “Read the air” before you start browsing Reddit at work after hours, and don’t overdo it! There comes a point where its excessive and the management sees it as a negative, find a healthy balance.

I hope these points will help you have a steadier start to an office job in Japan. Keep asking questions, dress up, expect a bit of overtime and don’t let yourself fall into a bad work life balance. Good luck!

Currently living the good life on my little farm in the mountains of Japan. I grow my own rice and vegetables, and try to avoid doing things I don't enjoy! I figure this is the best way to live life. I enjoy writing every day, sometimes songs, sometimes bedtime stories for my daughter, and sometimes articles about Japan.

Contact Us

Tokyo Office
C/O Global Village Media
1-7-20-B2 Yaesu, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
[email protected]