5 Things to Know About Japanese Work Culture

You are probably familiar to some extent with Japanese culture due to its huge popularity overseas. Whether it is through experiencing this country’s amazing cuisine, enjoying its fascinating films and shows, or simply participating in its unique pop culture, you can find tidbits of Japan’s exciting culture wherever you go. However, choosing to live and work in Japan can still be something of a culture shock because, let’s face it, cultural tidbits in no way compare to how multi-faceted, fast-paced, and confusing life in Japan can be.

Japanese work culture in particular is something of a challenge to outsiders not familiar with the norms and expectations that come with working in an office in Japan. Whether you’re headed to Japan for a permanent work placement, or just going for a short-term business trip, understanding some of Japan’s work culture can make your experience abroad much smoother, so read on to discover 5 things you should know about working in Japan:

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Age Matters

Japanese culture tends to venerate elders because of the wealth of life experience and wisdom they have to offer. In a business setting in Japan these same rules apply which is why in most companies age equals seniority. It is very rare to find a young person in a senior position so you should evaluate the situation and act accordingly. This means that in business meetings or interactions with seniors you should always defer to them. Respect their opinion and never call them out in front of their peers. And above all, treat them with more deference than you do younger people in the same group or company.

Bonus tip: When going into a meeting, always greet the most senior man or woman first. Do this by bowing deeper to him/her than you would to the others.


Composure Matters

Japanese tend to be viewed as more conservative than most other cultures – especially when it comes to doing business. Showing emotion is severely frowned upon and losing your cool is, well, not cool. Try to remain calm and collected at all times. Favor being diplomatic and polite over showing irritation or impatience. The former is the key to building good business relationships, the latter could very well ruin them completely.

Bonus tip: Less is more in Japan which means that you don’t try to show your worth through too much talking. Silence is golden so say only what you need to say and no more.

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Solidarity Matters

In many Western nations emphasis tends to be placed on the accomplishments of the individual as opposed to the collective as a whole. In Japan, the opposite tends to be true. In this group-oriented culture, showing solidarity to the group over individuality is highly valued. This is why you shouldn’t be shocked if managers and company seniors praise the entire group, even if a single individual bears more responsibility for their success. Just take it all in a stride and enjoy the perks of having a team that will stick together through thick and thin.

Bonus tip: If you take up a senior position in Japan remember that you should never, ever single out an individual – whether it be for praise or criticism. In both cases you’ll just end up embarrassing the individual in front of their peers.

Cards Matter

Business cards may be something of an afterthought in most other cultures, but in Japan meishi are considered an extension of a business person’s identity. For this reason, exchanging business cards is something of a ritual in Japanese culture. Meetings in Japan start with this ceremonious exchange referred to as meishi kokan. Accept and offer business cards using both hands, always take a moment to read them, and place them in a cardholder to refer to later if needed.

Bonus tip: Don’t ever accept a business card and place it in your wallet, pocket, or purse. This is considered a big no-no in Japan and many business people might see it as a slap to the face!


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Leisure Matters

Japan may be famous for its 6-day work week and long working hours, but locals love to play as hard as they work. Bar Hopping after work is very common in Japan and at times looked upon as a sort of tradition. If you think your colleagues are formal and conservative in the workplace, you’ll see a whole new side to them after hours! Whether attending workplace parties, singing it up at a karaoke bar, or drinking the night away with sake, you’ll stand to learn a lot about letting loose from your Japanese counterparts.

Bonus tip: Socializing is important in Japan and going out with your colleagues after work is considered as another means to strengthen team dynamics. Avoid backing out of social situations as much as possible or you may find yourself left out in the cold in the workplace!

Even with its extreme cultural differences, living and working in Japan can be an enriching experience for everyone. You’ll pick up some great working habits to use back on your home turf and walk away with a whole new approach to the business world. Of course one important aspect of blending into Japanese culture is learning the language. Only around 10% of Japanese can communicate effectively in English, so it’s up to you to bridge that language barrier by signing up for some top-tier Japanese language classes. Keep your skills on point with free Japanese placement tests and you’ll be ready to tackle the many nuances of Japanese culture, whether in the workplace or out on the town!