Just as any other country in the world has a different workplace culture, Japan has its own unique culture that every single foreign entrepreneur or foreign student needs to get accustomed to if they want to explore business opportunities in Japan. Japan can be quite different from western countries such as America when it comes to working, dress code in the workplace, relationships with employers and work colleagues, and many more things related to the workplace.
The country offers quite a lot of lucrative business opportunities, which is precisely why more and more foreigners are looking to find a job in Japan or start their own business there. Their number of foreign entrepreneurs has been especially increasing ever since the Japanese Government started supporting them and offering them more benefits than ever before, one of them being an extended startup visa program.
If you are thinking about relocating to Japan from the US and finding a job in a Japanese company, read on to explore the main ways the Japanese workplace culture differs from the US before you get on the plane and make such a life-changing decision.
Japanese Workplaces Are Much More Formal
In the US, it is completely normal for the office workplace attire to be business casual, and business professional is seen more rarely. In Japan, it is reversed. The typical businessman is usually seen in suits, especially when meeting with clients. But at the end the day, it depends what your company requires.
In fact, men will wear black, gray and navy formal suits with ties even in the summer. Women are dressed very similarly, with white button-down shirts, black, grey or navy blazers over them and skirts matching with the blazers. To match this women wear black kitten heels and ponytails.
Apart from the formal dress code, the Japanese don’t call their work colleagues by their first names when they are at work, which is yet another thing that is pretty normal in the US. This is not specific to the workplace, however. Even in school or meeting someone for the first time, as a way to be respectful, Japanese people might call each other by surname.
As much as these two countries are different when it comes to their workplace cultures, both countries are known for working lots of hours. One thing more unique to Japan is the overtime culture. It is not surprising to see workers work 10-14 hours a day.
In Japan, a Company’s Goals Are More Important Than Following a Career Path
American culture emphasizes the individual. That means they value ideas such as creativity and personal goals. They are all for teamwork, but their individual freedom and their own career interests are usually put first. You will not find it uncommon for an employee to leave a company in pursuit of a better company that might pay more.
In Japan, one’s career path is less important than the company’s goals. The Japanese workplaces focus on the group, as opposed to the US workplaces that focus on the individual. The Japanese have a sort of a Confucian hierarchy, where the one with the status of the leader is respected the most and where an entire group works to help the leader achieve the goals. Japan has also a tradition of lifetime employees, meaning a worker will only work for one company his or her entire life. Although many of these old ideas are changing, it is still the norm.
This is why the Japanese are always looking for cultural fits when hiring employees, without placing too much value on work experience and the skills that new employees bring to the table. Those are important, of course, but the Japanese will always hire someone who fits the company culture over someone who has excellent skills but isn’t really a good cultural fit.
This is because the Japanese rarely fire people from their jobs, so they need employees whom they will get along with and who will understand the company’s values and future goals because they will probably be working there for a very long time.
In Japan, the Boss Must Approve All Employee Decisions
The Japanese have a business mantra that they highly value in business communication. That mantra is Ho-Ren-So, which is an abbreviation for “Hokoku” (to report), “Renraku” (to inform) and “Sodan” (to consult) and it represents the most basic rule in Japanese business culture.
By following this rule, every employee must report on a process or result to their superior, inform them of all the facts, and consult or discuss with them the most appropriate solution. Employees must always keep their superiors in the loop, informing them about everything that’s going on and seeking their advice for the best resolution. They cannot make decisions on their own before contacting the boss and getting their approval.
This is not something that the US is known for. The US employees have complete freedom to make decisions, given that those decisions actually contribute to the company’s success. They can always consult with their superiors, but they are actually expected to figure out what the best decision is.
The Japanese Coworkers Are Expected to Hang Out After Work
It’s not all work and no play in the Japanese workplace culture. When they are at work, everything is completely formal but, once they clock out, the Japanese are actually expected to hang out with their coworkers and go for drinks or at a party.
Mind you, this is not strictly required, but it is expected to a certain degree. The Japanese like to socialize with the people they work with and they think that going out for drinks or even karaoke is the best way to get to know their work colleagues better and create strong and meaningful relationships with them.
It’s not like this in the US, since many Americans actually make friends while at work, as their workplaces are not so formal. However, lots of them tend to keep their business life and personal life completely separate and spend time with family and other friends.
As much as these two countries are different when it comes to their workplace cultures, they are very similar when it comes to how many hours they work. Both the Japanese and the American employees tend to work very long hours and they take very few vacations from work, as opposed to lots of other countries.
If you are thinking about exploring business opportunities in Japan, and there are plenty of those to choose from, getting to know the country’s workplace culture should definitely be your top priority. Your skills and expertise matter, but showing that you can be an excellent cultural fit will certainly open many more doors for you.