Work in Japan Advice Board
“What is a Japanese company?”
“What would I expect from a Japanese company?”
This article will offer a short explanation of what constitutes a modern Japanese company, focusing on four areas: Relationships, Etiquette, Promotion and Working Environment.
It is important to understand that while some cultural trends may be visible in most Japanese companies, the following information is in no way applicable to every company and prior research should be undertaken if applying to a position.
The word for company in Japanese (kaisha) has strong connotations of community. In fact, when alluding to their place of work, the Japanese will often use the term uchi (such as uchi no kaisha) which means inside or a more possessive “my”, given the impression of something more personal than just a place of work.
Likewise, when introducing oneself, the Japanese will often state their company as opposed to the specific job they perform. This kind of behavior takes its roots in the process of looking for a job during the fourth and final year of University (shuukatsu), where graduates are typically unaware of the position they will be assigned before entering a company.
The lack of feeling a close relationship to one’s profession while maintaining such strong links to one’s company can harbor a negative effect on relating to people outside the company. While Westerners may be able to form with all sorts of people relatively quickly, it would be difficult for Japanese to relate so readily.
99% of Japanese people will tell you of the importance of specific mannerisms and keigo in business, and that you should adhere to these norms even as a non-Japanese person.
Any non-Japanese to have studied keigo will understand the trials and tribulations of learning something that seems so arbitrary, but it is necessary to learn, even if it should not be used regularly.
Foreigners in a Japanese environment would be advised to learn and master keigo for the purposes of gaining respect from colleagues and business associates, leading to more successful business relationships and higher promotion prospects.
However, some foreigners may wish to experience working in a Japanese company to imbibe the culture and way of thinking without suffering the drawbacks of excessive overtime and other frequently quoted Japanese working customs. While mastery of keigo and business etiquette is still recommended for such people, it is also advisable to feign ignorance of certain ways of behaving in order to be treated as non-Japanese.
Surprisingly, statistics taken in 2014 show that after graduating, the average Japanese changes jobs three times before reaching the age of 30. This surely shows the imminent demise of the “lifetime employment” system.
Part of this indicates that traditional ideas about advancement through seniority are being vanquished and Japanese companies are becoming more meritocratic. While an increasing number of progressive companies are beginning to value the meritocratic system, there are still many companies that have a traditional view of promoting people based on time spent at the company.
There are some companies in Japan that are pleasant places to work, with a lot of focus on harmony among staff members and training to encourage loyalty.
However, Japan has been infamous for the sheer amount of overtime demanded from employees for some time, and recent changes to the law intended to protect workers from excessive overtime have had a limited effect.
The term “burakku kigyou” (black company) has begun to circulate to describe companies which compel younger employees to work long hours without extra compensation, a concept which has come to be so popular it has sprouted the annual “Black Company Awards” to name and shame companies that treat their employees like slaves.
Overtime is not the only attribute given to “Black Companies”, employees should also be aware of lack of breaks, irregular days off and high employee turnover.