Gaijin Recruit

For job hunting foreigners in Japan

The Japanese Company Perspective

Whether you are orientating yourself because you want to work in Japan, at a Japanese company in particular, or you already landed a job (congratulations!), it is always good to know what is expected of you.
Due to the cultural differences, some obvious some not so, Japanese may expect you to know and understand things that their Japanese staff got drilled in their brains from kindergarten, but is not so "common knowledge" or even *common sense" abroad.
We cannot guarantee that we have listed all company desires, as company culture and company policy will also play a roll, but we will list the most common and general things that you should know but may not know yet. This means we will leave off common sense elements such as "do not 'borrow' a roll of toilet paper from your office for use at home, because you think the office has enough rolls".


Introduction

In general there are two types of Japanese companies who want to hire foreigners:

  1. The company that wants a foreigner for their foreignness; be it looks or the ability to speak Japanese as well as speak another language.
    These companies will usually expect you to act like Japanese staff and adapt to Japan and the Japanese work environment.
  2. The company that wants a foreigner for their experience abroad.
    These companies want to implement international elements to their business, so it is crucial for them to have someone who is already used to the international way of doing business. It is prefered that the foreigner has specialized (foreign) knowledge. That they speak Japanese and can live here unsupervised is required, but it is not the main reason for hiring.

There is a third, separate, category that will not be discussed in detail in this article:
The English Language Schools.
Admittedly, these can be either Japanese or foreign, and their company cultures differ from company to company. However, in general they want the foreigner because the foreigner SPEAKS English. Levels are far and in between; some schools really are high level and usually will only hire natives or people who can prove they have had education for 12 years or more in English or have lived in and English speaking country for 12 years or more. Some schools prioritize people with teaching qualifications. However, not all schools care as much about "teaching" as more about the fact you "look" and "speak" English.
We advise all people who want to join an English Language School to google the school name and look for accounts from current and past teachers. The bigger the school, the easier this should be.

Below, we will discuss the companies that want their foreign employees to act Japanese. To work within the Japanese culture they are crucial to know.
For people who want to work at the B-type companies, this list may be a usefull guide, but keep in mind that these companies will generally give more lee-way to learn.

Requirements - In Short

In the simplest terms, a Japanese company wants their personnel to be obedient but pro-active. Do as ordered, do not ask too many questions, follow the written and unwritten rules and show a 100% faith in your superiors. Keep in mind that during the first period (ranging from one to three years), personal input is not desired, unless specifically and sincerely asked for.
As can seen from the phrasing "first period", Japanese companies still want their employees to stay loyal to them for many years. Usually a company will spend time and energy in showing you the ropes, as well as arranging all the necessary things like your health insurance, so they want some guarantee in return.
After a few years, you may be asked to instruct new hires. That shows you are considered a full member of staff.

Behavior and Etiquette

There are many books written in Japan on how to work at a Japanese company (simply aks or search for books on business manners or "ビジネスマナー"). While these books are aimed at newly graduated university students, it may help the lost foreigner with their first job in Japan. They will explain proper language use, how to use the phone in the work space, how to write letters, how to behave towards your superiors, your older colleagues and your younger colleagues.
If you were just hired, you probably know why you were hired. At times you may even receive a company manual. If you received a manual, do make sure to read it completely. Policy regarding dress, behavior, payments, how to check in and out, and sometimes how to quit are usually listed. These manuals may be lengthy but it will help you get along.
However, not everyone receives a worker manual. And even when you do, basic conduct may not be written in full.

Greeting or aisatsu (挨拶)

While aisatsu is understood as "greeting", it ranges from the greetings "ohayou gozaimasu", "osakini shitsurei itashimasu", "otsukaresamadesu" to the acknowledgement of orders of tasks such as "hai!" or "kashikomarimashita".
Always say the aisatsu in a bright voice with a smile on your face, looking at the other's face (without staring or making things look creepy). The greetings for starting the day and ending the day are always followed by a polite bow.

Bowing

The Japanese bow is an art form. Or something similar. With the many levels of politeness, people focus on how deep to bow, but the form is even more important. Below we will guide you through the "proper business bow".

  • Do not bow while walking.
  • Speak before you bow (so not during the bow, as you will be addressing the floor then)
  • Stand straight, with shoulders and hips aligned.
  • Men have their arms straight, parallel to their body,
    women are allowed to fold their hands in front of them, left hand over right, hovering below their belly button.
  • Bow while keeping legs and back straight,
    and keep your arms in the same position as before the bow (without making your elbows protrude).
  • Bows range from 15 degrees, 30 degrees, 45 degrees (and sometimes even beyond 45 degrees if company policy requires).
    The lower the bow, the more respect you are showing.

"Hai"

The first thing most people notice is that Japanese use a lot of hai's during the day. This can mean anywhere from "yes", "understood" to simply "I am listening". When people talk to you or explain things to you, use this word a lot to let them know you are listening. Use intervals of around 10 seconds or say it when the conversation partner falls silent and you can feel the expectation in the air.
The "I am listening" hai does not have to be in a bright or loud voice. The "acknowledged, I will do as asked" hai does.

Dress

Unless the company has a casual dress-code, make sure to always appear in business clothes. Suit (navy, grey, black; dark colors have the preference) or prescribed uniform.

Business Cards

Giving items, be it business cards or simple prints, mail, or something else, is always done with both hands. Make sure you face them in a way the receiving party can read the text.
For business cards, make sure you also receive them with both hands while saying "choudai itashimasu" (頂戴いたします).
Do not stow the card away, but read it first. If you have questions (such as name reading), ask them now.
When in a meeting, place the card on top of your business card case. If there is more than one person, place the received cards side by side to know who is who.

Coming to Work, Business Hours and Overtime

When your job starts at nine in the morning, the company will expect you to be there ten to fifteen minutes early, especially if you are new. You usually have the task of collecting the mail, cleaning the office, and have everything set for the new day.
If you might be late for whatever reason possible, immediately call your superior to announce you will be late. If you end up being on time, simply start the day with the usual greeting. If you do end up late, start with apologizing for being late, a deep bow and then saying you will be more careful.
When your boss, and at times when your senpai, come in, stand up, greet them and bow appropriately. If you are equal or higher in rank, a nod might suffice.
If you are asked something, stop whatever you are doing, look the person in the eye and say hai. Wait for the other to completely finish their talk before continuing with work.
When you are ordered to do something while working on something, stop what you are doing and say you will do as asked immediately (unless the order states you can do it later.)
Depending on the company, they expect you to either leave after the boss has left, or put in voluntary overwork. These hours are generally not paid or announced up front and seen as being included in your salary.
When your work for the day is done, ask your colleagues if they need help with anything. Leaving on the clock or when you finished your work and did not ask to assist others is generally frowned upon.

Quitting Your Job

If you want to quit your job, make sure to do it in a way that the company will not get angry with you. You will need them to arrange a few things before and after you leave, so best not to create enemies.
Start with re-reading the conditions stated in your contract. Keep in mind that the contract is seen as the "legal" minimum. Citing it may not be appreciated, but you should know what your "rights" are.
Then do not write your resignation letter just yet. First verbally announce your intent to leave preferably around three months in advance. While the contract may give a shorter date, most companies will insist that it is "common sense" that you announce it three months in advance. You will be asked for your reasons to leave, so prepare a list.
When the company agrees to let you go, hand in your official letter of resignation called a taishokusho (退職書) stating the date you will leave and where you can be contacted.
Your company will usually report you stopped working for them, which in turn will revoke your working visa and health insurance. You have three months to find a new company before your visa may not be valid anymore, so please think things over thoroughly and consult with friends if possible.

Black Companies (ブラック企業)

We would like to finish with one warning. While the above list is only a selection, it may sound strict to some. In reality, some companies allow more leeway, so do not worry too much. However, when a company really overworks their employees, Japanese themselves will draw the line as well and will call these companies "Black companies" (ブラック企業). Employees are faced with insane overhours, horrible treatment, hardly any benefits and lower than normal pay, while having hardly any free time or freedom. When they do have a day off, they usually sleep it away because they are too tired.
These employees get stuck in a double bind as they do not have the time or energy to search for a new job. Moreover, even when these people do find a new place, they face the risk of the stigma associated with quitting a company too soon.
If possible, search the company you want to work for, or the company that is offering you a job, on the web combined with ブラック企業. Have a look waht other people say about it. And try to get a look at how a company works before you sign your name on the dotted line.
Black Companies are -very- demanding, and those having the unlucky experience of working at one may feel like all Japanese companies work like this. We would like to warn of the existence of these kinds of companies, but assure people these Black Companies are not the standard.