Working in Japan

Hours, culture and work conditions

Working in Japan

Japanese employees work long hours. In spite of the Labour Law, it is not unusual for employees to work 60 hours a week. This has led to a phenomenon called karo-shi (death from overwork), where corporate employees have been known to spontaneously drop dead of exhaustion.

Fortunately, instances of karo-shi are rare, and as foreign workers are usually not pressured to log the same amount of hours as their Japanese counterparts, they should have nothing to fear.

One reason for the extraordinary number of hours that Japanese work is a promotion culture that is still rooted in a seniority system. The amount of time employees work determines their opportunities for advancement, and the quantity of their work is sometimes more important than its quality.

Japanese work spaces

Japanese desks are organized in an open plan (obeya seido), in which desks are grouped together in teams of coworkers. Each team has a leader, and the leader is responsible for outlining the day´s work in a morning meeting (chorei). There are two chorei per day in a Japanese office: one general meeting led by senior staff members, and then a smaller, more specialized meeting for each group led by its leader.

Foreign employees may find Japanese offices loud. The noise is a result of the open structure of the office and Japanese management´s emphasis on cooperation.

A critical area in which many foreigners must adapt to the Japanese office is smoking. Smoking is not illegal in the workplace in Japan (there are exceptions, such as medical facilities). If you have a medical condition that is aggravated by cigarette smoke, ask about your company´s smoking policy before you accept the job offer. Coming to an office full of smokers with a breathing issue could force you into an isolated and ultimately uncomfortable corner of the office.

Japanese management style

Japanese management is based around the principle of group harmony (wa). Japanese managers place less emphasis on giving orders and focus instead on providing their employees with the information and supplies necessary to excel. Thus, the cornerstone of Japanese business practice is consensus building (nemawashi), through which workers gather group approval for ideas before presenting them to senior managers and other companies. Group approval means that individuals are spared public embarrassment for their mistakes. This is a critical safety-net for Japanese people, who consider even minor public embarrassment disastrous.

Further reading

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