What it’s Like Working In Japan | “Short” Version
I’ve never worked in Japan. I mean, I work in Japan, but I work from my home and I’ve never needed Japanese language or workplace skills. But I do know people who have, so I set up interviews with eight of them to see what their experiences were like. All of them worked in the real Japanese workplace from small modern companies to big traditional ones, or in other words they work jobs that didn’t involve teaching English. They were required to be proficient in the Japanese language and business culture. All the interviewees speak English, have lived outside of Japan for some period of time, and have university degrees. So these are not your typical Japanese workers, let’s just be clear on that. But I think they do help give insight into what it’s like working in Japan and how it compares to working in a global or Western workplace. I don’t, maybe, before bubble. I, I don’t know bubble. The bubble was the height of the Japanese economy and the bursting of it in the early 90s was akin to the Great Depression. So I heard at the bubble age they used You know what I mean? Oh no, it was pretty easy. After one year later it was difficult. Female and male were a totally different. When they were hired it’s divided. And for female, they’re only for the paperwork. Mm, it was so boring Women only to help men. No. Not at all. They even don’t call us women– girls. Maybe two years, three years later they enter the company, they get married and quit. And that was the style. Japan is famous, or infamous, for its work hours. So I wondered what it was like in the 90s. I left my office at 5:30 every day. I was lucky. Most of case, the workers extend until 7:00, 8:00 p.m. I had to wake up like five o’clock in the morning because I had to travel two hours from my home to that place and start from 7:30 and also, I could go home with the last train, so means midnight. The senior was everything. They decide. Not just only boss, but the older or came into the facility before me. I asked to the senior and that senior say oh, okay. We finished, but this teacher hasn’t finished yet. Okay, so let’s wait for her. Let’s chat. Let’s grab some potato chips, buh-buh-buh-buh talk. Then everybody will stay until 10 o’clock. That’s kind of Japanese culture thing that I felt very sorry if I leave. What if other teacher were doing stuff? Part of the bargain for being so dedicated to the job was that your employer guaranteed you that job for life. Used to be they could trust company cause company can keep you whole life. The employee had to die for the company, that kind of concept. Any excuse was accepted, but this a company, okay hire you, oh sorry our company is getting crisis, so fire. And then you know, okay? How come I have to trust the company? Cause they don’t protect us. Then becomes more cool, deny. More important is my family and friends, bye-bye. So what’s it like looking for a job right now? They can ask anything, they can ask if you have health conditions. They can ask if you’re married or not. They’re gonna if you’re religious. They can ask like the most personal questions that you can think of, they have the right to ask. Actually if you know the Japanese resumes, it’s required always to have a picture. Yeah, name of the university. When you first enter, they don’t really expect you to know everything so they want to train you and kind of raise you up. Even though it’s fairly easy to find a job in Japan, the unemployment rate is less than 3%, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be a job with the employment status you desire. So I guess there’s kind of like four or five employment status differences here in Japan so you kind of have your full-time position, which is seishin. You have your contract position which are typically like one year, and a lot of times those contracts are renewable. Another job type is part-time. Part-time would usually be for like the McDonald’s worker. Those are usually hourly wages. Another type is just freelance. So freelance just meaning you take money on the project kind of basis. and the last I think would be called like a temporary worker. You’re kind of put into this temporary employee pool and this company just kind of chooses you as those jobs come in and then place you. Alright, so what’s it really like to work in a Japanese company? I had no idea what it was gonna be like. I guess when I first went in what I was really surprised about was how cramped the office was, and you don’t have your own cubicle so everyone’s just like sitting on the same desk so your, I don’t know, your manager or something would be right next to you when you When you go to work in the mornings or when you leave work in a big voice you have to say Or when you leave work Before you leave the office your desk table area needs to be 100% clean, you can’t leave anything on your desk. As the Japanese say right, leave it the way that you found it. Every day before I go home I have to send out like this daily report of what I did, everything had to be like recorded in a very meticulous manner We need to pre-meeting or pre decision before before decision. To make decision we can decide in another table. Meetings were very long, like four or five hours, because Japanese people are very detailed you know We have meetings actually every Monday and Friday Monday basically say what you’re gonna do for the week, Friday basically saying what you did and how it worked and what you plan on doing next week. They can be a little slow in terms of using new technologies. You can expect to use a lot of like Excel and Microsoft Words. You have a higher hierarchy so it hard to express your full opinions, it hard to express what you actually think. If you do want to be an individual, you do want to have that responsibility, you’re typically not gonna be given that. Westerners may find that working with Japanese is more art than science. The Japanese, yes, it’s not not yes sometimes. The Japanese maybe it’s 80% no Keigo was really hard for me to get used to but my boss was really nice to me. I have hired many Western people, especially American people, and I saw some a little bit of culture conflict American people tend to be more direct, if they don’t agree they want to express it. In a very traditional Japanese company that might cause a little bit of awkwardness or trouble. We talked about what working hours were like in the 90s, but now let’s hear about how they are today. Japan and Japanese culture, society, expects like the perfect service The customer expects that from the big company even, that’s why we work hard. I’m super super active still because my contract is like not overwork usually. When I gotta finish the work and then I can go home, but the different contractors, the regular people are usually stay company for few hours every single day without thinking. Just like yeah, they educate themselves, that’s normal. That’s hard. Unil five o’clock there are many emails and telephone calls so after 5 p.m. It’s easy, actually I can concentrate my job. So that’s why I stay at the desk and work until seven or eight. It really depends on the industry and on the company as well and in the IT industry actually people tend to work long hours but I was able to not work long hours partly because I chose companies where I didn’t have to work long hours. It’s changing. Yeah, nowadays it’s if you finish your work just go home. Sometimes they, the company order to leave at least 9:00 p.m. they shutdown their lights, computer. It’s changing. I would always just finish my work, just leave at like six or seven, sometimes leave on the dot if I really finish off my work so I don’t really experience the long hours of a Japanese workplace. Listening to all those experiences can be kind of confusing. Japanese work late, but they don’t? It’s changing? What’s the deal? Well, a large part of it comes down to your employment status. If you’re a full-time salaried employee you don’t normally get paid for overtime. And in traditional Japanese companies you feel an obligation to show you’re working hard and that can often mean working late, whether you’re actually being productive or not. With part-timers and contractors that same expectation is not there and you generally get paid overtime if you work it. With newer Japanese companies and with younger employees, that working late is working hard attitude isn’t as present. Indeed, times are changing, but it’s a slow march. Now, let’s explore getting time off work So normal in a Japanese company is ten paid vacation days and to be honest, I don’t think many people actually take them. Oh yeah, obviously because I’m living in Japan and I feel like our boss understands that foreigners need to go back to their home countries, so sometimes I would take long vacations, so that was good, but I would be working all the time So like from my phone and laptop and stuff. I think one time I tried to take quite a bit off but my manager said, you know if you have common sense, if you have common sense then you wouldn’t take, you know, ten days off in a row like what do you think your team would think or something like that. Because if you missed that period you’re kind of giving your work to someone else to finish and a lot of people don’t like giving that responsibility to someone, to give that burden on to someone else. I’ve noticed that Japanese people don’t really take vacations. Like even when they’re sick they come maybe in the afternoon or like they come in and work overtime on the weekends or something. I started from forty. Forty days and you’re (?) but normally most of case 20s cannot, cannot take. Yeah of course I can take but actually the maximum two weeks, actually even two weeks we feel very long. It’s too long actually. The one week is pretty much enough long. Something that can prohibit enjoying your after work time is nomikai, the drinking party. So after work I would have to go with my clients, and we would have to go to drinking parties And sometimes after the drinking party you go karaoke, so sometimes I end up going home around 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning and then waking up at 7 a.m. or 6:00 a.m. and going back to the office at 8:00 and pretend nothing happened that night and that you’re, you know, genki as ever I feel like girls maybe don’t have to attend those things as much as the male workers do. You would drink, yes, but they wouldn’t force you to drink too much. But I think because I was a female so it’s kind of power harassment, sexual harassment if they forced you to drink a lot. But for the males I think they would force each other a bit more. And there’s also this thing called nijikai, like after the first dinner you have to go to like a second nomikai and a third nomikai. I never went to like the second or third ones, I would just leave after the first one. Sometimes because the boss is like, you know, we want a men’s night out. 20 years ago we, even if you don’t like it you have to drink with your boss. Yeah, but I think recently twenties, like early twenties, they just refused, I heard it. No, no, I don’t want to go Nowadays like young generations, like twenties, they feel like, I don’t go you know 30s, 40s, 50s, is like what? What’s the choice, you have no choice, you have to be there! In some nomikai I think younger companies in particular. I think they tend to do that less than more traditional Japanese companies, so I didn’t really have to go to lot of nomikai. We’ve all screwed up in the workplace, whether was to tell a customer the wrong thing or forget an important detail in a presentation. I asked about what happens when you mess things up. In a general sense Japanese people don’t like to be confrontational so a lot of times they wouldn’t directly actually mention you that they have a problem with you they just go straight to your boss and that’s kind of how they I guess complain about you which I wish didn’t happen because it’d be so much easier if it just came right to you and you just resolve it right then. We actually share that what we was wrong every single morning and before start work We’re sure that like at the five minutes like the brainstorming what we had the problem from that you know and we don’t say who did that we just say it what happens. My boss would he would tell me off in front of the whole office and it’s quite embarrassing. But I guess in Japanese they say if your superiors are telling you off it means they still have hope in you, they still expect a lot of things from you. That’s why they tell you off. When they don’t tell you off anymore it just means they’re fully given up on you because they don’t fire people in Japan. Usually. So I messed up one time pretty badly on a translation And he realized that there are a lot of things missing because I didn’t really do a great job honestly, and he kind of yelled at me in front of almost the whole company Which I guess in the American sense would be called I guess kind of power harassment, I think I almost started crying to be honest, but it was quite the experience. For me like I kind of took it because I knew I did mess up Sometimes things are simply not working out in a company, or maybe that you’ve grown all you can and want to move beyond. When, how, and why do people say goodbye? The seishin sense in the Japanese side is a little bit different than in a Western company. So seishin means a full-time employee and a Japanese company typically they won’t fire you but if they really do want to fire you what they would do is they’ll kind of put you in a, they could rate lower your salary, they could put you a bad office. They could relocate you. That’s all within their rights so a lot of times actually people just quit voluntarily if they do kind of you know make your life hell in that regards. I think the traditional Japanese company wasn’t for me. I mean I didn’t have enough freedom and I felt like there’s the hierarchy. Almost I’d say 90% of these people who quit after their first year are foreigners Japanese people, they, I’m not sure, but I kind of get the feeling that it’s shameful for you to quit your job. If the one guy who worked for the same company less than three years we don’t think that he is he is good person for for employee. For most people I think it’s easy to highlight the cons of working. As such I wanted to know what the pros were. Some good things about working in Japanese company is that they cover everything like insurance, your transportation every morning, some companies even cover your housing. The free accommodations I get the perfect just perfect (?) So maybe the pay’s a bit lower but because of all the other factors it’s actually quite worth it. I guess the pros are that you do feel like you’re part of a team. You know, your failure is everyone’s failure, your success is everyone’s success. And they kind of celebrate that as well. There are of course negatives about work-life, so I wanted to hear suggestions for improving working conditions If you stay at office longer you’re a better worker That is not true Like Japan is such a beautiful country, and like all their products and everything, they’re perfect because Japanese people are so detailed oriented but behind this whole like detailed, this like perfect world that, like behind this perfect site that they show to the world, behind that is like you know sad, stressed-out workers, and it’s just If I could I’d like to change that and I feel like Japanese people should change that. If the law has changed the mind of people it’s not changed, it will not be changed. Law is law, it’s the important thing is so it’s my idea policy of records. What I would like to see different, I guess less drinking parties outside of work also less overtime, but right now I think Japan’s already on that track and a lot of the big companies are starting to change So if we more divided into the special fields each task then maybe our working hour is going to less. Why do we need so many signs, stamps stamps so both one, both two, both three, both four Like after I get off work I see like all these businessmen like suits and ties and they just look so tired. I feel like they should quit the suits. It would be cool to be more flexible it’s requiring being flexible and elders being learning how to deal with youngers My job environment now is very very satisfied because international environments and can and good teamwork and can bring in many different culture in so not just only Japanese society, but the other countries society too, so can respect each other I hope my current situation is going to be like Japanese normal society. I asked if the gender divide that was quite present in the 90s still existed. I didn’t feel like I was treated any different. I felt like they treated me like a man actually. I would say IT, especially the ones like a start-up-ish smaller companies They tend to be pretty gender equal so there’s virtually no difference between men and women as long as you have skills you can get a job. It’s no secret that a number of Japanese companies that have female leaders is very low. Something like 10%. If women were in charge of Japanese work-life what would they do? What me though, the women society is changing. Then I think women can do the job more efficiently than men. So sometimes I am telling my husband, why you have to work so late? You’re not efficient, you’re not working efficiently they say. He was very upset. No, I’m you know, I’m working efficiently. But if I were you then I could do this one then that way Even the previous company and even the current company I like my working style, and I don’t need to change and I didn’t change, actually I didn’t change. I don’t have to worry about income, my income, because my husband you know has enough income so sometimes my husband told me your job is for you, your job teaching Japanese it’s kind of hobby, right? It’s not, but I like this job very much but my husband sometimes told me okay, being independent I mean the economically being independent is maybe not happy for my daughter, maybe if she got married to nice guy and just be homemaker. Maybe that is happiness for her. It’s not! What, how old are you? Well it was common for married women to become mothers and homemakers. More and more of these women are now finding themselves entering back into the workplace. It’s really changing in a good way though most of the woman is going back to the former job, but it’s only part-time. I think my mom is living these days more relaxed than when she was young, when she right after got married to my dad when I was small, my mom always had to do the kitchen stuff and all the housework if my dad doing some house for a hold then my mom’s reputation became really bad, bad bad wife, but these days society is changing, women start working outside so the men should help out the woman, too. So my dad start doing they clean the dishes and he can’t, he still cannot cook. Well sometimes I think my generation is the last generation to be homemaker and my daughter’s generation, maybe she definitely need her own job. Well, that is… That’s the thing. As much as attitudes have changed I’ve personally seen many instances of women having to juggle returning to work and being that good housewife at the same time. Men have picked up some slack at home but it’s nowhere close to being equal. If I think back to Canada a few decades ago that’s kind of where feels like Japan is in terms of gender equality. When Yuko was saying that women are more efficient, I totally understand her. They’re usually the ones rushing home to be there when the kids daycare or school has finished and they’re also usually the ones that are preparing dinner. And when you talk about women not being able to rise up in Japan it’s the previous dual track system for males and females. The pause on career as they raised kids, the shortened work hours due to household duties, the tax incentives that result in keeping wages low. These are all conspiring against the government’s goal of more female leadership It feels like women who would have naturally been in leadership roles right now if they had been treated like men many years ago don’t expect many changes for themselves. Instead they’re looking at the next generation, the one they’re raising right, now to be the ones who push through the big changes that are needed for gender equality to occur. So what do I think about working in Japan in general? One thing that I came away with is that I wouldn’t survive in most Japanese workplaces. But that’s not saying much since that’d be true for many Canadian workplaces as well. I’m more of an independent type of guy. That being said, I feel that in comparison to Japanese companies, Canadian ones would give me more say into how I did my job and give me a better work-life balance. Although I didn’t officially ask this question in the interview, many people who have talked to for this video and otherwise have said they would rather work for international companies than Japanese ones. So I ask this to you: What country are you from and what are the pros and cons of working where you are? Special thanks to all those that let me barrage them with questions and a shout-out to my patrons for allowing me to produce time consuming content like this. Oh, yeah, you can see the hour-long version of these interviews over on the X channel. There’s a lot of things I had to cut out on this “short” version. Okay, thanks for watching. See you next time. Bye!