Working in Japan – Expectations Versus Reality

Initially, working in Japan may not seem all that different from working in other countries. You apply for a job, get interviewed, and if you’re accepted, you become an employee. Then, as an employee you work for a certain amount of time each day, get some paid time off, and repeat this cycle. Pretty standard, right?

Well, the “devil is in the details” as the saying goes, and in Japan, matters such as working hours, when to enjoy time off, and how you complete your work can be quite different from what you might expect in other countries. Understanding the nature of the work culture both in Japan and at your prospective company is vital to your future job satisfaction.

Reasons for Job Dissatisfaction

Whether in Japan or anywhere else, it’s not uncommon to find that the reality of a particular job does not match one’s expectations. However, a 2020 survey of non-Japanese working in Japan highlighted some rather specific reasons for job dissatisfaction.

It’s important to note that survey’s sample size was 500 non-Japanese people, of which 200 were working as regular, full-time employees for less than five years in Japan after graduating from university or graduate school. (More details about the sample composition as well as the survey itself can be found here. (Japanese only))

According to the responses from those 200 non-Japanese employees, the following are some of the most commonly reported reasons for dissatisfaction in the workplace:

  • The working hours are long (51.5%)
  • There is unpaid overtime (42.5%)
  • It’s difficult to take time off (38.5%)
  • The company does not support flexible work styles, such as working from home or other types of telecommuting (34.0%)
  • The amount of responsibility or authority is low (31.0%)
  • The salary/compensation does not increase (27.5%)
  • Lack of advancement or promotion (23.0%)

While we don’t have information as to how much these employees knew about their future organizations before they were hired, the lesson is still clear: these are aspects of working in Japan that you could experience as well, whether starting as a new hire after graduation or coming into a position in Japan mid-career. Let’s look at some ways to prevent or at least reduce the chance of experiencing job dissatisfaction.


1. Gain Insider Info

One of the best ways to prepare yourself for future employment at a Japanese company is to actually speak with other employees beforehand. During the application process, try and ask the Human Resources representatives if it is possible to interview a senior foreign employee.

Alternatively, contact people in the company before you even formally apply. This will enable you to speak more casually and make a more informed decision about applying. One way to find employees is with a new service called Jopus Connector. Under the concept of “Job hunting made easy, connect with the right people,” Jopus Connector offers a consultation service specially tailored for foreign nationals.

After registering your profile, you’ll be able to search the database, identify candidate companies, and arrange a web consultation with an employee at the company called a Connector. This person can speak to you in English (or your native language if available) about their experiences in the company, and answer any questions you might have.


2. Ask Key Questions During the Interview

Remember that the interview process is a time not only for the prospective company to learn about you, but for you to learn about the company as well.

If you’re concerned about any of the issues raised in that survey above, be sure to bring them up with the company’s Human Resources staff as well as those in the department to which you’ll be assigned (particularly for mid-career hires). Not only will this help you adjust your expectations, you’ll also come across as a better applicant as well!

Whether with Jopus Connector or in your formal interview, here are some questions that we recommend discussing in advance:

  1. What is a typical workday like?
  2. How easy is it to take time off and do employees use most of their paid time off?
  3. How often and how easy is it to receive a pay raise?
  4. Is there much unpaid overtime?
  5. How are promotions handled and how frequently do they occur?
  6. What are the criteria to receive salary bonuses?
  7. How many other non-Japanese staff are working at the company?
  8. How much support is available for non-Japanese employees?
  9. What sort of work styles do you allow?
  10. How much responsibility will I have?


3. Adjust Your Expectations

Finally, learn as much as you can about Japanese work culture and the values that Japanese prioritize in the office (such as teamwork and communication). Feel free to look over some of the articles we’ve published on this website, such as “The Benefits of Working at a Tech Company in Japan” and “The Disadvantages of Working at a Tech Company in Japan,” as well as numerous other resources on the web about working in Japan. Armed with this information, you may find that your expectations really do come closer to reality.



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