This Is What a Typical Hierarchy in a Japanese Company Looks Like

Plus, the proper office practices you need to know about!

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Wherever you’re working, it is always best to know the kind of hierarchy that your company follows. If you work at a Japanese company, chances are that they’re still practicing the old common traditions. Although, there are already other companies who prefer to do things simpler. Either way, it’s definitely helpful to acquaint yourself and have a better understanding of your company’s system.


In this article, we take a closer look at the hierarchy and practices of Japanese companies. 


How many types of positions are there in a Japanese company?


Since each company has its own promotion system and more new positions are being introduced, it can get pretty confusing trying to identify who is who and which position is considered the highest in an organization.


To make things easier, we’ll show you first the most common positions in a Japanese company:

 

Rank

Position

Pronunciation

Meaning

1

社長

代表取締役

Shacho

Daihyo-torishimariyaku

President, 

Representative Director

2

取締役

Torishimariyaku

Director

3

部長

Bucho

General Manager

4

課長

Kacho

Manager

5

係長

Kakaricho

Chief


In addition to this, the third and fifth rank has 代理 (
Dairi) ranks. They’re referred to as 部長代理(Bucho-dairi) and 課長代理(Kacho-dairi). These positions normally have less authority than  部長 (Bucho) and 課長 (Kacho) since 代理 means “deputy.” In addition to this, 役員 (Yakuin) is an executive position. 


Next, we delve into the coworker positions. Now, this might be new to you. In Japan, hierarchies are not only based on positions but also the years of service or more recently, based on age. 

 

Position

Pronunciation

Meaning

同僚

Douryo

Coworkers

先輩

Sempai

Senior

後輩

Kouhai

Junior

同期

Douki

Colleagues that joined the company in the same period.

上司

Joushi

Superior

部下

Buka

Subordinate


Now, you can easily explain your relationship with your colleagues in Japanese. For example: “Mr. Tanaka is my
sempai and he takes good care of me.” 


You’re lucky if your
sempai is also your 教育担当(kyouiku-tantou or newcomer trainer). You can ask him/her anything about your job as well as the office manners you should observe in your company.


While we’re on the topic of manners, here are some of the most common practices in the workplace. 


Will you address your boss with “~san”?


There are so many ways of calling someone in Japanese, both using their first name and last name.


~さん (
san) or  ~様(sama, a more polite way of saying ~san) are popular ways of calling someone in the office. But when it comes to your superiors, you should always call them by their last name and position. For example: Suzuki-shacho or Yamada-bucho. If someone has a title and position, you must always call him/her with the position name. That is why it is important to pay attention not just to their Japanese names but also their ranking in the company. 

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However, this rule has exceptions. For example, a company can have employees that call each other with “
~san” regardless of the position. Some even address their CEO using his/her first name with “~san.” This kind of practice is unique and shows how everyone in the organization is treated equally. And those who aren’t used to the common practices often need some time to adjust to this culture. 


Having the proper understanding of the hierarchy and positions in a Japanese company, as well as the knowledge of the correct usage of the Japanese language, especially
Keigo (polite form of Japanese language), you’re now ready to play your role in your organization. Good luck!


 (6 September 2019)

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