Here’s How You Can Make a Smooth Transition When You Start Working in Japan

From a Japanese office worker who works closely with foreigner colleagues.


Once you have decided to start working in a Japanese company, you’ll notice that there will not only be a language barrier, but there is also a cultural difference in the way Japanese people work. As a Japanese national who works closely with colleagues from other countries, I really respect their courage in coming all the way to Tokyo to work in our company. 


In this article, I would like to share the lessons I have learned from working with them and my junior colleagues who are Japanese. This is from my own experience as a working individual in the Japanese society. Here are five tips to help you make the transition as smooth as possible. 


Make the most out of your environmental stress and understand the corporate culture. 


If you were hired as a company employee or
seishain in Japan, you were most likely chosen because they believed that you could adapt to the company’s corporate culture. Corporate culture refers to the company’s management policy, the specific goals of the department, the daily processing, the rules and the way of working in the team. Without understanding these rules, it may become a challenge for you to play an active role in the company. 


This is why it’s the first thing the company wants you to understand. Hopefully, you can also use your skills in line with the company culture. The quickest way to be active in the company is for you to take the initiative and ask questions in your daily work life. If everything goes well, you will be assigned more tasks that will help you improve while letting you express your own opinions more. Eventually, you will be evaluated and might even get promoted.


Unless it is a really bad company that only sees you as a lackey, the company has hired you in hopes that you will get better and grow from the people you’re working with. You will earn their trust, eventually earning your place in the company.


For precise and mutual communication, get into the habit of asking questions and confirming with your workmates. 


Once you are assigned tasks in the company, it is good to know the reasons behind the tasks and confirming the proper steps routinely. Once you get the hang of it, you can significantly improve the quality and efficiency of your work. 


To do this, first, check with your supervisor about the purpose of the task (
mokuteki), the deadline (kijitsu), as well as the current situation at hand (shiagari no joutai). You and your boss are different individuals, so to understand each other, you need to have proper communication and be able to approach each other. In the case of working in a team, it is important to recognize the other member’s opinions. Double-check whether your boss’s needs are clearly visible in your head, write down instructions carefully, and if possible, report a summary of the timeline of your tasks until completion before starting them.

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Then, you should at least update your boss at least once before, during, and after the completion of the task. If it is going well, you should still report that it is going well. If your boss asks you about your progress before you report it, it is a sign that he or she is anxious about it. By reporting before you are asked, it implies that the boss can trust you and it is okay to leave things up to you. With this, you gain the trust of your boss and avoid the consequences of failing. This is why there is much value in initiating the reporting yourself. 


Minimize errors and discrepancies in your documents. 


Every person makes mistakes sometimes. This is why you need to consciously review and try to find the errors that you might have subconsciously made. Even if you are finished with a task, consider it an unfinished version. The person who you are submitting a document to, for example, is not someone who checks your work. Before submitting, check for careless mistakes, whether all the fonts and text are in place, whether there are variations and unnecessary words, or unclear points. Try to actively seek perfection in your work. If your work is difficult to understand due to mistakes or discrepancies, it will lose half of its appeal. When you are asked to write something in Japanese, be sure to have a Japanese colleague check the language. Learning through mistakes improves your proficiency in the Japanese language as well as your relationship with your colleagues.


Your paid leaves are used even for sick days, so plan your days and months wisely. 


The paid leave system in Japan may be one of the major differences from your home country if you are accustomed to sick leave. While the paid leave in Japanese companies is fixed on a yearly basis, even if you take a day off due to sickness, or a long leisurely vacation, it is all deducted from the fixed paid leave. Most of the time, the unused paid leave can be carried over to the following year, but the first few years are definitely harder. To avoid running out of paid leaves in the end, try to manage your own health and plan your vacations wisely. The worst thing that can happen is if you have used up too much paid leaves for fun during the year, you will have no more left to use when you get sick at the end of the year. This could lead to the impression that you are unable to
jiko-kanri, which means to take care of yourself. It is hard to uphold your credibility if you cannot even take care of yourself. So whenever you use a paid leave, make sure to plan ahead of time to make sure you don’t run out. Use your leaves wisely.

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Stay true to yourself. Adapt to Japan without losing yourself in the process.


Lastly, I would like to tell you that just because you work for a Japanese company, it doesn’t mean that you have to force yourself to accept the working style and culture as the only “correct” way. There are many ways for you to incorporate
your culture. And in the end, no two people are the same. This shouldn’t be a cause of identity crisis or homesickness. 


If you have coworkers who are from the same country as you, or even from different countries, then it simply adds to the wonderful experience of having a variety of perspectives and cultures.


If you ever talk to a colleague, make sure to share your thoughts on Japan as well. It is wonderful for everyone to experience all sorts of diversity, and only you can have and change your own version of Japan.


We hope that these five tips will be helpful to you. If you ever decide to work in Japan, your colleagues will always be here to support you. Good luck! 


 (8 August 2019)

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