The Japanese Working Culture

The Japanese typically work long hours despite the existing Labor Law in their country. Ironically, it seems unusual for them to work 60 hours in a week.

Unfortunately, due to overworking, Japanese employees has been led to a phenomenon called “Karo-shi” or death from overwork. It is where corporate employees have been commonly known to impulsively drop dead due to exhaustion.

Nevertheless, cases of karo-shi are rare and foreign employees aren’t pressured to imitate the same amount of work hours like their Japanese counterparts. Therefore, they should have nothing to fear.

The primary reason for the extra work hours of Japanese is a promotion culture that is still deep-rooted in a seniority system. The amount of time employees spend at work defines their opportunities for advancement. Also, the quantity of work is sometimes more important than quality for the Japanese.

When it comes to their work spaces, the Japanese desks are structured in an open plan or obeya seido”. The desks are grouped together in teams of co-employees. Each team has a leader who will be responsible for distributing daily tasks in a morning meeting orchorei”. Typically, there are two chorei in a day in a Japanese office: a general meeting headed by senior staff members and a smaller and more specialized meeting for each group headed by the team leader. Ironically, Japanese offices are noisy as a result of the open structure of the office and Japanese management’s highlighting on cooperation.

A serious area in which many foreigners must adapt to the Japanese office is cigarette smoking. Since smoking is not prohibited in the workplace in Japan, it is very common in Japan. There are only exceptions like in medical facilities. Therefore, if you have an existing medical condition that can be aggravated by smoke, it would be best if you would ask about your company’s smoking policy first before accepting the job offer. For sure, if you have breathing issue, coming to an office with lots of smokers would force you into an isolated and uncomfortable corner of the office.

When it comes to Japanese’s management style, employment management is based around the principle of group harmony or wa”. Japanese employers put less importance on giving orders and focus instead on giving their employees with the information and supplies needed to excel. Therefore, the foundation of Japanese business practice is consensus building or nemawashi”, through which employees collect group approval for ideas before finally presenting them to senior managers and other companies. Group approval means that employees are safe from public embarrassment for their mistakes. This is a serious safety net for the Japanese as most of them consider even minor public embarrassment tragic.


Aizelle Joe