Things you should know before working at a Japanese company
Japan is famous for its unique business culture, and working in a Japanese company can be adventurous, especially if you don’t know the social norms and the unspoken rules of a Japanese office beforehand. Getting used to this work environment takes time, and sometimes it can be frustrating since Japanese are not so to-the-point compared to people in other countries. To help you navigate the Japanese business world, today we’ve listed up several things you need to know before working at a Japanese company.
1. Honne and Tatemae: what you see and hear are not always the truths
Honne and Tatemae is an aspect of Japanese culture, and understanding them before working for a Japanese company is important. Honne (本音) refers to what we really think in our hearts; our true feelings, and tatemae (建前) refers to the behaviors we show to others; the face we show to the public. Foreigners often view it as hypocrisy or dishonesty, but it actually plays an important role in keeping the harmony of the society. You’ll deal with Honne and Tatemae when working at a Japanese company, and this usually happens when you ask your co-workers about their opinions on your work, or when you ask them to hang out with you on the weekends. If your co-workers are unwilling to hang out with you on the weekends, they would likely say “I’m sorry, but I already have plans for this weekend, so you should probably invite me next time! to reject your invitation politely.
2. Hierarchy does matter
Even though Japan is famous for its advanced technology, hierarchy still matters in Japanese companies. Relative status in a company determines how members interact with each other, and how they expect others to interact with them. Understanding both the relative status and hierarchy will help you improve your working relationships with Japanese. You are expected to show respect to employees with higher status by addressing them using their name and title, as in Tanaka CEO (Tanaka Shacho, 田中社長). You are also expected to understand the hierarchical composition of your team, and not understanding this will cause you confusion in following orders and reporting. For example, if the hierarchical composition of your team includes you, supervisor, middle manager, and senior manager, you’d likely to follow your supervisor’s orders and report to him, not to the middle manager or the senior manager.
3. Participate in the “nomikai”
Drinking culture is deeply rooted in Japan, and Nomikai (飲み会) is the after-work drinking party between co-workers. Usually held in bars or restaurants, you should never underestimate the power of nomikai, as it’s the only opportunity where you can see the other sides of your co-workers. Through nomikai, you’ll discover your co-workers’ hobbies, personal experiences, and even their love lives. You’d usually enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere in the office after the nomikai, so why don’t you participate in this event at least once?
4. The amount of unspoken rules is overwhelming
The amount of unspoken rules in Japanese workplaces is overwhelming, and understanding all of them can be intimidating for foreigners. Japanese expect you to understand the common rules at workplace, this includes wearing simple but polite clothes to work, arriving at least 10 minutes early at work, and to never reject the nomikai’s invitations from your boss. In addition to those rules, there are so many unspoken rules to follow while working in Japan, and it’s impossible to understand and follow all of them. Nevertheless, you are expected to follow the basic rules, so do your research beforehand.
5. It’s okay to play the “gaijin” card sometimes
As we mentioned before, understanding and following the unspoken rules can be intimidating and frustrating for foreigners, so it’s okay to play the “gaijin” a.k.a. “foreigner” card when needed. Although you are expected to respect and follow the basic rules, you don’t have to live your life like the Japanese as they don’t expect you to do so. It’s okay to act like a foreigner, as your company may have chosen you for the qualities you have as a foreigner. For example, based on our previous experiences at work, while Japanese are expected to write reports in a perfect Japanese, our bosses didn’t expect us to report to him in a perfect Japanese, instead, they expected us, as a foreigner, to write readable reports in Japanese. Therefore, you can play the “gaijin” card for technical or cultural issues, but make sure to not overuse it as it can backfire to you one day.
6. Minashi zangyo: unpaid over time
Japanese companies often use the minashi zangyo on their monthly salary system. Minashi zangyo includes expected overtime hours, and each company can have different expected overtime hours. For example, if your expected overtime is specified as 45 hours per month in your employment contract, you will not receive your overtime allowance unless your overtime exceeds 45 hours in one month. If your overtime is within 0 to 45 hours per month, you won't receive any additional payment, but if your overtime exceeds 45 hours, you will be entitled to receive additional payment.
7. Calculate your take home pay: teate and tedori
The salary system in Japan is different from other countries, and the amount of your take home pay, which is called as tedori, is usually much lower than the amount of the fixed monthly salary your employer stated on your contract. The amount of the fixed monthly salary stated on your contract is your gross montlhy salary, and you will get allowance, called teate if you're eligible, and also deduction too. Type of allowances you might be eligible for are overtime allowance (zangyo teate, 残業手当), late overtime allowance (shinya zangyo teate, 深夜残業手当), qualification allowance (shikaku teate, 資格手当), executive allowance (yakushoku teate, 役職手当, which you can get if you are on management level), and commuting allowance (kinmu teate, 勤務手当). On the other hand, your total salary will be deducted for health insurance, employment insurance, nursing insurance (if applicable), employee's pension, income tax, and resident tax. Your net monthly salary, or your take home pay, is usually somewhere in between 70% to 80% of your gross monthly salary, and you will have more deduction as your salary goes up.
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