Japanese work culture – what makes it unique?

Japanese work culture is very unique. It is very different than the Western business model. People in Japan are working very hard, they will sacrifice the time and holidays for the benefit of the company. Business comes first in Japan. If you want to be successful after your relocation to Japan, you must understand and follow the rules of the Japanese business environment.

Japanese work culture

Moving internationally the proper way will mean that you get to know about the culture of certain country. Japanese work culture is very specific and you need to get familiar with it if you want to adapt to a new working environment. Some of the things may be strange to you, but when you are moving to another country, respecting the local customs is very important.

There are many interesting Japanese customs guides for foreigners, but if you want to work in Japan you will have to learn more about Japanese work culture.

Loyalty to the company

Large Japanese companies have a model of “lifetime employment”. That means that the employees should stay with the company that hired them until they retire. That way the employee demonstrates that he is loyal to the company. On the other hand, the company values its loyalty by taking care of its employees in good and bad times.


There is a big honor system in Japanese work culture based on seniority. Your advancing in the company is based by your age and your ability to create consensus.

Group harmony

The Japanese companies will expect from you to “take one for the team”. That means that you won’t take your holiday if the company need you and that you will jump in to replace coworker when its necessary. If you don’t have the team spirit, it will reflect on your advancing in the company.

Business card exchange – Meishi

In Japan, the exchange of the business card isn’t insignificant. Like most of the things in Japanese culture, this gesture also has a meaning. The way you receive the business card is very important. By Japanese work culture, the right way to receive it with both hands and to bow when receiving.

Bussiness cards next to a cup of tea - the essentials of Japanese work culture
If you don’t receive a business card in the proper way, you can insult the person that gave you a card.

After you receive it, don’t put it in your pocket right away. First inspect the front and back of the card thoroughly, as the sign of interest and respect of the person that gives you their business card.


Titles are very important in the Japanese work culture. Status in a company is everything. It will determine how the people in the business world will interact with you. When you are working in Japan, you should make a business card that has that has both English and Japanese versions. Your name and role in the company should be stated clearly.

Death by overwork

Japanese work culture has one negative phenomenon that makes it unique. It’s called “Karōshi”, which can be translated as “death by overwork”.  That means that Japanese people are working so hard that they are killing themselves.

Death by overwork is common in the Japanese work culture.
Long work hours, not taking holidays or brakes and work stress are the main causes for death by overwork.

In Japan, death by overwork is listed as a separate category in classifying causes of death. Stress and very long work hours are causing strokes and heart attacks. Work-related stress is also one of the main cause of suicides in this country. There are extreme cases where Japanise people have worked over 100 overtime hours in a month that lead to their deaths.

Japanese workspace

Japanese don’t have separate offices. Their desks are organized in an open plan. Desks are grouped together in teams of coworkers. There is a team leader for each team that is responsible for outlining the day’s work determined at the morning meeting.

Since everybody is working together in one big room, most foreigners find Japanese offices loud.
The Japanese management´s emphasis on cooperation between employees, so the open structure of the office is the source of the noise.

Open-space office.
In Japan, all employees are working in the same space.

The other thing for foreigners to adapt to the Japanese business environment is smoking.
Smoking is allowed in the workplace in Japan, which is very strange for expats to get used to. Especially if they are coming from the countries with strict non-smoking politics.

Before you accept the job in a Japanese office, ask about the company’s smoking policy. If the cigarette smoke bothers you or aggravates your medical condition, consider the companies that have non-smoking policies. There are some big companies in Japan that don’t allow smoking in the office and they have separate rooms for the smokers to enjoy the cigarette.

Japanese management style

Group harmony is the principle that Japanese management is based on. Japanese managers are very different than the Western managers. They place don’t emphasize on giving orders. Instead, Japanese managers are providing their employees with the information and supplies necessary to excel.

Consensus building is the base of Japanese business practice. Employees gather group approval for ideas before presenting them to senior managers and other companies. By betting group approval, the employee is spared of public embarrassment for his mistakes. This is very important for the Japanese people, that takes even the minor public embarrassment as a tragic event.

Can you fit in into the Japanese work culture?

Before you take that amazing job offer and hire international moving company Japan for your relocation, think about all the things that you learn about Japanese culture. It may don’t seem like a big adaptation, but it surely is. The Japanese work environment is totally different from the Western. Before you make a final decision about your relocation to Japan for work, answer truthfully to these questions:

  • Can you fit in the group mentality of the Japanese work culture?
  • Could you wait on the approval of the coworkers for any business decision?
  • Are you ready to work very long hours?
  • Will it be a problem for you not to have separate workspace?
  • Do you mind smoking in the office?
  • Can you be loyal to one company for a long time?
  • Do you agree with the Japanese management style?
  • Can you give up your holidays or weekends when the company needs you?

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