I've recently been offered work in Japan. I love Japan for the food, people and techno-logical advancement. Besides the challenge of learning a new language, I have concerns about the work culture there, although the result is a professional workforce.

While I understand it's part of their upbringing and culture and with all due respect to the country and people, I have concerns about how people from foreign countries adapt to the work-life there? The alarming suicide rate of the locals who can't take the stress is testament to that. Is that description really accurate? I know it may be taboo or difficult to discuss this, but what tips can readers offer to safely adjust to work-life there and at the same time ensure one's well-being?

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    The expat SE site is better for questions of this sort – Gayot Fow Jan 10 '15 at 9:06
  • Is there such a site? Has it gone mainstream yet, or still in beta? – Nederealm Jan 10 '15 at 16:33
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Working in Japan for several years I feel qualified enough to answer.

Too little input, but let's try to give a general answer.

First of all, as long as you are ready to change yourself and adapt, Japan is no different to other countries in this respect. You definitely must learn the language, adapt to some cultural differences and be ready to get upset by few of them.

Next but not less important is to study about the company you are going to work for. If this is a foreign company with office in Japan, this is the best case for a foreigner beginner, as you won't be exposed to the full spectrum of Japanese business culture. Plus, most co-workers in such companies are quite loyal and used to foreigners, so you will feel at home.

If a company is hardcore Japanese corporation, the things get harder, but only in terms of adaptation. Co-workers tend to be less forgiving and less used to foreigners, therefore you may have harder time to adapt to all the difference.

I doubt if Japan's high suicide rate is related to working stress. Japanese companies have no more and no less stress than average western companies, so this is really not much different.

So, my message is: working in Japan is not much more stressful and not much more different than, say, working in US or Europe. There are differences in length of working day, but it just needs some adaptation.

However, when it comes to life in Japan most foreigners are unprepared. It is hard to summarise the whole thing into one answer, but I really-really recommend you to study about general living conditions in a region you are going to stay. Depending on a region it will be different. Housing is different, lifestyle is different, transportation is different, food is different. One may set up the expat's lifestyle, removed from the society, but it is expensive and hardly worth the effort. Integrating and living Japanese life with all its fun and sad sides is much more fun.

The answer is very generalised so please make concrete questions so that we can answer directly.

  • Let me point out a specific example. What about their alleged unforgiving stance for tardiness? Although no one in their right mind would like to keep other waiting (its selfish), a mere 5 - 10 mins tardy constitutes a mortal sin? Is it possible have less meetings to avoid this situation? I mean with technology, meeting less in person can be arranged? I find it had to believe Japanese people can bring themselves anywhere on time, every time. Or does this rule apply most to formal, high-level meetings? – Nederealm Jan 10 '15 at 9:42
  • You might want to read this herE: telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/11333843/… – uncovery Jan 10 '15 at 9:46
  • @uncovery thanks for a link, some good news finally! Depending on a company going to a holiday longer than 5 days may be somewhat problematic right now but this is changing. – Rilakkuma Jan 10 '15 at 10:13
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    @Nederealm tardiness is definitely not a good characteristic in Japan, same as in most of Europe by the way, but it is not mortal sin. Regarding meetings - Japanese businessmen LOVE meetings in person and good part of them are quite useless, mostly made to create "friendly" atmosphere between the customer and you. Being a young worker it is hard to influence business processes and refuse to go to meetings, however this changes dramatically as one gets respect in the company (usually with years). Technology is non-relevant here, meetings are done in person, video meetings are less common. – Rilakkuma Jan 10 '15 at 10:26

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