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What to expect when working in Japan

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In Japan, it doesn’t matter how much work you do, but how late you stay that truly matters” - Mike Jones

Interning in Japan is about making first impressions and having a nonstop commitment and passion. In the USA most Americans have scheduled hours for a job from 9 am to 6 pm and they leave exactly at 6 pm, rushing home to get to their families. In Japan, it’s different, you should expect to stay in the office until your supervisor leaves and to have long shifts .Your supervisor will probably wait until their supervisor leaves, so you may be there longer than you thought. Take these long working shifts as a period to gain a lot of practical experience in your chosen work industry and to grow your knowledge while interning. Working long hours during an internship will later result as a gratifying experience. In this article we'll go over some quick tips on how to leave the perfect impression in the Japanese coporate culture!

Business timing



Being late never makes a good impression so try to get to your internship 15 minutes early. When you’re early your on time, when you’re on time you’re late.

Social work gathering


If your colleagues invite you to go drinking with them after work and you don’t accept it’s considered to be extremely rude. Try and join them for social work gatherings and learn as much as you can about them. Even if you go to a bar with them and you don’t drink, you should order something! You may want to order something alcoholic or even a simple soda. In their culture, refusing a drink may be seen as not caring. As long as you are participating in the social gathering, you will be respected.

Fully immerse yourself in this culture and observe different people. Take advantage of these gatherings to understand how Japanese people behave and how to respond to their customs. This too, will be very rewarding when you have completed your internship. You will return to your home land with a wealth of experiences, and you will know how to respond to different social circles.


Accepting gifts


Another piece of advice we can give you about Japanese business culture is the importance of accepting gifts. If you receive one, thank whoever gave it to you even though it is not of your taste.This is all part of building relationships with coworkers and your supervisor. In workplaces in Asia, building relationships is more important than logic. Relationships can last a lifetime and if you have a good one with the people you work, with you can later get references for future careers.

Hand Shaking


When you approach a co-worker to introduce yourself you may normally reach out your hand and you both would exchange a handshake. In Japan, handshakes are uncommon so, you should wait and if they hold out their hand then of course shake it.



Business meeting

Another business custom that is very different between Japan and the Western world is the way one participates in meetings. In Japan, around twenty people will be sent to the meeting and the goal is to learn as much as possible. Whereas in the United States a small group of people usually attend the meeting and the goal is to tell you everything they think you need to know.


Work environment


The work environment, depending on the company, will most likely be an open space where everyone works. In Japan, cubicles are rarely seen in working environments. Air conditioning with the humidity shouldn’t be expected, so prepare to be a little toasty. Sometimes when given an assignment, you will work with others in a group. If done correctly you should never feel like you are competing against your colleagues in that group. Everyone is there working together; it’s a pass altogether or fails altogether type of culture. However, individual participation in the group is something required, even though you are in a new country this doesn’t give you the opportunity to slack because your coworkers don’t know you or what you are capable of; always put your best foot forward.

BBusiness Attireusiness attire


As for business attire, men are not allowed to have bald heads or beards. They dress business casual usually wearing darker colors. In like manner, women must wear their hair up or back and they aren’t supposed to be too glamorous or wear high heels that would make them taller than the men. Women must dress conservative and be very mindful of what the expectations of the dress codes are at their internship. Sometimes, women that wear pants to work can be offending to Japanese men. Once you spend a few days at your new internship you can observe and get the feel for what others around you are wearing. You can also ask your supervisor.




Absence and sickness


One thing that you may find to be extremely unusual is that Japanese working people don’t usually take days off for vacation or even if they are sick. Usually, you can just call in sick and do work from home. In Japan, doing remote work is very uncommon. So, if you feel like you’re dying from the heat and may have a fever, chug a ton of water and get yourself to work!


Exchanging Business cards


Everyone in business industries in Japan always carry business cards with them wherever they go. meishi koukan , (名刺交換), the Japanese word for business card, the proper way to introduce yourself to colleagues. In Japan, workers use both of their hands to distribute these cards and they always make sure it is turned towards the receiver. Storing these cards in a wallet or pocket is considered to be rude, it’s much more professional if you have a card holder. Before handing off your card it is proper to give a quick introduction of who you are and the company you work for. As an intern, you may not have to carry always ask your supervisor or make your own.


Prioritizing workload


Something to know before interning in Japan is they have a different way of prioritizing in the work zone. You may be familiar with the hierarchy from a Western lens which is putting someone either above or below or on the same level as someone else. For example, a king would be on top, then the queen, and then the prince or princess. In Japan, the hierarchy isn’t based on authority but on cooperation and consensus. It’s very important to the Japanese culture for one to define their roles in the business. It serves to create a more organized environment and helps them to build a sense of belonging. The status of hierarchy also defines how people in the workplace interact with one another.


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japanese having lunch

It may seem different if you are used to being in loud to medium range working environment. In Japan silence is golden. People don’t talk to one another until after work or sometimes during lunch breaks.

Do not worry, use this time to meditate and to learn how to enjoy and sit in silence.

Lriceunch in the office



For lunch, you may pick something up and eat at your desk or take some lunch alone. If you go out with your co-worker’s people in Asia usually order a variety of dishes depending on how many people go to lunch. Everyone shares those dishes so don’t expect to have your own dish and use this time to work on your sharing skills.

Using Chopsticks

Before you go to Japan, practice using chopsticks! Things like picking up rice can be very difficult; stabbing bigger foods with one of your chopsticks is improper and rude. You want to continue to make a good impression in front of your coworkers and supervisor. Going to get lunch with coworkers is a great time to bond and help to establish those healthy relationships you want to maintain at your internship.


In the United States, small talk like asking your co-workers about their family or what they have planned for the weekend is sometimes awkward, but for the most part okay to do. In Japan, it’s an invasion of privacy to ask about one’s personal life aside from work. It’s best to avoid conversations of that sort as they could be uncomfortable and result in a bad relationship between you and that co-worker. Work for the Japanese is a priority; work first, the family later, and that’s one of the reasons why relationship foundations at work are so important within this culture.




It can be scary entering a new country and adjusting to new changes, but it’s all about the experience and culture you will gain. Japan is all about experiencing an adventure and stepping out of your comfort zone. Think about the possibilities and how many doors will open up to you after interning in this country.

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