Working in a foreign country for the first time can be a daunting and somewhat stressful experience. It is often difficult to know what to do, and your ability to cope may be severely limited by your knowledge of the people and the culture surrounding you. Here is a host of insights to help ease any foreigner into the working culture in Japan.
First and foremost, remember that it is not okay to slap your superior on the back if they’ve done a good job. Familiarity should not be displayed ‘right off the bat’ and a person’s age and standing in the company should absolutely be considered before you start fist-bumping and giving someone a motivational tap on the bottom.
Learn to respect personal space and get to grips with the respective sizes of these bubbles – the directors and anyone older than you is likely to have a large bubble into which you should not encroach. Learn where you stand in any hierarchy and be as submissive and subservient as the position demands.
Try to bear in mind that individual achievements, unlike in Western cultures, are not to be declared and shouted about. Your job as an employee is to ensure the collective success of the enterprise. Whilst you will be treated with the utmost respect for performing a task well, humility is truly valued above and beyond the glory of any one individual. This is true outside of the company as well.
Perhaps the lack of individual expression in terms of clothing and hairstyles in the workplace will provide evidence of individual’s efforts to simply fit in. ‘Blowing the bugle’ is a fine art in Japan and must be performed with the utmost subtlety.
Perhaps the most important advice for anyone hoping to work in Japan would be to forget your own culture’s acceptance of ‘venting’ and releasing frustrations in full view of others. It is absolutely not okay to let off steam, to rant and complain, to show your anger or displeasure. This is most likely going to hold true regardless of the provocation that has preceded.
Japan is very much an ‘in-group’ culture, meaning quite simply that you are either part of the respected circle or you are not. If you vent you will very quickly find yourself on the periphery with very little explanation as to why. Controlling your emotions, better still, hiding them all together is seen as an admiral trait, which spares your friends and coworkers the discomfort of having to share the burden of leaked emotions and frustrations.
Depending on your character and your propensity to ‘fly off the handle’, the above advice shouldn’t be too difficult to follow. It’s not so much a case of learning new and difficult skills, it is moreover a case of dropping old habits that are accepted and even encouraged in some other cultures. Anger and aggression, arrogance and bullish assertiveness may be used and accepted in other cultures but is very different to the business culture you are likely to encounter in Japan. Persevere for long enough, get it right, and you will truly experience a smooth transition into Japan’s working culture – it’s absolutely worth it, you can do it!