So you’re thinking of working for a Japanese firm. You might be wondering whether you will fit there. Here are some points that give you some hints on it.


Politeness: Care in interactions with others is one of the hallmarks of Japanese culture, and this translates in the workplace as people making an effort to be pleasant and nonconfrontational. It’s easy to take for granted once you get used to it, but it can be a noticeable contrast to the more rough-and-tumble atmosphere of some non-Japanese companies.

Teamwork: Japanese are very good at working in teams to get things done and, naturally, prefer to collaborate with others. This means that colleagues can be very supportive, and also creates a natural sense of belonging.

Increased responsibility: Being one of a small number of non-Japanese employees can give you the opportunity to get involved in activities and take on more responsibility than might be possible when working in your home country. It also gives you more visibility and potential exposure to senior-level workers. There is a lot of potential to leverage your unique skills and viewpoint, including your native language.


Indirect communication style: People often tell me that the reluctance of their Japanese colleagues to say “no” clearly is a source of frustration. Until you get used to this style of communication, it may be difficult in pick up on the subtle negative signals that Japanese send instead of coming out and speaking directly. This is especially true if you’re from a culture that prefers to “tell it like it is.” The reluctance to confront people with negative information can also turn into passive-aggressive behavior.

A need to read between the lines: Not only do Japanese tend to be indirect, their communication style also tends to be vague. Instructions or feedback may be conveyed very nonspecifically, leaving non-Japanese to wonder what the real meaning is. Or, in some cases, nothing may be said at all, with the expectation being that you’ll somehow figure it out.

Detail orientation: The Japanese pursuit of perfection means that tremendous energy may be devoted to relatively minor aspects of the work. This can be time-consuming and lead to extra work, not to mention the danger of losing sight of the forest for the trees.