I was born and raised in Japan but moved to California to go to college. Just like some international students from Japan did, I really wanted to stay here after getting a bachelor degree from American University. One of the reasons why I wanted to say in California is simply because I wanted to work for American companies.
Did I know anything about Japanese companies? Well, I did some temporary assignments via an agency in Tokyo for a year or so and I am familiar with Japanese work culture. Besides, all my family and friends are still in Japan and they tell me about their work so in that sense, I think I am very familiar with the work culture in Japan and it isn’t my thing. I didn’t want to work for Japanese companies and ever since I moved to where I live now almost ten years ago, I have never worked for Japanese companies.
We do have Sonny (Japanese companies) actually really close by but even though I have never worked for the company, it is an American company so in that sense, it doesn’t really bother me so I probably don’t mind working for Sony if there was any opportunity arises.
But I really didn’t want to go back to Japan and get a full-time job at Japanese company as a new graduate. But why didn’t I want that? My sisters didn’t understand because they thought it would be a safer route for me. So I thought I would share my personal reasonings here.
1) Japanese business culture: Japanese business culture is much more traditional than the western counterparts. It is even inflexible and depending on you field, seniority is very important and you have to treat your boss with at most respect. It is changing, however Japanese business culture is almost an extension of Japanese school. Japanese employees have a strong sense of belonging and loyalty to the company and that remains the same.
2) I cannot say that this happens all the time, but I find it extremely stressful to work with fellow Japanese people. “ijime” bullying is very common at Japanese work force. You have to against respect “senpai” and it isn’t just the matter of age but the position of your coworker and if your coworker has been with the company longer and you are a newbie, you obviously obey whatever “senpai” tells you to do. My friend told me horror stories about senpai woman coworker-boss and she was extremely jealous of my friend because we were young at that time and I thought that this senpai was bullying my friend unreasonably and she was even try to get more information about my friend’s private life and that’s when my friend drew the line and got the heck out of the company.
3) This is not just specific Japanese company but working in Japan in general does not give me the same opportunities, the level of flexibilities that I would get in California. I don’t want to say “America” as a whole since I have never worked outside California. I would probably have a very difficult time finding a career full-time job with benefits at my age in Japan. Japanese employers often set age restrictions and they still value life time employment system so large companies hold annual recruiting events so they can get newly graduates without much work experiences. But I could probably easily find a job through agency (haken) and work through temp agency service and make hourly wage without much benefits. So the inflexibility to advance my career and the challenge to change career are not something I want to deal with after studying so hard in foreign language for five years in California.
4) Japanese workspace. You may think I am spoiled and I am a little hesitant to talk about this because I do feel like a selfish person with a sense of entitlement. But as you know know, typical Japanese office layout is that there is a large room with computers and desks are lined up without cubicles (typically) and your boss would be sitting on the same floor and even next to you because it is rare for employees to have their own office like typical western offices. I am sure that more modern Japanese companies now offer bigger office rooms for executives and management but my experience was that office worker and non-executive workers were just put into a large room with desks, chairs and people are sitting to each other tightly without having much privacy. I have my own office…nobody is looking at my computer screen because I am alone and I wouldn’t trade my current work environment for that piece of crap! I am sorry!
5) Long inefficient work hours: Japanese salarymen and corporate office workers cannot just clock in and out because your work isn’t done until everybody else in your team has done. As a courtesy, you should offer to help your coworker instead of going home. This is a pretty standard system but not all Japanese companies expect you to do this because of labor laws but I am used to working for American workplace that values productivity, efficiency and innovation and team work. Even in America, it is important to follow the politics and do your best. But just because you work long hours, you won’t get bonuses from your American employer. Hard work is honored in this country just like Japan but incompetence and inefficiency are harshly punished in the west. and I am used to that cut and dry kind of environment. I want to do my job well and go home on time.
6) Relations with coworkers and bosses: It is good to get along with your coworkers and bosses and even here, I do get along with everybody. We even have christmas party or small get together here and there but nothing like “drinking” party Japanese companies host. My father works for a large Japanese company and he had to go to “nomikai” (drinking party) almost 3 times a week or so. It was excessive and we were concerned about his health.
7) Mean bosses: Again this is just limited to my own experiences working for Japanese companies after high school and before moving back to California while I was taking temporary assignments in Tokyo. And also these are based on true stories my friends and sisters told me. My sister made some stupid mistakes. She is an IT technician and she should not be making mistakes but it happens. Apparently her boss just yelled at her in front of everybody that she felt humiliated and lost.This happened to my other sister..I was furious because I am partially American so I do think that’s a pure harassment but my sisters lucky took these scolding from their bosses positively and they said their bosses are trying to really help them learn their work….Ok. Good luck. That’s all I could say to them but there is no way I am going to handle such BS.
8) Bonus system: It sounds really good..if you can get 10% of your salary as a bonus twice a year but then I did some research and bonuses are really part of the salaries. For example, I make $15000 a year (example) and instead of giving me $1500 for bonus in addition to the standard pay $15000..it’s $15000 including “BONUS” which is $1500. So depending on the employee’s performance, he may not get that. I of course want bonuses but if that’s how it’s handled in Japanese companies, I don’t want bonuses. I want that included in my salaries.
My best friend and I had an extensive conversation about our outlook on job and life and she was telling me..”shikataganaiyo..” My favorite thing to hear..”It can’t be helped. It is what it is and there is nothing we can do about it. I am a woman in 30s and I am never going to find a “career” at this point. So I am going to just stay with my office job through temp service until I get married and then I can retire. I wonder how many Japanese women feel this way. It is pretty sad because many of these women are very intelligent, college educated and they are compete with men in Japanese workforce.
This leads to my final pitfall of working for a Japanese company in Japan
9) Chances of women advancing career are much slimmer than men. I am all about gender equality and even in America, this happens. Most executives are male in where I work and they are trying to recruit more women so we have even representation but it is difficult in general. My two Japanese friends who worked for Japanese companies many years ago also said that they will NEVER work for Japanese companies because bosses are usually men and women are constantly reminded them of retirement once they marry and have children.
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