10 Things to Consider Before Accepting a Job in Japan

Watashino itteirukotoga wakarimasuka? It’s a simple question really, and one you would be asked over and over again if you do decide to go to Japan. As you weigh the pros and cons of accepting the job in Japan, here are some of the things you should consider:

1. Adhere to Mealtime Etiquette

The Japanese have cultural dining customs unlike any other country. First, be sure to never catch dangling food with your left hand. Although it will avoid a mess, it will bring some unwelcome stares. In addition, be sure not to substitute your teeth for a knife. Rather than tearing your food and returning it to the plate, cover your mouth and chew inconspicuously. And never, ever, touch food without taking it.  

2. High living costs

Japan is a very wealthy place (it’s the third largest economy in the world), and so living costs are notoriously high. This is especially so in the major cities. Your new salary might be a lot more than what you are currently earning, but how much of it you’ll actually enjoy is a different matter entirely.

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Photo by Jason Goh

3. Learning the language

A lot of people speak English in Japan, but not enough to require you not to learn the language. Outside of your office, most of your communications will be done in Japanese. You’ll also need to be able to read the language, hence the question at the start, which asks ‘Do you understand me?’ Visit our language page to find out about Japanese lessons near you, or take our Japanese language level test to know where you currently stand.

4. Climate

The climate in Japan varies greatly depending on which part of the country you live in. The climate is generally classed as tropical or subtropical. Expect very hot summers, mild winters and a typhoon or six around August. The typhoons cause some damage, but aren’t really an issue.

5. Long work hours

The Japanese love going to work and seem to despise holidays. For example banks in Japan close around 6pm. Working hours in Japan are slightly longer than in the UK and most European countries. Allocated holidays are also shorter, but workers on average use less than half of the 18 days they are entitled to.

6. School for your children

There are schools that teach in English, such as the British School in Tokyo, but the fees might be higher than what you are used to. If you have young children then they would be able to learn the language fairly quickly, so the excellent public schools will do just fine.

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Photo by David Mark

7. Cultural differences

Japan is a culturally rich society and you are expected to adhere to at least some of their customs. Respect for elders, bowing to greet others and not wearing shoes indoors are just some of the things you’ll need to learn as you go along. Some quick cultural tips? Remove your shoes before entering a home, don’t tip in restaurants, and learn how to bow when addressing an elder. When in doubt, watch as you go and follow the lead of more senior advisors who have ventured through Japanese business proceedings in the past.

8. Career progression

Depending on which field you are, a move to Japan may be bad for business. Some companies might require you to have spent a certain number of years within your home country as opposed to a foreign country with different operating procedures. On the other side work experience in Japan could boost your standing, especially in IT related fields.

9. Old-school Technology

Over a quarter of the population of Japan are over 60 years old, and old people like old school technology. You will need to know how to operate a fax machine and other ancient technologies in the office. The irony of this technologically advanced country using old technology is baffling, but something you’ll just have to get used to it.

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Photo by Chi King

10. Cash Over Credit

Credit cards are rare in Japan as having any form of debt is frowned upon. ATMs are rare and a lot of places don’t accept credit card payments. You will need to carry a lot of cash with you. This will be an inconvenience for those who never carry as you’ll switch from a wallet sleeked with plastic to one with overflowing wads of cash stuffed inside.

There are other things to consider before accepting a job in Japan, but these are some of the most important ones. If you do decide to go to Japan, to you we say sayonara.

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