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Learning in Uncharted Waters Part 2

Welcome back, my fellow travelers. In the previous post, we talked about what it’s like being a foreigner working in a traditional Japanese company but this week I’d like to continue onto part 2 where I further elaborate on what I found interesting during my time in my previous company.

Missed the first part? Read part 1 here.


 

4. Training is always part of the care package.

Japanese companies are big fans of training. They are willing to spend time and resources to prepare new employees, ensuring their readiness to take on the tasks to come. The company I was in before didn’t have a training regime per se, but I was told that as long as you do things the same way, you will do well. It’s as they say, what isn’t broken doesn’t require fixing.

Of course, there is a downside to this. Sometimes, too much isn’t always the best. In our industry, where we constantly help our clients battle staff retention problems, the training process itself consumes a lot of time, for both the trainer and the trainee. The thinking is: More training = long-term, loyal employees. But realistically speaking, there never really is a guarantee that employees will remain in the same company for years (especially if other companies offer better packages).

 

5. Patience and Team Building

9 out of 10 people would assume that Japanese people are patient in general and this shows especially in the workplace. Most large corporations have staff that are specifically in charge of onboarding and that is when their patience is truly put to the test.

A friend of mine who recently joined a large banking corporation here in Tokyo recalls the following:

All new starters undergo training for about two months and after, they are sent to branches where they have to stand at the entrance and do general reception work for at least three months. Banks in Tokyo are generally very busy during the day due short hours and there’s always be that one customer that comes in demanding instant service despite the long queue.

But it is also because of these trials that most Japanese people and foreigners in Japanese companies become masters at controlling their temper and emotions during business hours. After all, the core of Japanese hospitality is to remain smiling no matter what happens.

 

6. Humility and Pride

Back in my country, it is widely understood that office cleaning is to be left to the janitors; that is… why they are paid for, isn’t it? But it’s because of mentality like this that people tend to look down on janitors, especially if they are foreign workers from other neighboring countries. However, Japanese companies (or maybe the culture itself) make a point of take care of their own workplace to make it easier and much more comfortable to work in. In most Japanese companies, their employees are expected to clean their office as a group at least once a week. (I found it surprising and genuinely thought it was cool that even children as young as 6-7 years old were told to bring rags with them to school so that they can clean the classroom on Mondays!)

Obviously, there still are janitors here in Japan but keeping a clean office is a source of pride, a community strengthening activity. It also momentarily offsets the feeling that one’s job is more important than the job of another.  It’s an admirable practice that other cultures should consider adopting.

 

There are many more pros and cons to working in a Japanese company, some less desirable but all quite interesting to learn from. From a cultural perspective, Japan is a world quite different from the western world. Joining a purely domestic company requires a lot flexibility and preparation for foreigners (myself included). That being said,  I’ve learnt many things from my time in a Japanese company–from learning to “read the atmosphere” to just generally being thoughtful by bringing tea or drinks for a guest visiting the office.

If you are someone from outside of Japan looking for a job here in Japan, by all means, try it out! It’s a unique experience that’ll give you a new perspective not only on the world of work, but the world at large.