Working in Japan

I’m heading into my third month working in a Japanese corporation. Adjusting has been a fun ride — to say the least.

My org’s CEO is someone I admire. He respects Japanese traditions while incorporating non-traditional ways into the company’s DNA. He has five fundamental principles of success we follow. *you can read further here if interested

I love how he says there are only two kinds of people in the world. Best Effort people, who are satisfied with the status quo; Get Things Done people who are committed to reaching their goals. With enough determination and effort, we can achieve anything.

I believe these principles are necessary in a traditional Japanese corporation, where historically, the Japanese are trained to do one thing really well. It’s about thinking outside of the box. Becoming a self-starter but he expects our hypothesis to be executable and not just ideas.

Mikitani-san (our CEO), is a very important person in moving Japan forward, and I am honored to be a part of his company.

That said, Rakuten Inc. (Japan’s Amazon equivalent) still very much has traditional Japanese corporate traits. Most leave me astounded — like the attention to details, precision, level of discipline, and the effort people put in to constantly and consistently output. I’ve never been in an environment like this and frankly, it’s pretty refreshing.

My one gripe, though, is because we have such high expectations from management, the Japanese are constantly ON IT. People don’t talk to each other. People rarely leave their seats and there are even people who feel uneasy getting up to use the restroom. I mean, what kind of  work environment is that?

I’ve also asked and listened to feedback from my Japanese colleagues and non-Japanese colleagues alike. It’s a bit…peculiar how everyone knows the same sneaky tricks to always look ‘busy’.


1. people type on their keyboards really loudly — almost pounding — to make it look like they are doing very important work. When I peek on their monitors, these ‘busy’ people are chatting on Messenger (we’re on a Windows environment yuck) on Facebook or Yammer LOL

2. people are rarely on their phones during worktime. At least in the open. People take their phones with them into the restrooms, and hide in the stalls to chat or text. It’s a huge problem when people like me, need to really use the restroom but people don’t come out for 10+ minutes. I mean. Come ON. Hide in the hallway or staircase or something, anything, just quit using phones in the stalls!

3. napping — this is really strange to me, but people actually nap in bathroom stalls. I’ve heard snoring, as have a lot of other people (I’ve asked around). I mean. Seriously?

4. work hours. It’s no secret people work around 12+ hours a day. Overtime is expected, conversely, normal. People who go home early are judged and talked about behind their backs as a person “who isn’t working hard”. What kind of twisted logic is that? I’m sorry — well not really — but I’m not one to sit in front of my computer for hours on end just to ‘look like I care’, while I use sneaky tricks to get through a 14 hour day. A huge part of working ‘smart’ is prioritizing task lists, effective time management and work life balance.

…and on and on. There is a huge list of survival tips for Japanese work environments people always talk about behind closed doors, but never say out loud. But I have to wonder: if we are outputting the same results in 8 hours or 14 hours — why even bother staying so late?

I guess regardless of where you are around the globe, there are and will always be things that seem peculiar. I just hope for sanity sake, people start thinking about changing their ways because more often times than not, people are so stressed they get trashed after work, drunk bashing colleagues and management. Not cool.



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