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Building a Career in a Japanese Company

EntrepreneurshipJapaneseLanguagesSkillsSoft SkillsArticle

Are you learning Japanese only to get a work visa because you want to stay in Japan to enjoy its culture? That’s fine, but is that all?


If appreciating Japanese culture is your dream, that’s fine. I don’t mean to throw a wet blanket on your love of Japanese aesthetics. But, if you are enjoying sakura, sushi or exploring Shibuya (a hot spot for entertainment), and still feel that there must be something more to spending a precious few years working in Japan, please read on.


Isn’t it about time to look at Japan as a place to seriously build a career?


The Reality 

I meet very few job seekers online and at job fairs in Tokyo who know anything deeper than exchanging business cards and bowing.


In fact, no matter if you exchange cards, shake hands or use polite phrases, it is still a loss to your employment odds and your deal making chances are low. As a foreigner, you probably apologize for the lack of knowledge of the local protocol. Although, it is probably better to know it in advance: one must speak the customer’s language in international business.


When it comes to how and why decisions are made, and what actions to observe to earn the trust necessary to move up the corporate ladder, I have found that these job seekers know so little.

Building a Career in a Japanese Company

Very Few Read about Japanese Management

One Singaporean banker of a Singapore-based Japanese bank told me: “What I learned in this 2-day Diversity Manager course about Japanese corporate behavior is much deeper than what I learned in my five years of employment at my bank”. 


This is the reality of cross cultural understanding, (his Japanese manager would not know too much about this man either. It takes two to tango).

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Isn’t it about time to look at Japan as a place to seriously build a career?

Japanese Logic

Japan offers an extremely unique environment in terms of how organizations are organized, how business is conducted and how people are related.


By digging into the interplay among the elements, one can discover whole new alternative lifestyles vis-à-vis his original upbringing. Knowing them means living a life of multiple persons.


I’ll give you an example of the new alternative lifestyle. This is the diagram I use in training programs:

Building a Career in a Japanese Company

The Japanese behaviors column contains the comments often made by non-Japanese people who are working with Japanese people (except VUCA, which is the terminology referring to the nature of a global marketplace under G-Zero world where a single global leader is absent).


The reasons column refers to the Japanese logic that justifies their behaviors or appearance of behaviors.


Take the bottom left “look not passionate” for an example. I was taken aback to hear this comment from an Indonesian staff of a Japanese IT firm in Tokyo. And the logic “constantly aiming higher” is the explanation I immediately told him. Typical workers in a country of craftsmen do not show emotions easily just after one achievement. Their fire doesn’t explode. It implodes. They often keep their lips closed tight when emotions are high inside.


Looking at the diagram carefully might invoke new ways of how a job is done (craftsmanship), a relationship is built (multiple balance), an organization functions (organic), and a national character is formed (following the law of nature or shizentai 自然体). 


It goes without saying that Japanese logic leaves a lot for debate. 


Your Future

Many courses about Japanese language and culture appear to never touch on such huge potentials non-Japanese professionals can tap into, if only they are guided to dig inside the tatemae (official statement) barrier.


Obviously Japan has a lot more to offer than anime and manga. If you learn Japanese, learn it for a strategic purpose toward professional excellence.


So, are you keen about building a career in Japan? Then, dig in deeper, observe and find out what you can learn from the Japanese behaviors, which are in most cases the antithesis to Western logic. That’s the way to go beyond a translator and a substitute worker roles. I wish you all the best, ganbatte!


Book a session with me, and start perfecting your Japanese business knowledge today. 


Kawatani Takashi

Crosscultural Management Consultant

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