This article is based on my talk with my friend, who was about to graduate at the time, about him working in Japan after graduation. I gave a lot of good explanation about the merits and demerits for both working in Japan or not. This blog post is specific to people who studied in Japanese universities and speak Japanese (to an extent).
For us, international students, there is always this difficult choice of choosing between pursuing a career in the country we studied in, versus going back to our own countries and working or pursuing different opportunities. For me, it was about working in Japan, and later, starting a business there. I did my undergrad at a top engineering university, went to work for a mid-size IT company, then went off to starting a startup with a friend. So my insights are based on those experiences.
My friends who are studying at Japanese universities at the moment are asking my advice about working in a Japanese company. Below, I will argue why you should work for a Japanese company, and why you shouldn’t. (Maybe some of it can be applied to an international level). Here are my arguments:
Why should you work in Japan (for a Japanese company)?
First and foremost, if you studied at a Japanese university, you are probably at young in age. Meaning that you’ll have some sort of connection in the future with Japan. Either as part of a bigger organization or as your own business. It is very important to understand that Japan will somehow be in your life in the future. Working in Japan will give you a rare opportunity to understand how businesses work around here. What is the mentality of work? What are the unspoken rules society and business? Everything that nobody will tell you once you go to the other side.
Second, whatever you learned and experienced about Japan in college, is way different in work environments. University students are not punctual, they don’t study hard (even in top universities like Todai), they don’t care about world problems or anything around them for the matter. But those students completely change the moment they enter a company. Suits are worn, serious faces surface, and suddenly they are really hard working. Back when I was a student I thought to myself, one of the reasons I came to Japan was to try to understand how did they make a revolution in the world and rebuilt their country after the Hiroshima bomb. It occurred to me that my university colleagues at this phase of their lives aren’t the ones who I should be observing and try to learn to build a society from, but rather the working class are the ones that are the target. My theory proved true because once I started working I saw where Japan is getting it’s push from.
Third, assuming you speak Japanese and know Japanese society to an extent, working in Japan is a jump step for both your language and knowledge about culture. It’s a true opportunity to harness such skills. Because the Japanese language is very tricky, a different set of skills is required to conduct business. How do you speak to your client, wordings of emails, who sits where in a meeting, how to greet, how to exchange business cards, even how to think. Back in college, I used to pay attention to my writing as in if I am writing in the polite language (敬語) or frank language (タメ語). When I started working, my boss tells me that my expression is stiff (固い) and I need to make it a bit more flexible and easy (柔らかい). I was like WHAT?!! No idea what he was talking about. But after a while, I figured out it is something in the language itself. Because Japanese culture -mostly- is built around being indirect, expressions are a form of an art. How to be extremely polite, go easy on the other person, but at the same time beat the shit out of them. Same thing goes for culture. How to understand hidden gestures, timings and how to communicate.
Fourth, it destroys the myth about Japanese quality. When you work from the inside, you understand how the structure of the business is built, what is the Japanese quality and how it is made and in what areas. This is not the place for this argument about Japanese quality, but working for a Japanese company was eye opening about the fine line between where is the actual quality of the work is and where are the other areas that need numerous improvements.
Why should you go do something else?
Because frankly, it is a waste of time, health, and money to work in Japan. If you studied in Japan or studying at the moment, for the reasons mentioned above, you SHOULD work in Japan, but just for a short period of time, like 1-2 years. That’s all you need to learn the basics of what can become of help later in life. But other than that, working in Japan for more than that can be unhealthy for the following reasons.
One, do not expect good salaries unless you are working for a prestigious international company, or a prestigious finance international company. Starting salaries are around $30K, and most managerial positions have a range of $50K~$80K. Executives earn between $100K~$150K. Most of the working class I know in managerial positions stay in the $50K~$80K range for a very long time. Consider that at that range, the tax cut is around 23%, and there are health insurance and pension to count for. Also, mortgage and children education cut. You are left with almost nothing to spare each month. life expenses and rent are high anyways.
Two, do not expect any respect to your private time. If you are in a busy industry, weekends might even exist in a different dimension. Japanese companies think that they own all 5 days of the weekdays of their employees. It is pretty normal to get your boss (or client) to call you at 11 pm and ask you to do a report and get it done by next day 9 am. Staying after 6 can be pretty normal. Depending on the industry you are in, 9 pm might be your new finishing time.
Three, busy days and unorganized work can leave you exhausted for the weekend. If you don’t have a good exercise schedule, your health is bound to deteriorate. Your eating habits get destroyed as you will need to spend more than usual in order to eat healthy, but at the same time, you are in office almost all day long.
Four, you will pick really bad habits because of all of the above. In Europe and the States, it is said that a person who can’t finish his job/tasks within the 8 hours window, is a person who does not respect his work. Here, it is the opposite. Even though people dislike it and want to change that. The reality is that the work structure itself is not organized. You might’ve heard this before, but there are no clear job descriptions. There are piles of unorganized tasks with no intention of planning or having a vision to steer the ship. The result is that you pick up very bad working habits of being caught up all the time, not being effective in what you do, in wasting time because there is all day long to complete them.
There is no right answer to the question. There are so many things in life that you can learn. It all depends on many factors that you should decide. For example:
- Do you want to live in Japan forever?
- If no, for how long?
- If not anyways, how long are you willing to stay?
- What is your next step?
- What are your overall expectations for your life direction for the next decade?
- If you are going back to work in your own country, will an experience in a Japanese company that will be added to your CV help? (In that case, btw, you should target big companies like Sony or Panasonic to try to work for)
- Do you think that at any point in the future you will have contact with Japan? (if you are 100% sure there isn’t, then go back. But there is no 100% in life)
- Do you want to explore working in Japan?
- Do you mind sacrificing money, time and health for the sake of experience?
- Are you single or with a family? (Huge financial risk factor)
- Do you care about CV or your own experience? (Hence go to a big company or a small-mid size one)
- Will it effect your life in any way if you stayed for one more year in Japan to work?
- Are you interested in diving deeper in the culture?
- How is your Japanese level?
These are usually most of the questions I ask my friends to try to determine whether they should work in Japan or not. It is very important to ask such questions and decide the parameters of your decision before deciding such a big decision.
Because Japan is a very closed country, not many people know about it that much. My general advice is to work for 1 year then do whatever you want. It is the only time in life that you can have such an experience with minimal risk and it will be very advantageous for you in the long run.
Let me know your thoughts and comments about this!