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[In the West] there are clear-cut schedules for this and that and working hours start somewhere about 9:00 am and end at about 5:00pm, crisp and sharp. The Japanese do not use the same time frame. Hours are determined by the flow or work at hand and by numerous social factors.

Doing overtime shows your loyalty to the company. If you leave early, an apology (“osaki ni shitsureshimasu”) is expected. Leaving before your bosses do is considered to be incredibly poor form.

Decision Making

“Ho-ren-so” stands for Hokoku (report), Renraku (communicate or touch base), and Sodan (consult or discuss). This abbreviation refers to one of Japan’s fundamental business communication techniques and is taught to new hires as soon as they join the Japanese workforce.

Ho-ren-so may seem like micromanaging to a lot of foreigners, especially those from the United States, but it is an important part of Japanese business culture.

In a typically Japanese organization, workers with no title can make suggestions and proposals, which will then go to different sections/levels for approval. A stamp of approval is given on the written proposal at each level before the document is passed on to the next. This process continues until the final decision is made.

This allows low-ranking employees to use their creativity and ideas in a way that benefits the company. If their ideas work well, there is a high chance of promotion.

Another factor of the Japanese human resource management system is their emphasis on teamwork, rather than individual job tasks. The Japanese feel that teamwork increases productivity because whenever problems arise workers are allowed to stop what they are doing and solve problems without bringing about any disciplinary action. Team peer pressure enforces high productivity and quality.

Usually, tasks will be assigned in groups, which may rankle individualistic Westerners. However, in the end, it’s about the department doing well — if a group succeeds at a task, the whole department gets the praise.

From a Westerner’s viewpoint, a meeting room is a place for discussion about current work projects and serves as place to dedicate time to reach a conclusion about something. Many westerners find the idea that Japanese workers use the conference room simply to report findings rather bewildering.

The ho-ren-so method allows for meetings to be short without impacting productivity, since all decisions are made going up the corporate ladder rather than among a wide group of people.

Changing Jobs

…this “lifetime employment” concept refers mostly to male executives in corporate white-collar positions at large companies. Blue-collar workers often change jobs in pursuit of higher wages and better conditions. Relatively few women benefit from lifetime employment and most smaller enterprises do not offer the same long-term job security and benefits as major companies.

Unlike in the Western world, where having worked in various positions in a number of companies may mean that you have lots of experience, in Japan it’s a sign of being unable to fit in or of being disloyal.

Miscellaneous Customs

In Japanese business etiquette, Japanese business cards are a ‘must have’. Carry at least 100 for a 1 week business trip to Japan and expect to give out 3 – 4 Japanese business cards at a small meeting and as many as 10 – 12 at a larger meeting.

Business cards are very important! Never put them in your back pocket, and inspect them both front and back when you’re given them. Treat the card as you would the person.

Japan is considered a “high context” culture. Edward Hall has observed that the Japanese are the most highly contexted of all industrialized cultures. In practical terms, this means that the Japanese are as likely to read the context surrounding what is said as they are to rely on the words spoken. As a result, for many Japanese, what is actually spoken is not necessarily the entire message.

This means that Westerners or other foreigners have to learn how to read Japanese body language. Usually people will transmit their real feelings using their facial expressions.

Japanese business people are likely to say “Hai, wakarimashita,” (“I understand”) or “Yes,” often. This might not mean that they understand, agree, or approve, and can simply just indicate “I hear what you are saying.” Japanese people also apologize often and hardly ever say no. Instead, they tend to speak other phrases which is a ‘no’ in disguise. For example, “I’ll consider it,” or “That is difficult” are phrases that often indicate a “no” response.

The Japanese rarely say “no” as it’s potentially hurtful to the other party. Make sure that you can understand polite refusals in order to cultivate a harmonious office environment.

The adage of not mixing business with pleasure doesn’t exist here. Rather, it is an extension of the loyalties and dedication that regularly take place in the work environment. There can be numerous reasons as to why drinks and dinner and often karaoke are offered by your school—anything from a new teacher joining the ranks to the school opening a new location. Whatever the reason for the invitation, you will do well not to turn it down.

It’s expected that you’ll go drinking with your co-workers after work. While it’s important to socialize in order to ascend the corporate ladder, not everyone enjoys going out often. If you don’t drink or otherwise cannot make it, make up the time another way, such as during lunch breaks.

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