In this article, we’ll present a list of 10 criteria you should focus on when choosing which company to work for in Japan. Whether you’re looking for work or changing jobs, you should, of course, look at things like the job description, salary, and the corporate culture, but there are also things you should consider that you’ll always find at Japanese companies like health and welfare benefits or overtime. We will be offering detailed explanations of all those and more in this guide. So, before you apply to that next position, thoroughly prepare yourself with this article to make sure you don’t accept a job you’ll soon regret.
A salary is indispensable to modern life, so you should always check how much money a job is offering you. This is how much foreigners working in Japan can expect:
Hotel/Inn Staff: 3,000,000 yen
English Teacher (working full-time at a language school): 3,500,000 yen
English Teacher (working part-time at a school): 2,500 – 3,000 yen per lesson
Translator: 3,000,000 – 8,000,000 yen
Engineer: 4,000,000 – 7,000,000 yen
Construction Worker: 3,000,000 yen
* These amounts will differ depending on your experience, the industry, and the size of the company. Unless specified, all amounts are yearly.
The average salary for new Japanese university graduates just starting to live on their own is about 200,000 yen a month, which, together with bonuses, comes out to about 3,000,000 yen a year. When working any of the aforementioned jobs, foreigners can expect the same kind of pay offered to fresh Japanese university graduates for full-time work. However, with part-time or temp work, you will be paid by the hour without bonuses, which will require you to budget your expenses.
That’s why, when going through a job description, you should always check whether the position is full-time or not. And don’t forget that the company will deduct the social insurance premium and income tax from your salary each month, meaning that you’ll get about 80% of the stated amount. It’s not a bad idea to inquire about the specifics of your pay during the job interview.
2. Health and Welfare Benefits
This refers to services and other perks that you get from a company besides your salary and bonuses. There are two kinds of health and welfare benefits: those designated by law and additional ones decided by each individual company. Legally-designated benefits include things like employment insurance, health insurance, nursing insurance, workmen’s compensation insurance, employee’s pension, and so on, which are all provided by the company. Company benefits can include things like housing allowance (rent subsidy), transportation allowance, family allowance, access to sports clubs, employee trips, and other company plans. Housing allowance is an especially popular perk because to people who are renting, the subsidy is basically just like a bump in pay.
The benefits and perks that aren’t legally-designated can really differ between companies. For example, a beauty company might offer a beauty product/treatment allowance and a gaming company might subsidize the purchase of video games. There are also more and more companies that offer employees cash gifts when they get married or have children. The health and welfare benefits can have a direct impact on your quality of life, so don’t just focus on the salary and check what else a company can offer you.
3. Size of the Company
The definition of a large corporation or a small-to-medium-sized enterprise differs depending on the industry but, generally speaking, most people agree that any company employing 100 or more people is a large corporation while small-to-medium-sized enterprises employ fewer people than that. It’s impossible to say which is better. You should weigh the pros and cons of both types of companies and choose the one that’s best for you. You can find the breakdown of said pros and cons below.
One of the biggest pros of large corporations that people frequently bring up are the health and welfare benefits, followed by the company reputation, social trust, potential for growth, stability, and salary (including bonuses and raises). By utilizing their size and financial power, large corporations can offer lots of benefits and consistency, and with them peace of mind for their employees.
On the other hand, many people bring up interpersonal relationships as a big con of working for a large corporation, followed by their corporate culture, working hours, leisure time, and personnel system (evaluations, promotions, training, etc). Corporations have lots of employees, so you have to remain on friendly terms with all sorts of people. Corporations also tend to have rigid company cultures built over many years, which may not be welcoming to new ideas. Those hoping to shake things up and try new things probably wouldn’t thrive in such an environment. Additionally, corporations tend to have local and even foreign branches, and there has been a trend lately towards relocating employees there. Sure, you may end up in a country you’ve always wanted to live in, but you may also be relocated to somewhere else in Japan, outside the big cities. There’s no way to tell.
Interpersonal relationships are one of the reasons that people give for wanting to work for small-to-medium-sized enterprises, followed by the job description, working hours, and leisure time. Many people feel that because small-to-medium-sized enterprises employ fewer people, they have a homier atmosphere that makes it easier to communicate with your coworkers. Also, unlike large corporations where everyone has a clearly defined role, you may find yourself taking on many different responsibilities at a small-to-medium-sized enterprise, giving you a better feel for the job. And because you will be much closer to management, there’s a better chance of them listening to and even implementing your ideas. Some small-to-medium-sized enterprises are even being developed as venture businesses where autonomy and drive are praised above all and where salaries are often directly linked to company performance. In instances like this, you may end up making more money than at a large corporation.
The cons of working for a small-to-medium-sized enterprise are the low salary (including bonuses and raises) as well as the smaller potential for growth and stability. The exact amounts differ depending on the industry, but among companies working in the same field, it’s normal for small-to-medium-sized enterprises to offer lower salaries than the large corporations. Their bonuses and raises also tend to be smaller. Due to their small size and reach, a significant number of small-to-medium-sized enterprise employees express anxiety over their company’s future and stability.
4. Is It a Foreign-Owned or Japanese Company?
When looking for work or changing jobs, Japanese people tend to see whether a company is foreign-owned or Japanese. A “foreign-owned company” (called “gaishikei” in Japanese) is located in Japan but has been funded with foreign capital, unlike a “Japanese company.” They both have pros and cons and every worker feels differently about them. Learning the difference between these two companies will help you find employment at a place that’s best suited to you.
Japanese companies like to think that they are raising their employees. Foreign-owned companies are different. They prefer to employ skilled people who’ve gained all the necessary skills and experiences somewhere else. The practices of headhunting for workers at other companies and mid-term hiring are actively practiced at foreign-owned companies.
One of the pros of working at foreign-owned companies is the money. At traditional Japanese companies, wages are determined based on seniority, unrelated to one’s skills or performance. Contrary to that, foreign-owned companies praise performance above all, and the more skilled you are, the higher your salary will be. However, you should remember that if your company’s management policy changes or business takes a downturn, you’ll be easily terminated at a foreign-owned company.
A big pro of a Japanese company is that getting fired from one is very difficult. However, with all the company drinking parties, other events, and overtime, you’ll be spending a lot of time at work at the cost of your private life. There has been a push lately for a greater work-life balance at Japanese companies, and it has had some success, but even so, you’ll often find yourself doing a lot of overtime early in the morning, late at night, or on the weekends during peak season, especially at small-to-medium-sized enterprises. Of course, it’s all unpaid, which is a pretty big con. If you’re interviewing for a position at a small-to-medium-sized enterprise, be sure to ask about how many hours of overtime you can expect.
Next, make sure that you know what the job entails. Japanese companies can be unclear on that during the hiring process, instead preferring to match a job to a person’s skills once they start working there. Also, many Japanese companies allow their employees to be transferred to different departments once they’re hired. This can be a pro as it allows you to experience different sides of the company, but those who want to gain expertise in a specific area might feel frustrated in such an environment.
Foreign-owned companies, on the other hand, prefer to hire people for specific jobs with specific targets. Because you know what you’re getting into, it’s easier to plan your career, which is a plus. However, after being hired, it’s almost impossible to get transferred, so you can’t advance your career or get a raise by challenging yourself at a different department.
6. Working Hours
When it comes to working hours, you should be mindful of the amount of overtime, which is usually mentioned in the job description but also often changes depending on the company and time of year. A lot of companies will even play down the number of hours you will have to stay in late. Many find themselves entering a new company and finding out that they’re expected to do overtime almost every day.
The only way to know how much actual overtime you’ll have to do is asking about it during the interview. Ask not just how many hours you can expect, but also when is the company’s peak season (like the end or the beginning of the year), whether you’ll have to come in on your days off and will you be able to take an extra day off if that happens, etc. In short, imagine all the situations you will face when working at a company and then ask about them.
7. Transfers and Relocation
You should definitely know whether you may be transferred or even relocated once hired by a company. Japanese companies don’t really adhere to things like “job descriptions.” Instead, they prefer the “comprehensive work” model, which can mean transfers and relocation. Also, large corporations and foreign-owned companies tend to have a lot of branches all over Japan and abroad, and some of their employees can find themselves relocated every 2-3 years.
This should be mentioned in the job advertisement, but it’s best to ask about transfers and relocation during the interview. Also, most ads don’t mention anything about internal company transfers, so get the lay of the land by asking during the interview about their transfer system, whether you can request one, and so on.
8. Company Vision and Educational Opportunities
A company is an assembly of people working together towards a common goal. That’s why a comprehensive company vision that everyone can follow is so important. A clear vision impacts a company’s management decisions and can also help you decide whether you can get behind what the company stands for, which is directly related to your trust in your employer.
Companies that take care of their staff also set some money aside each year to help them get certifications, train them to improve their skills, and organize internal business courses. If a company does all those things, there’s a good chance they’ll support you and treat you with respect.
9. Company Culture, Atmosphere, and Interpersonal Relationships
The company culture and atmosphere at the office is equally as important as your duties. At Japanese companies, it’s believed that being friendly with your coworkers results in the work going much more smoothly. That is why companies often organize drinking parties, New Year parties, end of year parties, etc. Your duties should be outlined in the job advertisement, but they won’t mention anything about drinking parties and other events, so it’s best to ask about them during the interview.
As for interpersonal relationships, they’re all down to individual people, so it’s tough to generalize, but you can get a glimpse of a company’s situation by asking about their turnover. In companies with a bad atmosphere, the turnover rate will be pretty high. You should also check why a company frequently advertises itself on job hunting sites. They may just be expanding, but if they don’t mention that sort of thing, you should probably be wary.
10. Office Location
If you’ll be commuting every day, the location of the office should factor into your decision. If they’re located close to a station, your commute will be easy and you won’t have to worry about rain, which is important to a lot of job hunters. You should also consider where you’re going to be commuting from. Looking for accommodations after you’ve been hired can be a stressful experience.
If you’re based in Tokyo, where some lines operate at 120% capacity during the morning commuter rush, you should probably look for a company you can get to with as few train transfers as possible, or a company you can reach via lines that don’t get too crowded. Also, be sure to ask above the possibility of working from home in the event of a natural disaster or you getting sick.
What Foreign Workers Should Know About Working at Japanese Companies
Since Japan embraces the culture of lifetime employment (especially at domestically-owned companies), many enterprises will want you to work for them for as long as possible. That’s why most interviewers will want to see whether you can adapt to their company culture, get along with your fellow Japanese employees, and generally be cooperative. In case of foreigners, cooperativeness is as important to potential employers as your duties or performance, so make sure you talk about the times when you exhibited a cooperative spirit while living in Japan.
Most Japanese companies want their foreign employees to have a Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) certification level of N2 or N3, although some will accept N4. It all depends on the specific job, with every company having a different idea of what level of Japanese their foreign employees should exhibit. Even if your Japanese isn’t exactly what they’re looking for, there have been many cases of foreigners being hired on the basis of their character, so don’t worry about your language skills and instead focus on your strengths when trying to sell yourself to a potential employer.
In recent years, due to globalization, some progressive Japanese companies have mandated that English be used in everyday situations, although most are still very old-fashioned and English won’t get you far there. And if you want to work for a Japanese company, you have to be able to adapt to their culture and character, which might be difficult without Japanese.
Every Japanese company is different with their own unique culture and customs, which can be a pro and a con depending on the individual, aka you. As long as you pay attention to the criteria we mentioned above, you should be able to grasp the reality of working in Japan and find a job that will make you happy.
Manners and Culture: 10 Things You Should Know About Working in Japan – Read This Before Joining a Japanese Company!
7 Surprising Things About Japanese Work Culture, as Told by Internationals Working in Japan
If you want to give feedback on any of our articles, you have an idea that you’d really like to see come to life, or you just have a question on Japan, hit us up on our Facebook!
By the way, if you're looking for a job or career change and you're already in Japan, we now have a jobs site called tsunagu Local Jobs! On top of having exclusive job listings that you won't find anywhere else, we've vetted all the listings to ensure that they're foreigner-friendly and high quality. If you register for an account on the site, you can even make use of our agent service where our international staff will help you find the perfect job in Japan, so check it out today!
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.