When you go to Japan to start a new life, what kind of rules are there that foreigners are unfamiliar with? Every country has its own unique rules and manners for work and daily life. By accepting them as part of the culture there, you will be able to live and work smoothly. We will share some responses from our questionnaires and interviews with foreigners who have experience working in Japan about the working style and rules for living in Japan that Japanese people may not notice.
Working style in the workplace
People seem to feel differently about workplace rules in Japan, depending on which country they come from and their perspective. While working styles differ slightly depending on the company or facility where you work, a very common response was, “They’re strict about time.”
Let’s explore some other comments about working styles in the workplace from experienced care workers as well as how they dealt with the Japanese facilities that accepted them.
・“When I first started working in Japan, I had a number of issues and difficulties due to the cultural differences between my home country and Japan. I especially struggled with scheduling and punctuality, language for nursing care facility users and other staff, and personal grooming. In my home country, as long as you do your job properly, you don’t have to be so concerned about time. Also, I didn’t have to pay much attention to the workplace hierarchy or using specific language.”
・“When I came to work in Japan, the best rule I felt was to take the attitude to ‘Be in action five minutes early. If you are on time, you are already late.’ A person who plans well is being very respectful of other people’s time. Another thing I like is nengajo, New Year postcards, which have greetings to celebrate the new year and are delivered at the start of the year. In a world with so much electronic communication, receiving a greeting written on paper gives you the feeling of a real human connection.”
・“I think there are more workplace meetings in Japan than in my home country. There may be days with meetings all day long. Some people also work long hours.”
You can also get a sense of the Japanese working style by reading these notes from a document written for nursing care facilities in Japan. Please refer to the following points:
・In Japan, there are times when we purposely don’t verbalize something and try to communicate by “reading the atmosphere” and “sensing intentions”.
・In a Japanese workplace, we say it is important to “report, communicate and consult”.
 三菱UFJリサーチ&コンサルティング株式会社 「外国人介護職員の受入れと活躍支援に関するガイドブック」Mitsubishi UFJ Research & Consulting Co.,Ltd. “Guidebook for Accepting and Supporting Foreign Care Workers”
Societal rules and manners
When you go to Japan as a tourist, you may discover that a lot of the social rules and manners are different from in your home country. But you will discover even more rules and manners when you actually live there, not as a tourist. You can move to Japan and learn social rules little by little as you go, but by doing some research beforehand, you may be able to avoid inconveniencing others and save yourself from unpleasant feelings as well. Let’s look at some comments from foreigners who have lived in Japan:
・“A daily life rule I experienced for the first time after coming to Japan was the separation of garbage. I learned that by correctly separating it into burnable garbage, non-burnable garbage, recyclables, oversized garbage, etc. it can be recycled after it’s collected.”
・“Japanese people have a habit of greeting others often. I was really impressed by how they greet and talk to each other at work, school, shops, on public transportation, etc. They also have nice manners regarding trash. I think it’s a wonderful habit that Japanese people keep not only their own houses but everything around them clean and also take care of the environment.
・“Before going to Japan, I had traveled there several times so I thought I wouldn’t be surprised by the way of life, but when I did actually live in Japan, I discovered a number of things. In particular, separating your garbage is mandatory.”
In terms of daily life, there seem to be a lot of comments on the rules for separating trash. Typically, in Japan, you need to leave your separated garbage in a designated spot on designated days (and you’re not supposed to put it out the night before). Additionally, in most cases, you will need to buy a special trash bag to put your garbage in.
The rules for life in society will vary depending on where you live. When you start working in Japan, it is a good idea to check with someone who lives in the same area. Also, each local government publishes information on this subject, so please check there as well. For your reference, we’d like to share a booklet published by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government that provides information on living in Tokyo for foreign residents who are new to living there, “Life in Tokyo: Your Guide” .