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2017 Lovelyzkelly


My Experience Working in a Japanese Office: The Harsh Differences

June 3, 2018

A couple of years back, I had the privilege of working in a Japanese office. I worked at BOE (Board of Education) office in Aomori, Hirosaki. Japanese office culture was definitely not a walk in the park.  Where I worked, I had a stricter dress code and times to do certain things like eat a snack or go to the bathroom.


Being American, I prefer American offices but this experience was a one of a kind experience.


Here are some differences and unexpected findings of working in a Japanese office.



Unlimited Tea & Coffee


Reading this you might think, “why would you complain about that?” well, I will tell you why. I CAN`T STOP! It's just THERE and they make you pay 20 bucks a month for the unlimited value of it so then I feel I HAVE to drink ALL THE COFFEE.


I think my body hates me. The coffee is also instant coffee, not freshly brewed coffee so it isn't even that delicious. I started off drinking like 4 cups a day but I cut down to drinking coffee only before noon- 4 cups before noon!


The coffee also has different country and place names on it like "Brazil" or "Europe" to make it seem like it would taste fancy but it doesn't. Yet, I still drink it like my life depended on it.


No Cubicles


My desk is out in the open. It was like kindergarten again! All of our desks were pushed together and we could see what everyone was doing. I feel like my personal bubble had been invaded.


I guess it does help to keep you working, motivated, and determined to finish what you need to finish but it also makes you so tense. There is so much awkward silence. Your muscles hurt so bad at the end of the day because, if you're having a tiring or bad day, you just feel sort of irritated. It isn't like this all the time, of course.


I actually got used to it now but there were still moments where I just wanted to work in peace.

American offices are closed in cubicles or separate rooms with couches and cat pictures on the walls where you can sit and complain about your job in peace.

Apparently, the Japanese office set up is good for information circulation. It is easy to pass along paperwork to your coworkers if you sit 5 inches from each other.


How convenient!

Being Polite

No matter how long you've worked with each other, you must always speak in the highest form of the Japanese language at all times.


I barely knew how to speak in Tsugaru dialect, the way people spoke in the Tohoku region of Japan, let alone keigo, the most polite form of Japanese, so understanding was so difficult. You must always say sumimasen (sorry, excuse me) or otsukaresama deshita (thank you for all your hard work). The latter was not a direct translation because in English, we don't have a direct translation. 

If you see someone in the hallways such as the cleaning lady, she will say “otsukaresama!” I didn't know how to respond to that at the time so I just did what most foreigners did- smile and bow. One time, I was in the bathroom and the cleaning lady said the same thing and I thought she was thanking me for my hard work in the bathroom. I still didn't understand what the purpose of saying that all the time was, maybe motivational purposes?


Two bosses

There are two bosses. I called them mini boss and big boss. Mini boss sat at our table with us and big boss sat in his own separate office, alone. I guess this can be equivalent to a supervisor and manager situation. But, it is ALWAYS important to stand when your mini boss comes to greet you or talk with you. The same goes for big boss.


When handing out gifts, you should ALWAYS give the gift to mini boss first and then the next higher up staff member and go down from there. I made that mistake once. I gave my gift to the lowest ranked staff member first and I heard a sort of gasp. I was so confused, “what did I do? What have I done! Oh no!” It was quite the panic. 



There were a billion meetings there. Yeah, I think that's an accurate number. I didn't have to attend them all but the morning ones I did. Everyone talked about where everyone would be on that day and what needed to get done.


Every Monday, everyone stood up, bowed and listened to big boss talk about the week and “let's do our best!” sort of thing. Then, most of my office leaves the rest of the day for more meetings or school visits.


Pounding on Keyboards

Why? Are you angry at the keyboard? What has the keyboard ever done to you? I don't understand it. My theory was that everyone wanted to look busy so they hit their keyboards till it bled to death.


It almost sounded kinda sad sometimes. I deeply wanted to save the computers life. I wondered if my co worker`s fingers are bruised from beating their computers up? Also, why was there internet explorer on my laptop? What age are we living in here?

On top of that, people like to talk to themselves. If they made a mistake, they gasp or freak out silently. If they are confused they make a confused noises and I imagine a question mark above their heads. Other times, I think they're crazy. Just kidding. But really. 


The Constant Need to Say Where You Are Going

Before you leave the room, you must say where you are going and bow, NOT if you have to go to the bathroom. I wouldn`t be able to finish lunch if everyone had to announce they needed to go number 1 or number 2 - thank goodness.


But, still, saying where you are going constantly exhausted me. Every day that I went home, I had to say “osaki ni shitsureshimasu!” Meaning, “excuse me, I`m going home.” Now, this is Japanese culture so I had nothing against it. It isn`t that bad but it`s definitely different.


Silence During Lunch

People eat lunch quietly at their desks which makes everything awkward. The lights are turned off, people finish their meals and go straight back to work even if they are on break. There are moments when I had conversations but a lot of the time, I never know when to talk because everyone seemed so busy! Take a break!



Well, there you have it, my experience working in a Japanese BOE. I know not all offices are the same but generally this is what you would experience. I enjoyed the differences and experience but if I had to be honest, I don't think I would survive my career there. 


If anyone has had experiences working in a Japanese office, please share what your experience was like in the comments below.




Lyz Kelly

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