My short bio:

Living in Japan and working in a Japanese company gave me first-hand experience of cultural issues when Japanese and non-Japanese work together, and the challenges that Japanese companies face in globalizing. In 1994 I established Japan Intercultural Consulting, where I help Japanese companies be more successful in their global operations, supporting effective human resource management practices, organization development, and cross-cultural training and teambuilding. I also work frequently with American firms that have Japanese customers, joint venture partners, and suppliers. My firm’s clients include Astellas, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Bridgestone, DeNA, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Honda, Omron, Recruit, Ricoh, Softbank, Sony, Sumitomo Chemical, Toray, and Toyota.

I am the author of The Rice-Paper Ceiling: Breaking Through Japanese Corporate Culture, The Lowdown: Business Etiquette Japan, the upcoming Creating Engaged Employees in Japan, and over twenty-five books in Japanese. I also write frequently for Japanese publications including regular columns in The Asahi Shimbun’s GLOBE section and the Newsweek Japan website.

Here are some videos where I talk with Japan-based vlogger Hikosaemon about Japanese business and cross-cultural topics, to give you a taste of the kind of topics you can ask me about:

My Proof:

Comments: 861 • Responses: 41  • Date: 

survivalsnake471 karma

A lot of what we learn in the West about Japanese business culture related to white-collar work - for example, long hours, long meetings, and obligatory boozing at karaoke. Do these conventions (or cliches) apply to blue-collar labor as well? What about the service sector (e.g. retail)?

RochelleKopp433 karma

Service sector (restaurants and retail) tend to have very long hours and a lot of the reports of "black" (abusive) companies come from this sector. Blue collar workers often do unpaid overtime (e.g. for quality circles) and do a lot of after hours socializing t oo.

dog_and_beef235 karma

Japan has an ageing and declining population, and immigration is often suggested as a solution to patching the hole in the productive workforce. How do you think Japanese society, which is currently very homogenous, would cope with a significant increase in foreign residents? Have you any opinions on how increases in immigration might best be achieved and managed?

RochelleKopp294 karma

I believe that the Japanese authorities are indeed very wary of what would happen if more immigrants were brought in. Also many Japanese citizens are not particularly open to the idea. However as you point out, it's probably inevitable. In order to make it work, there would need to be more programs designed at helping immigrants learn Japanese and the Japanese culture, and helping Japanese be more comfortable with different people among them.

Subject_Blue206 karma

I have heard that foreigners are warmly received in Japan but then Japanese businesses may act more shady once they have you hired and in Japan. While I have mostly heard of this from people who work in Education I have also heard about it elsewhere in Japanese business.

While I would love to live and work in Japan and truly experience the language and culture I am honestly a bit worried about working with a two faced company who will leave me out to dry once I am there. Are my concerns valid? Even if it may only happen in 1 out of 100 cases, How do I ensure my employer will treat me right?

If most of their employees are Japanese and would likely report it online in Japanese and on Japanese websites how can I look up reviews of companies?

Edit: punctuation

Drex143122 karma

Hypothetically speaking, since it is very difficult to judge ones own japanese ability, If a foreigner has a long history in Japan, and have near flawless japanese, JLPT N1, basically the most integrated foreigner in japanese society, for these kind of people do you still feel that there is a Glass ceiling in Japanese companies. As a foreigner taking japanese courses in a university with other japanese students, I seem to have run into a fork of two different reactions. I dont expect to be treated as a normal japanese person, but is there a chance at being taken seriously in the japanese workforce?

RochelleKopp141 karma

It really depends on the company. There are a lot of non-Japanese who have built excellent careers and risen to higher posts in Japanese firms. So it is not impossible at all. And I see more and more of these people all the time.

RochelleKopp69 karma

Hikosaemon just gave a really excellent reply to this on his livestream

To repeat the key point, for your first position try to stick to a firm where you can get information either from a person or online.

taterhotdish172 karma

Can you explain some typical cultural differences, and then some surprising ones?

What kinds of perks/benefits are typical to Japanese employees?

Japanese kids are expected to clean their own schools. Is this carried into the adult workplace as well?

RochelleKopp176 karma

Perks and benefits. The usual insurance stuff, commuting expenses, at bigger companies access to holiday facilities.

RochelleKopp170 karma

As for the cleaning, I did see this kind of thing in the Japanese company I worked with but it was mostly the women who took care of it.

RochelleKopp254 karma

Typical cultural differences include: Japanese tend to be fairly indirect. They are very risk-averse. They are rather hierarchical. They are very process-oriented. They tend to be less wordy / more non-verbal than most other cultures. Hmm, surprising ones. My mind is drawing a blank. Almost nothing surprises me at this point!

TazakiTsukuru78 karma

What's it like to be a female in the Japanese work place? Is there a wage gap? Are there gender-specific positions internal to companies, or are they relatively egalitarian?

Is the younger Japanese generation struggling to internalise traditional work culture?

RochelleKopp61 karma

Lots of great questions, let me start with being a female. It depends a lot what kind of job you have.

RochelleKopp100 karma

Some women take "sogoshoku" jobs which are career-track positions that are the same track that men are on. There is not a wage gap in these positions. Some women however choose the "jimushoku" or "ippanshoku track" which is administrative work. Almost everyone who chooses this track is female and the wages are lower and also often there is a requirement to wear a uniform.

RochelleKopp74 karma

About the younger Japanese generation, it depends on the person but I would say in general that indeed many younger Japanese are rejecting the traditional work values.

Throwaway4101161abc58 karma

What's the Japanese viewpoint on inter-office dating? Do they do after work happy hour? What are some HR policies that they have that Americans would find very strange?

RochelleKopp83 karma

Vlogger Hikosaemon and I did a video on this topic:

There is a lot of inter-office dating and in fact traditionally Japanese firms would encourage it. As for HR policy that would seem strange to Americans, some Japanese firms either informally or formally expect that one of the two employees would quit if they got married to each other.

commit1050 karma

What do Japanese investors and executives think about Silicon Valley culture?

RochelleKopp93 karma

On one hand, they are fascinated by it. Japanese companies are always visiting Silicon Valley to learn about it (sometimes I speak to those groups when they visit Silicon Valley). And on the other hand, when it comes to the actual adoption of Silicon Valley style ways of working (agile software programming, etc.) they find it difficult to do so.

hikosaemon44 karma

Hey Rochelle, I have one. I always thought that Karoshi (working to death) was something associated with the bad old days of the Bubble and 90s, but there has been a recent surge of stories involving Dentsu, a Filipino in a small factory, and a civil servant within recent years. What is your take - is this still a current and serious issue in Japan?

RochelleKopp54 karma

I think it's still a current and serious issue, and indeed I believe that the problem has been getting worse in the past several years. Due to economic pressures, companies are trying to do more with the same number of or fewer people. Also there has been the emergence of the "black" abusive companies.

BluesinKimono314 karma

How would a foreigner go about showing their japanese company that they are there to stay for long term? There seems to be a stigma that foreigners will return and quit their jobs, which leads to a lot of difficulties in getting promoted ,etc.

RochelleKopp17 karma

I would say in general working hard, and then actually staying there for a long time. Not much you can do other than actually showing it.

dvddvd1342 karma

Hi Rochelle. I'm an Australian law student. I was thinking of taking a one year break to do the JET programme, and then come back to law school. My question is, maybe instead of the JET programme, are there any other opportunities (ie types of internships) that involve law and Japanese, maybe in Japan? I have around N2 level Japanese.

RochelleKopp51 karma

I know that there are a lot of positions at Japanese law firms for newly graduated non-Japanese attorneys. I think basically all the major Japanese law firms have these. I am not sure if they would take someone still in law school. Would be worth looking into though.

Drex14316 karma

Thanks for the answer Hiko! I have one more. Generally, what industries would you advice someone to ignore entering? For example, ive heard that the advertising industry in Japan is a nightmare to work in. Do you have any other advice such as that? Furthermore, Japanese people seem to have this obsession with entering big companies here. But would you recommend trying to enter a bigger company, semi big, small? Thank you!

RochelleKopp27 karma

Bigger companies tend to have better salaries but I would still look at smaller ones as they can be very interesting. In that sense I think it's similar to what you would find in the U.S. As for industries, I don't have one I would say across the board to avoid.

scumbagrussia38 karma

How has keiretsu evolved over the years in Japan? Do you think there is anything unique about them, or do you think it is fair to characterize other conglomerates such as Tata in the same way?

RochelleKopp26 karma

I think that the basic concept is indeed similar to what a Tata etc. would be like, however like many other things I think that the Japanese have a distinctive twist that they put on these things.

RochelleKopp26 karma

As for over the years, I think that the keiretsu are less strong than they used to be. Now companies are more cost-conscious and are more willing to look outside their keiretsu to get better costs.

CasReadman34 karma

I'm a programmer and recently switched from working 5 days a week to working only 4 at my company. How easy would it be to get a permanent contract while still keeping a short workweek in Japan?

I've heard some things about part-timers getting the short end of the stick pay and benefits wise.

RochelleKopp64 karma

I have never heard of a Japanese company doing this kind of compressed workweek. Also Japanese firms do not have the concept of professional part-timers. It's really just the regular full time positions that they would have (that are more than full time of course)

CasReadman20 karma

How long is a workweek on average would you say? Officially and unofficially, because I've heard all the horror stories, but I have no idea what I could realistically expect.

RochelleKopp38 karma

Basic would be 9 to 5 or 6 but a lot of people work till 7 or much later.

CasReadman16 karma

A thought just occurred, are those extra hours paid? Or is it so expected that you put in the extra time that it's hard to get pay for them.

RochelleKopp42 karma

Depends on how much the company is following the rules. You are supposed to get paid for them but in many cases companies expect you to do "sabisu zangyo" (unpaid overtime). More on that phenomenon here:

RochelleKopp32 karma

It's midnight and I think that things are petering out. Thanks so much everyone for the great AMA! It was lots of fun! If you're free tomorrow night, join Hikosaemon and myself in Ginza or join the LiveStream Also if you're free Saturday, I'm speaking at the Rakuten Tech Conference on Effective Communication in Multicultural Teams

croddam30 karma

As you've been doing this sort of work since 1994 I'm wondering as time goes on has the cultural mixing that comes from the more of the world being online eased or soften the harder edges of Japanese society and business culture making your job easier now than when you first started? In other words is your work easier now or still extremely challenging? Also I've really appreciated your youtube series with Hikosaemon so thanks for those!

RochelleKopp31 karma

Thanks! And good question. I think that some things have changed and some haven't. I'm about to re-publish my book from 1994 (The Rice-Paper Ceiling) and I don't think I will need to make too many changes. I do think that many Japanese and individuals are more accustomed to working with non-Japanese than they were at that time, which is helpful. On the other hand, Japanese companies are more active globally and hiring more non-Japanese in Japan so there are also more opportunities for frictions to happen.

NARANagi18 karma

How realistic would be, whether you're native Japanese or a foreigner, to work in a company, live the salary man life style, but NOT work the salary man hours?

One of my biggest goals when I go to Japan is to work for a big company, work in a Japanese office setting, but do my best to avoid the hour strain that it comes with.

RochelleKopp43 karma

Ah interesting question. I think it's theoretically possible but practically speaking I think it would be very uncomfortable to curtail your hours. You would likely get a lot of flak for it and also you will likely get invited out to dinner etc. a lot. Japanese moms who want to work reasonable hours have a lot of trouble with these issues.

RochelleKopp50 karma

That being said, the fewest hours I worked at any job ever in my life was when I lived in Tokyo and worked for a Japanese bank. My boss had recently been stationed in Sao Paulo and picked up the work culture. He told me to go home promptly. So I left at 6 every day and took classes every night except Friday (ikebana 2x week, shodo 1x week, and Japanese language class once a week), and only once worked a weekend and that was due to an emergency. Natsukashii.

Subject_Blue13 karma

I don't recognize any of the companies you listed above as Video Production companies, which is where my major is, but I was wondering if you had any experience or advice for someone who does not have a college degree in one of the more common business immigrant majors, STEM, such as Computer Sciences and Engineering? I think making videos for a company would be great but all work outside of STEM seems to be Education when it comes to foreigners in Japan.

Edit: I mainly like working Narrative and Documentary jobs not necessarily advertisment

RochelleKopp15 karma

There are not likely to be as many jobs but I don't think the number is zero and all you need is one!

Mendo_kusai10 karma

Hi Kopp thanks for the AmA!

How prevalent is Flextime in Japan now and what are your thoughts on it? IIRC Fujitsu, Canon and a other big Japanese firms abolished citing a need for "more efficiency".

RochelleKopp16 karma

I hadn't heard about the firms abolishing flextime, that is interesting. What I do know is that when there is flextime in Japan, the "core" time where you have to be present is longer than what might be typical in the U.S. so it's not really as flexible.

CasReadman8 karma

I asked this question before for Japanese Business Time, but I don't think you've gotten round to the topic yet, so I'll ask again here. ;)

Is there also a sort of unwritten kaishain uniform for women as well as for men? I'm a goth and my current company doesn't care that I show up dressed as one every day, but I imagine Japanese companies are less accepting of this type of thing.

RochelleKopp23 karma

It depends on the company and your kind of job. Computer programming in some companies might be goth-friendly. I would say that Japanese companies are in general more conservative on dress however.

cooperCollins5 karma

Hi, Rochelle, thanks for fielding our questions -- you seem to have a lot of experience in dealing with business in Japan.

Just a couple of questions here:

  • What are your thoughts on Japanese business' ability to keep up with global technology? (I guess that was more a question of workers, rather than companies). Do you think they are on-par with global tech standards or are even leading the way?

  • Has the Japanese workforce's work ethic changed since you started your consultations in 1994? Has the traditional expectations put upon staff to stay as late as the boss, for example, loosened up since the 90's?

  • What are your thoughts on the recent Rakuten employee who committed suicide from apparent over-work?

Thanks again for your candid thoughts!

RochelleKopp9 karma

  1. It depends on what aspects of global technology you are talking about. In many technology areas, Japan is leading. But in many, Japan is definitely lagging behind.
  2. It depends on the company. Some places a lot better, some places the same or worse.
  3. Assume you mean Dentsu not Rakuten? I think it points to a variety of weaknesses in HR management systems: a. Dentsu was supposed to have been limiting how much overtime someone could work, but this employee worked way beyond that. So obviously their system did not function properly. b. Labor regulators just raided Dentsu -- but where were they in the past where they should have been checking such systems? c. This boss was obviously a terrible one. Why was such a style of management allowed. Was nobody watching? Did nobody care? Where was HR? Am assuming that Dentsu does not have HR Business Partners, which are now pretty standard in U.S. firms, who are embedded in business divisions and among other things can keep on the watch for these kinds of problems. Also assuming that Dentsu does not do 360 degree evaluations, or employee surveys, that would have uncovered problems with this manager. HR really needs to be reformed in Japan. It's definitely an area where I can safely say that nearly all Japanese firms are not on par with global standards.

turley703 karma

Hi Rochelle! Thanks for doing this AMA!

I'm currently studying abroad in Japan as a Communications major, enrolled in a language program. I think I'd very much like to come back to Japan and live/work here, maybe as an English teacher or otherwise.

So here is my question, does being foreign immediately close/open any doors as far as career opportunities, in your experience? Are there any similar effects based on gender/age/other factors?

Thanks again, お元気で!

RochelleKopp5 karma

I do think that there are certain jobs more easily available to foreigners, English teacher is a good example. I don't think that gender is such a big issue however I do think that there is a lot of focus on age in Japanese society. Your options will be more limited if you are over 35.

RochelleKopp3 karma

I think that there are indeed certain opportunities that will be more open to you as a foreigner, particularly jobs that involve using English such as English teacher or editor. And gender I don't think is such a factor however there is a lot of age consciousness in Japanese society so things get a lot more limited after 35.

critical-thoughts2 karma

konnichiwa Kopp san

As a web designer who doesn't speak business Japanese, What are my odds of getting employed in Japan? How long until knowing the language wont be necessary to get hired? 25 years? 50?

Arigatou gozaimasu

RochelleKopp14 karma

I don't think it's impossible and indeed there might be positions with foreign firms that care less about language and/or a firm that specifically wants help with its English web page. However I would say that not knowing the language is a pretty big disadvantage and would rule you out of lot of jobs.

cukrus2 karma

I was told that in Japan, a businessperson or just a normal daily adult person can live their whole lives and have no idea what is going on at 00:00-04:00 in the streets or that the whole Japan is known for this abroad, what I am talking about is drifting- Are you yourself aware of this or have you encountered the so called street racers/drifters?

BluesinKimono35 karma

Ive noticed that Japanese workers typically wear a white button up plus jacket. Is it okay to wear blue or black shirts? Is white generally considered the most professional color, or is it simply japanese people not wanting to stand out? Will I label myself even more as an outsider if I choose another color?

RochelleKopp10 karma

Japanese are very risk-averse and white is indeed the safest color so many of them tend to stick with that. I do see some men with blue. Any other color, unless you are in a creative field or are a computer programmer, would be considered too individualistic in most workplaces.

RochelleKopp3 karma

I personally don't have any exposure to this but I just heard Hikosaemon talking about this on his Livestream

hypermarv1232 karma

Any tips on booking the cheapest flights to Japan from USA?

RochelleKopp7 karma

Unfortunately no, as I book mine going the opposite direction sorry!

dingus83-5 karma

whats the deal with Japanese vending machines that sell used panties? that seems odd....

RochelleKopp2 karma

I am not sure if those actually exist -- I certainly have never seen one!

weirdestbonerEVER-3 karma

These are the questions that need answering