Posted in JapanLife

JapanLife: Working in an Office

It’s been 7 years, and I am still working for the same company I’ve started in after I graduated from college. Well… almost the same.

In 2011, I was working at Frontier Intermediary Technology, Inc. (FIT) which is the Philippine-based office for Nishi Tokyo Kensetu, Ltd. (NTK) from Japan. I worked there from May 2011 until March 2017 when my contract was changed to the main office. I had a year of vacation while waiting for my visa documents, but I still went to the office to visit and help from time to time.

March 2018, I finally moved to Nagakute City, Japan (at least for a year). I am now working in another NTK branch office, Nexthouse/Actie. In my mind, the count continues. The company president is still the same, the projects are all familiar, – it’s just that I have new things to learn, and new jobs to do.

Transferring from Manila to Japan office can be quite a culture shock for employees. I remember when I first went to train in NTK in 2012 how I was amazed of the differences between Japanese and Filipino work environment. It was only a 3-month experience, but it left a huge impact on my views about work etiquette.

I have list down below the things I have noticed about working in a Japanese company:

  1. Job hunting starts in college.

During my college days, we had a career seminar day. We were required to wear business formal outfits, and spent the day listening to trained professionals, HR and administrative officers, and even freelancers talk about the “real world”. They gave us tips how to make impressionable resume, and to leave memorable job interviews.

I started looking for a job after I received an interview invitation from a tile company in Makati a month after graduation. Apparently, they’ve sent out letters to all new Interior Design graduates from my school. If it weren’t for that invite, I’d probably took my board exam first, and my life would be different.

But here in Japan, 4th year college students were required to submit resumes to many companies even if they’re still in school. They also have interviews with human resources (HR) or sometimes the mangers themselves. It is no surprise that a student will have several job-offers before graduation.

This doesn’t mean that they don’t have any vacation or respite after studying for so long. But I’ve noticed that Japanese people are hard-workers and rarely likes long breaks. So, they usually have a couple of weeks rest and preparation for transitioning from being students to employees.

  1. Working hours are flexible matter.

When I was in FIT, our initial hours were 8am until 5pm (UTC+8:00). Later, it was changed to 7am to 4pm (UTC+8:00). Regardless, my workload was still the same and I usually go home between 9pm to 11pm. Sometimes, I wished my contract allowed flexible hours. It’s very hard to work for a full after having only 3-4 hours of sleep. I felt like a zombie most of the day.

Most Japanese companies operate between 9am and 6pm (UTC+9:00). I usually wake up at 6am, so I have plenty of time to prepare for the day ahead. Some of our architects and salespersons in the office also do a lot of on-site work. It’s now normal for me to come into the office and find myself almost alone for the whole day. It doesn’t matter if they come in the office or stayed on-site, as long as it was logged in their online schedule, it was counted as work day.

Their rest days also varies during the week. Since I am technically a newbie here, I don’t have that kind of privilege yet. But I’ve noticed that my colleagues would sometimes work 7 days straight, and then have a very long vacation the next week. Attendance is based on how many hours you’ve logged on your online sched for the whole month, and not which days you were present.

  1. Cleaning is a job for everybody.

In the Philippines, a company either have its own maintenance crew, or avails services from professional cleaners. Cleaning is scheduled at night or weekends, when most of the employees are on rest or vacation.

Here, it is everyone’s job to maintain the cleanliness of the office. Even the senior officers do their part on the daily cleaning. I am training to be an Interior Coordinator, but every morning I am responsible in wiping the model house’s floor, and throwing out the trash. Our architects and salespersons vacuum the carpets and tatami, dust the shelves, and fix the displays. Once, I even saw the company president wiping desks and tidying up bookcases!

  1. Greetings are a must – every day!

When I was doing job interviews, I’ve noticed that people in a big company rarely greet each other – unless they’re in the same department or really close friends.

But in a Japanese company, greetings are an important part of communication. At FIT, every employee was taught the basic greetings during their orientation day. Some of the common expressions you’d hear in a Japanese company are:

  • おはようございます! – /ohayou gozaimasu/ – “Good morning!” Morning is anywhere between 6am until 2pm, as I’ve noticed. You can also use this greeting when you see a colleague for the first time for the whole day. It’s totally acceptable.
  • お昼にいっただきます – /ohiru ni ittadakimasu/ – “I’m going/taking my lunch” Weirdly enough, you also need to inform when you are going to take your lunch. Even if you have a べんと (packed lunch) or going out to the canteen, reporting your basic whereabouts is a common thing.
  • 行ってきます・ただいま – /ittekimasu・tadaima/ – “I’m leaving.” “I’m back.” If you are an anime fan, you’re probably familiar with phrases already. The usual response for these are いてらしゃい・おかえりなさい /iterashai・okaerinasai/ “Take care.” “Welcome Back.”

These are normally used at family settings, when someone goes out or comes back home. But, you can also use these in the work environment, especially if you’re only going out for a short period of time. If you are going home, you’ll have to say:

  • お先に失礼します! – /osaki ni shitsurei shimasu/ – “Excuse me for going ahead!” Before you head out of the door, you should say this phrase to your coworkers. It means that you are humble and apologizes for going home first while everyone is still working. It shows that you respect their hard work and dedication.
  • お疲れ様です! – /otsukaresamadesu/ – “Thanks for your hard work!” You’d normally say/hear this at the end of the day, before you go home. But, you can also say this as an alternative to おはようございます if your colleague arrives later in the day. I’ve also experienced exchanging this greeting with 日本人 (Japanese) employees who were working the same building as I was, although not necessarily in the same company.
  1. Open office layout, and desks without clutters.

Honestly, when I was studying design in college, the office layouts I made had lots of walls, and cubicles and separate areas for different things. Also, the perspective views would surely have a lot of cluttered objects on the desks and shelves to make it more realistic.

Japanese employers, or at least my employers, have a different opinion. They don’t like to many objects on an employee’s desk. My desk right now only has a calendar, pencil case and laptop. All other materials are stored away in the pedestal, or boxes under the desks.

The layout is also very simple. Everyone can see each other easily. Even the managers sit amongst the employees. I actually don’t know who is the head officer in our office right now. It may be Udo-san who is sitting in front of me, or Kodaira-san who is sitting four seats away. Udo-san leads the morning assemblies, but attendances are reported to Kodaira-san. XD

So far, those are the things I am currently experiencing as a foreigner working in a Japanese company in Japan. I am thankful that even when I was in the Philippines, our Japanese manager was employing the same system as the one in here. It wasn’t that much of a culture shock for me, fortunately.

Seven years of working in the same company, and I am still learning new things every day. 😊

Have you noticed the same things in your office? Or do you have a different experience as a foreigner working in Japan? Share your stories, and let’s chat!

Talk to you soon!

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