The Japanese Love to Dance

How to navigate a Japanese workplace.

I’m sure the title of this blog entry got your attention. Perhaps thousands of Japanese people dancing in unison on the sidewalks of Tokyo would make for a much more interesting blog entry. In reality what I actually mean to say is that there are various unwritten and complex societal rules that are expected of workers in Japan. In the land of the rising sun, everyone dances in unison and those that don’t can often find it hard to fit in. Foreign workers may be immune to this type of group culture at first but eventually some conformity is expected. After all, when in Rome do as the Romans do or better yet when in Japan dance as the Japanese do.

Japan is a group society, meaning that most people forgo personal misgivings to be part of the in-crowd. Work relationships function in similar way since decisions are often made on a collective basis from the bottom up and then approved by top level management. One proverb to live by in Japan is “the hammer that sticks up gets nailed down.” This type of group communication can be new for most Westerners, so for the majority of people it may be challenging to understand or conform to. Experiencing a new culture can be challenging but take advantage of the newness and novelty of your surroundings and your colleagues will notice that you are trying.

Tips for Office Etiquette & Professionalism

•When arriving at the office its always best to great everyone with a great big “good morning” (おはようございます  or "ohiogozaimasu"), after removing your coat and changing into your indoor shoes, of course.

• It is imperative to arrive at least five minutes early for your shift since tardiness is generally looked down upon.

• Morning meetings and all work meetings are serious business in Japan so only serious work matters should be mentioned during these times.

• Sometimes there may be speeches (informative and not celebratory in nature) from your colleges about a marriage, birth of a child, or even a death in the family—but don’t be surprised if everyone (including the person speaking) remains emotionless. It is common for workers to be serious during this time since showing emotion at the work place is seen as unprofessional.

• Appearance and impression is everything in Japan, which tends to be a more conservative and traditional society compared to most Western countries. It is always better to overdress than to be undressed. A good rule of thumb is to mimic those around you. Piercings, tattoos, and eclectic fashions can be seen as distractions so caution is advised as to personal styles.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Willie J. Inman Jr.

Willie J. Inman Jr. is an ambitious American who wanted to see more than just the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia where he grew up. After studying abroad for one year in Kyoto, Japan and earning a degree from Georgia State University in Journalism, he’s back for more in the land of the rising sun. Changing the lives of elementary school children in Shiga, Japan one day at a time as teacher on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET). 


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