Managing in Japan

Etiquette and Management Strategies

Managing in Japan

Learn about Japan's rich work-culture.

© iStockphoto/hatman12

Bill has recently moved from the U.S. to Japan, and he's just completed his first day managing his new team in Tokyo. Unfortunately, it didn't go very well.

The first mistake he made was trying to bond with his new people by making jokes. Not only did they not laugh at his attempts at humor, but they seemed to disapprove. Then, instead of apologizing, Bill glossed over this faux pas, and started issuing orders. Some team members were older than him, and they were offended that he would tell them what to do so brazenly.

The day went downhill from there. At the end, Bill's boss invited him to dinner to honor his first day. But he was so dispirited that he politely turned him down, wanting to go home and rest. However, this also seemed to cause offense.

Japan has a wonderfully unique culture, which means that managing a team and doing business can be challenging if you're not prepared. In this article, we'll explore the ins and outs of working in Japan. We'll look at the culture, the people, the work hours, and the etiquette. And we'll highlight the best approach to use when managing a Japanese team.


Keep in mind that this article is intended as a general guide only. Different groups can have different outlooks; and cultural expectations, especially between older and younger people, can vary. So, it's important to use your own best judgment, depending on the situation.

Employment Law and Work Hours

Employment protection is quite strong in Japan. For instance, employers must have a valid reason to fire an employee, and, in all but extreme cases, they must give 30 days' advance notice before terminating a person's employment. If they can't do this, then they must provide 30 days' pay.

Also, terminating people's employment is not allowed during an employee's hospitalization or maternity leave, or for 30 days afterward.

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