Working in Japan

Japan prides itself on innovation, a strong economy and a rich heritage. Working here can be very lucrative for expats, especially once you have a hold on its unique business culture.

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Doing business

Despite its GDP flatlining for many years, Japan is still one of the world’s largest economies and a very important business destination for expats.

Many international corporations have bases in the country. Particular strengths include solving insolvency and getting electricity, but drawbacks include Japan’s cumbersome and expensive tax laws and the complexity involved in starting a business.

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Business culture

The work environment in Japan is formal and conservative. It’s based on strict unwritten rules of conduct that can be difficult for expats to understand. Fortunately, you won’t be expected to know all the nuances. Showing a willingness to learn is appreciated, so consider enrolling in a cross-cultural training course when you first arrive.

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Underlying all aspects of Japanese business culture is the concept of kaizen – the drive for constant improvement. You’ll see this reflected in the country’s work ethic, customer service and never-ending quest to innovate.

Business meetings

Silence in meetings is common and people often close their eyes to reflect. This isn’t a sign of things going badly and it shouldn’t be interrupted. Decisions are seldom made in meetings, which are more commonly used to build relationships and exchange information.


Good personal rapport is crucial, and it may take several meetings for your Japanese counterparts to weigh up your loyalty and trustworthiness. But the reward for your patience is likely to be a fruitful long-term working relationship.

Work environment

The working hours in Japan may be longer than you’re used to. Offices are often open plan and noisy – and some firms still allow people to smoke indoors.

Communication style

Raised to be non-confrontational, Japanese people find it very difficult to openly disagree with someone. Try not to be too direct or aggressive – and learn the art of subtly deflecting a difficult question to avoid embarrassment or disappointment.

Management style

Japanese companies have a hierarchical structure, and each level of management is expected to defer to its seniors. A calm, humble and introverted personality is respected while a brash extrovert is considered untrustworthy.


After-hours drinking with colleagues, business partners and clients is still an established practice in Japan. Strict office rules are abandoned at these social events, which are often considered a key part of building relationships and progressing deals.

Fast facts

Business language

Japanese is the official language. English isn’t widely spoken, so you may need to hire a translator.

Business hours

Usually from 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.


Both men and women dress formally in the workplace.


Greetings are formal and usually involve a bow of the head followed by a handshake. Greet the most senior member of the group first and avoid too much eye contact because this can be considered rude.


Gift-giving is an important ritual when doing business in Japan and can set the tone of the relationship.

Gender equality

Equality in the Japanese workplace is improving, but it’s still behind Europe and the USA. Women tend to be paid less than men, even in senior positions, and they can have difficulties managing older Japanese male colleagues.

Expat salaries

Companies in Japan offer some of the best expat packages in the world, partially to offset the high cost of living in its cities. Many of these packages include lucrative benefits such as accommodation, international school fees and the use of a car.

If your job doesn't provide housing make sure you find someone who deals with foreigners frequently or exclusively. The housing market in Japan is complicated for foreigners and sometimes unmanageable without the right people.

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All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in October 2020. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you are aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

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