Andrea Urbinati

Japan Work Culture: Salarymen and Nomikai

Di Andrea Urbinati

blogger, andrea urbinati, marketing, copywriting, seo
Japan Work Culture

Japan Work Culture: When you think of Japan, the image of dedicated and hardworking employees may come to mind. The traditional work culture in Japan has been known for its intense focus on work, often leading to long hours and minimal vacation time. However, the reality of present-day Japan’s work culture is more nuanced. While the legacy work culture of many Japanese firms may have deterred some from working in Japan, there have been significant changes in recent years. This article will delve into the transformation of Japan’s work culture, from its historical roots to its current state, providing insights into why Japan may be a favorable option and how individuals can attain a satisfying work-life balance there.

Diving into Japan’s Work Environment: More Than Just a Job

If you are fascinated by the idea of working in Japan, where traditional customs harmonize with modern technology, you’ve come to the right place. In this section, we’ll delve into the multifaceted work environment of Japan, shedding light on its distinctive features and the essential skills needed to thrive professionally.

Understanding Japanese Work Culture

Japanese Work Culture Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric

Getting acquainted with the unique characteristics of Japan’s work culture is vital if you plan to work in Japan. The collectivist approach and emphasis on loyalty and team unity differentiate Japanese businesses from those in other countries. Despite Japan’s reputation for long working hours, there has been a noticeable shift towards better work-life balance. Understanding these cultural nuances is essential for navigating the professional landscape in Japan.

Language Skills for Working in Japan

Language Skills for Working in Japan Photo by Teona Swift

Proficiency in the Japanese language significantly influences employment opportunities in Japan. While some roles, such as English teaching, may not require Japanese skills, pursuing other career paths often demands at least an N2 level of proficiency. Enhancing your language abilities through classes, conversations, and cultural immersion can greatly expand your job prospects in Japan.

Japan Work Culture: Understanding Karoshi

Working long hours is deeply embedded in Japan’s work culture, with the term “karoshi” shedding light on the consequences of extreme overtime. “Karoshi” translates to “death by overwork,” signifying the dire outcomes that stem from prolonged periods of extreme work strain. The phenomenon has gained global attention and serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of overworking.

What Does Karoshi Mean?

Karoshi refers to the alarming reality of employees succumbing to the physical and mental toll of excessive work hours, leading to severe health issues and, in tragic cases, even death. This term underscores the grim repercussions of prolonged occupational stress and the urgent need for a healthier work-life balance.

Why Overtime is a Badge of Honor

In Japan, working extensive hours is often perceived as a testament to one’s commitment and dedication to their job. Companies may implicitly encourage this culture, inadvertently fostering a competitive environment where employees feel pressured to demonstrate their unwavering devotion by sacrificing personal time for work.

Young frowning man in suit and glasses looking at wristwatch while waiting for appointment sitting at desk with laptop

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

The Art of Group Harmony: Wa in the Workplace

In Japan, the concept of “wa” or harmony deeply influences the work culture. The emphasis on putting the team first is a fundamental aspect of Japanese work culture. Rather than focusing solely on individual success, there is a strong emphasis on collaboration and collective achievement. This approach fosters a sense of unity within the workplace, leading to a cohesive and efficient working environment.

Putting the Team First

Japanese work culture prioritizes the well-being of the group over individual interests. Decision-making processes often involve consensus-building, where the goal is to achieve unity and agreement within the team. This collaborative approach ensures that everyone’s perspectives are considered, promoting a sense of inclusivity and shared responsibility. By prioritizing the team’s success, individuals contribute to a workplace environment that values collective achievements.

How Consensus Decisions Shape Work

Consensus-driven decisions play a significant role in shaping the dynamics of the workplace. This approach involves seeking agreement from all team members, ensuring that everyone is aligned with the chosen course of action. The process of reaching a consensus encourages open communication and active participation from all members, leading to a sense of ownership and commitment to the decisions made. This inclusive approach to decision-making reinforces the spirit of harmony and collaboration within the organization.

Closeup of crop anonymous female artisan threading needle into cotton fabric while showing Japanese tie dye technique in sunshine Photo by Teona Swift

Lifetime Employment: A Job for Life?

In Japan, the concept of lifetime employment has been synonymous with the salaryman, embodying loyalty and security in the corporate world. The security and loyalty of the salaryman have been deeply rooted in Japanese work culture, where individuals commit to a single company for their entire career, reciprocated with job security and stability. This traditional model has been characterized by mutual commitment and a strong sense of belonging, with employees dedicating their working lives to a single employer.

The Security and Loyalty of the Salaryman

The salaryman is a symbol of dedication, typically working long hours and prioritizing company loyalty above personal aspirations. This archetype has contributed to the cohesive and hierarchical structure within Japanese corporations. The commitment to lifetime employment is often rewarded with incremental salary increases, gradual career advancement, and a sense of belonging to the company’s extended family.

Man and Woman Holding Each Other's Hands As A Team Photo by Thirdman

Is Lifetime Employment Still Alive?

In contemporary Japanese society, the traditional model of lifetime employment has experienced notable shifts. Economic changes, globalization, and evolving labor practices have influenced the prevalence of this enduring concept. Modern trends indicate a gradual departure from lifetime employment, with a growing number of companies embracing more flexible employment arrangements, including part-time and contract-based positions.

The evolution of work culture in Japan has led to a reevaluation of the lifetime employment model, prompting both employers and employees to adapt to changing dynamics in the labor market. Despite these shifts, lifetime employment continues to resonate as a deeply ingrained aspect of Japanese corporate heritage, albeit with adaptations to align with evolving business landscapes.

A Man Looking at Files at an Office Photo by RDNE Stock project

Navigating the Job Hierarchy: Senpai and Kohai

The Role of Age and Experience

In the Japanese work culture, the concepts of “Senpai” and “Kohai” extend beyond academic settings and into the professional realm. “Senpai” depicts individuals with more experience or seniority, while “Kohai” refers to those with less experience or juniority. Age often correlates with this hierarchy, as older employees are typically regarded as “Senpai” and younger ones as “Kohai.” This hierarchical structure is deeply entrenched in the respect for elders, an essential aspect of Japanese culture.

Mentorship and Respect in Action

The Senpai-Kohai relationship in the workplace embodies a mentor-mentee dynamic, where Senpai are expected to guide and support their Kohai. This mentorship fosters a culture of respect, with Kohai demonstrating deference to their Senpai. It’s common to observe Kohai using “Keigo” (honorifics) when addressing Senpai, reflecting the underlying respect within this hierarchical relationship.

This hierarchical structure is not solely restricted to the professional environment. In Japan, the Senpai-Kohai relationship also emerges within extracurricular activities, such as club engagements during junior high, high school, and university. Here, the hierarchical bond naturally forms between Senpai, who joined the club earlier, and Kohai, who joined subsequently. This early exposure cultivates a foundational understanding of the Senpai-Kohai dynamic, which often carries over into the corporate world.

The Ritual of Morning Meetings: Starting the Day Together

I have always been fascinated by the morning rituals that different cultures embrace, and one that particularly caught my attention is the traditional Japanese company practice of morning meetings. These daily assemblies serve a vital purpose in fostering unity, setting the stage for the workday ahead, and promoting a strong sense of camaraderie. Let’s delve into the unique aspects of these morning meetings and discover their significance in Japanese work culture.

The Purpose of Daily Assemblies

In Japanese work culture, morning meetings, known as “chorei,” are a customary way for colleagues to come together before the start of the workday. These gatherings provide a platform for team members to align their goals, share important information, and reinforce a sense of unity within the organization.

The chorei sessions often begin with a customary bow as a gesture of respect and humility, signifying the start of the day on a harmonious note. It’s during these meetings that employees express gratitude for the opportunity to work alongside their peers, reaffirm their commitment to the company’s mission, and align their individual efforts with the collective objectives of the organization.

Chanting the Company Song

An intriguing aspect of morning meetings in Japanese work culture is the practice of chanting the company song. This melodious tradition serves as a powerful way to instill a sense of belonging and loyalty among employees. The company song encapsulates the core values, ethos, and aspirations of the organization, reinforcing a shared identity and purpose among the workforce.

The act of chanting the company song is not merely a vocal exercise; it symbolizes the collective strength of the team and fosters a deep sense of pride in contributing to the company’s success. This unity-building ritual sets a harmonious tone for the day, promoting a spirit of collaboration and shared commitment to achieving common goals.

Crop unrecognizable coworkers in formal wear standing at table with laptop and documents Photo by Sora Shimazaki

Work-Life Balance: A Modern Struggle

What’s the deal with this whole work-life balance thing, right? It’s like a puzzle we’re all trying to solve while juggling a bunch of other stuff. But hey, don’t we all deserve time for ourselves? I think so!

The Push for More Personal Time

So I’ve noticed this trend lately — everyone seems to be pushing for more personal time. I mean, who wouldn’t want that? We’ve been riding the work train for so long, it’s about time we hop off and take a breather. Whether it’s spending time with family, pursuing hobbies, or just kicking back and relaxing, personal time is becoming a top priority for a lot of us. And you know what? It’s about time!

Companies Rethinking the Work Model

Guess what else? Companies are shaking things up too! They’re rethinking the whole work model to make room for this work-life balance thing. Flexibility, remote work options, and mental health support are becoming the new cool kids on the block. It’s like they finally got the memo that happy, well-rested employees are way more productive. It’s a win-win, don’t you think?

Vacation Days: To Take or Not to Take?

Many employees in Japan feel hesitant to take their entitled vacation days due to the prevailing stigma associated with taking leave. The work culture often emphasizes long hours and dedication to the job, leading to a reluctance to take time off. This reluctance is fueled by the fear of being perceived as lazy or uncommitted. However, there is a growing recognition of the importance of taking regular breaks for mental and physical well-being.

The Stigma Around Taking Leave

The stigma surrounding vacation days is deeply ingrained in Japan’s work culture, with employees often feeling pressured to prioritize work over personal time. This mentality can lead to burnout and decreased productivity in the long run. Employees may fear the consequences of taking time off, such as falling behind on work or being judged by colleagues and superiors. This fear perpetuates a cycle of overwork and underutilization of vacation days.

Changes in Vacation Culture

In recent years, there has been a gradual shift in the perception of taking leave, with more companies promoting a healthy work-life balance. Some organizations have implemented policies to encourage employees to use their vacation days and prioritize self-care. Additionally, awareness campaigns and initiatives have emerged to destigmatize taking time off and emphasize its positive impact on overall well-being. It is crucial to foster a culture that values and supports employees in utilizing their entitled vacation days to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Dress Code and Etiquette: Suit Up and Bow Down

When it comes to navigating Japan’s work culture, understanding the nuances of dress code and etiquette is essential. A highly hierarchical and respectful society, Japan places significant emphasis on appearance and conduct in professional settings. Here’s a closer look at two crucial aspects of Japanese business culture:

The Importance of Appearance

In Japan, dressing professionally is about more than just looking presentable; it’s a reflection of an individual’s respect for the workplace and colleagues. The country’s conservative approach to attire underscores the significance of appearing well-groomed and polished. Business attire is typically formal, with subdued colors and minimal accessories, projecting a sense of propriety and diligence. This adherence to a strict dress code underscores the commitment to upholding a professional image within the workplace.

Formal Attire Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

Mastering the Bow – The Ultimate Sign of Respect

In Japan, the bow is more than just a greeting; it’s a fundamental sign of respect deeply ingrained in the culture. Whether meeting a colleague, client, or superior, mastering the art of the bow is essential. The angle and duration of the bow convey the individual’s humility and reverence. Understanding and executing this nonverbal form of communication is imperative for creating a positive and respectful impression. A well-executed bow not only showcases one’s familiarity with Japanese customs but also reflects a genuine show of respect for the culture and its traditions.

Understanding and adhering to the meticulous standards of appearance and etiquette in Japan is crucial for integrating seamlessly into the professional environment. By embracing these customs, individuals demonstrate their commitment to adapting to and respecting Japanese work culture.

Socializing After Hours: Bonding Beyond the Desk

In Japan, socializing after hours is an important aspect of work culture, providing opportunities to strengthen relationships with colleagues and supervisors. This post-work bonding often takes place during nomikai, or drinking parties. Nomikai, derived from the word “nomu” (to drink) and “kai” (gathering), typically occurs at izakayas, traditional Japanese pubs, creating a casual environment for social interaction. Fostering connections outside the formal workplace setting is considered essential for team cohesion and effective communication within the workplace.


Nomikai serves as a platform for team members to relax and engage in informal conversations, enabling them to express themselves more freely compared to the structured office environment. These gatherings provide a relaxed atmosphere for team bonding, sharing personal stories, and discussing non-work-related topics. By participating in nomikai, employees can develop a deeper understanding of their colleagues’ personalities, leading to improved teamwork and collaboration in the workplace.

The Delicate Dance of Declining an Invitation

In Japanese work culture, declining an invitation to socialize after hours requires tact and diplomacy. Despite the pressure to attend, certain circumstances may make it challenging for an individual to join the gathering. Skillful navigation of such situations is crucial to maintain positive relationships with colleagues.


Q1: What are the primary transportation options from Fukuoka to Beppu? A1: The primary transportation options from Fukuoka to Beppu include the Sonic Limited Express Train and the Nishitetsu Bus service. The train journey takes about two hours, while the bus ride takes approximately 2.5 hours.

Q2: Is the Sonic Limited Express Train covered by any rail passes? A2: Yes, the Sonic Limited Express Train journey from Fukuoka to Beppu is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass and the Kyushu Rail Pass.

Q3: What are the key features of the Sonic Limited Express Train? A3: The Sonic Limited Express Train offers a luxurious and efficient travel experience with comfortable seating and panoramic windows, allowing passengers to enjoy scenic views of the Kyushu region.

Q4: How long does the highway bus service from Fukuoka to Beppu take? A4: The highway bus service operated by Nishitetsu Bus from Fukuoka to Beppu takes approximately 2.5 hours.

Q5: What options are available for exploring Beppu upon arrival? A5: In Beppu, visitors can explore the city’s attractions using the local bus network operated by Kamenoi Bus and Oita Kotsu, or by renting a car for more flexibility.

Q6: What are the advantages of renting a car in Beppu? A6: Renting a car in Beppu offers the flexibility to visit off-the-beaten-path destinations and maximize time in the city, allowing visitors to explore picturesque landscapes and hidden gems at their own pace.

Q7: Are there any special transportation passes for tourists in Beppu? A7: Yes, Beppu offers unlimited bus passes specifically designed for tourists, providing unlimited access to the city’s bus services, which is a cost-effective and convenient option for seamless navigation to renowned attractions.

Q8: What are some key destinations in Beppu? A8: Key destinations in Beppu include the iconic Beppu Hells, Umi Jigoku, and other attractions offering a mix of relaxation in hot spring baths and exploration of breathtaking landscapes.

Q9: How can tourists navigate Beppu’s bus system efficiently? A9: Tourists can navigate Beppu’s bus system efficiently by utilizing services provided by Kamenoi Bus and Oita Kotsu, which offer comprehensive coverage across the city and its attractions. Beppu Station serves as a pivotal hub for connecting to various destinations.

Q10: What connectivity options are available from Oita Airport to Beppu? A10: From Oita Airport, visitors can take a 50-minute bus journey to reach Beppu, or opt for rental car services available at the airport. Several domestic airlines also operate regular flights from major cities to Oita Airport, offering additional connectivity options.


Despite its notorious reputation, the work culture in Japan has undergone significant changes in recent years. While the traditional emphasis on extreme dedication to work still lingers, there has been a noticeable shift towards promoting a healthier work-life balance. Modern companies, especially in the tech industry, are offering more favorable work environments. The average monthly working hours have also shown a decline, indicating a positive change in the overall work culture. As Japan continues to adapt to new norms, the prospect of finding a great work-life balance in the country is becoming increasingly promising.

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About the author
blogger, andrea urbinati, marketing, copywriting, seo

Hi! I’m Andrea, a passionate freelance writer with a knack for captivating storytelling.

With a decade of marketing expertise and a genuine love for crafting compelling content, I bring your ideas to life!

Let me know if you need a writer for your blog!

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