Japanese work culture

The Japanese tend to work very hard. Generally Japanese people work long hours and they’re not as protected by the law as in Western Europe. 60 hour workweeks are not uncommon.

There is a model of “lifetime employment” used by large companies. Once you’re with a company, you’re supposed to stay with them - loyalty is important. In return the company will take care for you in good and bad times.

There is a big honour system based on seniority. Advancing in a company is based by your age and your ability to create consensus. Group harmony is a big thing and you’re supposed to “take one for the team” e.g. by not taking up all of your holidays or jumping in for a coworker when necessary. You’re not supposed to leave work before your superior leaves.

After work many Japanese salarymen will drink away their worries at a nearby bar. They will get drunk (よっぱらい - Yopparai) on beers and rice wine (sake). In the bar it’s allowed to complain about the troubles at work to your co-worker. The next day, what is said is forgotten.

Business card exchange (Meishi)

As a tourist you are unlikely to have business cards with you, but if someone gives you his business card, you should remember to receive it with both hands, bow when receiving after which you will thorougly inspect the front and back of the card.

The Japanese take titles very seriously; status in a company is everything. If you are in Japan on business you should get a version of your business card that has both English and Japanese on it with your name and role in the company marked clearly.

Death by overwork

There is phenomenon in Japan called Karōshi, which can be translated as “death by overwork”. Japan is one of the few countries which has death by overwork listed as a separate category in classifying causes of death. These deaths are caused by working too hard, causing strokes and heart attacks.

Some people end up committing suicide because of work related stress.

There is a place called Aokigahara forest, also called the suicide forest. It’s close to Mt. Fuji. It’s called suicide forest because of the many suicides committed there, seemingly inspired by the 1960 novel Kuro Jokai (Black Sea of Trees). There are numerous signs throughout the forest urging people to reconsider their actions.