Work in Japan: Fantasy vs Reality

Work in Japan: Fantasy vs Reality

Working is a chore. Working in a foreign country like Japan sounds exciting. I bet every foreigner who’s ever worked in Japan thought that at first. What they’re thinking now is slightly different…

There’s a fantasy of working life in Japan, and it’s quite the opposite of the reality. I’m not trying to scare you away from finding a job here. But it’s best to know a few things before you commit a few years to a new job in a foreign country.

In this article, we’re going to look at 3 fantasies in comparison with their realities. 

man drinking starbucks in front of a computer

Fantasy: After-work fun

Who doesn’t like a couple of drinks after work? A normal job takes up five days a week, leaving weekends and weekday evenings for leisure. You’ve got to make the most of your free time out of work. Especially if you’re thinking about working in a city like Tokyo, you might be expecting a couple of pints of beer after a long day of hard work.

There is some truth in that. Going for rounds of drinks with colleagues is actually part of the work culture here. It’s a way to bond with your coworkers. When you build stronger relationships, Japanese people believe that the workflow will be more effective. 

If your boss joins you at the after-work drinking as well, that’s when it gets even more fun. That means that the boss will pay. Free drinks for all! 

Reality: Overtime work

Realistically, you’re not going to be able to drink every night. In fact, you might not even be able to do much at night, other than sleeping. The harsh reality is that Japan has a very tough working culture. Everyone basically works overtime. Staying overtime is sometimes required, even though it’s not stated in any contract or written document. It’s an unspoken rule. You’d have to ‘read the air’ to find out. 

Depending on your company, you might not even get paid for the overtime hours (so check before signing any contracts).

In Japanese work etiquette, you don’t leave before the boss. If the boss decides to stay till 10PM, everyone else is expected to stay till 10:30PM. That’s just how it is. Let’s hope your boss doesn’t like overtime as much!

However, I’ve heard from some friends who are not required to work overtime and it’s fine with their company. So it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.

People with umbrellas leaving a building

Fantasy: Individualism

If you’ve seen or heard about Japan, you might’ve heard about their crazy fashion and perspective. Tokyo’s Harajuku neighbourhood is an outlet for the locals to express themselves and their ideas any way they like. No judgement whatsoever.

And from my own experience, this expressiveness and individualism can go beyond the neighbourhood. You see locals going out of the box in other cities, too. Many people travel to Japan to witness this unique culture for themselves. Some want the opportunity to spread their wings as well.

To be honest, it was one of my reasons for going to Japan, too. I needed to stretch my legs a bit. I wanted to explore my individuality. 

Reality: Uniformity

While you can definitely explore it during your free time, it’s not at all like that at work. The work life in Japan, and generally the cultural norm, is uniformity. When it comes to dressing, you have to look like everyone else. The dress code has to be followed. 

And it doesn’t just stop at appearance. It includes other aspects of work life. There are ways of doing things in terms of how you speak, act and react in the office. The work etiquette has a set of rules in its system, and it has to be abided by.

My personal experience with working for a Japanese company wasn’t at all like that, though. I had a bit more freedom when it comes to what I wear and how I speak. At the end of the day, it really depends on how traditional or modern the company you’re with is.

People going up on an escalator

Fantasy: Culture enriching

Moving to a new country is exciting. You’re going to be in a different environment. Everything is new. You’re going to be immersed in a foreign culture. It’s going to be like one long vacation.

On my days off where I go on day trips and sightseeing spots, the culturally enriching factor kicks in. There’s always something new to discover about Japan and its culture. One part of the country can have various cultural facts compared to another. Take Osaka and Tokyo, for example. The two are so similar, yet dramatically different in so many ways. 

Reality: Culture shock

After the holiday mood fades away, you’ll soon realise that everyday life involves stress and mundane routines. Even in a different country, you can’t avoid that. When you work in Japan, you’ll also discover aspects about the Japanese working culture – both good and bad. 

While in some countries, you don’t have to keep up with formalities in the office. When you work in Japan, they’re very strict on that. It also comes hand in hand with hierarchy. Yup, there’s work hierarchy culture here.

And it doesn’t mean age. Someone five years younger than you can have a higher status. Someone who enters the company later than you can be your boss. Regardless, you’ll have to speak to them like how you would an elderly: with respect and keigo (敬語).

Working Life in Japan

Expect big changes when you move your life to Japan, especially if you’re planning to work here. Even with these three comparisons, working life in Japan is not all bad. There are perks and advantages. And not all companies are going to be the same. At the end of the day, you’re going to experience things you’ll never be able to back in your own country. So take a leap of faith and start applying!

How long to learn Japanese? Easy steps before visiting Japan!

How long to learn Japanese? Easy steps before visiting Japan!

So, you want to learn Japanese. That’s great. The Japanese language is a beautiful one. Learning it opens you to understanding aspects of the Japanese culture that you wouldn’t have otherwise known.

But the thing is, it’s no easy chore. I’ve bet you’ve heard that one before. Some say that Japanese is one of the most difficult languages to learn. There’s three writing systems. The sentence structure is different from English. There are various levels of formality. If you have a plan to go to Japan some time in the future and want to be familiar with the language first, you’ve got to plan in advance. 

And the question in your head right now is: how long is it going to take to learn Japanese? Some websites will tell you that you can converse easily within a few months using their special tools. But the thing is, there are so many factors you need to consider before even getting a timeline. Here, we highlight five of them.

Learning Goals: Why are you learning Japanese?

The first one is your goal. Why are you learning Japanese? What’s your purpose for learning Japanese? Are you going to Japan for travel, business or to live? Will you be using Japanese for everyday purposes or for work? It’s important to clearly define your purpose and goals for learning the language. That’s because various goals require different durations of time.

There are four main skills involved in a language: speaking, listening, writing and reading. Does your purpose involve all skills or just a few? If you’re aiming to master them all at a high level, you’d need more time than someone who’s aiming to get by with speaking and listening.

Especially with reading and writing, you’d need to have a good grasp at kanji (漢字), one of the writing systems that uses Chinese characters. This is going to take a lot of time. Even local Japanese people struggle with that. 

Proficiency: What level of Japanese do you want to achieve?

The next thing to think about is how fluent you want to be in the Japanese language. Are you fine with being able to use the language just at conversational level or are you aiming for fluency? 

Conversational Japanese includes being able to give and receive information. You basically can hold a conversation casually. This level of Japanese can be used in day-to-day activities like shopping, watching movies and enquiring about things. 

Fluent Japanese is a step up. It involves more complex grammar and technical skills. Everything from casual to formal Japanese, you have it covered. Instead of thinking in your native language and translating it to Japanese, you are able to think in Japanese.

Depending on the level of fluency you want to achieve, it’s going to affect the time it takes to learn the language. You first have to decide how high up a mountain you want to climb before knowing how long it’s going to take to get there. 

Time: How long can you commit to studying Japanese?

After that, think about how much time you can commit to studying Japanese. Not everyone can commit a large set of hours each day. Look at your own schedule and decide for yourself. But the key here is to practice every day. The more you practice, the faster you’ll reach your goal. Someone who sets aside four hours a day is going to learn more and faster than someone who sets aside two hours a day.

It doesn’t have to be sitting with a textbook for three hours a night. There’s also passive learning. Whether it’s watching anime and J-drama or listening to podcasts and music, it still counts. If you’re actively learning throughout, you’re getting your mind accustomed to the language.

Generally, if someone studies Japanese a few hours every day, they’ll be able to reach JLPT N2 in two to three years.

Experience: Have you ever learned a new language before?

This next point is not as direct, but it’s really important. Ask yourself if you’ve ever learned a new language. How long it takes to learn a new language does depend on whether you’re bilingual already or not. It’s been proven that learning a third language is much easier than learning a second language.

If you’ve learned a language before, your mind is more adjusted to absorb linguistic information. If it’s going to be your first time, it might be a bit of a struggle at first. It’s especially so with Japanese since there are three writing systems to begin with.

Your native language is going to play a part into the learning process as well. If English is your native language, sentence structure can be difficult. The Japanese language has a different grammar structure than English, and it can take a while to get used to. 

Motivation: How driven are you?

Last but not least, ask yourself: how motivated are you to learn Japanese? Are you psyched and excited to start this journey, and maintain this enthusiasm throughout? Are you going to lose that positive attitude halfway through? The mindset you put yourself in during this learning journey is crucial.

If you find yourself losing interest, it will take longer for you to reach your Japanese language goal. If you can maintain your motivation, it will be faster than you think. Someone who wants to learn the language as a hobby is going to learn faster than someone who has to learn the language for work. 

Keep your eyes on the prize. All your intentions and efforts to learn the language have to be aligned. Your mind can only absorb what you let it to.

How long does it take?

So, exactly how long does it take to learn Japanese before visiting Japan? As you can tell, it really varies depending on the individual. Some people are faster learners than others as well. But there is a general guideline.

If you’re looking to be able to hold a basic conversation in Japan, it’ll take only a few months for that. If you want to use Japanese to read manga (漫画) or other Japanese books, it might take you over a year. Higher level of fluency can take up to 3 or 5 years. Roughly, a student has to attend 2200 class hours to be able to achieve Japanese fluency. That’s about 88 weeks (1 year and 10 months).

On top of that, you have to be using the language every day.

Our online learning system is the perfect tool to assist you in your daily practice. Try our free trial to jumpstart your Japanese learning journey. Ganbatte ne! (Good luck!)

5 Things You Need To Know Before Your Japan Trip

5 Things You Need To Know Before Your Japan Trip


We can all admit that Japan is like a whole different world. The way things are run around the country might be foreign to most people. Just like any other trip to a different country, getting to know the basic ropes of the culture and customs can do wonders for one’s experience. 

Not only will you know a thing or two about Japanese culture from the advanced prep before your travel, but you’ll also be able to make necessary arrangements according to your findings that will ensure a smooth travel experience.

So read on for your sneak peek into Japanese culture through a few travelling tips I put together myself.

1. Japanese First, English Second

Japan’s first language isn’t English. Their native language is — surprise, surprise! — Japanese. Everyone communicates in Japanese in the country. Even though the Japanese have English as one of their subjects in elementary and high school, the lack of usage and exposure to the language has led the community of people to have very limited English speaking ability. They may know basic and some intermediate vocabulary in written form, but it’s rather difficult for them to follow a conversation except when spoken slowly. 

Because of that, your best chance at communicating in English with the Japanese staff at stores and restaurants is to use extremely simple and basic language accompanied by hand gestures and miming, if possible. Usually, just out of context, the Japanese will be able to grasp what it is you’re trying to communicate.

Another method of communicating with the Japanese on your trip to Japan that is proven to be more effective as well as making your trip smoother is learning a few simple phrases and words in the Japanese language! A few pointer words like “this” and “that” alongside “please” and “thank you” will definitely add a bit of fun to your Japan travel! The Japanese are extremely encouraging when they encounter a foreigner who’s attempting to speak their native language, so why not impress them with a whole sentence of “this is my first time in Japan!”

2. No Cash-less, but Cash More

Source: from Flickr

Japan has quite a reputation to be one of the most high-tech countries in the world. While that may be true, the country is still a bit behind in some ways. One of them is how cash seems to be the most popular method of payment than anything else. Japan is the highest in the world when it comes to the circulation of banknotes in relation to its economy.

Even to this very day, some shops and restaurants only accept cash as payment — no credit cards or touchless payment methods, only cash. While bigger cities like Tokyo and Osaka are opening up to cashless payment methods like credit cards, don’t expect the rest of the country to function just like them. For some of us, it might feel extremely unusual to carry quite an amount of cash around, but in Japan, it’s extremely normal.

3. Polite but…

They say the Japanese are extremely friendly and polite. Customer service is always top-notch and you’ll never leave a store or restaurant without at least a thousand and one smiles and thank yous from the staff. Even though it may be true, that’s not always the case. 

Brace yourself for the “gaijin” treatment. “Gaijin” is a Japanese term to refer to foreigners in Japan, and more often than not, it’s used in a negative sense. Sometimes, you’ll be turned away from a restaurant or store just because you’re a foreigner. Strange, right?

Don’t jump to the quickest conclusion in your mind. There are a couple of reasons why this can happen, even though it’s now becoming less and less frequent. It may be because of the Japanese mindset when it comes to mistakes — they hate making them, and would prefer not to risk a situation where the (foreign) guest is unsatisfied with the restaurant service or setting. 

There’s also the possibility of the restaurant not welcoming any stranger in general, regardless of whether or not you’re a Japanese or foreigner. Some restaurants require an introduction or invite from an existing customer. Another reason, which is probably the most common one and not a pleasant one either, is that the Japanese would prefer not to have a table of foreigners that will possibly disrupt the regular crowd due to their actions and behaviour. 

Most of the time, you’ll get turned down at the door without a clear explanation of why. Don’t be disheartened. To avoid this, simply bring along a Japanese pal or request your hotel concierge or any online concierge to make bookings in advance. 

4. Prepare For Zero Bins!

Source: tokyoform from Flickr

This is one thing that almost every visitor who has been to Japan has noticed: there aren’t that many bins in Japan! You can walk down a few streets, and even a few more, without encountering one on your whole journey. With Japan being one of the cleanest countries in the world, you’d expect to see a few on every street — how else is the country able to be so spotless?

You’ll often hear stories of the locals carrying their trash all the way back home because they haven’t encountered any bins along the way. This is extremely common, so don’t be surprised. You might even have the same experience on one of your days here!

5. The JR Pass Isn’t Everything

Source: Danny Choo from Flickr

On every travelling site and blog, everyone is telling you to get a JR Pass — promoting this “all-in” travel card because of the money-saving perks and other benefits. For a first-timer to Japan, you might end up buying into this and believing it all since there are so many different people talking about it, making the statement reliable. However, if you did a bit more digging, you’ll realise that the JR Pass might not be that worth it in the first place.

Japan is full of various train lines by different companies. Some of these lines cover the major areas, and then there are smaller lines like the subway ones. One might think that you can rely on just the main lines to get around Japan — this is true to an extent, but then you’d have to do a ton of walking if you want to get to certain places. That’ll cost you extra time, and you know what they say about time — it is priceless.

Depending on your itinerary for your trip, the JR Pass is actually not money-saving at all. If you do the math right, the JR Pass might be a colossal waste of money if anything. If you’re jumping from city to city in a full crash-course method and only seeing the main highlight of each city within a week, then maybe the JR Pass is for you. However, if you’re planning to see the best every city has to offer, give the JR Pass a pass — a Suica or Pasmo card is just as sufficient.


While there are more than a few other things that should be included but wasn’t, don’t worry — these top five things are more than sufficient to start you off. I mean, I’m not going to spoil the whole Japan experience for you, either! So take down these notes and enjoy the ride after!