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I was considering a job offer from Japan as a senior software developer when I contacted a Japanese friend of mine (a customer service agent) who warned me of few things.

He told me that in Japan people are expected to work for not less than 10-12 hours daily. Your managers expect you to stay late everyday because that's how you show your respect to the work.

I'm a 9am-5pm guy. I'm very worried whether this will cause a problem for me if I accepted this offer. I don't want to look like slacker although I'm spending the required 8 hours at work.

Do Japanese companies expect their worker to work for extended hours daily? Is this very common or is it just a special case? Are there any companies that value a 9-5 guy like me? How do you recognize such a company?

  • I've heard this before as well, and it's not too surprising. Showing respect is a very important part of Japanese culture; it permeates their language, behavior, pretty much everything. – TheSoundDefense Jul 15 '14 at 16:09
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    kalzumeus.com Is a blog by an american software developer living in Japan. It mostly covers him starting a side business but he does talk about working in Japan some. In at least a couple of posts he mentions leaving work at 7:30 PM at the earliest. I would definitely seek clarification on working conditions from this place that gave you the offer. – stonemetal Jul 15 '14 at 17:20
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    @JoeStrazzere I trust my friend of course. However, he is a CS agent, so I thought maybe things are different in the IT world. I was also trying to confirm if this is the norm in Japan in general – Long Jul 15 '14 at 17:56
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    A Japanese worker does not leave work before his boss, who doesn't leave before his boss, and so on – TheMathemagician Jul 16 '14 at 17:19
  • It depends on whom you are working for. I worked as a software developer for a European MNC in Yokohama, which had mainly European managers and everyone did 40 hours only, including the locals. However, I can tell you that almost any Asian company (from my experience in Japan, Hong Kong, China and Singapore will expect unpaid overtime, as was the case when I worked in the USA). – Mawg says reinstate Monica Sep 3 '18 at 7:15
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Yes - generally, historically, male workers in Japan are expected to work very long hours. Female workers, less so. But your exact scenario may vary.

If you're considering a major move for work, you owe it to yourself to do some serious due diligence in considering the offer. You really should talk to the company and your future boss about:

  • The language barrier. How many foreign developers are in the office? How often is English spoken?

  • The culture. Go ahead and ask directly about expected working hours. You can explain that you're just exploring a new situation. Ask what time everyone went home last night - past data points do make great indicators.

  • Housing. Will you be provided with on-campus housing? Will you be expected to use it?

If at all possible; try to visit the office and meet your future team. Ask each of them how they would get along with you.

  • "Ask each of them how they would get along with you": that would be sooooo awkward... Don't do this. – Shautieh Feb 4 '17 at 3:18
  • Housing is extremely difficult to find and extremely expensive, plus there is prejudice against foreigners (when I worked there, the mayor of Tokyo said publicly that if there were to be an earthquake, the police and army would; probably have to shoot a lot of foreigners. Most Japanese are fine one on one, but they try to avoid touching foreigners when sitting next it them on the subway , so imagine the thought of letting your place to one). Our company paid for everyone to stay in a $US 400+ / night 5-star hotel (YMMV (how do you find it, Katie?) – Mawg says reinstate Monica Sep 3 '18 at 7:19
  • @Shautieh: It's only awkward when it's open-ended and thus seemingly implies a preference of personality. For example, asking if they would be okay working with an English-speaking colleague is not awkward. – Flater Sep 3 '18 at 15:00
  • @Flater : such questions are both rude (too personal and out of place) and pointless (they won't speak their mind anyway). Japanese people especially would never say "no" as an answer, but even in the West, who would answer "nah, I wouldn't be okay working with you"? Imagine the guy gets hired and you said no... awkward. – Shautieh Sep 4 '18 at 14:57
  • @Shautieh: The point is that it's not about working with OP, but about working with an English speaker. – Flater Sep 4 '18 at 15:06
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Unfortunately it is generally true. Me and my Korean friend (has Japanese friends - btw. Korean situation is even worse) discuss this issue all the time. I think that for European person this might be an issue.

Because this is about (as mentioned above) respect. You might end up feeling really unproductive and frustrated. As you would be peer pressured to stay late even though your productivity would not matter.

For European people this is usually very hard to accept and understand as most of us would try to work-smart, be productive and go home.

I would discuss this matter with your potential employer as well as the other points mentioned by KatieK.

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I think it is important detail that you are applying for a job as a senior software developer and the person warning you is a customer service agent.

You don't need to go as far as Japan to see cases where workplaces expect their employees to work longer than 9-5 hours. However, the more senior and less replaceable you are, the less this happens.

I would say if a company is willing to hire you from Japan they probably badly need the services you offer, and would probably welcome you discussing it with them rather than not accepting on the basis listed above.

Summary: you have nothing to do by discussing the work arrangement with the prospective company in advance and getting the expectations of working hours in writing.

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In my experience working in Japan, Europeans/Americans (ie "Gaijin") tend to not work as long depending largely on the people around them.

Like others have said I would recommend talking to your potential employer about realistic working hours but also bear in mind the following:

If you work in an office with mostly Japanese people, overtime has has become an issue for two of my foreign friends living in Japan.

If you work in a majority-foreigner working environment then it generally isn't a big issue. For example I know recruiters and English teachers in Japan that work on teams consisting almost entirely of foreigners and this doesn't become an issue.

On the other hand I had a Japanese colleague in Ireland for a year and she generally worked until 8PM despite nearly all other staff leaving on the dot.

So it's not just a matter of the employer, it is a cultural thing for the Japanese employees as well. If you are doing good work and have in demand skills, you can put your foot down and leave on time. You will likely feel guilty if all the Japanese employees do 12 hours every day but you have to do what's best for you. As in every country you may face repercussions from employers who want to maximise their ROI from you, but there is an onus on you as the employee to stand up your best interests.

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