Working in Corporate Japan – An Insider’s Viewpoint

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Working in Corporate Japan – How I got the job

So the saying goes: ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’, and the same goes for working in corporate Japan. Having an industry contact (albeit someone I met randomly over a beer in a pub in Tokyo) definitely helped me set up job interviews and land the gig.

My previous my corporate travel experience was a big plus for me too.

My Background

At the time of getting the job, I’d been living in Japan for about 1.5 years. I was also working as an English teacher for one of the larger language schools. However, the majority of my career back in my hometown of Sydney was in corporate travel. This was mainly as a consultant (aka travel agent) where I refined my trade for close to 15 years… Makes me sound old, even though I am still clinching on to my 30s!

The Position

My position as an Account Manager was something I’d never done before. Despite this, I had worked alongside people in similar roles, so I had some idea of what the job entailed. The key responsibilities of the role include: a strong focus on customer service, fast response time, communication skills and providing solutions to clients.

A Typical day

On a typical day, I’ll help clients with many tasks including some of the following:

  • reports (financial / travel info)
  • analyse data
  • daily communication with my team and consultants
  • daily matters – e.g. client’s travel policy updates
  • complaint management and resolution
  • improving our client’s service experience
  • implementing technology solutions like online booking tools.

I regularly meet face to face with clients too, and although most clients are Japanese, they are working for global companies, so generally English is fine.

Having said that, other members of my team often, predominantly Japanese staff, communicate with their clients in Japanese.

We also have Regional (Asia Pacific) and Global Account Managers for each client. Thus, we are in regular contact with them as our client’s travel program or policy often aligns across a network of markets. I currently manage 12 companies, from a range of sectors including governments, banking, IT, design and medical (both large to small organisations). In this situation, time management skills are essential, as it is sometimes a juggling act for sure!

Working with Japanese – the Quirks

My Japanese is certainly not of a high level, and google translate is my close daily ‘friend’  (mostly used just for translating internal emails or some meeting notes). Yet, working in an environment of many Japanese speakers has definitely helped me improve the language, something I am grateful for.

Additionally, I think you do need a fairly thick skin working in the kind of set-up I experience day to day. Simply speaking, Japanese often work differently to what I am used to back at home. We do have a few foreigners within our department (1 Brit, 1 American, 1 Singaporean and 1 Taiwanese/Canadian), and this definitely helps me to keep things sane!

One quirk that surprised me at first is that nearly all Japanese take lunch at 12.00 sharp, every day. It’s like they are just waiting for both of those hands on the clock to point North. A lot of staff tend to eat お弁当 (Obento or Japanese-style lunch boxes) at their desk. They may also eat in the shared meal area or some take a short nap at their desk (which is actually allowed). Finally, most importantly you’ll find the washrooms full of staff brushing their teeth without fail at 12.55 each day! The Japanese are so disciplined!

Hours

I work Monday to Friday and my standard hours are 9 am to 6 pm. No weekend work is required. I do work overtime fairly often, but most days I try to be out of the office by 7 pm. This can often work out to be later, especially when there’s lots going on. We are also encouraged to use the concept of ‘flex’ time. This means we can sometimes arrive at the office by 10 am and still get paid for a normal workday. It’s good having that flexibility.

Company Structure

I work for a global company which has offices across the world, but our parent company is Japanese. As a result, things like my payslips and anything HR related is very much Japanese-based, for now.

Employee Benefits

I’m a permanent employee (while some of my colleagues are on a contract basis)and, this gives me many benefits. These include monthly contributions to a pension (or superannuation). Furthermore, I recieve medical insurance and a rather generous annual leave allowance, similar to what I would get back home (approx 20 days/year). The key point here is that I can actually use all of my available annual leave each year.

As is often the norm in Japan, all transportation to/from home and to any work appointments are covered by my company.

All staff receive a performance based bi-yearly bonus. It’s quite generous and on each occasion, it works out to be around double my average monthly salary.

I realise that it’s difficult to make big money in Japan at my level. I would be earning a lot more back in Australia doing a similar role, but japan’s cost of living is much lower. Basically, it means I can work while still having a comfortable lifestyle here.

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