Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Is Japan really as expensive as I’ve heard?
This is a common concern for people looking to set up shop in Japan. While it’s true you don’t get much bang for your buck when it comes to land and house prices compared to most countries—a result of Japan’s extremely high population density—it isn’t necessarily an expensive country.
Commodity prices are relative to where you are from, as some things that are cheap in your country may be expensive in Japan and vice versa. For example, fruit can be pricey (particularly if out-of-season), but restaurants are generally cheap. On the other hand, taxis can be very expensive, but trains and buses are generally good value compared to some countries, particularly for the quality of service you get.
Q. Is it difficult to get by in Japan with the language and culture barriers?
This is understandably one of the most common concerns for people looking to move abroad. While Japan is considered to be an exotic and alluring country, this can be the very reason why some people are nervous about taking the plunge. However, getting as clued up about your host country as you can is a must if you want to make the most of your time there.
Japan is a mostly homogenous country with the majority of its people being monolingual in Japanese. All Japanese citizens are taught English as a second language throughout the school system; however, most do not normally have the opportunity to use English in everyday situations unless they work in a global environment. As a result, the number of conversational-level English speakers in Japan isn’t as high as in other countries where English plays a more prominent part in society. Despite this, there are still plenty of competent speakers in larger tourist-centred cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.
In terms of culture, Japan is most notably famous for its emphasis on showing consideration and politeness towards other people. Japanese people pride themselves on providing excellent hospitality, be it within their own society or to foreigners. They are aware that many non-Japanese don’t understand their customs and are generally very forgiving and tolerant when foreigners commit social taboos. As long as you are respectful of their culture and are willing to learn more about it, you should be able to make the most out of your new life without much hassle.
Q.What are the differences in working culture? Would it be difficult to get on with my Japanese business partner?
If you are working in an international partnership you will no doubt have to make compromises to see eye to eye at times, as every country has its own work culture and approaches to tasks. This is the same with anywhere and not something unique to Japan. To make your partnership successful, it is important for both sides to get an understanding about how the other works. Here are a couple of examples of what to expect from your Japanese business partner.
In Japanese society, showing consideration for other people is very important, as it keeps things in harmony and therefore running smoothly. One of the main ways Japanese people do this is through using polite and indirect speech, which may take some getting used to if your work culture is quite different. You might find you will need to read between the lines to understand what your business partner is really saying; for example, if they disagree with an idea you have proposed, expect them to use ‘vague’ phrases such as “I’ll consider it” or “It might be a bit difficult”.
Japanese people also tend to have stronger reading skills than speaking skills. As a result, they may prefer to have some time to collate their thoughts before committing to an answer. If you are having a meeting, it may be beneficial to send documents ahead to your partner so they can get a general understanding of the content beforehand. If you are giving a presentation, you could include writing in your slides to help them stay on the same page as they might find it difficult to keep up just by listening.
These approaches may come across slightly unusual to people who are used to Western business practices, but you might find there are advantages to approaching things in a different way. Once you get to know a bit about your partner and how they work, the gap between your work cultures should naturally start to close.
Q. I’ve heard Japan is in a financial struggle. What does this mean for my business?
Of course, Japan was hit in the global recession along with all of the world’s greatest economies, but has received a boost in recent years due to the ‘Abenomics’ movement of economic policies. Today, Japan still continues to play a vital role on the global stage as the world’s 3rd largest economy, attracting large amounts of foreign investment and interest.
Japan also presents business owners with numerous other benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked. For instance, it has a highly developed infrastructure for technology and transportation on par with the US and Europe, which allows businesses to operate productively and effectively; it has a highly skilled and committed workforce that is loyal to the workplace, with life-long employment at a single company being the norm; and it’s a very safe country with one of the lowest crime-rates in the world. As a country that still lives up to its innovative stereotype, Japan still has a lot to offer those who have unique services or products to bring to the table.