• Life & Culture

Teamwork in Japan – Why Pulling Your Weight Counts in Japanese Work Culture

two people in a meeting

You may or may or not know this but Japanese working culture is much more than just working. Japan’s working and company culture are rife with celebrations, multi-skilled workers, the sharing of information, but most importantly, teamwork.


Japan is famously known for its deep-rooted culture with teamwork, especially in the workplace. From the numerous team-building exercises to the role of management and supervisors, teamwork in Japan lives up to its name and more.


So if you’re considering making the move to Japan, or are just looking to fly over on a working holiday, here is everything you need to know about Japanese working culture and their love for teamwork.

8 Ways Teamwork is Deep-Rooted into Japanese Work Culture


Japan loves teamwork, and while this can rear its head in a few fashions, most notably in sports, it’s also especially prevalent in corporate culture. So without further ado, here are 8 ways that teamwork is hard-coded into Japanese work culture.

1. Apologies For Leaving Work “osaki ni shitsurei shimasu”


One of the best ways to explain how closely entwined Japan and teamwork are is through a simple phrase called “osaki ni shitsurei shimasu” which essentially means “excuse me for leaving work before you”.


This is representative of the strong work ethic infused within Japanese corporate culture, where it is common to work overtime. And not just any overtime, team overtime.


When a member of the team is required to stay late to finish a project, it’s common for the entire team to stay also – even if the majority aren’t even involved in the project itself. This follows an unwritten rule commonly followed in Japan – never leave before the boss does.


This stays true for employees that have finished their workday staying behind waiting for the boss to finish their work also, as a sign of respect and a sense of community. This behaviour can also be seen at weekends, where if a task is in need of finishing the whole team shows up to help.


The working culture in Japan may mean working long hours with little breaks, but at least you know you won’t be alone.

2. Loyalty in Japanese Work Culture


As well as teamwork, loyalty stands just as strong in Japan. So much so that corporate culture is very much infused with personal and social interactions. While this is another ‘unwritten rule’ it’s extremely common for employees to take on the responsibility of their company.


For example, you’re at a networking event or business conference and you stumble into a crowd of people from a direct competitor of the company you work for, interactions will be short and cold. Limited chit-chat, little emotion, you know, the foundations of forming strong friendships.


So if you ever happen to be in a social or business setting in Japan and people seem to be giving you the cold shoulder, you can rest assured that it has nothing to do with you.

3. Trust (信頼) in Japanese Means “To Believe” and “To Rely on”

Teamwork in Japan is even engraved as far as language. In the Japanese language, the word for trust (信頼) is a combination of two phrases; “to believe” and “to rely on”.


This form of language is heavily translated into the working culture in Japan and is part of what makes the teamwork aspect so prevalent.


This is highlighted in Japanese working culture by the idea that being a team member is very much your responsibility. Teamwork is encouraged through a focus on new employees being trained on ‘fitting in’, learning and listening, all of which has been heavily practised and maintained over the years.


This not only means to collaborate and form connections, but to build trust and connections with your fellow team members. As much as teamwork is at the core of Japanese culture, so is trusting the ability of your peers.

4. Superior Approval Needed “ho-ren-so”


There is a recurrent phrase or ‘mantra’ in Japanese working culture called “ho-ren-so”. This is a phrase that is made up of three words; “houkoku” which means to report, “renraku” which means to contact and “soundan” which means to consult.


Put this all together and you get “ho-ren-so”, an abbreviation of all three verbs, essentially meaning that superior approval is needed. Employees in Japan are expected to keep their superiors informed about what they’re working on. This can vary from sign off on projects to even small decisions, every thought and action needs the seal of approval from management.


There is also a similar term called “ringi”. This phrase can be broken down into two similar meanings, with “rin” which loosely translates to submitting a piece of work to your superior to receive sign off. While “gi” means deliberations and decisions.


This is extremely affluent in Japanese working culture, where even management needs to go up the chain of command to receive sign off.

5. The Drinking Culture – Teamwork in Japan Continues After Hours


Teamwork doesn’t just stop in the workplace, it’s just as ubiquitous in Japanese drinking culture. It’s often expected that coworkers meet up after work as a group to go drinking. It is by no means required to attend, but as part of the social and drinking culture in Japan, it is expected.


Drinking in Japan with coworkers is often seen as a helpful way to strengthen relationships within the workplace and can be a great way to progress further within the organisation. Teamwork and building relationships are effective at being seen, all for the right reasons.


In fact, drinking with work has its own name, “nomikai”, known otherwise as drinking parties. There are almost endless reasons for throwing these parties; welcoming new staff, celebrating a new contract, a send-off for leaving staff, or even celebrating the beginning of the year.


While these events are by no means compulsory, they can be good opportunities to learn about the culture, make new friends, and even freshen up on your Japanese language skills.


6. Koumeiseidai Working Culture: Public, Clear, Honest and Large


Japan has many working cultures that influence how people interact with others and form their relationships, one of which being “koumeiseidai” which congregates a culture that is open, honest and transparent.


In fact, koumeiseidai is a combination of four Japanese characters. These being public (公), clear (明), honest (正), and large (大). The culture revolves around the ideology that we must make our thoughts and actions heard, clear and understood.


Information should be openly shared and understood by everyone involved, sharing expertise and knowledge with the group. This is one of the foundations of teamwork within Japan.

7. Taking Responsibility “Sekininwotoru”


Another culture in Japan is taking responsibility, but not only taking responsibility as an individual but as a whole – the true essence of teamwork. It’s expected that when a staff member makes a mistake, or when the organisation makes a mistake, the staff themselves apologises on its behalf.


And in the worst-case scenario, and a big mistake is made, it’s common for the entire executive team to quit in apology. A bit extreme, but nonetheless, a rich part of Japanese company culture.


The main message to be taken from this is that if an individual makes a mistake, it is the organisation’s responsibility – a true testament to the phrase a ‘problem shared is a problem halved’, and halved again, and again, and again.

8. Team Building Activities


Team building activities go hand in hand with teamwork, and as such these activities are synonymous with Japanese working culture. Japanese companies will encourage team building activities without actually specifically referencing them as such.


There are seemingly never-ending team building activities to choose from, Japanese tea ceremonies, team building origami challenge, hanami (which is an outdoor party during the season of cherry blossom), numerous drinking parties, company trips, and more recently, remote activities designed for virtual teams.


Team building activities can even be as simple as spending lunchtime with colleagues, visits to the smoking area or after-work drinking. While team building activities as the ones above are planned more specifically, such as on a day-to-day basis, weekly or bi-weekly.


So if you’re planning to take the leap into Japanese working culture, be sure to remember that pulling your weight and collaborating in a team is worth its weight in gold. 


Interested in living and working in Japan?  Check out ALT jobs with Interac here.

About the Author

Brian McDonough is a consultant at Interac, Japan’s largest provider of ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers). Originally from the US, Brian has lived in Japan for over 25 years, giving him a unique perspective on the cultural differences and challenges people face when moving to Japan. He has first-hand experience of working in Japan as an American.