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Making the Switch: Moving from a Japanese to American Company

​It is common to see cultural influences on corporate cultures, the organization structure, how teams are managed, and other aspects of business.

For those who have worked in a Japanese company their entire career, making the switch to an American or European firm can be quite a shift. To see if an American would be a good one for you, here are some considerations that should be kept in mind when searching for your next job.


American business culture is, for a large part, vastly different than a traditional Japanese company. One of the biggest differences is that decisions are typically made much quicker than in a Japanese firm since they are often made at the individual level. In contrast, businesses in Japan can be much slower as each decision must be confirmed by multiple stakeholders and top management. All decisions are done cautiously and are well documented as the Japanese believe that slower decision making will lower errors and increase consistency to all parts of the company’s hierarchy.

However, once a Japanese organization makes a decision, the rest of the process happens much quicker than in an American company. This is because the Japanese have already ‘bought into’ the solution as a company where as the American organization will now need to ‘sell’ the solution and try to get the company to act on it. In contrast, a Japanese company is already all in consensus so they are prepared to act immediately on the solution.


While Japan is not as collectivist as some other Asian nations, it is certainly more so than America. Japanese employees will often put harmony of the group above expressing their individual opinions and will rarely speak up against the group consensus. On the other hand, Americans are much more likely to be direct and speak their mind on what they think of a situation, even if it goes against the consensus of the group.

Additionally, employees in corporate Japan adhere to a collective responsibility and are motivated to fight for a winning team and to make sure their products display absolute perfection. Inversely, Americans are much more likely to fight for individual rewards as they focus on individual responsibility and accountability.


Americans are known for being very direct in nature, where as most Japanese communicate in a very indirect way. Speaking in a direct manner can appear rude in Japan, where expressing an opinion it is often done in a very subtle manner. American corporate culture does not have the same indirect communication style as what is the norm in Japanese companies.


Americans tend to be be quite accepting of risk. They have a willingness to try something new, accept different or new ideas and love the opportunity to work on a innovative products. This can make working for an American company very exciting, but it is quite different from the risk averse style of most traditional Japanese companies.


In the United States, managers and employees expect to be consulted on decisions and that information is to be shared frequently. However, as mentioned above, this communication is usually very direct and informal. Face-to-face confrontation is also common as there is an emphasis on clarity.

Japanese managers, and the company as a whole, see their employees as their competitive advantage. Due to this and the culture of lifelong employment, a lot of time and money is spent into training, promotions are from within, and there is considerable cross training/job rotation, especially at the beginning of their career. While American managers put value in their employees as well, they don’t do it to the same degree as the Japanese do.


Promotion in Japan is largely based off loyalty to the company, long term performance, and seniority. The pace of promotions is slow, though this does lead to greater job security. In contrast, there can be more rapid advancement in American firms, but this can lead to less employment protection. When promotions occur they are often based off of short term achievements and individual performance instead of seniority or group performance.

Additionally, American firms are known to pay more than Japanese firms. This is certainly not always the case, so don’t expect to double your salary, but you will often see a slight jump in your salary if you are switching from a Japanese to American company.

A huge factor, especially for women, is there is a much larger opportunity for female leadership and advancement in an American company. Japan has the lowest percentage of women in a senior management role out of the top seven economies in the world with just 7% of senior roles being held by women. While the United States still has a long way to go for gender equality in senior management roles, there is much higher potential to move up in the company’s hierarchy.


Another consideration to be taken into account when deciding if you want to switch to an American company is if you could see yourself fitting into their office culture.  American companies, generally, have quite a diverse employee makeup. While this multicultural aspect allows for different way of thinking within the company, it can also lead to conflicts between cultures. This is something that the homogeneous culture in Japanese companies usually lack.


Japan is known for a having a culture of restraint and placing a focus on their work life rather than having a good work-life balance that is becoming more popular throughout the western world. Long hours are standard, and even after work, sometimes employees are expected to participate in after-hours drinking. Similarly, a lot of Americans also have the ideology of ‘live to work’ in order to attain higher social status/monetary benefits. A common benefit American companies offer is in relation to flexible working hours. Part time, working from home, flex hours, and flexibility for working mothers are commonly seen in American firms. Though the demand for more work-life balance has grown is in Japanese companies, it is not yet at the American and European norm.


・American companies will make initial decisions much quicker, but implementation will be slower than a Japanese company.
・U.S. companies are quite individualistic in nature and focus on individual responsibilities and rewards rather than having a collective mentality.
・Compared to a Japanese company, U.S. firms are very diverse which presents an opportunity to learn from different point of views.
・American companies are more flexible with when and where you work, allowing you to work the hours that work best for you.

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