• Life in Japan

Management & Leadership in Japan: What to Expect at Work

If you’re applying for a management or leadership role in Japan, you probably have a few questions about how you should behave. As a foreigner working in a new country, business etiquette in Japan can take getting used to, and it can be even trickier for a manager.

Here are a few tips for making a good impression on your colleagues, from questions you might be asked at an interview and in the workplace, to how to handle after-work drinks.


“One of the differences I noticed in working in Japan, was the emphasis placed on a group consensus. 

I had read about this prior to coming to Japan. However, I was shocked at the amount of meetings that were necessary to make a decision” – Stephen

How is leadership in Japan different?

In Japan, teamwork and organization are extra important. As a manager or leader, you will be expected to have great coordination skills, a clear vision for the future, and be able to keep peace amongst your staff. Being charismatic and a strong communicator is still important, but honesty and seriousness are generally valued more than having “the gift of the gab” in Japan.

If you’re applying for a leadership position in Japan, you can’t coast along on charm and likability alone  – you may even be viewed with distrust if you don’t deliver on promises. Management roles in Japan need individuality, but this can’t be at the expense of collective goals.


What should I avoid doing if I’m a manager?


This will depend on a number of factors, as every workplace in Japan is different. Obviously, you don’t want to appear overly formal and stilted to colleagues, but you equally don’t want to get a reputation for being rude.


Your colleagues will probably be more forgiving of the former!

If you’re moving to Japan, you will already be familiar with how important it is to have good manners. Being respectful and considerate of colleagues is essential for leadership.


A good starting point is to err on the side of caution, getting a sense of the workplace culture before letting your guard down, and – most importantly – observe how other managers act. Making a positive impression is quite important in Japan, and you’ll have an easier time.


In a management position, you should also take extra care to follow the company’s dress code and ensure you behave sensibly on work outings. You’re in a leadership role after all!

If Japan isn’t your first language, try not to “speak beyond your level” – honesty is best. 


“When I first started working in the Japanese branch of our company, I committed a faux pas by trying to introduce a major change at a meeting. I thought that the purpose of the meeting was to ‘get things done. I didn’t realize that the meeting was more of the closure of what had already been decided.”Holly

Leadership in the Japanese classroom


If you’re thinking of becoming an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), you will be helping to manage a classroom full of students, as well as teaching them English. Many foreigners working in Japan decide to become ALTs, and every school and teaching situation is different.


Nobody expects you to be perfect right away, so watch what the Japanese teachers do and humbly play to your strengths. Make a good impression on students – as an ALT, you’re an ambassador for your country as well as a teacher – so be polite and punctual. Spend time getting to know your colleagues and attend extra curricular activities in your new community.


Students appreciate it if you’re passionate about their learning and bring a positive attitude to class. You will find it easier to manage and lead a class if you engage them. This doesn’t mean becoming a class clown, but finding things in common with students helps build rapport. 


Never bring your mobile phone to class, or make calls in the staff room, it just isn’t done!

Although Japan had a unique image of being a feudal-like corporate bureaucracy in the 80s, management styles have well and truly changed as a whole.

Management skills for Japanese offices


If you have a management or leadership role in a Japanese office, remember the importance of teamwork and observing other managers. Every office will be slightly different, but here are a few key things to keep in mind if you’re working in an office in Japan as a foreigner. 


  • Politeness – We can’t emphasise this enough, avoid being rude and inconsiderate to colleagues, even if you’re letting off steam together at after-work drinks.


  • Teamwork – Be supportive of your team, you’re all working to the same goal. Try to make decisions after consulting colleagues, rather than going ahead with things alone.


  • Planning – Take time to analyse and pay attention to detail; Japanese companies appreciate a thorough, methodical approach. You’re more likely to see plans through.
  • Patience – From getting new ideas implemented in a risk-averse culture, to long working hours at some offices, you may find a perfectionist approach very time-consuming.
  • Responsibility – Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to manage things outside your comfort zone. See this as a chance to improve processes across the whole company. 
  • Read between the lines – Japan is known for its ‘indirect’ communication style. You may need to figure things out through subtle signals, rather than having things spelt out

Is it hard to get a management job in Japan?

This depends on your skillset and how you handle the application process and interview.

Getting the job you want takes care and preparation, and there are a lot of things you can do to give yourself the best chance. Link Japan Careers can help advise you through the process.

When applying for a leadership or management position at a Japanese company, here are five tips for a better cover letter. It will help if you can give concrete examples of your management skills, and why you think you’ll be a good fit for the company culture. Do your research!

Once you’ve made it to interview, make sure you live up to any expectations built up in your application. Honesty and integrity are very important, especially for leadership roles.

Here are some essential tips for how to pass a Japanese interview 

I want a leadership role – where do I start?

Register with our recruitment agency online. We can help match you with management roles in Japan we think you will be a great fit for. If you’re not quite ready for a leadership position yet, we can help you develop the skills you need to progress in your career in Japan. 

Contact Link Japan Careers for more information about management in Japan