Moving to a new country is challenging due to many reasons such as culture shocks and language barriers. I am a typical Japanese man who worked really hard in Japan for about 5 years before traveling and living in many countries including Australia and the Philippines.
With the experiences of working in Australia and the Philippines, I have realized that working in Japan sucks. Like working was the only thing I did after high school, and all the memory I have from the age of 18 until 22 is just working.
In this post, I will explain why I chose to work overseas and why I do not want to go back to Japan for working. If you are planning to work in Japan, you should rethink that!
- Living an Adult Life in Japan Is Just Work and Sleep
- Everything is Different in Australia and The Philippines
Living an Adult Life in Japan Is Just Work and Sleep
Japan is probably one of the most famous countries for over-working. Even though Japanese labor laws dictate that all employed people must not work for longer than 8 hours a day, or 40 hours a week, more than 25% of all Japanese companies ask for 80 hours of overtime every month.
80 hours of overtime per month means 20 hours a week. That’s almost half the maximum hours of working. Does it surprise you? I am not surprised at all because that is how I worked in Japan.
Working for More Than 20 Hours a Day for 24 Days Straight
My first job in Japan was removalist (mover). I started when I was 18 right before my high school graduation until I was 22. So basically, that had been my working standard until I came to Australia, as well as the adult life that I had ever imagined as a child.
I remember on my first day, I started at 7 am and finished around 8 pm without any lunch breaks. So that was 13 hours a day on my first day. Money was good for an 18-year-old boy who just started working. My first paycheck was over 25,0000 yen (around $1,850 US) for 3 weeks, so I didn’t quit.
In general, I would start at 6:45 am or 7 am depending on the job, and finish around 6-10 pm. But during a busy season between the end of February and the beginning of April, I would often finish around 11 pm or later. I had one crazily busy season where I worked for more than 20 hours a day for 24 days straight!
I started at 6:45 am and finished at 3-4 am the next day for 24 days in a row. Just imagine, it’s not some boring office job where you sit all day. It is a lot of lifting and carrying heavy furniture and boxes, running up and down the stairs.
On my 25th day, I felt sick and couldn’t move my body, so my boss allowed me to go home around 5 pm. However, I had to work the very next day and did another 7 days of working for 18+ hours a day consecutively.
Just to mention, a few of my colleagues did the whole season without a day off. They came to work by train, so they had to stay at the office for the whole season! Some of them were too exhausted that they fell asleep while assembling a bed frame and almost crashed their moving truck. I was thinking I was the lucky one back then haha
I had 3 jobs and Never Finished Working on Time
I had 3 jobs in Japan; Removalist, Manufacturing at Subaru, and Hotel Clerk at Ryokan. And at none of them, I was able to go home on time or finished within 8 hours.
Subaru was okay compared to the other 2 jobs, however; overtime of 1.5 hours was required every day and there was no one would just go home without working overtime. So, You would do it without even being asked to stay back.
Working Split Shifts in Japan Means No Life
I also worked in Ryokan (Japanese Inn) and this was just an awful experience.
Right before I came to Australia to study hospitality management, I decided to work in the hotel industry in Japan to gain Japanese hospitality skills, the so-called Omotenashi.
At the ryokan, we basically would have to do everything from welcoming the guests to serving dinner at their restaurants. Therefore, I would usually start at 5 am to serve breakfast and finish the first half of the shift around 11:30 am after departure, and then start again around 2 pm for welcoming the guests and finish around 9-11 pm after clean-ups.
During the busy season, I had to work for 13-15 hours a day starting from 5 am until 11 pm with a 2-3 hours break between. I mean what can you do with the 2-3 hours break when you work till 11 pm and start at 5 am? Take a nap, correct? I used that time to go to the gym but I was exhausted every single day. As well as you only have one day off a week, so basically I would spend my day off catching up on my sleep! Literally, no life was there, just work and sleep and continue.
Everything is Different in Australia and The Philippines
When I was 22, I came to Australia for the first time on a working holiday visa. I had my first job in Australia in the same year as a public area cleaner on Hamilton Island and I was just blown away by how Australians work and think about working!
I lived and worked in the Philippines for 1 year and a half and in Australia for over 4 years working in various industries. During this period, I have found huge differences between how the Japanese work and think about working and what other people do and these are:
2. Australians work to live
3. Australians often call in sick
4. Filipinos enjoy working
5. They work smart
Australians Never Work Overtime Voluntarily
I work as a guest service agent at a hotel in Brisbane at this moment, so we sometimes have to work overtime. But I almost have never seen any Australians voluntarily stay back unless they are managers or supervisors.
Most of them come to work 1 minute before their shifts start and they go home as soon as their shifts are done no matter how busy it is. Contrarily, Asians including me tend to stay when they feel like the rest of us need more hands.
When I worked as a public area cleaner on Hamilton Island, I only did one overtime in one year. Even now I barely do overtime. If I start at 7 am, I finish at 3 pm which means I still have the whole afternoon to do something every day! That is just amazing, isn’t it!?
Australians Work to Live
The first thing that surprised me when I started working with Australians was that they work to live. As opposed to most Japanese people, Australians work because they know that, with money, they can enjoy their life better.
They use their annual leaves to take a short break from work every 3 months or so. Now, I realized that almost all my Australian colleagues have taken their annual leaves to go somewhere far on vacation, while I have never touched mine since I entered Australia.
I still remember one time, I was picking up an extra shift for more money and my friend asked me “why do you work every day?” I answered “If I have a day off, that makes me lazy, and don’t wanna come back to work” she was like “I only work so that I can go on vacation, mate”
In contrast, Japanese people live to work. Not because of our long working hours, but also our culture. While I was growing up, my father worked long hours as well. I never saw him in the morning (he must’ve left before 6 am) and would see him right before I went to bed. Only Sunday was when we could spend time together, but that’s how I imagined what it’d be like to be an adult.
Until I came to Australia and worked with non-Japanese people, I never imagined I could go out and see a movie and have a few drinks after work!
Australians Often Call in Sick
This is another huge difference between how Japanese people and Australian people see work.
For some or even most Japanese people, working is the most important thingin life. Even though we all know the family and other stuff are obviously more important than work, Japanese people tend to prioritize their work before their family or partners.
As a consequence, they spend the majority of their time at their workplace even if they are sick.
Japanese people do not usually call in sick, but they rather come into work and let their boss know that they are sick and get his/her approval to go home. I, personally, never called in sick.
Contrarily, Australians often call in sick. Like they do it all the time. It does not mean Japanese people have stronger immune systems or whatever, Australians are just easy on themselves. You get a hangover, call in sick the next day, no problem.
Filipino Work For Fun
I also worked in Cebu, the Philippines for over a year, and observed many differences between Japanese and Filipino in terms of working.
The biggest difference was Filipinos really enjoy working, in another word, “they work for fun“.
people in pink shirts were English teachers who worked with me in Cebu.
They are super friendly and they would often sing a song and dance during their lessons, they would go to Karaoke, beach, and day trips with their students after work or even on their days off.
They just enjoy working and I could sincerely feel it by just being with them which I never felt when I was in Japan.
I had 3 jobs in Japan and towards the end of the contract or last day at work, I was just so excited to finally quit and this excitement would get stronger every single day. I was literally counting days so that I would not have to work again.
But when I decided to leave this job in Cebu, I just felt sad and didn’t want to leave which I had never felt working in Japan. Similarly, I feel the same way working in Australia that I never have this I-wanna-quit-this-job-right-now feeling.
They Work Smart
The biggest thing I noticed working in many countries is that being hardworking is an absolute disadvantage when you work with these chill people. I do not mean that they are not hardworking, I mean Japanese people are too hardworking, it’s just too much.
When I got my first job in Australia as a public area cleaner, I was working in a team with 2 Australian girls. They were the complete opposite of me. While I was working extra hard since that was my first job in Australia, they never took the job seriously. They were just playing around with cleaning products and mostly they were just chatting with their friends. In the meantime, I was vacuuming and mopping the flour, wiping all the windows by myself to make sure everything was spotless as a cleaning list being ticked.
At first, I was frustrated but I realized after a while that it was how they worked, and being extra hardworking among them meant nothing! As long as the facilities and restaurants looked okay, it was okay with them. You wouldn’t have to mop the flour if the flour didn’t look dirty, but I would have still mopped the flour because that was still my job. I mean if you get the same salary, you’d rather work less, right!? But I just couldn’t do working less.
After I worked in the Philippines and Australia, I cannot even think about going back to Japan and working for the rest of my life. I’d rather work and have less money but have a life to enjoy. Especially, I now work in the hotel industry so it will be even harder for me to have a work and life balance in Japan.
There are some good companies where you can work exactly 40 hours a week in Japan. But it is so hard to find and if you come to Japan on a working holiday or student visa, chances are, you will experience something similar to my experiences.
I believe Japan is a good place to visit, but do not think about settling down unless you secure a good job. Even if you do have a good job, be mindful of other people you work with.
Let me know what you think about my post in the comment below or you can reach out to me on my Twitter account. Thank you!