The Dark Side of “Japan’s Work Culture”: If You’re Not Aware, Here Are 7 Harsh Realities

Japan’s work culture is often romanticized for its dedication and teamwork, but the reality can be harsh and unforgiving. Employees face long work hours, outdated technologies, and strict company rules. This article delves into the seven harsh realities that define the dark side of Japan’s work culture.

1. Reddit Rants and Complaints: The Untold Stories

Reddit provides a platform for people to share their unfiltered experiences about working in Japan. The complaints range from inefficiency and resistance to change to issues with work-life balance and discrimination. These stories offer a more nuanced understanding of the challenges faced by employees in Japan, beyond what is generally reported in the media.

General Complaints

Reddit is a platform where many expatriates and locals alike share their experiences about working in Japan. One recurring theme is the inefficiency of Japanese companies. A Reddit user stated, “Japanese companies don’t care about efficiency and finding the best and fastest way to get things done. They want to keep doing the same things that they’re used to, even if it costs them more time and effort. Everybody is scared of change.”

Work-Life Balance

Another Reddit user mentioned, “In my company, everyone takes leave, including the bosses. If my bosses go out for a drink, they may invite me, but it’s up to me if I want to take time to strengthen my relationship with them. There have been times I actually didn’t have time, and they were quite understanding.”


Discrimination is another issue that has been highlighted. A Reddit user shared, “Women and foreigners are treated like second-class citizens. Pay is horrible.”

Traditional vs. Foreign Firms

A Reddit user who has worked in both traditional Japanese companies and foreign firms located in Japan mentioned, “I’ve seen plenty of posts on here on this subject, but it’s usually just complaints about the former and rarely are there more detailed comparisons.”

2. Long Work Hours, Low Salary, and Unhappiness

The Japanese work culture is characterized by long work hours, relatively low salaries, and a high level of dissatisfaction among employees. The Reddit experiences further confirm the harsh realities, making it clear that the issue is not just statistical but deeply felt by those in the workforce.

Average Workweek~50 hours
Median Salary (JPY)471,000/month

Work Hours

According to a 2023 report by World Population Review, the average workweek in Japan can range close to 50 hours, significantly higher than the global average.


The median salary in Japan for 2023 is 471,000 JPY (approximately 3,470 USD) per month. This figure represents the midpoint that divides the Japanese working population in half, meaning 50% earn above this amount while the other half earn less.

Reddit Experiences

Reddit users have shared their experiences, painting a vivid picture of the work culture. One user mentioned, “depending on your team (boss and the percentage of Japanese), it is possible you have to work long hours according to some reviews in GlassDoor, we are talking 8am-11pm, typical Japanese long hour job.”

Another Reddit user pointed out that “most job postings I see don’t post their standard working office hours (such as 9am-5pm in most 1st world countries).”


The long hours and low pay contribute to a general sense of unhappiness and dissatisfaction among workers. This is exacerbated by issues like power harassment and office bullying, as mentioned by Reddit users.

3. Late Work Hours: Work Culture or Family Avoidance?

The late work hours in Japan are more a product of ingrained work culture and less about avoiding family. Reddit experiences confirm that the workload and societal expectations are the primary reasons employees stay late, often leading to a cycle of overwork and stress.

Reasons for Late Work Hours

The primary reason for extended work hours in Japan is deeply rooted in social norms and employment practices. According to a paper by the Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training, the issue is complex and not easily measurable, but it’s embedded in the culture.

Reddit Experiences

Reddit users have shared their first-hand experiences, shedding light on the real reasons behind late work hours. One user mentioned, “Work starts at 10 and ends at 7, but people leave the office at an average of 11 pm, sometimes catching the last trains home. Workload is sh*t and not humanely possible to complete within working hours, hence overtime is expected.”

Another Reddit user pointed out, “Suzuki san over there just nods off all day long and perks up for a couple of hours after 6 pm, while poor Nagata san does all the heavy lifting during office hours but thinks that he will look bad if he leaves before Suzuki san, and is forced to hang around.”

Family Avoidance or Work Culture?

While some might speculate that employees stay late to avoid going home, the evidence suggests that it’s the work culture that keeps people in the office late. The BBC reports that Japanese workers take only 52.4% of the paid leave to which they are entitled, indicating a conscientious workforce rather than one avoiding family.

4. Difficult Japanese Bosses: A Reddit Perspective

The Reddit stories reveal a range of issues with bosses in Japan, from poor management styles to language barriers. While some users have had positive experiences, the majority describe a work environment that is challenging and sometimes hostile. These accounts provide a more nuanced view of what it’s like to work under Japanese bosses, adding depth to the general understanding of Japan’s work culture.

Horror Stories

Reddit users have shared various horror stories about working under difficult bosses in Japan. One user described their experience with a small startup company that sold Japanese goods overseas. The user didn’t elaborate on the specifics but hinted at a challenging work environment.

Management Style

Another Reddit user titled their post “Japanese managers are sadism incarnate,” although they also mentioned having had nice bosses. The user advised job seekers to carefully observe the company culture and the stress levels of employees before accepting a job offer.

Language Barriers

A unique issue raised was about language barriers within the workplace. One Reddit user mentioned that their boss would say “Nihongo Kinshi” (No Japanese!) to force coworkers to speak English, creating an uncomfortable environment for everyone involved.

5. Outdated Technologies: A Glimpse into the Past

The use of outdated technologies like fax machines and the preference for paperwork over digital forms are not just quirks but deeply ingrained aspects of Japan’s work culture. Reddit stories confirm that this is a widespread issue, affecting not just the efficiency but also the adaptability of Japanese companies in a fast-paced global market.

Fax Machines: The Undying Tech

Fax machines are still widely used in Japanese companies. A 2019 study by the Japanese government found that almost all Japanese companies and at least one-third of households own and use a fax machine.

Reddit Experiences

Reddit users have also shared their experiences with outdated technologies in Japan. One user mentioned, “I’d argue it’s not the internet itself that’s the problem, but rather the fact there’s now been multiple technological generations of apps specifically designed to keep people constantly checking their phones for short-burst dopamine hits so companies can rake in ad revenue.”

Another Reddit user pointed out, “The Japanese firms’ strategy is ideal for slow-evolving technologies, such as hardware, but in the age of fast-paced software, well, it just doesn’t work well.”

Paperwork Over Digital Forms

Despite being a technologically advanced nation, Japan still relies heavily on paperwork. Companies often prefer physical documents over digital forms, adding to the inefficiency and outdated practices.

6. Strict Company Rules: A Culture of Discipline

The strictness in Japanese companies extends from web surfing and downtime to uniforms and lunch hours. Reddit stories confirm that these rules are not just formalities but are strictly enforced, adding another layer of stress and discipline to the already demanding work environment.

Reddit Experiences

Reddit users have shared their experiences with strict company rules. One user mentioned, “But apparently in Japan’s work culture, it’s a whole different ball game, encouraging unpaid overtime, a very strict hierarchy system, hell you apparently have to learn an entirely different variant of Japanese specifically for work.”

Another Reddit user pointed out, “Plenty of Japanese companies are really strict/paranoid about proprietary documents, potential leaks/hacks etc. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense. My best guess is because ‘that’s how it’s always been done.'”

Uniforms and Lunch Hours

Uniforms are often mandatory, and lunch hours are strictly regulated. Even the way you exchange business cards has a set of rules.

7. Elderly Employment: More Than Just a Paycheck

The high employment rates among the elderly in Japan are not solely a sign of a robust workforce but also indicate a complex social issue. Reddit stories reveal that some elderly people are even resorting to crime to secure a place to live, while others face challenges in finding suitable employment. These issues are symptomatic of broader societal challenges that Japan must address as its population continues to age.

High Employment Rates Among the Elderly

Age GroupEmployment Rate (%)

A 2021 white paper from Japan’s Cabinet Office showed that 71.0% of people aged 60 to 64 were in employment in 2020. This ratio was 49.6% for people aged 65-69 and 32.5% for those aged 70-74.

Reddit Experiences

Reddit users have shared unique perspectives on elderly employment in Japan. One user mentioned, “An increasing number of elderly Japanese people are committing small crimes so they can live in prison for free. People aged 65+ now make up more than a quarter of the prison population in Japan.”

Another Reddit user discussed the challenges of moving elderly parents to Japan, focusing on healthcare issues and the difficulty of finding employment.

Overemployment and Underemployment

Over 50% of those in Japan aged 60 through 74 have remained unemployed despite wishing to work, according to a recent survey by a human resources company.

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