A Typical Work Week in Japan

WeXpats
2022/02/04

If you’re a full-time employee, what does your work week look like in Japan? And if you’re not full-time? Take a look at some of the things an employee will experience in Japan in terms of work hours & conditions, and some of the newer changes in Japan’s work culture. 


Table of Contents

  1. Full-timers Work Week in Japan
  2. How About Non-Regular and Non-Full Time Employees?
  3. So What Are Some Common Traits of a Japanese Work Week?
  4. Recent Changes in the System
  5. Conclusion

Full-timers Work Week in Japan

Compared to the notorious number of working hours recorded in the late 90s, sometimes up to 60 hours a week, reforms in the Labour Act lowered it considerably to a standard 40 hours with a maximum of 8 work hours per day. This is known as statutory working hours usually observed in the Fixed System or your normal 8-to-5 job in a 5-day workweek. It includes, of course, the mandatory 1 hour long break you earn for working 8 hours (45 minutes break if you work 6 hours). 

But of course, as you may have heard and it’s often talked about, not every Japanese company adheres strictly to these work hours especially with the concept of overtime. After all, the limits for overtime exist, set into place to curb the amount of overtime many company employees were expected to do to keep up with the workload. The cap is 15 hours of overtime in a week and 45 hours a month

You get a minimum of 1 day off per week but most jobs will give you 2 days off per week. Some are consecutive, such as the typical Saturday and Sunday off, but some are non-consecutive days off. As for paid holidays, you get a certain number of days for how long you’ve worked (days/months). Depending on the company, those days may roll over to the next year if unused. Recent legislation however requires full time employees to take a certain amount of paid vacation days per year - 5 days to be exact.

※ Japan External Trade Organization(JETRO), "Section 4. Human Resource Management 4.5 Legislation on working hours, breaks and days off"

Modified Working Hours System

Japan's Labour Act has also provided a modified working hour system that allows companies and establishments some freedom and flexibility for workers and companies in counting working hours and how they work throughout the week. Your workweek may look different depending on which system your company adopts.

1.  Annual or Monthly Modified Working Hours

An average of 40 hours a week are worked out for the entire year (annual) or the number of hours worked per week have to average out to 40 per week in a month even if there’s some leeway in how many hours are worked in a specific day or week (monthly). 

2.  Week-based Modified Working Hours

Employees can work up to 10 hours a day in the following conditions:

  • They still stay within a cap of 40 hours a week

  • They work in lodging, restaurants or retail

  • Their workplace has a maximum of 29 regular employees

3.  Flextime System

Employees are responsible for working a certain number of hours within a fixed period but can decide for themselves how they go about doing that on a daily basis - of course with prior agreement with their employers. They may be asked to observe Core Hours when everyone is expected to be working.

4.  Discretionary Working Hours is also a special system for professions whose working hours can be hard to keep track of, used with prior agreement with their employer. 

To read more about Japan’s work hours, check out our article here: 
How the working hours in Japan merits employee and employer

※ Japan External Trade Organization(JETRO), "Section 4. Human Resource Management 4.5 Legislation on working hours, breaks and days off"

How About Non-Regular and Non-Full Time Employees? 

It’s hard to say how many hours you might find yourself working if you’re not a 正社員 (seishain, full-time employee). However, even if you’re not, there’s a chance you’ll still be working full-time hours - especially if you are a contract (契約社員 keiyaku shain) or dispatch worker (派遣社員 haken shain)

Part-time workers tend to work about 35 hours per week, while students working part-time are only allowed up to 28 hours of work per week.

One difference between these types of workers and full-time workers is that as you are paid to work a set number of hours, you shouldn’t be expected to do much overtime. 

Working Holiday

Under the Working Holiday Program, you are allowed to work in Japan for the purpose of travel. There are a variety of jobs you can do, and if you wish, you can even work full-time hours. Read more about Working Holidays in Japan here

So What Are Some Common Traits of a Japanese Work Week? 

Whether you’re full-time or part-time, here are some common things you might experience during your work week. 

  • Commute - While you may be able to avoid the rush hours if your job starts later than most, chances are, you’ll be in a train with lots of other people or stuck in traffic if you commute by car. And if you’re lucky to skip the morning rush, you might end up in the evening rush home. 

  • Meetings - Japanese companies just simply love their meetings, even if the employees don’t. Whether it be for the managers to inform employees of something, or a department wide check in, or multiple meetings for projects, you’ll often find yourself in at least one, usually several, meetings per week.

  • Not Leaving on Time - Whether it be overtime, or simply lingering five to ten minutes to finish up some brief tasks, hardly anyone leaves exactly at the end of their scheduled work hours, despite everyone showing up early so they’ll be on time to work. It’s done to show dedication to work, or to show some respect to coworkers who are still at work by not rushing off the moment your work hours end.

  • Lunch/Dinner/Drinks with Coworkers - Spending time together even during “off-the-clock” hours is quite typical in a Japanese workplace. Depending on your workplace, this might mean team lunches, dinners or after work drinks. Read our article about it here: Deconstructing the Japanese after-work culture: Nomikai

Recent Changes in the System

So will this “typical” work week schedule with the long hours ever change? Japan has always been known as a workaholic culture but it is taking steps towards curbing the death toll caused by overworking (karoshi) not just in its policies but also in its company practices. For example, in 2019, Microsoft Japan conducted an experiment on employing a four-day workweek. While it was simply a one month trial, it showed results of boosted productivity of about 40%. In addition to this, it also brought down some of the expenses on company resources like electricity, and ultimately, it gave more time for employees to rest and have a healthier work-life balance. 

While not many companies in Japan may be experimenting with a 4-day work week, especially with the onslaught of the pandemic, the pandemic did result in a rise in a different type of working style - working from home. To avoid the spread of the coronavirus in workplaces, many companies adopted a remote-work style, some of them continuing to do so even when the situation improved in the country. Not only did employees get to work from the comfort of their own home, companies could save on building costs.

However, depending on the company, productivity was better or worse on a case-to-case basis. But more companies are open to allowing employees to choose if they’d like to work from home after being forced to do so to deal with the pandemic. With this setup, an employee doesn’t have to deal with the morning rush and the daily commute which saves a lot of time and stress.

※ Raconteur, "Could Japan ever embrace a four-day week?"
※ NPR, "4-Day Workweek Boosted Workers' Productivity By 40%, Microsoft Japan Says"

Conclusion

We hope this gave you a brief taste of what a work week in Japan might look like. As younger generations begin to become of working age, the “typical” in Japan may continue to change, to allow people a better work-life balance as well as more freedom to be productive however that may look like. We hope you find a company that best fits your style!

Writer

WeXpats
Here to provide a variety of articles from useful information about life, working, and studying in Japan to Japan's charms and attractive qualities.

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