My Work Experience in Japan
Japan’s company structures are finally modernizing. These are great news, especially for women and non-Japanese job-seekers.
I am 34 years old and unmistakably non-Japanese, not least because I am 1,80m tall. I studied Japanese studies in Berlin and did a master’s degree in International Human Resources in London. Afterwards, I worked for 5 years in Frankfurt am Main in the European subsidiary of a Japanese Trading company. My managing director knew about my plans to relocate to Japan and introduced me to my current CEO. I moved to Tokyo in November 2019 and have been working at Xenoma ever since. I would classify my Japanese skills as a good JLPT N2.
Xenoma was founded in 2015 as a spin-off from the University of Tokyo. We develop and produce smart apparel. The company culture is more reminiscent of Silicon Valley’s start-ups than traditional Japanese companies. We have currently 53 core employees, out of which 21 are female and 6 are non-Japanese. My age falls right in the middle of the medium age of all employees. I am currently working in international sales.
I am very happy to say that since I started working at Xenoma, not once have I felt uncomfortable or disadvantaged for being a woman. I also feel completely accepted as non-Japanese employee. There are certainly some moments in which I struggle to defend my point of view due to lacking Japanese language skills. This however is only to be expected. In fact, many of my Japanese colleagues go to great length to bridge any communication issues as best as they can with English.
Nonetheless, there are 2 important points I need to mention: Start-ups tend to demand full commitment for comparably low salaries. Instead, we receive rights to company stocks. The value of those is unclear as of yet. The risk is therefore comparably high.
Additionally, we are still talking about a Japanese work environment. There is no sick leave, comparably little vacation and sometimes feedback can feel more like punishment than advice. Even if both sides try their best to be understanding, these differences are sometimes hard to stomach.
To summarize, the fact that Tokyo is turning into a hub for start-ups is opening up many exciting job opportunities for women and non-Japanese workers. The days in which discrimination was an unavoidable part of working in Japan are definitely past. As usual, networking is the best way to access these jobs. Nonetheless, working in a Japanese environment remains a challenge and should be very well considered.
Bianka Hamann, Xenoma