Why is Japan so good at engineering

Working in Japan

German engineering is valued in Japan and specialists are always wanted. Strong industries for engineers are the computer, electrical and automotive industries. But medical technology specialists are also needed in the land of the rising sun - because their own market can hardly meet demand.

Photo: panthermedia.net/daboost


Japanese companies have been complaining about a shortage of skilled workers for years. There are currently almost 2 million Japanese engineers working in their own country, but the demand is far greater and the number of engineering students is falling. That is why many companies are also looking abroad for specialists in engineering and IT. Sometimes there are even training programs to lure young engineers from Europe or the USA to the land of the rising sun.

In Japan, industry has a share of almost 30% of the gross domestic product. The largest part with almost 70% is accounted for by services. Japan exports almost 20% of its products to the USA and China. South Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand are also important buyers. In the list of the world's largest exporting countries, Japan ranks fourth behind China, the USA and Germany.

Even if engineers and computer scientists do not want to work directly in Japan, it is hardly possible in Europe not to get in contact with a Japanese company in any way. For this reason alone, engineers and IT specialists would do well to familiarize themselves with the country's business customs.

Japanese engineering and computer science company

Many Japanese companies already have branches in Europe. The easiest way to work as an engineer in Japan is to work for a Japanese company in Germany and to be transferred to the parent company in Asia for a few years. Then you may get ahead with knowledge of English. Because, especially as an expat, it should be remembered that the cultural difference to Japan is greater than, for example, to other European countries or to the USA and Canada.

In most cases it is not possible to work in Japan without being able to speak and understand the language at least in basic terms. Forms are mostly only available in Japanese characters. Working life is characterized by long working hours, and there are few vacations. In return, the career prospects are very good. In particular, engineers in electrical engineering, vehicle technology, mechanical engineering and medical technology (Japan is aging even more than Europe and has high demand that industry cannot meet at home) have good chances in Japan. Many of the largest companies in these industries are global players from Japan, for example:

  1. Toyota: Largest automobile manufacturer in the world; Headquarters in the Toyota of the same name
  2. Honda engine: Manufacturer of automobiles and motorcycles, headquartered in Tokyo
  3. Hitachi: Electronics and mechanical engineering group; Headquarters in Yokohama
  4. Nissan engine: Automobile manufacturer with the world's third highest market value; Headquarters in Yokohama
  5. Panasonic: Electronics company, especially consumer electronics; Headquarters in Kadoma
  6. Toshiba: Technology group (computers, entertainment electronics, medical technology); Headquarters in Tokyo
  7. Sony: Consumer electronics manufacturer and third largest electronics company in Japan; Headquarters in Tokyo
  8. Nintendo: Electronics company, especially computer games and consoles; Headquarters in Kyoto
  9. Mitsubishi Motors: Automobile manufacturer within the large Mitsubishi group; Headquarters in Minato / Tokyo
  10. Fujitsu: Technology group, in particular information technology and telecommunications; Headquarters in Minato / Tokyo


Insight into the country and culture of Japan

Japan, also known as the Land of the Rising Sun or Nippon, consists of 6,852 islands, has 127 million inhabitants and the highest life expectancy in the world. In 2018, Japan ranked number 1 among the countries with the most people over 64 years of age - their share was 28%, and the trend is rising. Most of the population lives on the 5 main islands

  • Honshu
  • Hokkaido
  • Kyushu
  • Shikoku
  • Okinawa

The biggest cities are Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka. 99% of the population in Japan is Japanese, foreigners are in the minority. Most of them are Koreans, Chinese, Taiwanese and Filipinos. The Japanese language uses both the Chinese characters and 2 separate syllabary systems. Japan's national symbol is the yellow chrysanthemum. It stands for sun, light and immortality. Consequently, the Japanese emperor sits on the chrysanthemum throne.

Social order and rules

One of the most important points of Japanese culture, which also affects business life, is harmony. Harmony and a sense of community are paramount. This is expressed in a particularly strong social classification. The goal is not to stand out or stand out. Everything is in order in Japan. There are numerous written and unwritten rules. How do I serve tea? How do I bow properly? How do I have to wrap a present? There is an answer for everything. And numerous guides in Japanese bookstores. From a western point of view, some things not only seem strange, but even very absurd. Japanese mothers meticulously plan their first visit to the park with the baby themselves. What do I wear and what do I say so that the other mothers will accept me into their group? There is even a separate guide for this topic. Because to be accepted into a community, whether professionally or privately, is immensely important for the Japanese.

The last example shows something else: women in Japan rarely have a career, even if they have studied. After they get married or at the latest when the first child is on their way, they retire from working life. If they actually do go back to work later, they only get jobs for light auxiliary work. Nevertheless, Japanese women usually have the man's entire income, control the accounts and allocate the pocket money to him.

Business etiquette for Japan

Engineers and computer scientists who do business with Japanese have to be prepared for numerous rules and special features. Regardless of whether it is a short business trip or a longer stay. For those who value sensitivity and good behavior in the western world, it shouldn't be too difficult to adapt. The most important thing at first contact: courtesy. Regardless of whom. Not only the boss, but also the lowest-ranking employee is treated with the same courtesy. There are no handshakes or kisses to greet you. One bows. But please be correct: the back remains straight and the lower-ranking bows lower and longer than the higher-ranking one. For larger requests or an apology, the angle of inclination should be at least 45 degrees.

In some cases, the Japanese have also taken the habit of practicing the Western ritual of shaking hands. However, one should definitely wait for the reaction of the Japanese business man. If he extends his hand, you can also take it. By the way: punctuality is associated in Japan with the reliability of the business partner. The academic quarter hour is not known there, it is an absolute "no-go" in business Japan. Being on time does not mean being on time to the minute, but 5 to 10 minutes earlier.

Business card exchange is a ceremony

After the greeting, the business cards will be exchanged. There are also faux pas lurking here. In the west, of course, the business card is used to inform the other person. But you should treat her as if she were part of the other person. This respect is expressed by accepting the card with both hands. The card is read carefully, rather too long than too short. During the entire meeting, it remains on the table (it goes without saying that it is not a note or that it is bent) and is only carefully stowed away in an appropriate case, such as a business card case, when you leave.

Your own cards should also be flawless and not show any kinks. You pass it on with the information so that the business partner can read it directly. Ideally, you have cards with the correct characters for visiting Japan (first your family name, then your first name). If you cannot ensure that the translation is absolutely correct, you can switch to an English version.

Choosing clothes and shoes for shops in Japan

The business outfit in Japan is not that complicated. If you choose a decent dark or gray suit with a tie (not too brightly colored and flashy), as is common at many European business meetings, you won't go wrong. The suit must fit correctly and be clean. Women engineers attending a business meeting with Japanese people should keep in mind that women do not have the same status as men in the Japanese business world. It doesn't matter whether that's right or wrong. If you want to be taken seriously, you should wear a classic trouser suit or a subtle costume in dark colors with a white or pastel-colored blouse. Very important in Japan: the socks. Even if you can't see them in your shoes, they should be free of holes. Because in Japan the shoes are taken off on many occasions.

This is mainly due to the Japanese understanding of hygiene. Another peculiarity that does not exist in this form in Europe and may be strange for many a western engineer or computer scientist. In Japan people wash their hands as often as possible. Before going to the toilet, shoes are taken off and exchanged for special slippers. With these you don't run into other rooms afterwards. If you are invited to a private business contact, you usually get house slippers at the door of the apartment (which are also exchanged again in front of the toilet). If a room, whether in a private apartment or a restaurant, is covered with so-called tatami mats, neither shoes nor slippers are worn. You go on socks or barefoot.

Business lunch in Japan

Speaking of restaurants: As is often the case in business life, the right negotiations only begin after the meeting. Business lunches are also subject to many rules in Japan. It is true that foreigners are not expected to master every rule, but one is pleased to note that they do. In Japan, either the host pours a drink or, for large groups, the person sitting next to you. Whoever empties his glass always gets refills. Because an empty glass means that the guest's needs have not yet been satisfied. If you don't want to drink any more, you should leave a larger rest in the glass.

In Japan it is accepted for foreigners to eat with normal cutlery. Whoever masters eating with chopsticks collects plus points. The chopsticks are never stuck vertically into the food, this is a symbol of death and strictly frowned upon. Noodle soups can be sipped - a sign for the host that it tastes good. Good service is taken for granted in Japan, and tips are therefore considered an insult. After a business lunch, you should write an email within the next 24 hours in which you thank the business partner for the gesture and the time.

Incidentally, a successful business lunch in Japan does not mean that there is a successful business deal. At least not at this point. While the Europeans think in a very result-oriented way and want to conclude contracts quickly, this does not apply to the Japanese. You want to get to know your business partner in peace and quiet and also develop a personal relationship with him. This is valued higher than a signed contract. So there is a lot of small talk before the deal is concluded (by the way: small talk can be learned), which can also include very personal questions. Engineers and IT specialists from Europe should be prepared for this. This Japanese form of network structure is called "Guanxi". It is a prerequisite for economic success.

Residency permit for engineers in Japan

Anyone who not only flies to Japan for a short business trip, but is sent to the parent company for several months by a Japanese company, for example, must meet certain requirements. A visa is required for a stay longer than 90 days. Expats are usually supported by the company. They receive a salary comparable to that in Germany and are insured under the German system - at least if they are still employed by the company's German branch.

Those who apply directly to a Japanese company as an engineer or computer scientist can nowadays have good opportunities due to the shortage of skilled workers. But: Japan is not a classic immigration country. The state chooses very carefully who is allowed to come into the country and work there. Employers require a very good knowledge of Japanese. Those who cannot show this will have little chance at traditional Japanese companies, even in spite of the shortage of skilled workers. If you only have English skills, but still want to work in Japan, you can try a foreign company.

If all the hurdles have been overcome and the engineer or computer scientist has been accepted by a Japanese company, he needs one Work visa. The employer must apply to the Ministry of Justice for this. The visa is only valid for the job in this company. Anyone who changes employers must apply for a new visa. Officially, the 40-hour week applies in Japan. Overtime is remunerated with a surcharge of 25%, but only if it has been documented. Many Japanese do without this. The vacation entitlement is 10 vacation days and increases with age to 20 vacation days per year.

Engineering salary in Japan

Despite globalization, the amount of engineering salaries varies widely around the world. The average annual salary for engineers in Japan is 5,292,296 Japanese yen (JPY), which is around 45,500 euros. Salaries depend on both company size and professional experience.

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