Working in Japan - What to expect if you're used to Taiwan?

I have a job interview coming up for a big international company in Tokyo for a position that doesn’t require Japanese. I was hoping to find something similar in Taiwan, but I’ve had to accept that I’m never going to find something suitable there in my field.

As a Brit who lived in Taiwan for four years and loved it, but has only ever visited Japan, does anybody have first-hand experience of working in both Taiwan and Japan who can compare them? I believe the first thing anybody will say is that Japanese work culture is tougher than Taiwan’s (which is already very tough compared to Britain’s), but from what my Japanese friends have told me, big international companies that actively seek out foreigners are usually more reasonable.

Any other thoughts or comparisons? I’m assuming that the two countries must be quite similar to live and work in… Am I completely wrong?


Better food, better drivers and roads, cleaner, more orderly, also more expenses though.

If I were single and if the ESL teaching industry was in better shape there (like how it was in the 90s or early 2000s), I’d jump at the chance to work in Japan over Taiwan. But that’s just me.

I have never worked there. But I’ve visited a ton of times and love it.

Good luck!

I think the hours are more brutal from what I’ve heard from people who moved there, but it seems they at least pay you much better for it.

Congrats and good luck.

If you’re doing ESL, you find it’s a bit more organized and more akin to Western business in some sense. You won’t have to worry about contracts being honored or pay being futzed around with. Pretty straightforward.

However, they work you hard and have high expectations.

I did Japan first then Taiwan and found Taiwan better for me, personality wise. Little bit more flexibility but with that came the drama of the Taiwan ESL, which was manageable but not as concrete as Japan.

The pay is better, lifestyle then reasonable and the Japanese co-workers and students good. Can’t speak to the foriegn community as a whole but it wasn’t as cohesive as Taiwan’s IMO. But the company I worked for did offer good support.

If you can avoid Tokyo, do so, if you’re going to teach, IMO.

Sounds like it’s a non-ESL position, since he said he was hoping to find something similar in Taiwan but will never find something suitable in his field. And it’s a big international company, of which there are few that run English schools.


I did think that but seeing Andrew’s post I figure it might be safe tossing my 2 yen in.

They aren’t that similar to work in, Japan is more serious,. more formal business interactions and have longer working hours . The Japanese also do massive amounts of drinking after work.

Tokyo is very international compared to Taiwan , international companies might not be so uptight.


But a lot more competitive.


Not sure what field you’re in but I work for a big online travel agency and I’ve worked in the Hong Kong office (2 years), the Taipei office (2 years), and have visited the Tokyo office a few times.

My impression of work culture in a Western company in Asia in general is that it’s highly dependent on your team. I have most of my team and my direct manager located in London/Dallas, so I have a lot of leeway in when and where I work, but I do have to take a lot of late night and early morning calls. But on those days, I often don’t go into the office at all, or just for a few hours.

It would be different if you were reporting into a local team and a local manager, but would still likely be far better in terms of working hours and environment than any Japanese/Taiwanese/HK company.

In my company, the Tokyo office and other regional offices in Japan are honestly pretty Japanese compared to say Hong Kong, but still not as Japanese as a local Japanese company. I think we have around 150 headcount in Tokyo and probably only 3 or 4 of them are non-Japanese. The hiring profile for our Japanese team is about half locals who have studied English hard enough to get along fine in English language meetings with non-Japanese (that alone is pretty rare in the Japanese workforce), and then about half are “international school” types who are essentially fluent in both Japanese & Western language and culture, and most of them have spent substantial time overseas as kids. I have really enjoyed myself the few weeks I’ve spent in our Tokyo office and I’d consider working there if I got the chance.

Bottom line for any international company is the Tokyo office is likely to be much larger, much more professional, and much more important than the Taipei office, if there even is a Taipei office at all. Exceptions might be chip industry, hardware, and anywhere else Taiwan is strong.

Hope that helps.


Great insight.
I work in a tech related industry and the age profile in the Japanese office skews high.
The Japanese subsidiary is notorious in our company for being difficult to deal with, they have essentially become almost completely localised over time and there are maybe three Asian foreigners who have emigrated there and blend in with local team fairly well. There are no Caucasians or non Asians working in our operation in Japan.
There may be slightly more Westerners in IT related biz as mentioned above.
Japanese tend to not encourage remote working but again…There are exceptions as above .
Oh yea and you need to speak Japanese to really be accepted there…Goes without saying.
One good think about Japan though is that individuals can have their own rather odd personalities and interests and hobbies and that’s basically okay.

Thanks for the replies! I am, indeed, applying for non-English teaching work. If English teaching was as lucrative as it used to be, then I’d happily go for that. But, sadly, I think I missed the boat a long time ago (in Japan, at least).

The replies sound like what I expected to hear, but the company I’m trying for are American and, from what I understand, have an American mentality. Overtime isn’t demanded, for example, and all staff speak good English. It sounds like this could be the jackpot as far as work in Japan goes, but I don’t think I’m necessarily going to get it. The experience has made me more open to look for other opportunities in Japan though.


Lol yeah. Japan was the first Asian country to dry up for good ESL gigs, like 20 years ago from what I hear.


@alankaz I lived in Tokyo for 2 years and loved it. It’s a bit different than TW, you have to dress up a bit more for work, and like other posters said they’re more serious and work longer hours. But I think you’ll find interactions with JP a bit more in depth, and once you drink with them a few times its possible to form meaningful relationships with the locals.

Better food. In Tokyo the expat community is much bigger and people are doing more than teaching English so socially a bit more dynamic. Best thing about Japan is if you go out of your way to learn the language/culture they will reciprocate in most cases and will appreciate you and be hospitable.

Good nightlife in Tokyo, food, good music comes thru there.



It’s still there. I have a buddy that teaches in the morning and runs a popular bar at night, and he’s killing it. He gets paid handsomely in the morning classes, but are mostly private classes. You have to be in a particular circle of people. I guess the same can be said here in Taiwan…

Taiwan has just started to dry up the last few years, but it’s still in much better shape than Japan. Japan hasn’t been the same since Nova imploded almost 15 years ago, and even a few years before then. That doesn’t mean no one is thriving, but just means it’s a lot harder. South Korea has also dried up (worse than Taiwan, not as bad as Japan), and of course no one wants to work in China. I know 2 teachers who have decided to up and leave and go teach in Vietnam, as that seems to be the next fast developing area for ESL. The key is that their birth rate has rapidly climbed in the past couple decades, while the East Asian countries have all rapidly declined. *

(*- the above only applies to ESL, but OP said he’s not teaching so it doesn’t affect him)

I do wonder about the working hours? Currently it seems Taiwanese work longer hours on average as the working hours has gone down in Japan over the years. I agree on the rest, better food (not only Japanese but other food too), better mix of nightlife options (not only drinking but that is better in Japan). You do have to dress up more and more rules in life than Taiwan which is both good and bad.

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This is what I was lead to believe too. Especially in international companies. Microsoft in Japan (the company I interviewed for) even trailed 4-day workweeks and concluded that it boosted productivity.

I didn’t get the job in the end, incidentally. But now that the option of Japan is in my head alongside Taiwan, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more opportunities. Unlike Taiwan, Japan seems to be actively encouraging skilled foreign workers to the country at the moment.

On the downside, though, from the job listings I’ve seen and the things I’ve been reading on message boards and blogs, it seems that not knowing Japanese is a way bigger barrier to landing a (non-teaching) job in Japan than not knowing Chinese is in Taiwan.

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It’s not my experience , but YMMV. In our org the Japanese are working the longest hours in the whole world, regularly clocking off at 8pm or whatever. Then they may have Long commutes in Tokyo.

It may be a diverse picture there in terms of each company’s working hours.

There’s still a lot of social drinking expectations in Japan but this is getting to be much rarer now in Taiwan . And the IT industry is probably a little different than more traditional or other tech industries .

I hated being in Japan, and I was just there on holiday. I only saw two people who were outwardly enjoying themselves, a young couple dancing in a metro station.

Rest of the time was pure misery.

Point being, don’t underestimate ‘your mileage may vary’

Give it a go, you can always come back. The only true failures in life are opportunities not taken

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To each their own. I’ve visited Japan over a dozen times (and all over the country, from as north as Sapporo to as south as Okinawa) and have never noticed this so-called “misery” you think hangs over everything. Everyone was super friendly and seemingly happy, at least outwardly. Made a lot of one-day friends over shared tables at restaurants and stuff like that.