Author: M.Kok

A short comparison of Japanese and German working cultures

Sometimes different roads lead to the same place. Like the old saying, ‘All roads lead to Rome’, hard work and an encouraging attitude towards taking pride and responsibility in ones work seem to lead to economic prosperity.

Japan and Germany are economically quite similar countries. Japan is the world third strongest economy, with Germany (Europes biggest), following right behind on the fourth place. Both have industries that are based on precision engineering, exporting cars, motorcycles and other advanced machinery. The median income for a household is similar as well (about 33,000Int$).

The working cultures, however, have less in common than one might think.


The German work environment is geared towards individuality and is very rule and regulation heavy. For example, most German workers would prefer to have their required work responsibilities clearly stated. And more often than not feel against taking on tasks that are not in their job description.

Their Japanese contemporaries tend to be more flexible and willing to adjust to the circumstances rather than following a strict procedure.
The Japanese working environment is also more team-oriented making sharing work responsibilities and transferring employees between departments easier.


German workers (on average) have ten more days of annual leave. Twenty compared to the ten in Japan. Its common practice for people with school-age children to take time off during the school holidays, especially the summer break. Most others spread the leave out through the year, although it is not uncommon to take a straight week or two off to go on a holiday abroad. Not using the designated annual leave is almost unthinkable.

While the Germans enjoy more paid vacation days the combined(again, on average)days off are similar. Japan has more paid public holidays. Sixteen compared to the ten in Germany. Where an average German worker would not think twice asking for time off, the Japanese employees are often more considerate towards their colleagues and costumers. Sometimes even leaving the assigned vacation days unused and opting for relaxing during the public holidays. With the ‘Golden Week’ being the most popular and the busiest for both the domestic as well as international holidaymakers.

German labour law is designed to protect the worker. Often so much so, that it exposes itself to be taken advantage off.
Theoretically, it is possible to have two days off every week (without an explanation) just by calling in sick. Only when the sick leave is three days or longer a doctors note is required.

Compared to Germany Japans sick leave might seem rather draconian. With no designated sick leave the employees have to use their vacation days to cover for the time they miss work.

Bonuses and added perks

Most companies in Germany only give out perks for positions that are likely to be highly contested. Like when trying to lure in the most accomplished candidates. The perks often include a company car and a fuel discount card. Or a train card for a discounted or a free journey.
Some companies even throw in a free lunch.
Salary bonuses are rare outside of the finance sector.

Perks and bonuses in Japan are many and common. They include various allowances. Like commuting, rent, gym membership and house moving. Then there are the monetary benefits. Like the yearly bonuses (usually biannual, spring and winter) and the performance bonuses (e.g. when the company does well with sales or when the employee gets a new degree or a certificate of some sort).

In conclusion

Time in Germany moves differently from Japan.

To call customer service and be told that ‘the person who is in charge will be back on Monday’ and ‘there is nothing I can do to help’, is something that never happens in Japan.
This scenario is pretty common in Germany. Most Germans seem not to mind the minor inconvenience. Or waiting for a service that with a few small changes in working attitude could be accessible almost instantly.

For example, the German supermarkets and retail shops are closed on Sundays. And most people have to do all the weeks shopping on a Saturday which means longer waiting times.
But it also means a day off for the shop assistants and regulated working hours.

The Japanese and Germans seem to have different priorities. And because the living quality in both countries is one of the highest in the world, neither is wrong.



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