Nov 7 2017 Are foreign companies based in Japan more international than domestic Japanese companies?

Do foreign-based companies (Gaishikei) welcome more foreign candidates? Are they OK for non-Japanese speakers?

  • Foreign-based companies in Japan are here to expand the market in Japan
  • Corporate culture tends to be good blend of Japanese culture and international (or particular country’s) culture
  • Still, in foreign based companies, you will communicate more in English (and other languages) with HQ and other global offices


A lot of people believe that if you are looking for a very international work environment, you should aim for foreign-based companies, so-called Gaishikei in Japanese.
Foreign-based companies, which have their HQs outside Japan, give an impression that they are more international than Japanese domestic companies. However, is it really true that foreign-based companies are “more international” than Japanese domestic companies? Can you work in foreign based companies with no Japanese language ability?

In this article, we will show you the reality of foreign-based companies in Japan based on people’s actual experiences of working for both types of companies.

They want to cultivate the Japanese market!

Setting up an office in Japan is costly. The cost involves not only financial cost but because of cultural differences, it may require extra time to pursue business deals and navigate complex legal restrictions etc.

If the foreign-based companies want to do business in their own country, there is no point to take so much of the above cost in Japan. The reason why foreign-based companies go through such trouble is mainly that they want to cultivate their reach in the Japanese market and increase their sales profit here.

Having said that, if they are dedicated to exploring Japanese market, they are most likely eager to look for those who can be a part of their mission. That said, the reality of the Japanese market is that it operates in the Japanese language and the main clientele remains Japanese people. Unlike our impression that foreign-based companies do not require any Japanese ability etc. more than often, a good level of Japanese ,as well as great understanding of Japanese business culture tend to be very much appreciated in foreign-based companies.

Good blend of Japanese business culture and international culture

Every company will have different corporate cultures. In particular, the extent to which a foreign-based company instills Japanese business cultures vary from a company to a company.

Oftentimes, each company makes a proactive decision about how much Japanese culture they want to reinforce. For example, there is a company that has its HQ in Europe. The company launched its’ Japanese office decades ago and they consider the Japanese market as one of the most important markets. The company really abides by Japanese business culture. For example, they provide permanent job security, and rarely fire people.

On the other hand, many of the foreign investment banks enforce a lot of non-Japanese corporate culture, or rather they have a common shared global corporate culture rather than that of its host country. It is not uncommon to see an employer getting fired even after one year or even less than one year if the performance is not good.

In other words, it is very difficult to generalize that just because it is a foreign-based company, the corporate culture is more international than Japanese domestic companies.

They appreciate bilingual candidates

At foreign based companies, you are expected to have communication with people working in HQ or other global offices. For such occasions, English is used.

As mentioned above, if your job position requires you to explore Japanese market, you are required to have a good level of Japanese.
Also even if it is a foreign-based company, the majority of employees in Japan office are still Japanese nationals.

For foreign-based companies, people who are bilingual (Japanese and English) are highly valued for their ability to literally bridge communication between employees in HQ and its host country.

Foreign-based companies do have international work aspects most of the time. As mentioned above, if you are expected to communicate with people from HQ and other global offices in English, it is highly likely that corporate culture has got some international elements etc.
However, even if you work for foreign-based companies, it is not like working in other English-speaking countries. The companies are still in Japan and as such you certain expectations in business specific to Japan will still be practiced like the method and practice of exchanging meishi (business cards).

Since there is a great variety of corporate culture among foreign-based companies, if you are interested in a certain company, we highly recommend you talk to current employees to understand the reality of the company.

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