For the new expat, Japan can be a daunting experience. And the ones who realise this early on have a much greater chance of success than those who think they understand it straight off the plane. And I have met many of those over the years! The issue is Japan can be unintentionally deceptive, often to even well seasoned executives, simply because the cultural approach defines an alternative response set to individual situations.
Here are a few common habits of successful expats working in Japan:
1 They understand "yes" does not necessarily mean "yes" but possibly no or even huh?;
2 When they think they understand they confirm one more time, preferably in an alternative way;
3 They recognise Japan's not wrong, it's just different. Differing circumstances drive differing solutions;
4 They ask first and speak second. The culture requires agreement with the boss, so they don't tell them first;
5 They recognise they don't necessarily understand Japan and value that as a good starting point;
6 They know Japan is not China, the same as Mexico isn't Canada. The skill sets to success are the same, it's the experience that's different;
7 They understand that just because someone speaks a little English, it doesn't mean they understand full speed native English in return;
And finally to be seasonally topical, they enjoy the bonenkai with the team.
There is no magic wand to being successful in Japan but there are ways to ensure failure. And ignoring the differences and assuming understanding is way, way up there. Just think how would any of us respond in a home country if a non-English speaking Japanese boss was assigned for two years who had no local experience and arrived thinking he'd "got it". We'd make sure they had warm coffee in the morning and the latest daily newspaper in Japanese. And after that we'd probably ignore them for the next two years...