Are you planning to work in or thinking about doing some business in Japan? The first step would be better to know about the Japanese business culture. In this article, we would explain the Japanese corporate hierarchy. This would be very helpful for new employees of a company sometimes also for experienced employees.
Do really hierarchy matters in Japan?
You may be surprised to hear that the hierarchy does really matter in any Japanese company. If you join in a meeting, have a seat in the workplace, or even wait for a moment inside the elevator, there is a specific manner for the seat in the meeting room, in the workplace, or even inside the elevator. The seat and the place are defined by the company hierarchy position. However, the situation is changing day by day little by little, but not in most cases. So, if you want to send an email or contact them from your company, usually, you might have to address them using their name and title. For example, Murata, President (村田社長 様) [Pronunciation – Murata shachō]. That means Murata is the president of the company.
Failing to grasp the position of a person in the management hierarchy (役職 (やくしょく) [Pronunciation – Yakushoku] is disrespectful and may leave a bad impression. Further into the job, not understanding the place of everyone in the hierarchy at your company can confuse whose orders to follow and who to report to. We shall put together a list of the most common titles and their meaning to avoid such mistakes.
The hierarchy from top to bottom in the Japanese company
1. CEO, Chairman 社長 (Hiragana: しゃちょう, Pronunciation: Shachō):
The CEO is the owner of the company, who will often not participate in day-to-day business, but lead the company from behind the scenes.
Typical age: 65 and 43 years of service in the company.
※This information is only intended for basic information. It is not a national average, but the typical age of people in these positions at Toyota to give you an idea.
2. President 社長 (Hiragana: しゃちょう, Pronunciation: Shachō):
The president is the face of the company and the one making the final decisions in day-to-day activities.
Typical age: 60 and 28 years of service in the company.
3. Director 取締役 (Hiragana: とりしまりゃくPronunciation: Torishimariyaku):
Responsible for the management of the company as a whole. He might also preside over a specific branch.
Typical age: 54 and 31 years of service in the company.
4. Department/General Manager 部長 (Hiragana: ぶちょう, Pronunciation: Buchō):
The head of a department and most likely the highest-up you will see around daily.
Typical age: 44 years and 21 years of service in the company.
5. Assistant General Manager 次長 (Hiragana: じちょう, Pronunciation: Jichō):
Similar to the 部長 in that he typically is in a leading position in the department, but one rank below the 部長.
Typical age: 40 and 21 years of service in the company (※estimate due to lack of data).
6. Section Manager 課長 (Hiragana: かちょう, Pronunciation: Kachō):
The Section Manager is the leading person of a section within a department.
Typical age: 35, 13 years in the company
7. Assistant Manager/Team Leader 係長 (Hiragana: かかりちょう, Pronunciation: Kakarichō):
Usually in charge of a larger team.
Typical age: 32 and 9 years of service in the company.
8. Supervisor 主任 (Hiragana: しゅにん, Pronunciation: Shunin):
Someone with experience in what they are doing and able to take a leadership role.
Typical age: 28 and 5 years of service in the company.
9. Staff 社員 (Hiragana: しゃいん, Pronunciation: Shain) or 平社員 (Hiragana: ひらしゃいん, Pronunciation: Hira shain):
Everyone else, the normal employees.
With English titles entering Japanese companies, the naming of positions in Japanese companies is becoming increasingly diverse. While this development makes it easier for us foreigners to get an idea of what everyone is doing, you will find that companies might use them in different ways or maybe even mix English and Japanese titles. In that case, you can be sure that the Japanese people you start together with will be at least as confused as you yourself.
How about promotions in a Japanese company?
Promotions in Japan for a long time have been dependent on years of service. The longer one worked for a company, the higher the chances to get a promotion.
Nowadays, more and more companies adopt merit-based promotion systems, promoting those that achieve results regardless of age or background.
The best way to learn about your company’s hierarchy and promotion system is to ask a coworker or superior. Even Japanese recruits are not taught, and asking will signal your interest in the company and fitting in.
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