Working Retail Jobs in Japan – The Dos and Don’ts!
Plenty has been written of the exceptional customer service in Japan. Truly, Japanese retail workers treat us like royalty! But what about the other side of these interactions? How does it feel to be the one behind the register? Many have heard the phrase ‘customer is king,’ well, in Japanese, they say ‘customer is god.’
For the past 3 years, I have worked retail jobs at several large stores in Japan. There have been both tough and rewarding times, and, above all, the experience has given me a deep understanding of Japan that perhaps no other job could.
Stores in Japan are always desperate for more staff, so if you’re considering working in Japan, or want an extra boost to your earnings, learn from my experiences – mistakes and all – to ensure you’re going in educated!
Here are 6 dos and don’ts to remember before you start working retail in Japan!
Do: Respect and listen to your bosses and seniors
Even if you have worked retail in your home country, being unwilling to listen to advice is a bad look no matter where you are. Follow your coworker’s guidance closely while asking questions and taking notes. Even if you see a more effective way, don’t go off-road and improvise. Japanese companies pride themselves on having a strict protocol that every employee must respect. Show your dedication to the job by being polite and attentive.
Do: Re-confirm everything
Always double check to make sure you heard instructions correctly. There’s absolutely no shame or problem with this, and it will make your work life easier. Japanese retail workers are expected to do more than in most countries, such as handling shipping and wrapping, so there’s a lot to learn, and some of it can be very complicated! Making it more difficult are the numerous payment options, including payment via IC cards, smartphones, and point cards. Each has a separate process that needs practice. Watch, learn, and re-confirm before trying to do any of these by yourself.
Do: Speak using formal Japanese
While as a foreigner, Japanese people won’t hold you to their standards, it’s still vital to speak keigo - formal Japanese. To achieve this, you’ll need to change your words, sentence structure, and even your tone when speaking to customers. In terms of JLPT levels, someone with an N2 certification should be able to master this quickly. There will also be a lot of technical, store-related words to memorize, along with some lingo unique to the business. Learn by listening to and copying your coworkers while also practicing at home. Keigo is difficult for even Japanese, so there are ample resources available at bookstores or online to help with your studies.
Don’t: Be afraid to make mistakes
While you should always aim for perfection, it is likely you’ll make mistakes during your first few weeks on the job. This is completely fine and the best way to learn. As a trainee, there’ll be someone looking after you, and, if you do make a mistake, it won’t be considered your fault. Try your best, let yourself be corrected, and learn. If a customer asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, get an experienced staff member to come, listen to their answer, and memorize it. You’ll quickly discover that most customers ask similar questions, so, within a few weeks, you should become a helpful and knowledgeable member of the store.
Don’t: Talk back to customers
In the Japanese service industry, talking back to customers is one of the most absolute don’ts. Even if you did nothing wrong, just bow and apologize, and remember that you are acting as the face of the company. Even well-meaning small-talk, like asking how someone’s day was, is frowned upon. Sounds harsh, but it’s just another facet of Japanese culture. If you’re unsure of what to say to a difficult customer, tell them you’re going to confirm the situation with your manager. This should satisfy most customers.
Don’t: Take things too seriously!
While the strict reputation of Japan’s service industry may make you think twice before applying for a job, know that the vast majority of workplaces are filled with kind, friendly, and hard-working people, and most customers are easy to deal with. Stores in Japan don’t tolerate internal politics or back-talking. Everyone is far too busy for that! You are part of a team, and working to ensure everything runs smoothly and customers are happy is your shared priority. In the staff room, you’ll make friends, laugh, and complain about rude customers together. So, while being genuinely keen to contribute to the store, don’t take things too seriously! If you do feel bullied, targeted, or uncomfortable, this is not normal, and you need to consider changing jobs. Check the reputation of the company online before applying.