5 Questions Every American Is Asked While Working In Japan

by GoAbroad Writing Team

As an American working in Japan, you surely won't be blending in easily, to say the least. If your appearance doesn't skill the beans, your broken Japanese, or complete lack of, definitely will. So, you'll have to get used to answering some common questions, that almost no one will be afraid to ask.

Here are some of the most common questions Americans will be asked while working in Japan:

A woman under a cherry tree, cherry blossom

1. Do you have a boyfriend / girlfriend?

Despite your gut reaction, it is not impolite to ask someone’s relationship status in Japan. In most instances, people volunteer their marital (or relationship) status over their age. Why? No one knows. However, in Japan, if an attractive, male coworker asks if you have a boyfriend, don’t automatically think he is hitting on you. Perhaps he is simply curious. If one of the office ladies asks you in between breaks whether you have an American girlfriend back home, you do not have to assume her next question will be a request for dinner, but then again, it might be. 

No Assumptions. This simple question can be used to check for prospects, since Japanese people do not typically whip out pictures of their wife and kids during lulls in the conversation. If you are interested in someone in the workforce (provided there are no restrictions on inner-office romances), ask them if they are single. In Japan, that is not a social faux pas. 

2. What is the biggest difference between Japanese companies and American companies?

Differences are key in Japan. Everyone wants to know not only if the grass is greener on the other side, but what the grass looks like, smells like, and feels like when you lay down. In a similar manner, your Japanese friends and coworkers might be curious to know the differences between American and Japanese offices.

Busy streets of Tokyo, Japan

A lot of questions start out with “What is the difference between Japanese and American ____ (insert dating, houses, family life, bars, shops, etc). If you don’t have any experience in an American company, you can always feed them the line “I’ve never worked in an American company, but my friend does, and they say the company is very … ”

3. Why did you come to Japan?

Lots of people visit Japan. Some come for the temples, others for the food, and others for the Anime and Manga comics. In this day and age, it is common to see foreigners with large backpacks, pushing through the crowded subways. Living in Japan, on the other hand, is a different story. Not many foreigners actually live and work in Japan, so when you meet a Japanese person, they might be curious as to why you decided to live in Japan. “What attracted you to Japan in the first place?” they might ask, or “Why Japan?” The answer is often used to draw conclusions about you. If you came for the Anime, you are typically labeled as a nerd. If you were attracted to the temples or the way of the samurai, they might assume you are obsessed with traditional Japanese culture. If you love sushi and raw fish, you are a foodie. 

4. You’re not a teacher! What do you do?

Of the foreigners who do live and work in Japan, a sizable number are translators or English teachers. If you are not working in one of the standard, foreign jobs, the people you meet are often curious as to what you actually do. If you choose to divulge about your position and responsibilities in the company, be careful to not paint your job in a bad light. You never know what can get back to your boss.

A woman learning calligraphy in Japan

5. Where are you from?

Similar to the “What kind of Asian are you?” problem in America, foreigners in Japan will experience the “What kind of foreigner are you?” phenomenon. Hands down, this is the most common question asked to white, black, or other non-Asian Americans in Japan. If you are the only foreigner in the company, you may end up being the “token American friend,” who is invited to drinking parties and dropped into conversation to increase the speaker’s international presence. Don’t be overwhelmed by your American identity; embrace it. 

When your colleagues refer to you as their American friend, they mean friend above American. Being foreign in Japan will give you an extra foot in the door in the professional setting. If you embrace the fact you are foreign, rather than wilting under the extra attention, you can use your American identity to score lifelong, professional connections in Japan.

Creating Your Image

Generally, the answers you give to any of these questions will be used to paint a clear picture of you as a global citizen. Once you know the questions, you can shape your answers to paint the kind of image you want to project, since image will be very important during any type of work in Japan.