Key differences between Japanese and German corporate culture

Japanese & German corporate culture Robert Walters

Germany hosts the largest hub of Japanese companies in Europe. To successfully hire the best professionals locally, these companies have to overcome cultural differences and take expectations around career development into account. In this article, we discuss the three most common differences and how to take these into account in your hiring process.


1. Group versus individual focus

Japanese companies highly value teamwork, cooperation, and a sense of unity. When something needs to be decided in the workplace, reaching consensus with various people is essential before continuing the process. Superiors and peers are consulted, and time is taken to discuss. Workplace relationships are very important, and a high standard of social and professional sensibility is therefore expected from employees.

In Germany, much more focus is put on the individual. People are primarily hired based on a specific, specialist skill set. Their tasks are well defined, and employees are expected to take a high degree of personal responsibility to be successful in their role.

More than in Japan, German companies first and foremost recruit for specialist skills. Industry specific experience and cultural fit are secondary factors.

2. Hierarchical versus meritocratic career development

In Japanese companies there still remains a pronounced system of rank based on seniority. Cases in which recently employed workers are given important tasks are rare. The daily practice is for seniors to guide their juniors. New employees are patiently trained until they are granted an increased level of responsibility. In contrast, it is common to see new employees being put in charge of large projects in German companies. German companies develop their staff based on meritocratic principles, and compensation and career paths are based on individual performance.

When recruiting, Japanese as much as German companies look for candidates that show the ambition to grow and are willing to constantly train and improve themselves. However, the career paths might look completely different for those same candidates. German companies usually promote their employees based on performance. Traditional Japanese companies on the other hand, tend to promote based on length of service. Although this has been changing for many Japanese companies in recent years, if someone joins a traditional company as a graduate, they won’t get promoted into a managerial position until the age of 35 to 40. These differences make it important to discuss expectations around career development in the recruitment process.

3. Lifetime employment versus temporary employment

The ideal of hiring graduates and employing them a lifetime is rare outside of Japan. In Germany, it is common for professionals to repeatedly change jobs in order to advance their career. In the same way, employers frequently recruit staff across all job categories and actively engage in mid-career recruitment.

Junior employees in Japanese companies often earn lower salaries than in meritocratic German organisations, but they can expect better secondary benefits. In line with their lifetime employment practice, Japanese companies tend to have a tight handle on staff welfare, retirement planning and family benefits. From graduates to alumni, the company is set out to guard the quality of life of every single employee.

That’s why when hiring, it is important to clearly map out all elements of the salary and benefits package.

More information

Our Japan Desk supports Japanese companies in Germany with overcoming cultural differences in hiring and selecting the best possible professional for the role. For more information, please contact Toshifumi through or +49 211 30 180 083.