5 Female Coworkers You Will Meet In Japan (And How To Deal With Them)

An Insider's guide to the denizens of Japanese offices

By Chiara Terzuolo
January 10, 2018
Careers, Lifestyle

From the hard-hitting manager to the avid husband hunter, discover the new archetypes of female business people in 21st century Japan.

If you’ve lived in Japan for over a month, you are sure to have come across lists of ‘the types of foreigners you will meet in Japan’ or ‘10 kinds of guys you will meet in Japan,’ guides to help you spot certain trends in your surroundings while exploring the wild concrete jungle of Tokyo. But the internet seems to be devoid of information about types of women you may well encounter while stalking your KPIs across vast boardroom savannahs. This quick primer will point out some common interesting fellow females you should keep an eye out for at the office.

1. The cool boss/sempai

Usually in their mid 40s to late 50s, these tough, no-nonsense ladies have seen it all, and they are still out there kicking butt and taking names. They usually come in two different patterns: the glamazons, who are dressed to kill with perfect make up, and the low-key ladies, who wear jeans and a t-shirt but still inspire awe across the office floor. Masters of wrangling stick-in-the-mud male managers and smashing glass ceilings, they inspire fan-girling and major loyalty from their subordinates — both male and female. Be sure to make friends and learn from them, as they will be your most powerful allies if you are interested in climbing the corporate ladder. Impress them with quick and accurate work, proper ho-ren-so (report, contact, consultation), and finding flaws in the system — but speak to her only when you have a solution in mind. 

Likes: Wine, beer, sake… just about any high-quality alcoholic drink
Dislikes: Excuses

2. The supermom

She has anywhere from two to four kids but you would never know, as she always looks like she just walked off the cover of a fashion magazine. While you are still blearily reaching for the coffee machine to start your day, she sweeps by with a chipper ‘ohayo!’, already half-way through her inbox. Due to repeated maternity leaves, each time she returns to work she is assigned to a different area. However, this has in no way been as obstacle to this living tour de force, as she has become a master of all sorts of trades and a repository of useful information. You often wonder if she makes ritual sacrifices to the gods of genki to have all that energy, but decide to refrain from asking, lest you become the next offering on the altar. If you want to approach her, learn to listen (over lunch), ask her to show you photos of her kids, and occasionally get some assistant work done for her without asking in advance — make sure you don’t mess up with any of her ongoing projects though. 

Likes: Fancy lunches out
Dislikes: Pointless overtime

3. The OL wannabe

Not terribly interested in the world of business, the OL wannabe would have been perfectly happy to don the office lady uniform of a blue vest, skirt and unfashionable sandals to pay the bills while searching for a husband. Somehow she has ended up at a more modern company where she is expected to do more than serving tea and filing, much to her dismay. She wakes up early every morning to put on a full face of makeup and curl her hair, and in the event of not being able to do this ritual she will cover her face with a white surgical mask, rather than letting others see her barefaced. A common sight at goukon (group dates) and konkatsu matchmaking parties, despite her cuteness she often has very little luck catching her prey. If you are looking to catch up on office gossip, just take her out to lunch! If you want to befriend her, tag and gossip along. Otherwise, just be nice, but distant. The less she knows about you, the better. 

Likes: Major Japanese or Korean boy bands
Dislikes: Cooking

4. The office heartthrob

Capable of making even the most boring suit look like a piece of couture, the heartthrob is also a fantastic cook, incredibly sweet, completely competent and generally a major extrovert. She is also almost always unmarried, and ‘how is she still single?’ is the question on every straight male colleague’s lips when they speak about her. Often found chatting with her many work friends over a homemade bento lunch, analyzing their latest dates or planning an exciting girl’s trip. These ladies also have an uncommonly high incidence of unusual old-school hobbies, such as playing go, hunting or attending pro-wrestling matches. If you want to get close to her, get her LINE and invite her to a weekend sport or cultural event. 

Likes: Saying good morning to everyone who passes by
Dislikes: Working solo

5. The keigo madame

Often found in customer support, admin or customer-facing roles, this hyper-polite lady uses keigo honorific language with the finesse of a fencer. From customer complaints to rectifying mistakes, she is trusted with the toughest cases and seems to be able to turn around almost any issue. Strict but patient, this type is commonly put in charge of training new recruits, as her composed demeanor hides a heart of gold. If you happen to work with/for one of these well-spoken ladies, beware of falling below her high standards. You will know she likes you or approves of your performance is she calls you by a nickname or -chan. Can be surprisingly hilarious after a couple glasses of wine. She will help you if you make a mistake (it’s part of the training), but make sure to express your gratitude (in keigo) immediately afterwards, followed by a small cookie and tea gift later on. 

Likes: Seasonal Starbucks drinks
Dislikes: Coarse language

Do you work with any of these ladies? Let us know in the comments!