The importance of punctuality in Japan- what to do when you are late for work

May 17, 2017


‘You are late!!!’

Having being working in an Izakaya (Japanese bar) for one and a half year, I have seen my Tencho (shop manager) scolding at foreign part time workers for being late for numerous times. For the Japanese who have been brought up in such a time-conscious society, sometimes it is hard for them to accept the ‘loose’ attitude to time held by most of the people who are from other countries. Therefore, if you want to fit into Japanese society completely, it is crucial for you to understand the value of punctuality in Japan. In this article, I will be writing about what is ‘being punctual’ for Japanese and what to do when you are late to your workplace.


Punctuality in Japan

As we all might have noticed, Japanese people are concerned about being punctual. It is common sense for Japanese to ‘be prompt,’ and we all need to aware that ‘being prompt’ in Japanese society has a significantly different meaning to that in other countries. For example, if you were told to go to your baito(part time work) at 10, and you arrived just on time, you would be considered as late. It is because, in Japan, it is common for people to arrive 10 minutes before the time they are told to come. When you are told to come at 10:00 a.m, it means that your boss is expecting you to be able to start working from 10:00 am and not from 10:15. Therefore, you are expected to come before the time you are told to come and preparing yourself to work.

By now, I think you all have understood how Japanese perceive punctuality and knew that being late just even for 1 minutes can be a huge matter in Japan. Even if you have understood the importance of punctuality, there are still many chances for you to be late for work due to different reasons. So what should we do when we know we are going to be late to the workplace?

What to do when you are late?
There are many different reasons that make you be late for work. The train might delay due to the accident, or you might oversleep. When you know you are going to be late, the first thing you should do is to contact your workplace. You can either call your boss by phone, or you can send a message through LINE. And when you are sending a message, there are 3 crucial things that you need to mention in your text:

1. Apologize
2. Reason
3. Time you can arrive

Apologizing to your boss and your colleagues is the first and the most crucial thing to do. When you could not arrive on time, there should be someone who was covering your work. If the work is operated by small amount of people, your absence might have caused a huge problem for other workers. Therefore the most important thing for you to do is to show respect to your colleagues and apologize. So when you are telling your workplace that you are going to late, you should start up with an apology.

After you have apologized, you need to tell your workplace why you are late. It is considered as a manner for Japanese to explain why you are late for work. Here you need to be careful of what to say for your excuses. You should avoid reasons that are personal. For example, you should not be telling them you are late because you were drinking with your friends and overslept this morning, otherwise they might see you as an untruthful person. Also, you should not say that you are late because you are busy with homework, as you might be seen as a person who is self-centered. When you overslept, you just need to tell them you overslept, and you should not make any excuse for that, as they might see you as someone who is trying to avoid responsibility.

After you have told your reason why you are late, you have to mention at what time you can arrive. This is also important as you are affecting the working efficiency of the workplace, and your boss needs to know when you are coming. This is also a way to show your sincerity by giving enough information about yourself because that can tell your boss that you do care about the work.
Having known the 3 things you need to mention, Here is one example of how to text or call your workplace when you are late:
申し訳ございません。(apologize)今、〇〇で遅刻しているため、(explaining reason) 〇〇分に到着します。(when you can arrive)

After you have arrived your workplace, you should apologize directly to your boss, and explain your reason once again. It is also effective to apologize again right before you leave your workplace, to show that you do care about the inconvenience you brought to them. By doing so, you can build up a better relationship with your boss by giving them a better impression.

By now, I think you have understood the importance of punctuality in the Japanese society, and how to deal with it when you are late for work. These days, there are more and more Japanese who have become more relaxed about time, but still ‘being punctual’ is an important element in Japanese society. It might seem it is very tough to live in Japanese society but in Japan, Shinya ‘trust’ is very important. It is often not tolerated when you make the same mistake more than once. To build up a good relationship with your boss as well as your colleagues, you have to be extremely careful after making one mistake. So when you are late to work, try not to make the same mistake again!


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