Things I don’t understand about Japan: Job Hunting Suits

What is it? In Japan, during their senior year of college, most seniors do something called “Shukatsu” (就活), or “Job Hunting.” And I know that most seniors, regardless of country, do job hunting, but Japan (per usual) takes it to a whole new level of efficiency.

  1. Companies will typically go to famous/well know colleges to directly interview students. That’s why it is so important to get into a great university: it will literally determine your future job (because even though they are gradually drifting away, most companies still believe in life-time employment). That is also why some students will take an extra year or two off between high school and college, so that they can study intensively for each universities specific entrance exam (as in the case of my fiancé, Ryosuke).
  2. 60% – 70% of students who graduate, do so with a solid job offer. “Freshman” employees typically start in March – and have to go through all sorts of “bonding” exercises including, but not limited to, unmarried members living in the company dormitories.
    By comparison, 99% of student who graduate from Ryosuke’s college have a job already lined up.
  3. When job hunting, everyone wears specific “job hunting” suits. And yes, there is a difference.

Why I don’t understand it: Ryosuke has started job hunting. For the first month, he borrowed a friend’s suit but while we were home for the holidays, his parents took us “job hunting suit” hunting (on their dime, of course).

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Ryosuke tried on several suits that looked the exact same (even to a girl like me)

When we got to the store, Aoyama (青山), there were rows and rows of identical black job hunting suits that, upon closer inspection, were apparently NOT identical. They had black, dark black, dark navy, and dark charcoal. Those were the four acceptable job hunting suit colors. No stripes, no pin-stripes, no colors that didn’t look like they were really just plain, black suits.

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These are all actually different colors. I’m not joking.

We got an (850 US$) suit 50% off, then did the “job hunting package” to include a three “job hunting” white shirts (60 US$) with fancy pockets on the front. He chose to opt out for the mono-chrome ties (30 US$ a piece), a leather belt (100 US$), a “job hunting” leather bag (200 US$– 400 US$), and black leather shoes (I wasn’t able to look at the prices). He could borrow all of those from friends or relatives.

So technically we saved a lot of money. I guess.

Asking friends later, I wasn’t surprised to hear that most of them went into the upwards of 1,000 US$ for job hunting supplies. Apparently you can’t just cut corners, recruiters will notice that kind of thing and you won’t get the job.

Why I honestly DO kind of understand it: I can understand the need for conformity during the job hunting season. Every time I go to a job/internship interview, I spend a sad amount of time trying to figure out what to wear. I research the company, ask friend for advice, and look up online how to impress without going overboard. I would love it if America also had one set standard of what to wear for job hunting. That would make everyone’s lives so much easier.

I just wish it didn’t cost upwards of 1,000 US$.

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An advertisement from Aoyama. On the right side (the blue box with the smug looking man) are the “job hunting packages.” We brought this advertisement to the store so we could point out exactly what suit we wanted.

Final thoughts: I don’t like having to look up what to wear for job interviews in America. In the words of my friend (we were talking about this recently), [When I go to a job interview] “I always feel like I’m dressed really stupidly.” But, I also don’t want to spend 1,000 US$ on a suit when I eventually have to do job hunting in Japan.

Thankfully one of Ryosuke’s sisters said I can wear her suit. So I just need to NOT put on any weight between now and then.

For other “Things I don’t Understand About Japan” posts, check out:

Things I don’t Understand About Japan: Melon Soda

Things I don’t Understand About Japan: The Obsession with Crocs

Things I don’t Understand About Japan: Lucky Bags (Fuku bukuro) 福袋

Add me on Google Plus: +Grace Buchele

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

8 Comments on Things I don’t understand about Japan: Job Hunting Suits

  1. Hands down, the whole “lets eradicate all individuality otherwise you won’t be successful” thing is one of the downsides in Japanese culture. I think it really hurts Japan that they abandon almost every kind of critical thinking or approach and don’t appreciate the beauty of being individual and/or different.

  2. Wrong wrong wrong. Don’t conform to what the Japanese want. As a foreigner you don’t want to work for such a company unless you want to slave away as a mindless drone.

    I got hired wearing a 400 euro blue suit and a pair of 4000 yen black shoes.

    Besides, you’d be crazy t spend 90000 yen or more on a job hunting suit when you can get tailor made suits for as little as 40000 yen. If you spend 80/90k on a tailor made suit you will like a hell of a lot more impressive than wearing a 13 a dozen doesn’t-quite-fit-right job hunting suit you pulled out of a rack.

    • Pretty much. I gave up trying to work at a traditional Japanese company and now I work from home freelancing (and LOVE it). I can’t believe the ‘salaryman lifestyle’ of 6:30am – 10:30pm (or later), making barely above minimum wage, when you factor in overtime.
      I’m glad I failed so hard at job hunting :)

  3. The American // 14 September, 2014 at 11:40 am //

    I spend less that US$100 on suits….

  4. Recently I took on a Japanese college student intern here at my company in the States and on the first day of work she showed up in one of those suits. I had a good laff and told her to wear whatever she wants the rest of the time like the other employees here. The next day she was wearing jeans like me.

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    • KusoMajime // 20 October, 2013 at 7:06 pm //

      The black job hunting suits can be viewed as a social compliance tool. It’s one of many small (often unwritten) rules that are used to help screen out those who might “lack the proper attitude” – things like requiring you to submit hand-written resumes is another, or when interviewing, and being served tea, candidates brought up with good manners will never partake unless the host indicates so with a wave of their hand (like a well-trained dog). The other thing I often notice is that newly hired graduates often appear to be required to wear that same damned suit for a few months upon starting work; for how long, I am not certain as I never bothered to check but it’s definitely for at least three months.

      • That makes sense. I know when I was job hunting in Japan, I got in trouble for my shoes.
        My size 9 feet didn’t fit in any Japanese traditional job hunting shoes – and during the Tokyo Career Forum, my friend told me to make sure to hide my feet before, during, and after the interview, or I might get in trouble because they weren’t standard (they were black but not “right”).

        I also had no idea about the serving tea thing. That’s very surprising. It totally makes sense.

        Every time I think I know something, I completely shocked and blown away by something else new.

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