I am a current PhD student, still a couple years off from graduation. I'm still keeping my options open, but I've started to idly consider interesting places to do a postdoc.

Fit with a mentor and relevance of research is of course the most important thing, but the postdoc period is also a chance to live in cool places for a few years at a time. Work-life balance is also pretty important to me, though, and I have heard some crazy stories about work-life balance in general in Japan.

How is it in Japanese academia as a postdoc from the west? Does it depend on who you work for/what university you are in, or where you're from?

For reference, I did a bachelors in the US and a masters and (currently) PhD in Finland, where home life is highly respected and you're basically not expected to work on weekends/evenings unless you want to.

Edit: If it's relevant, my field of study is genetics, but I mostly work on the computer and don't expect to have much to do with wet lab experiments in the future.

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    Have you read about work-life balance in Japan in general? Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 14:19
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    I have read that in companies in Japan there is a great expectation to spend 9+ hours at work and participate in after-work socialization, and some articles about how young people in Japan are 'working themselves to death' e.g. bbc.com/news/business-39981997. Of course, I don't know how typical this is, or applicable to academia. Hence the question.
    – lmrta
    Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 16:02
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    I have read that the culture there does indeed extend to academia. Of course they are well aware that foreigners do not fit in well, so they try to be more accommodating. With varying degrees of success. Places that have lots of foreigners will be much better at it. But generally, if getting up early and staying late (and generally treating your boss like a god who's wishes are far more important than your own) is an anathema for you, I'd be cautious. Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 18:39
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    It really, really depends on where you are and which field you're working in. At Nagoya University, where I spent some time, it occurs to me that the balance is in general fairly good (I can probably say even better than the States); professors get a lot of time to spend w/ their family. OTOH, at some other universities which shall remain unnamed, I've heard that professors are known to work 14-hour days :-)
    – xuq01
    Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 21:36

2 Answers 2


My personal experience is positive -- at least, in our institution, I don't really feel pressure from colleagues or management. However, I suspect it depends on a particular place. There are certain situations that I consider unavoidable, and thus I don't think people disrespect one's life-work balance, but unpleasant things happen.

For example, we might have grant deadlines or other paperwork in the middle of vacation, and of course, we are expected to get things done. Certain events like open campus, student competitons or entrance exams typically happen on weekends, and someone has to take care.

So, at least for me, most pressure comes from objective reality rather than someone's direct requests. When I have to work on a conference paper day and night to meet the deadline, that's for my own good, and I won't do myself a favor by missing it. The situation is more complicated in case of joint work when I can let down my colleagues, but perhaps Japan isn't special in such matters.

From the perspective of regulations, labor laws of course protect employees, and our administration actually asks us to take more vacation days to improve their stats, and they even offer additional vacations on top of what we have during the summer break. Your mileage may vary, but most professors around me don't push their students/postdocs too hard. I believe it might depend on the source of funding as well.

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    Very interesting! What I've heard from the US is very similar, it really depends on the lab, department, and university what the situation is like. What are the official weeks of vacation per year, and what does the uni ask you to take in addition to improve their stats?
    – lmrta
    Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 15:56
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    Annual paid leave is ~20 days/year, I think, plus you can take "self-study" (sort of stay home), plus "unofficial" holidays (6 days around Jan 1), plus 5 days extra if you take them between July and Sept. The university wants us to take these days. Paid leave sums up to 40 days per year max, so you have to take it anyway -- or it'll burn. If you have anything specific to ask, feel free to contact me, see mail in the profile. I must say though that my work experience is limited just to one university here. Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 16:32
  • Awesome, thanks for the information! I'm still several years out from my graduation, but if concrete plans are beginning to be made I'll send you a message.
    – lmrta
    Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 14:35

I am currently a PhD student in Japan. I think if you work for the company, that would be stressful. However, working in university or academic institution, that may differ. With my experience here, I think it is not so hard. You don's have to work on the weekend unless you want. Of course, it also depending on each laboratory or professor rule. Since, my lab now, they work from 9 am to 6 pm. But another lab I know is more stressful.

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