Japan Working Holiday programos dalyvių patirtis – pokalbiai su dalyviais
Sebastian H. (20) was working as a waiter in an Italian restaurant in Tokyo for 5 months together with Japanese locals and other foreigners from all over the world.
Sebastian, how did you find this job?
I found this job on the internet after looking for many kinds of different jobs here. I contacted many people and places, I also got many replies but in the end this job fit me the best. Because I had previous experience as a waiter it wasn’t too difficult to get used to the job, even though Japanese customer service is quite different from what I was used to at home.
What were your general working hours and what kind of customers visited the restaurant?
I worked at the restaurant 4 or 5 days a week. My working hours were between noon and 3.30pm; then I had two hours of free time, and after that I continued working from 5.30pm to midnight. Most of the customers were middle class, there were many salarymen or families with children. I think they came to enjoy good Italian food. Sometimes we also served tourists, and one time we even had a celebrity customer: the creator of the game ‘Final Fantasy’. Some of my co-workers were quite star-struck!
What was demanding about the job?
It was a big advantage that I already had a lot of experience as a waiter in Berlin and Australia. I didn’t really need to speak Japanese to understand what to do. I just had to learn a bit of Japanese, as some of the customers didn’t speak English, however, our usual customers don’t expect us to speak the language fluently. They would come here for an Italian atmosphere, which is why we greet them with the words “Buon giorno”, and then ask for their orders in English or Japanese, depending on their level of English.
How much did you earn? Was it enough to cover your living expenses?
Yes, my salary was definitely enough to cover my living expenses. This was one reason why I wanted this job in the first place. I earned 1,100 JPY an hour here, had my transportation paid, and I could eat two staff meals for free every day. This made it possible to have enough money to enjoy my life in Tokyo. However, it was exhausting at times to work five long days a week.
What were your duties at the restaurant?
My duties at the restaurant were the regular duties of a waiter like taking customers’ orders, serving them, sometimes washing dishes, setting the tables and so on. Sometimes we had people celebrate their wedding at our restaurant, then I assisted and served the wedding guests during the party.
Did you enjoy the job? And were there things you didn’t like?
What I really enjoyed about this job was the wonderful cozy atmosphere at the restaurant, which reminded me of my time in Berlin. It actually didn’t feel very Japanese; it was more like a multicultural place with English as everybody’s common language making it easy to work here. We were not just doing our job, we were all friends at the restaurant. We spent a lot of time together so it’s important to have fun while working with each other. Of course it doesn’t mean that I didn’t take the job serious.
What I didn’t like so much about this job was that I had to wear a ‘mask’ all the time. It was not possible to be myself, I always needed to represent the restaurant, smile and be friendly, even on days when I didn’t feel good. The one thing I am thankful for is how my co-workers tried to cheer me up and motivate me to do a good job on those days. One other thing I didn’t really like is that newbies have to wash a lot more dishes than the other staff. That was very exhausting in the beginning.
Do you think working for the restaurant helped you improve your Japanese?
Absolutely! There were some Japanese co-workers I could talk to in Japanese if there was time. After I became more confident I also tried speaking to customers in Japanese. The other waitstaff helped me a lot when I had questions about specific vocabulary, so I had a good chance to improve there. They were really helpful.
Besides the language, what else did you learn doing this job?
I learned a lot about myself. An important thing that I learned is that I really never want to work as a waiter for a prolonged time in the future. This is not the right job for me. It’s exhausting and I also don’t think it would fit my personality. My actual goal is to study medicine in Germany or Austria, and this experience made me even more motivated to do well in my future studies. I have also developed a strong sense of responsibility because for this job we all had to rely on one another. One time I was sick on a really busy day and could not go to work, so the others had to cover for me. I felt deeply sorry and responsible that time.
What brought you to Japan in the first place?
After I finished high school in Germany and got my Abitur (high school diploma), I wanted to go abroad for a year. My original plan was to travel to either Australia, New Zealand or Canada, but my friend convinced me to visit Japan as well. He told me some fascinating things about this country, so I became interested in the Japanese culture beyond anime and manga. We started our journey together in Australia where we did a working holiday for around 3 months. Afterwards we went to Japan together, where we planned to stay a whole year. As my friend wanted to stay in Tokyo while I was eager to travel around we went our separate ways. I spent the first 5 months in Japan traveling from Tokyo to Naso in Tochigi, then back to Tokyo and I headed west to Hiroshima and Osaka. Finally I reached Kyushu, where I traveled through cities and villages and saw a lot of a less famous parts of Japan. I managed to travel on the cheap by hitchhiking and couch surfing. I had a sleeping bag with me and a few times some nice Japanese people even offered me a meal. I always felt safe in Japan. There is not much crime and the people are helpful, which are the best conditions for backpackers.
Today is actually my last day at work here, from tomorrow I will take 2 weeks to enjoy Tokyo, then I will travel through to Ise to learn about the pearl divers and when I leave Japan after that I’m going to have a holiday in Thailand. I’m going to make the most of my last few weeks here in the East!
Would you recommend Japan for a working holiday?
I would absolutely recommend doing a working holiday in Japan to other people. I do think however that you need at least a basic interest in Japanese culture to be able to adjust well. My suggestion would be to not stick to only Tokyo or other big cities, but to also travel to smaller places and getting to know the people there. It can be a wonderful experience for anyone. Japanese people are extremely polite, much more than in Germany I feel. I gained a lot just by talking to them. I think traveling in Europe would have been much harder and the people might not have been as helpful as here in Japan.
Is there something you will always remember when you think back about your time here?
Every day was a little bit special in itself, and it was the people who made the job the way it was. What I enjoyed a lot was when the work was finished, and we could just sit there and talk about our private lives like friends do. I made some real friends here, and will definitely stay in touch with them after I leave Japan.
Katrin H. (20) was doing a Working Holiday in Japan at a housekeeping job:
Katrin, what made you decide to travel to Japan to work?
It is actually quite a long story because the first time I came in contact with the Japanese culture was all the way back in primary school through my friend. Ever since meeting her, I kept on really appreciating the Japanese culture. Then, after my high school graduation, I didn’t want to start university right away. So I just thought, okay, this would maybe be my last chance to come to Japan for more than just a vacation and experience the culture. So I went, and here I am!
How did you find the job at the hotel in Ginza?
I got it through the internet because the other job introductions that I got through “HelloWork” (employment agency) didn’t have any available jobs at that moment. So I searched online, and then I found another agency similar to “HelloWork”, only for hotels. I applied, and they immediately wrote me back that they had some hotels that were searching like crazy for people. I went there, got an interview, and then I heard I got the job the next day!
What does a typical workday look like for you?
Every single day I go to work during the rush hour – like many other people! Except for Saturday and Sunday because that is my weekend.
When I get to the hotel, I change into my uniform and then wait a little bit until everything is prepared by my boss. I then search for my name on the hotel whiteboard in order to see which floor I am going to be working at. After that, I take the paper with my name and the rooms on it, I get my keycard, and go to my floor and make the beds for 6 hours. After that I’m finished, and once my supervisor has approved my work, I change back to my own clothes and go back home.
What kind of demands come with your job?
You should speak a little bit of Japanese, because there are some guests who want to talk to you, for example, because they don’t know how to turn on the TV, or they ask you other questions. So a little bit of Japanese is really, really helpful. I don’t think there is anything else actually. Just to be able to work normally and to be physically healthy, and speak a little bit Japanese so you can interact with the guests and with the boss.
How much do you earn, and is it enough to cover your living expenses?
I think, if I work full-time like I would do in Germany, I think I would get 120.000 yen per month plus travel expenses which the hotel covers. I can live off that and still save money for later for my travel, so it is really good.
Do you enjoy your job?
It is really stressful sometimes, but it is great. It is really great, because you get to know different people. I don’t think we have any Japanese person working in our hotel, besides our boss, but you learn to interact with each other. The others at my job usually know some Japanese and their mother tongue, so it is just like, okay! I don’t know what you say! So you have to speak Japanese to understand your co-workers as well. Also, you really feel great after a guest comes to tell you that they had a good stay, then you feel that you have done a good job. It was really stressful, but it makes you smile.
Are there certain aspects of your job that you do not like?
Yes, I don’t think there is any job that only has positive aspects. But sometimes I feel like the hotel’s rules for cleanliness can be stressful. Everything has to be very perfectly cleaned, so at times, it feels like they are a bit too strict.
Do you think that working at the hotel helps you in improving your Japanese?
Yes, a lot. It has really helped because most of the guests are Japanese, and you need to interact with them. You can speak English, and some of the guests try to speak to you in English because they see that you are a foreigner and think that you cannot understand Japanese. But I can actually speak Japanese, so there are no worries there! And every time I say that I can speak Japanese, they feel relieved, because they can interact with me, and that is really great and really helpful for me as well. I learn many new words, and it helps me to use my grammar in the correct way. It is really helpful.
I also learned how to make beds really fast! And how to clean toilets and bathrooms in general. I think it is really helpful, but maybe not that helpful in Germany. But it is a great experience and I like my co-workers, so it is great there. My co-workers can be divided into 2 groups: Chinese and Filipinas, and then I am the European in the middle. There are no others – just my boss who is Japanese. So we cannot communicate in English. My Chinese co-workers can’t really speak English and the Filipinas and my boss can speak English, but the only way for all of us to understand each other is to speak Japanese. When we have meetings, for example in order to improve our work, or to handle customer complains, then everything is in Japanese. And because some of the Filipinas cannot speak Japanese that well, the shift manager has to translate it into Tagalog, and then there is another co-worker who is Chinese/Japanese who translates into Chinese to the Chinese employers. So there is a lot of translation going on, and you can hear a few words here and there! For me, if I don’t understand something, then I can just ask my shift manager, and then she can tell me what the meeting was about once more in English.
But all in all, I can just say that I think it is a really nice job!
Ahmed I. (20) about his job at a Ramen Restaurant in Akasaka:
(Ramen is one of Japan’s most popular dishes. Many salary men have a bowl of ramen after work in one of Tokyo’s many ramen joints. It’s quick, cheap and tasty! So when you are on a Working Holiday in Japan, working in a ramen shop is a great way to really dive into the Japanese experience.)
Ahmed, could you tell us what a typical work day at a ramen restaurant is like?
My work starts in the morning at 9.00am, and because it takes over half an hour to get there by metro I have to wake up quite early. Every morning I start with cleaning. After that I prepare everything in the kitchen before the first guests come, like refilling the green tea cans, putting them on the counter and setting the tables. When the guests come to the restaurant I welcome them with the words “irasshaimase“ (be welcome). I then take their orders and serve them their dishes with the words “omatase shimashita” (sorry that you had to wait). It is especially important to speak in a very polite way to the customers.
What is demanding about the job?
The whole staff consists of only Japanese co-workers, so the communication is not always easy for me. Another thing I had some difficulties with was “to speak loudly”. Every time I got in contact with our customers, I was anxious to speak with a clear and strong voice. This was a very big problem for me in the beginning. Coming out of your shell is not always easy.
Which language requirements come with the job?
It is very important that you can speak basic Japanese and of course some English as well. All the people who are working here are Japanese, so this is why it is essential to speak at least a little bit of their language so you can communicate. Of course, you must be willing to improve your language skills fast and try to understand things quickly.
Do you enjoy working at the ramen restaurant and is there something you don’t like about it?
I have to say that it is a really nice job. The other staff members are very friendly and I get a small bowl of ramen for free at lunchtime every day, which I enjoy a lot. On the other hand it is sometimes a bit difficult to communicate with people because they speak Japanese fast, which is still hard for me to understand. Another negative aspect would be the short breaks. They sort of expect you to continue to work after only around a 10-minute break.
How much money are you earning and is it enough to cover your living expenses?
I earn 1,000 Yen per hour, which is around €8. I had to adjust my lifestyle (I’m living in a share house) and save some money in order to let that be enough to live in Tokyo. I’m working here for 4 months now and got used to it.
How did you find this job?
I talked to a friend at the share house who was already working there and he strongly recommended me to apply. He was quite satisfied with the job, so I thought it would be a good idea for me as well.
Did you make any special memories which you will never forget?
Yes, I had a great moment when my boss came to me one day and told me that I could design the menu. I really love digital photography, so it was a very gratifying task to take pictures of all the dishes and create the menu.
Do you think working at the ramen restaurant improved your Japanese?
Well, of course it improved my Japanese because I had to learn new words to speak properly to the customers and communicate with my co-workers. But I have to say that I could not improve as much as I would have liked to because people are very busy at their workplace and didn’t have time to explain everything. This can’t be helped and I hope I will keep on improving.
What are you doing besides working?
I like non-touristy places very much. Often I would visit some nice spots in Tokyo, meet friends and go with them on hiking tours and day trips. I also like the bars in Japan, which I sometimes visit on the weekend.
Why did you choose Japan?
I have always felt a deep connection with Japan. The pop culture, traditional culture and the everyday life caught my interest so I decided to go there and experience it for myself.
Would you recommend doing a Working Holiday in Japan to others?
Oh yes! People should go out and do something exciting with their life. Traveling to different countries, meeting new people and discovering new places are all amazing opportunities to gain new experiences! Japan is beautiful and I would strongly recommend people to go there.