Working in Japan: My experience and tips

Working in Japan: My experience and tips

Let me say something first : I always thought I would never work in Japan.

I had this dreadful image of business enterprises in Japan.
I pictured it like hell’s cells where you work 12 hours a day, a devil’s face boss watching you, big round glasses hanged on his nose, yelling some military gibberish to make you work faster.
Maybe I heard too much unfortunate experiences?

But I believe this image is actually true in some typical enterprises, I know too many people going through this.
However, I may have been very lucky, because I never happened to experience it.

My job experiences in Japan

Tokyo : Meetup event organiser, import-export business assistant

My first job in Tokyo, I actually found it without looking for it.
Sometimes you end up finding your way out of the blue, by doing something you enjoy.

Working as event organiser

When I arrived Japan I had around minus 0 connections.
My only friend I knew from Paris actually left for a music tour in Europe one week after I arrived, and I had to find a way to have some social life.

I discovered Meetup application and started joining language exchange events, then photography, music related events… So many various and cool events!
I thought the concept was awesome. For me, a rather introvert person, joining this many events was a great deal to overcome my shyness and improve my Japanese skills.
I quickly befriended with a meetup organiser, and timing is he was seeking someone to help him organising his popular language events.

I don’t really know why he thought about me for this role, my japanese skills were still pretty basic, my english conversation not so fluent as well.
(I guess you can also tell by reading me, I’ll work on it I promise!).
But I had many event ideas that I wanted to put in shape, and I accepted his offer.

We actually don’t make so much money from the events since the very-small participant fee is here to pay the location of the cafe or place we generally rent for an event.

Yet, the experience itself is really rewarding and entertaining.

Of course I had difficulties at first, I’ve never worked as an animator in my life, but I kinda like to organise and plan things. I  handled some sort of touristic tours in my favourite area ‘Yanesen‘ which went really well.

But, money started to miss…

After 4 months playing leisurely and enjoying touristic life in Tokyo, I finally decided to start looking for a part time job.

My original plan of this trip in Japan was to stay 6 months and travel Asia then. But I was enjoying myself too much to leave like this!
And my savings gradually flied away to the point where I only had enough to buy beers. And senbei (japanese crackers) eventually. Don’t judge me, beer is vital.

So, I had no choice, if I wanted to keep enjoying life here (and drinking) I had to start find something.

Looking for a job in Japan

At first I tried to look for jobs via popular websites for foreigner, such as Gaijinpot
Jobs in Japan
They are all in english and easy to read.

I was looking for a part-time job in Hospitality industry since they don’t require a high level of Japanese, and propose a considerable amount of job offers.
There was quite a lot of announces, but honestly the Japanese website Baitoru offers a lot more and various job offers.
Since I could read Japanese little bit I gave it a go.

After literally decoding some announces (which contains a whole new bunch of business-related words, and way too many katakana words for my eyes!) I tried my best to apply for a job in a Cafe.

Cafe interview in Japanese

I wanted to work and experience working in a cafe since a long time but never did it in France!
And Japanese announces are so welcoming with newbies like me, saying “Hey no problem if you don’t have any experience we will teach you!! We are super nice!”
So I thought it would be a great opportunity.

I asked a friend to help me writing my apply in formal Japanese, keigo, and at my big surprise, I received an answer to my mail 3 hours after!

But here’s something I hadn’t think about: I may have to answer the afterward incoming mails many times in formal Japanese, and have to ask help to my friend continuously…
My bad, I shouldn’t have asked help from the start. I should have just show off my actual poor japanese skills.

I got an interview the next day, I was pretty stressed. My first japanese interview, woo-hoo!
It seems like it was their first time receiving a foreigner for an interview. The staff in the cafe looked at me like an OVNI and I was wondering if that’s gonna be ok..
We had a 20 min interview. Even if my Japanese wasn’t perfect, I could understand him and answer him.

But the more he told me about the job, and the more I lost confidence. He was explaining me I have to take orders and write everything in Japanese, furthermore quickly because lunch time is really busy. And since it’s a job I never did I also had to learn the basics of… Everything. Haha.

He obviously felt my lack of confidence, and even since he told me he would call me by the end of the week he didn’t contact me back. I must say I was kinda relieved.

French owned import-export business

At the same time, I was receiving weekly emails from a Yahoo group I subscribed some time ago, a community group for french people based in Tokyo: Tokyo petits annonces.
There were job offers sometimes. Mostly people looking for babysitters or teachers.
Then I happened to see a quite original offer. It was a small french company selling Japanese products abroad, and looking for an assistant to do various chores, like packing.
The job seemed pretty easy and stress-free, I decided to give it a try too.

I applied, received an offer for an interview right away as well. (I never got interview so easily than in Japan!)
We had a very LONG interview of 1hour this time, and I started the job the following week!

We were only 5 to work here: the boss, his assistant, both French, and two Japanese employees.
The ambiance was nice, the boss was keen to put some music in the office sometimes. My work consisted simply in handling light packagings of products to send them oversea.
He seemed quite happy with me and my rapidity to handle everything, and got me to work on the computer as well to confirm the selling and print orders, etc.
Then he asked me if I wanted to work more hours, and work exclusively  in the buyer team to help them expand and getting more orders.

Ok, why not, let’s give it a try.
I’m not a very business-oriented person but I’m always interested in something I never tried.

From this moment, the stress-free cool job transformed in a nightmare.
I had to focus intensively on my computer to buy a minimum of 100 articles per hour, the task was repetitive and needed a huge amount of concentration.

Huge pression as well because I was investing the company’s money. I absolutely couldn’t handle things as quickly as he wanted, the more I tried the more mistakes I made. And the more he scolded me.
He wasn’t that horrible psycho boss I described above, but he was pushing me in a kind way, you know, telling me he believes I can do it.

That if he can do it, I can do it as well.
Well that makes sense when you say it, but hey, we’re all different and simply not skilled for the same things.
This kind of work with no social interaction, no creation, was absolutely not fitted for me.
I was starting to feel very anxious going to work everyday, feeling this lump in my throat.

Besides, the jungle-expedition to go to work was already a stress itself.
One hour riding the Yamanote line packed as a tin of sardines during the rush hour…
After 4 months in the company and 2 months doing this buyer job, I took a breath and realised something : This is not why I came Japan, I didn’t come to live and experience this.

Alright, let’s stop everything

That resolution wasn’t so easy to make because, it meant I have to look for a job again. Plus I really liked the staff I worked with. They were all nice, the company itself wasn’t bad.
That’s just this job I am absolutely not fitted for. I also had to give up their offer to sponsor me a working visa… Not that I wanted it so bad at first, but I started to feel like staying in Japan longer, and the idea to get this visa began to bloom in my mind.

That day, I went to a local festival in my neighbourhood, and watched a dancing show from Okinawa that was really outstanding.
The leading guy dancing and singing seemed so happy.
I was like ‘How great to do something you really like and travel like that’.

That’s actually how I suddenly decided to quit Tokyo where I was rooted for these 7 months.
I had my friends here, and various activities like the Meetup events I organised; but what made me stay here was also preventing me from doing what I initially aimed to do:
Travel Japan and have fulfilling experiences.
Well,  I think that this job was a nice experience to learn to know myself more.
Anyway, I didn’t want to lose more time. Only 4 months were left on my Working Holiday Visa, so I sent a resignation mail to my boss on the same day and gave myself one week to move from Tokyo.

No time to lose!

Kyoto : employee in a guesthouse

Why did I choose Kyoto?

I didn’t choose it on purpose actually, but I did plan to move Kansai, because I loved the people I met from Kansai!
Here again, my story may be not relevant of how it goes for foreigners in Japan.

So, one week before leaving Tokyo, I tried to choose my next destination.

I didn’t have a real preference, so I somewhat let the fate choose for me. I came with the idea to just see if I can find a job somewhere in Kansai:
If I can at least get some interviews, I’ll jump there and pray to succeed somewhere.

Finding a job via Facebook

After chatting with some friends, someone recommended me to have a look on a Facebook group named Jobs in Kansai. He was saying it’s a very active group that seems fairly efficient to find a job.

So did I, I posted an announce, and here again I was surprised to get a few responses!
One of them was from a kind of guesthouse, actually also running a real estate company, and looking for a full time employee to help them welcoming the customers along working in the office.
The job description seemed too good to be true, as it was perfectly the kind of job I was looking for, even in France.

We scheduled an interview for the next week, and accordingly I organised my moving to arrive Kyoto the day before.
I also scheduled an interview with another company running some restaurants in Kyoto and Osaka. The job was less appealing to me but, just in case.
There was still the possibility I fail both interviews and have to seek a job there, but anyway, Kyoto seemed to welcome me!

I moved right in the beginning of August. aAverage temperature: 35 degrees.  They call this period Manatsu 真夏 which means the midsummer, but you have to understand:
The hell out of summer~
Kyoto is one of the hottest town of Japan in summer!

The easiest interview ever

The following day, I finally walked ahead to this high-regarded interview.
As a matter of fact, it’s the first time in my life an interview turns out actually so well. They were extremely kind, so kind that I thought it was fishy!
They runned the interview both in japanese and english.
The ambiance in the office was nothing like I pictured it. They seemed outrageously relaxed, some pop music was playing in background.
I felt I could really like being here.
Furthermore, the place was in the heart of Kyoto, not far from my apartment. I prayed hard to be accepted as they told me they will contact me in the week.
And as I was treating myself a yummy Omurice meal at a close cafe as a reward, they contacted me, only 1 hour after the interview. 
“Melanie, if you still wish to be part of our team, this job is yours!”
I tried to contain my tears of joy while eating, I had an amazing good feeling about all this.

Working in the peaceful Kyoto

A few weeks passed, and I was still amazed by the fact I found such a nice job.
I was actually right, everything was going too well to be true.
The job itself was peaceful and interesting:
I was taking care of their website a little bit, welcoming the few customers lodging in the guesthouse upstairs, managing interaction emails with the customers, writing some touristic guides.

They were renting some bicycles for the guests, and let me use one for free so that I can commute by bicycle.
How great it is to not ride those full-packed metros anymore, and instead, admire the view of Kyoto’s mountains,  with its beautiful Machiya (traditional wooden townhouses) along the way.
Autumn arrived and the spectacle of red leaves in Kyoto was truly impressive!
I was told sometimes to go take pictures with my camera instead of working at the office.
I was like “Come on, are you really paying me to do this?! Are you sure I can go??”
6 months passed really quickly, and after meeting a lot of interesting people, having so much fun in Kyoto, I had to leave due to my Visa expiration date.

This is another story but they actually tried to sponsor me the Working visa. Up to this day I’m still waiting Immigration’s approval to come back Kyoto to work with them.
Oh god I really want to go back there!

Well, that was just my personal experience but, if you’re going to travel Japan and work there, I really wish you to experience many many things. Don’t be afraid to make audacious choices!
That goes for every domain of your life I guess. Don’t you think?

I do believe that, if you listen to yourself and have trust in what life can bring to you, those things will come to you naturally.
Being in a different country or having language difficulties isn’t a problem itself.

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