Sebastian H. (20), who graduated high school in Germany 1 year ago, tells us about his Working Holiday experience in Tokyo. He was working as a waiter in an Italian restaurant 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.
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