Author: Julia Kühn
- Pop Culture
- Time in Japan
- Tokyo Things To Do
We visited Marcel S. (19) at the Butler Café in Tokyo where he has been working for a few weeks now. We had a great time and enjoyed being entertained by three charming butlers! It wasn't just the service that made it worth going, we were also surprised by the delicious dishes they served us. Afterwards we interviewed our Working Holiday butler from Germany about his experience working for the Butler Café. Marcel, how did you find this job? I found it on the internet. Someone of my share house mates told me that there is a great website for foreigners to find jobs like this in Japan. This job was actually the first one I applied for, and it worked out well. Since when have you been working at the Butler Café and what are your general working hours? I've been working here for almost 4 weeks now and I hope I can stay here for a few more months. The working hours depend on the day, for weekdays I'd say the average working time is about 3,5 hours per shift, but in the weekend I'm working up to 7 or 8 hours. We arrange the work schedule according to the number of reservations we receive online. What requirements came with the job? Obviously you have to be kind if good-looking in the employers eyes. The first thing they check when you apply is your photo, then they want to know whether your English conversation skills are strong enough. Since you only speak English during the job, it is mandatory to speak an advanced level of English. Another condition I heard of is 'looking foreign', as they prefer western butlers in order to create a 'European butler atmosphere'. So most of the employees are from Europe. It's also an advantage to be a good actor as the way you're expected to behave as a butler is quite different from what you would normally behave like. And then probably the most important requirement is that you should actually enjoy doing this job. You should not just do this job for the money. How much do you earn? Is it enough to cover your living expenses? I earned 1,000 Yen per hour until now, because that is what everyone gets in the first month. After you complete your training you can earn up to 1,500 Yen per hour, depending on your skills and popularity with the customers. What are your duties at the Butler Café? My first and most important duty is to entertain the princesses, this is how we call our customers. If they feel good and enjoy the time they spend here, we are doing a good job. I have to serve food and tea, have a little chat with them and if they want to we offer the extra service of taking a picture together. I adopted a stage name by the way, my butler name is Alfred because that is seen as one of the typical European butler's names. Do you enjoy this job? Are there things you don’t you like about it? Of course I'm enjoying this job. I have always been into acting and now I get even paid for it. I feel very lucky that I can actually do something for a living in Japan that I also enjoy. The only unfortunate thing about this job is that I can never get in touch with the customers after they leave our café. This is a strict rule, as it helps keeping the fantasy alive. Do you think working for the Butler Café improves your Japanese? What else did you learn? We communicate in English with the customers as well as with the owner, so if someone want to improve their Japanese this might be the wrong job. My Japanese level hasn't really improved since starting work here. What has improved are my intercultural communication skills. Trying to understand people who barely speak your language is hard in the beginning. I have been able to communicate using English, gestures and a little bit of Japanese, and it has surprised me how much I am actually able to get across without having a language in common. What brought you to Japan in the first place? Japan is a country with a unique culture that has always fascinated me. Besides Japanese culture being very different from German culture, I actually see things we have in common as well when it comes to the way we think. The cultural aspect was actually the main reason I decided to go to Japan. I wanted to visit hot springs, eat sushi and learn the language using it in real life. Japan is a country that has so much to offer that I would gladly stay here longer. If there wasn't any language barrier I could imagine living here for several years. Would you recommend a Working Holiday in Japan? Very much so, Japan is a country where everyone should have been at least once in their life. I would recommend coming here either for a Working Holiday or just to travel. The people are friendly, it's extremely safe because of the low crime rate, and with a little bit of luck you can find a job you like! " order_by="sortorder" order_direction="ASC" returns="included" maximum_entity_count="500"]
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. " order_by="sortorder" order_direction="ASC" returns="included" maximum_entity_count="500"]
We’ve met Michaela Z. (26), a German currently living in Shinjuku, Tokyo. She is in Japan for a Working Holiday and a little more than half a year ago she had the opportunity to job for a scuba diving school in a city in eastern Shizuoka prefecture. Michaela was working as the diving teacher's assistant for almost two months before coming back to Tokyo. She told us about her time in Shizuoka. Michaela, how did you land this job? I have been planning for quite a long time to travel to Japan. As I wanted to really immerse myself in the Japanese culture, I decided to come for a long Working Holiday, because working naturally gives you a deeper insight into a foreign culture than, for instance, a short trip. Due to the fact that I wanted to start my adventure on a short notice, I felt safer being supported and therefore decided to use the service of World Unite!. They also helped me to find the job in the scuba diving school in Shizuoka. I simply informed them about my wishes: with a university degree in Hotel and Tourism Management I wanted to find a job related to this area, prior to my departure to Japan. I was introduced to the scuba diving school and got hired for the summer. From when to when have you been working for the diving school? And what were your general working hours? I came to Japan in summer 2016 and after a few days of living in a share house in Tokyo and getting used to the new thermal environment I took the train to Shizuoka to start my work. My new Japanese boss, the diving school's owner and teacher, welcomed me warmly. Originally I was asked to work there for one month, but as I liked the job and my boss was pleased with how I was supporting him and felt that I was a reliable worker, I could stay a few more weeks. After that I went back to Tokyo. There were no fixed daily working hours. But usually the working day started at around 7 am and ended at around 3 pm. Before, during and after the diving lessons the customers had to be taken care of. As long as that was assured, everything was fine. Once a week I could take a day off. But also on working days I had quite an amount of free time, too. When my boss had time, he took me on short trips into the hinterland of Shizuokas. One time a neighbor, the owner of a hotel, took me with him for a hike in the Japanese alps. What kind of demands came with the job? Special skills or previous knowledge about diving or anything weren't required. I was taught everything I needed to know within the first few days of working. During these days I have been assistant and student at the same time. I even made my diver's licence after three days. Although, I also have to admit that it was a plus to already have made experiences in the hotel and restaurant business back in my days as a student. My boss didn't need to explain everything to me twice, as I kind of knew what needed to be done. Not only during the diving courses, but also when it came to care for the customers who stayed at the school owner's guest house. The house is located right next to the ocean. It was such an amazing view! How much did you earn? Was it enough to cover your living expenses? Instead of a salary I received free accommodation at my boss's house and free catering during my whole stay. Also entry fees for several locations such as museums and hot springs were covered. But I had to pay for my first diver's licence. Therefore I had to come to Japan with a little bit of savings. Luckily I could do my second diver's licence for free, though. In late summer, when the diving season came to an end slowly but surely and the diving school became less busy, I started to help out at the neighbor's Hotel for a few days. I received 10,000 JPY a day for that. What were your duties at the diving school? I was basically assisting the owner of the school with his daily work. For instance I needed to prepare the equipment for the diving lessons, explain essential rules to the students and look out for them during the diving. My boss isn't only running the school, but is also lending his boat to his customers for day trips including BBQ and water sports. My task was to welcome the customers and accompany them during their boat trip. While the diving teacher has been snorkeling with some of his students, I needed to watch out for the safety of the on the boat remaining customers. Besides the main business of diving lessons and boat trips, the school's teacher is also running a guest house. My tasks were to prepare the breakfast, do the laundry, clean the house or make the beds. As it was a traditional Japanese house with wooden floors, a lot of windows and tatami mat floors in the guest rooms, the maintenance asked for a careful treatment. Sometimes I did some gardening, too. Did you enjoy the job? And what didn't you like about it? I was enjoying my time in Shizuoka to the fullest. Supporting my boss with his work was a lot of fun and I loved the location. The only disadvantage I saw was that I didn't have a driver's license or a car. In the area the school is located, you really need a car to get somewhere. But well, I had a bicycle, so I often used it for rides along the promenade. Day or night, I could always use my free time to relax at the sea side behind the house. Doing so I had the rare chance to see the blue marine phosphorescence at night. Do you think Working for the diving school helped you improving your Japanese? My boss spoke English fluently, therefore it wasn't difficult to communicate with him. When we both had spare time he taught me some Japanese. During the breakfast with the guests he even asked them to practice their English on me. And the other way around, I was asked to try to speak in Japanese to them. Most of the guests were girls of my age, so we spent our free time together, too. They enjoyed teaching me new words. That helped me to improve my Japanese a little bit. We used to speak in a mix of Japanese and English. In addition, my boss's girlfriend, a Japanese language teacher, visited us quite often on the weekends. She used to live in Austria some years ago and knows some German, so she helped me understanding Japanese grammar and words. Besides the language aspect, what did you learn doing the job? I was working and learning at the same time, because I had never used any kind of diving gear before. I had the chance to complete two diver's licences and also a first aid course. Preparing the breakfast, sometimes alone, sometimes together with he guests, I learned a lot of traditional Japanese recipes, which I'm planning to use even after going back to Germany in a few months. Besides that I had the opportunity to attend Japanese traditional tea ceremonies several times, as my boss is a trained tea ceremony master. I got to know a lot about not only the famous Japanese green tea, but also about Moroccan tea making we even presented the country Morocco on a tea festival in Hakone, where we were handing out mint tea to the visitors in traditional clothing. As I was in charge of arranging our booth, I could live out my passion for decorating. What brought you to Japan to in the first place? What are you doing now back in Tokyo? I've been interested in Japan's culture and tradition since I've been a teenager. I guess most people start being fascinated by Japan in the first place through anime and manga, Japanese cartoons and comics, but for me it has been Japanese rock, pop and also traditional music that is captivating me since then. Listening to all kinds of Japanese music also made me fall in love with the Japanese language. I'm hoping to improve my language skills by doing this Working Holiday. I've actually been in Japan before once in 2009 for a short term cultural exchange program. During this time and also during the time in Germany when I was studying Japanese on my own, I got to know some Japanese people who became close friends of mine. Therefore I'm also using this Working Holiday as an opportunity to meet those people again. Right now I am living here in Shinjuku, Tokyo. While working as a part-timer, I'm trying to meet new people and old friends, as well as attending concerts of musicians that I most likely can never see live back in Germany. On the weekends I usually make short trips to cities nearby. " order_by="sortorder" order_direction="ASC" returns="included" maximum_entity_count="500"]
Have you ever thought “Why is the Munich Oktoberfest called “Oktoberfest” when it actually starts mid September?”. Well, then you have obviously never visited one in Japan, because you would be even more surprised by the fact that many of the uncountable Oktoberfests here are not even close to the 10th month. They are being held throughout the whole year. One exception is the one in Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city, which is celebrating the festival since October 2002 and is famous for its authenticity. Here we had the chance to interview Alex S. (24), who was working as a promoter for two German beer brands. Alex, working at an Oktoberfest in Japan might sound fun, but is it actually? Yes, it really is! I’m having a blast. But you have to be a certain type of person to be able to enjoy it. I love talking, approaching people who I’ve never met before and start a conversation with them. If you can’t do that, you won’t have pleasure doing this kind of job. You know, my team’s main task is to hand out flyers to the Oktoberfest’s visitors and call out stuff like “Welcome to the Yokohama Oktoberfest! Please try our delicious beer!” to promote our beer booth, which sells Spaten and Hofbräu. We have to advise visitors about where to go, be in a good mood and jolly everyone along. You just have to be an open person and have the right attitude to do that properly. It’s also fun to dress up everyday. Our male staff is actually wearing the typical Oktoberfest lederhosen with a hat and the female staff is wearing the dirndl dress to create a German atmosphere. Spending the day with my Japanese and German colleagues is just a great way to earn some money. Would you let us know how much money you are making during this festival? Well, at the beginning we were told we'd get 1,000 JPY an hour, but after we were hired, the coordinator raised the hourly wage to 1,800 JPY which is of course fantastic. Especially if you are planning to do some traveling after the work is done, like I am. The festival lasts for three weeks. I’m working 6 days a week, 5 hours on weekdays and 7 hours on the weekend. So, you can see that I’ll receive quite an amount at the end of the festival. Have you done other jobs during your Working Holiday, too? Various! I came to Japan in January and didn’t work for a while, as I had saved some money back in Germany. As a rather sociable person I wanted to discover Tokyo and Japan first, before starting work. Therefore I lived very economically to be able to live here without having to work for a while. I even made a 4-week road trip with two German share mates which didn’t cost us that much. At the beginning of March we came back to Tokyo and I started my first job at a kindergarten, which I landed through Hello Work (a job agency). During the job interview the director of the institution was very skeptical because I don’t have any pedagogical qualifications, but I still received the job in the end. Once a week for one hour I was playing the role of the “English entertainer” for the Japanese children. I had to teach them something in a playful way. I chose the topics myself so I had to be creative, which was not as easy as it sounds. Another job I’ve been doing was coordinating a group of Japanese elderly people with an interest in Germany and German language. I’ve been handed over this group by a Japanese acquaintance that unfortunately couldn’t do the job anymore. Leading the group was very amusing and entertaining. In addition to that I was also teaching English as a private teacher. For example, there was this 12-year old Japanese boy from a rather wealthy family I’ve visited at their home. They even have an elevator in their single family detached house! Anyway, I didn’t really like that job because the boy has just become a teenager and he wasn’t really into doing his homework. In general, he was just super unmotivated and I never really knew to which extend I could scold him about that without the parents reacting negatively. I mainly did private teaching jobs for German or English learners. Whether you are going to like these jobs or not always depends on the outcome you will get. For example, if you can leave a good impression on a student’s parents, or the student actually improves hisor her language skills due to your lessons, it can be a pleasant job. But I also have heard from some share mates that they made bad experiences in this area. Maybe they didn’t have an open attitude towards their younger students. How did you land the job at the Oktoberfest in the first place? Again, thanks to a Japanese acquaintance. I met her first at an event of the Japanisch-Deutsche Gesellschaft [Japanese German Society] and we became friends and kept in touch. She then introduced me to a Japanese man called Shota via email. He was in charge of the booths for the Yokohama Oktoberfest and searched for promoters. Shota is a tall guy, over two meters, married to a German woman, used to professionally play soccer in Germany and is now working for a beer importer. After meeting him once he wanted to hire me and also some more Germans, so I asked my share mates. Only few were interested, which I find kind of strange. After all, the salary is not bad and the job description sounded pretty great. Maybe they weren't sure, if the job suited them? Anyway, the ones who were interested, I think around seven people, met the boss of Shota’s company once for an interview and were hired. That was in July, I think. What kind of demands came with the job? You have to be at least 20 years old and also have a valid working license. It’s also a plus to speak and understand English, as we are having a lot of foreign visitors. Oh and of course you should be German-speaking! Except from this, I dare to say that almost everyone could do this job. Even without speaking a lot of Japanese. You just need to memorise some lines in order to approach the visitors and advertise the beer brand. But I’m also realising that, as I said before, you need to be a bright person. Otherwise the memorised phrases come out monotonously. Some of my colleagues don’t seem to be really into the job, judging by their cold attitude from time to time. Do you think working at the Yokohama Oktoberfest helped you improving your Japanese? To be honest, I came to Japan with zero Japanese skills. I was thinking, hey, I can speak English, so why invest much effort into learning Japanese? But in reality it was harder than I thought not understanding the language. So after my road trip I studied very intensely. I wanted to be able to make friends and communicate with them in Japanese. And well, also with the ladies… I’m happy I’ve done that, because I could not only make some good friends, but it also led me to my girlfriend. The job at the Oktoberfest helped me a lot actually. I learned words that you rather wouldn’t learn in the first phase of your studies, such as "import" and "export". I kind of forced myself to memorise new words and phrases to be capable of doing my job properly. Talking to the visitors and my Japanese colleagues was fun and helped me to improve my language skills at the same time. Please give us a resume about your impressions about the jobs you were doing during your Working Holiday. I have to admit that that being a private language teacher won’t help you to get to know the real Japanese working environment. And you don’t even need to have any pedagogical qualifications to land jobs in the educational field in Japan. I would venture to say that you just have to act naturally and in a charismatic manner to succeed here. The same applies for the Oktoberfest. You are chosen to do this job for being the gaijin [foreigner], not for having a special qualification. But still I have to say that this job delivers more insights into the Japanese working environment than the job as private teacher. In addition to that it’s a good opportunity to make friends, because being the gaijin makes you kind of special and interesting to the Japanese. You are the one who has to approach the shy Japanese, although the fact that there are coming a lot of young and tipsy people makes this task a lot easier. After Alex S. finished his Working Holiday he went back to Germany and is currently searching for a dual course of study, which combines earning money with a traineeship and at best involves the topic Japan. After meeting his girlfriend he stopped studying Japanese, which he is regretting at the moment. He says that they are still together and he wants to start learning her mother language again. One of the nicest experiences Alex had while working at the Yokohama Oktoberfest has been the last evening at work, when he and his colleagues went out to have one last drink together.
Most people connect Ebisu, the major district of Tokyo’s rather famous ward Shibuya, with its restaurant and bar scene. After all it was developed around a beer brewery in the late 1920’s. But you can find several quiet and homey spots in Ebisu, too, making it a popular residential area nowadays. There we’ve met Jessica A. (27) for an interview. She is working at Sesame International Preschool, founded in 2000 and located right in the heart of beautiful Ebisu. Jessica, can you tell us how a typical work day at Sesame looks like? Well, we are having various programs, based on the seasons, on the age of the kids etc. But in general it can be said that there is a structured daily plan. As the kids are coming from 9am, all staff members have to be here at latest 8:30. We are changing into our school staff uniform first and then welcome the arriving kids. After this, two times a week I’m cooking lunch for the kids and the other three times a colleague is doing it. We are actually serving fresh lunch with vegetables and rice for the most kids. There are some who bring their own lunch, too. At the moment I'm assistant teacher which means I’m responsible for the group of 3-6 year olds at the first floor. The group of the younger ones (1-2 years old) is located at the second floor. As an assistant I’m learning how to lead the group on my own so that my colleagues can take their holidays. Daily activities of my group are: 9:45am: morning circle time, where we sing a morning song and explain what will be done on that day; 10am: the kids take a snack and have play time; 11am: we visit a local park; noon: we have lunch; 1pm: math; 1:30pm: we do a big activity, which includes stationary at most times; 2pm: the kids take a snack and have play time again; 2:45pm: we sing a good bye song, talk about what we have learned today. Around 3pm the kids will get picked up. In the afternoon, I have different duties. There is an other special program, called extended care, for kids that stay longer than 3pm or come later. The staff then will be divided into the late shift who has to take care of the extended care kids, and the rest, who is in charge of making preparations. For example documents, seasonal decoration and of course the activity calendar have to be prepared. The activity calendar shows which daily big activity will be done in the current month. These activities are all educational, but are still supposed to be fun. For instance we are learning letters, numbers, seasons or read from a book and then do some handicrafts with the newly learned information. All activities should stimulate the kids thinking skills while also exercise their motoric capabilities. The goal is for the kids to be able to do minor maths, read and write the ABC and maybe even short sentences before attending elementary school. And at the same time we want them to have a enjoyable time at Sesame. Of course, where 1-6 year olds are around there is always a lot to clean and tidy up. That’s also each staff member’s duty, especially in the evening after 6pm, when all the kids have been picked up. What are your general working times? I’m working Monday to Friday. Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays are generally off, with some rare exceptions such as the yearly Christmas party on a Saturday. All staff members are having New Year holidays and summer holidays, plus 10 freely choosable days off. I’m starting my shifts in the morning at latest 8:30 and can leave shortly after 6pm. My shifts during myWorking Holiday were shorter. At that time I could leave around 4pm. So this right now is not your Working Holiday? Correct. I’m here with an actual working visa, valid for three years. Originally I started this job at Sesame in March 2014, when I came here for a Working Holiday. I didn’t search for a job right after arriving, because I wanted to enjoy some free time and get used to the country before starting a hard work life. But in April it was about time to find a job. Although I studied Japanese Studies in Germany, I didn’t have much confidence in my Japanese. I was thinking “What job can I do without knowing a lot of Japanese?“. An acquaintance of mine then told me that international schools are always searching for foreign staff. I started researching about international kindergartens and preschools on the internet. The website of Sesame International Preschool looked the most appealing to me, so I sent them an unsolicited application via email. They invited me for a job interview, which I had in May. I didn’t even expect that, but the school director asked me to start my ten days of test work on the same day. Of course they need to test you for some days before really hiring you, as they want to find out, if you will fit into the team and can deal with the children. I passed the test! After ten days I got hired as a part time worker, being paid hourly. I worked there until the end of my Working Holiday, so round about nine months. I went back to Germany and graduated university, aiming to go back to Sesame afterwards. And they also wanted me to come again. I went back to Japan, and now here I am in my eighth month as a full time employee in a permanent position. Which language requirements came with the job? You have to speak English fluently. I sent my resume and application in English, too, because the job was advertised in English at Sesame’s homepage. Also, it’s the rule of our school to speak English with the children. Of course you can make an exception, when a kid is new in school, or you can’t calm down one of them and need to try it in his or her mother language. Most of them are Japanese, but we have some foreign kids, too. After all it’s an international school. It’s not necessarily needed to be able to speak Japanese, but it’s definitely a plus if you can understand and speak at least a little bit, because some parents, which you have to communicate with, aren’t fluent in English. And of course the kids aren't neither. Most of them can’t express themselves in English, yet. Do you think working at Sesame helped you improving your Japanese? To be honest, there are jobs out there that are better for learning Japanese, because our school is leaded to around 95% in English. That’s just the school's concept. BUT, in some parts, yes, the job helped me to improved my Japanese. Especially because most of the kids are still speaking more Japanese then English. Although we remind them of talking in English, them speaking Japanese is something that can’t be avoided, after all they are living in Japan. But still, because of them speaking Japanese, I learned a lot that I haven’t learned during my Japanese studies. I’m still interested in learning more. And when asking my Japanese colleagues about what a kid just said, they are happy to help me understand. Would you let us know some more requirements? You definitely need to prove that you have worked with children before. I personally have worked three years in Germany as a homework assistance for immigrants elementary school kids. And also as a private tutor. In addition to this, Sesame told me that I would need to do an internship in a kindergarten or elementary school after my Working Holiday. Back in Germany I did a three months internship in a elementary school and provided a certificate about it to become a full time employee at Sesame. It also can be said that the time I worked here during my Working Holiday has been kind of a training for what I am doing now. Without having done that training, I’m sure they would have never sponsored the working visa for me. There are some high hurdles. Sesame makes pretty sure you are actually able to work with children and are a good teacher. The school takes very good care of their kids and searches for staff members that they can trust and that they can place responsibility on. One more requirement is to be a punctual person. Coming to late for work is not an option, because everything has to be prepared as soon as the first kids are arriving. I commute to work around 60 minutes from door to door, which means I have to leave the house at 7:15am latest to ensure not coming too late. In case there is a problem with the train, for example it is delayed because of an accident, you can receive this practical evidence paper at the station you get off the train. If you hand this to the school director, coming to late will be excused of course. But you need to think about the weather, too. You always should check the next day’s weather, because it might be windy or even snowy. Then you should take an earlier train. That’s just out of question. In case of a typhoon the whole school will be closed of course, for everyones safety. This will be announced the day before. Are you enjoying the job? And what don’t you like about it? I love my job! Every day is different. Although you have to follow a certain plan everyday and have repeating duties, it’s never the same. Thanks to the kids. Their behaviour changes everything. That’s what makes the job diversified and exciting. Also, I love children. And my colleagues. I know that I can always rely on them when I have a problem. There is a very familiar atmosphere here at Sesame. That makes it easy to come to work with a smile of your face every day. Looking back, the only thing that I see as a small disadvantage of a Working Holiday in general is that you have a very tight working plan. In the evening I used to come home exhausted. It was hard to follow the main part of “Working Holiday“: the holidays. It was hard to discover Japan, because I worked 5 times a week. When being paid hourly, you have no chance to take a day off without losing money at the same time. Now as an employee in a permanent position that’s luckily a bit different. Have you done other jobs during your Working Holiday, too? No. At the beginning of my Working Holiday I applied for a job in a German restaurant, too, because I felt that I needed more money. But in the end I didn’t take that job and instead Sesame’s director offered me to work longer shifts. That helped me a lot. Actually, my Working Holiday helped me learning to live with the amount I’m receiving, while still having a small amount left at the end of the month. I try to spend my money more responsibly, but still enjoying my time in Japan doing the things I like to do, such as attending concerts and meeting my friends. Can you give us a resume about your impressions and feelings about your job? My current job taught me that I definitely need a job in my life that keeps me moving. Where every day is different. I couldn’t sit in front of a computer all day long. I’ve learned for my life that a job needs to make you happy. It makes everything in life easier, if you love your job. In case I should go back to Germany some day and search for a new job, I know it must fill my heart more than my wallet. I really think that I could do this job forever. If it only was located closer to my loved ones in Germany, I wouldn’t have to think twice about that. Would you recommend doing a Working Holiday in Japan to others? Yes! I can recommend it to EVERYONE who is interested in Japan and also into getting to know the real Japan. With all it’s ups and downs. You have the chance to try out living in an other country, but are not forced to stay forever. In the end that one year of Working Holiday turned out to be one of the best years of my life. And it led me to my current life and job in Sesame. I learned a lot about myself, about being more independent and an adult. BUT it’s also important for you to know that you need to be open to a new society, to new things. You have to be eager to work very hard. And if you do so, your Working Holiday will be fantastic.
We’ve met Sabrina N. (24), who is currently in the middle of her Working Holiday year in Japan. She is doing a part time job at Deutsche Bäckerei Tanne, a German bakery right in the center of Tokyo. Who knows Tanne, knows that it’s famous for selling one of the best German style pretzels and hand made rye bread all over Tokyo. As one of various German bakeries, which have long been established in Japan by now, Tanne is delivering the German embassy, cultural events and also owns a café and store. We sat down with Sabrina for an interview. Sabrina, how did you land this job? I’ve been to Japan once before as a tourist in 2015. It was in summer and I stayed for three months, as I had some spare time before starting to write my master thesis. I’ve always wanted to go to Japan and a German friend of mine, who is living in Tokyo, sublet a room of her share apartment to me. It was perfect timing! Three months is a long time, so I started to think that I wanted to challenge myself. Even though I wasn’t allowed to receive any salary as a tourist, I felt like working a little bit and make some work experience. The same friend also introduced me to Tanne then, because she has been working there in the past. I’ve had a short talk with the manager of the store. They were searching for someone to help out at their market booth at the German Spring Festival in Yokohama, which I did then for four days. Going back to Germany, I graduated university and came back to Japan in 2016 for a Working Holiday. When searching for a job, I remembered Tanne and applied by email. This time I had a real job interview, it was more formal, I had to talk more Japanese and the actual bakery owner was there, too. But luckily they immediately took me. What kind of demands came with the job? Well, you need to have at least a basic knowledge of Japanese. That’s because you have to be able to communicate with the customers and your Japanese co-workers. You should at least know how to write and read Hiragana and Katakana, because sometimes you have to write down orders by hand or read cards which the names of the products are written on. But in my opinion that’s nothing you can’t learn within a short time. For example, at the time I was helping out at the German Spring Festival in Yokohama, my room mate helped me to prepare myself for the job by making a list of standard phrases that you need to know when working at a booth. Like “Welcome, how about some fresh German bread?“ and so on. I just memorised a lot of words like these and the rest came with learning by doing. How long have you been working at Tanne by now and what are your general working hours? I started at the end of November 2016, so it’s my third month now. I’m working around 5 times a week and my shifts are between 8 and 9 hours long, having a 45 or 60 minutes lunch break in between. The shifts are from 7:30 or 10:30 in the morning. When having the shift that starts at 7:30, I have to get up at 5am... It’s kind of hard sometimes, but that’s just how it is. How much do you earn? Is it enough to cover your living expenses? I receive something between 932 JPY and 1000 JPY an hour. 932 JPY is the minimum hourly wage in Tokyo. I get reimbursed for commuting to work, too. Unfortunately I get deducted 20% taxes off my salary. This is Japanese law, if you are here on a Working Holiday visa. This is not enough to cover all my living costs. That’s why I think it’s essential to save a certain amount of money before coming to Japan for such a long time. Fortunately I did so. Also doing more than one job is an option. Actually, I’m working in a German restaurant, too, but not very often. And I give private English and German lessons two to four times a week. A plus about these private lessons is the rather high hourly wage of 1,500-2,000 JPY. You can negotiate this with your students. But a big minus about this job is that it’s unsteady money. You always have to expect that a student cancels an appointment. I’d rather call it pocket money than proper salary. What are your duties at Tanne? My main tasks are close to those of a bakery sales assistant in Germany, I think. Filling the shelves of the shop with bread and pastries in the morning and empty them in the evening. I’m serving the customers, pack the product they’d like to buy, do the cashier and wipe the coffee tables. On some days I have to prepare the sandwiches we are selling. Answering the phone and advise customers about our products. For example quite many of them want to know the exact percentage of rye flower in our breads. And packaging! There is always to much to wrap up. Especially when we have to prepare for an upcoming event, such as a christmas market. Are you enjoying the job? And what don’t you like about it? In generell, yes, I do like the job a lot. I like to communicate with people. An office job wouldn’t be a thing for me. Also, I’m getting freshly baked bread for lunch time, which gives me a sense of home. The café always smells so good! And I love my co-workers. Although I sometimes would appreciate them to explain things more accurately to me. There are times I don’t understand everything right away and sometimes I don’t get told reasons for things. General said, I feel being a jobber is a bit risky, because in some cases you won’t conclude a contract. You are just been given your shifts as the owners like to. Of course you can hand in requests, but doing arubaito [side job] kind of makes you feel like your life is depending on every single one of your shifts. Do you think working at Tanne helped you improving your Japanese? My God, yes! Back in Germany I learned some Japanese, but only for my self. But it was definitely not on a proper communication level yet. Working in Japan helped me a lot to improve my Japanese skills. It’s still not that good, but compared to before, it’s way better. However, one thing that is still very hard for me to master is keigo [honorific language], which you are supposed to use when talking to a customer. Besides the language aspect, what did you learn doing this job? A lot! For instance I came to the personal conclusion, that German people are working more efficiently. At least that’s how I feel. BUT on the other hand I also feel that German people who are working in service could learn a lot from the Japanese when it comes to politeness. The same applies for the people who are receiving a service. You see, I realised that people working in service are doing their best effort. That should be rewarded with the kindness that I’m currently experiencing in Japan. Also, the fact that I’m able to work under more difficult conditions, such as the language barrier, totally pushed my self-confidence! What brought you to Japan to in the first place? What are you doing besides working? I enjoyed my first stay in Japan, the time I lived at my friends place for three months, so much, that I decided to come back. For longer. I wanted to challenge my self, soaking up the culture more than I could within these three months. Working and living here, I’m now able to do that. And this is very special to me, as I’m interested in Japan for the longest time. I’m actually a cosplayer and love gaming, Anime and also Japanese music. I’m able to enjoy some of these hobbies more extensive, than I could in Germany. For example I’m attending concerts of Japanese bands pretty frequently. What’s really special to me is that a lot of German friends came to visit me here. I’ve been visited around 7 times by now. That’s because I have a lot of Japan enthusiastic friends, who would have traveled to Japan sooner or later anyway. But the timing for them to come when I’m in Japan was just perfect. I’m very grateful fort hat. Although I started feeling like a tourist guide more than once. Can you give our readers a resume about your impressions and feelings about your Working Holiday? Sure. I think people who want to come to Japan for a Working Holiday should definitely do it. It enriched my life. But everyone should be beware of the fact that it’s not easy. Cultural differences can complicate your daily work routine. But if you find a job you can enjoy, with great co-workers, you will be able to bear potential troubles. I’m grateful for having found such a job at Tanne. And I’m happy to have made friends for life during my time here, at work and out of work. However, to be honest, I can’t imagine continuing this job after my Working Holiday is over. Not because I don’t like it, but just because I want to make the best out of my masters degree in art history on a long term.