Author: Julia Kühn
- Pop Culture
- Time in Japan
- Tokyo Things To Do
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"]
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. We spoke with Ahmed I. (20, from Hamburg in Germany) about his job at a ramen restaurant. 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. " order_by="sortorder" order_direction="ASC" returns="included" maximum_entity_count="500"]
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.