Time in Japan
I went on a trip to Hakone and bought the Free Pass which gave me unlimited access to a range of different modes of transport as well as a round trip back to Shinjuku. The first stop was the Open Air Museum which features all kinds of quirky art structures but the highlight was definitely the symphonic structure that is grey and plain on the inside but a wall of colour within. The Hakone ropeway is a popular form of transportation in Hakone. This mode of transport is entirely free with the Hakone free pass. However, this is more than just a means of getting from A to B (which it does a very good job in taking you to lake Ashi) as it is an experience in its own right. One moment you are sailing above the trees and the next you are over the top of the mountain ridge and looking at the face of a volcano. Also, if you go on a clear day like I did then Mount Fuji is visible enough to snatch a photo of. Immediately after getting off the ropeway you are deposited at the shores of lake Ashi where a pirate ship awaits and at times like this it genuinely felt like the halogen area was one big sightseeing assault course with tourists carried along by the different and contrasting modes of transport as if they were on a conveyor belt. In truth I didn’t think the boat ride was that impressive, in fact it was the opposite of the symphonic structure in the Hakone Open Air Museum in that it was grand on the outside but ordinary within. In fact, I was more interested in speaking with some Canadians I met than I was in the boat ride and we discussed our Japan travel experiences at length. At the end of the boat ride I had the choice to go to Hakone shrine to the north or Mishima skywalk to the south and I decided to go with the latter as it was the path less travelled. I arrived at sunset and there were views of a sunset, suspension bridge, Sakura and Mount Fuji all at once. It was raining on the second day in Hakone (and a second day is necessary if you want to see the majority of what is on offer in the area) so I went for an activity that didn’t require good weather, the Hakone Glass Museum. When I arrived it didn’t feel like much of a museum at all but rather a quaint, fancy garden with many of the trees and bushes replaced by glass. While the individual exhibits weren’t jaw dropping, but like many of the other things they came together to create a mystical and peaceful atmosphere where you could sit and relax without overwhelming hordes of tourists which made a nice change from bouncing from one tourist hotspot to another. The most underrated attraction in the Hakone area by far was Tamadare falls. So underrated that it doesn’t even feature on the area map you get with the Hakone free pass (you need Hakone Yumoto station, OH51). In fact the only reason I knew about it was because the other English person who arrived at the sharehouse the same time as me went there and I saw their pictures on Instagram. I am glad I decided to be a copycat as it was one of my favourite places. The statues of dragons spitting water, the koi fish, the crimson-leaved trees and of course the waterfall with a pond complete with stepping stones made for some really good scenery. Also, because this area is relatively off the grid you also could still feel the atmosphere of the place as it wasn’t drowned out by crowds of tourists. I was in no particular rush to head back to Tokyo and I had seen everything I wanted to see so I decided to stop by Odawara castle. I arrived at about a quarter to 5 so there was little point in me paying to go inside the castle if it was going to close in 15 minutes. However, that didn’t mean the trip was wasted at all, the castle grounds and walls on the outside were more than sufficient to get a feel of the place and get some good photos in the process. Report by our participant Jacob
Hokkaido My first day's trip at Shiretoko National Park was split into three parts: snow shoes walking to see nature in the forest, drift ice walking on the frozen sea of Othosk and animal and coastal views at sunset. Moved a little south down the eastern side of Hokkaido. Originally I had intended to go to lake Mashū but the road was blocked so I went to Mount Iō instead and then the town of Kawayuonsen which had a nature trail with deer running free (which was quite a surprise as the trail I got first wasn’t on any map). I visited the Akan Crane Center for day 3. Unfortunately I narrowly missed the bus in the morning and had to wait over 4 hours in Kushiro for the next bus, by which time the cranes were almost all gone, but I could still get the odd decent pic of them. Public transport in Hokkaido is far worse than that in Tokyo and you really need to have things planned out and get up really early at times. I left the east of the island behind and headed for the heart of Hokkaido. This involved a train across the island which passed through endless fields of snow. Since there was heavy sleet and snow that day, I decided to make it a day. I went to see the zoo in Asahikawa where a range of different species from the world’s coldest climates could be found. In the evening I returned to Furano where I was based and walked along Ningle Terrace which is an arts and craft shopping area made entirely of wooden cabins in a forest illuminated by fairy lights. The 5th day got off to a rather bad start as the main purpose of my trip to the Shirogane area, near the town of Biei (within an hour of Furano) was to see the blue pond. However, at this time of the year (March) the pond is frozen over and covered with snow, so barely to be seen. I then headed to Shirogane Falls but enroute I found a gap in the snow drift that went into the trees and I found the relatively well concealed Fudou falls, which has a very uncanny resemblance to a stone staircase. Continuing along the road through the whitewashed landscape I reached Shirogane Falls and was pleasantly surprised to find the blue colour of the water was alive and well here after all. The water was so clear you could see the stones of the river bed even from up high on the suspension bridge. On my 6th day, after a 3 hour bus ride from Furano to Sapporo I felt like the trip to Hokkaido had already ended as it felt like I had returned to Tokyo with a dusting of snow as I had left behind the mountains, ice floes and blue rivers and traded them in for them towers and shopping centres. However, in time I would come to learn that this was in many ways a different place to Tokyo as while it shared many of the conveniences, it did not suffer from the overcrowding the way Tokyo does. In fact I felt like I had a lot of room to roam free, and so I did. I came across many things including the tower, both day and night, an underground shopping centre with exotic birds, the Susukino entertainment district and a giant ferris wheel placed in the center of the main outdoor shopping arcade area. I didn’t have much energy left on the 7th and final day, in fact I didn’t leave the hotel room until exactly the last possible minute I could to check out. I spent the day going around looking at things within a striking distance of the city centre before getting the flight back to Tokyo from Sapporo late in the afternoon. I came across a fish market, a lacklustre clock tower, a pachinko slot arcade and the main outdoor shopping street/arcade. Japanese Alps For the first day on the trip to the Japanese alps I went to Nagano prefecture to see the snow monkeys. There was very little snow left in the middle of March but an abundance of monkeys could still be found. This area is famous for monkeys bathing in the onsen but it was too hot for that (although one did fall in) and they all seemed to gather around the onsen like holidaymakers in Spain gathering around the swimming pool on a sunny day. The thing about the monkey park is although it certainly feels very touristy you still get to have a ‘real’ experience of seeing the monkeys as they act as if nobody's watching, often passing by humans without stopping to look to go off and see other monkeys. In the morning of the 2nd day I went on an hour-long ride to the lowest level of the three tiered shrine complex of Togakushi. Togakushi is essentially a group of shrines that are scattered up the mountain at 3 points of different heights. The ascent to the top involves an increase in altitude of over 100 flights of stairs. I may have picked a bad time of year (March) to go as although it was spring at the bottom it was still very much winter at the top and the shrines were buried in snow to the point I nearly missed them entirely. There was also a tree corridor where half of it was missing as only the conifer trees had kept their leaves. The snow and cold climate caused further problems as the route to the mirror pond was blocked off so all things considered you should wait until at least at the end of spring to come. I returned to Nagano in the afternoon and spent sundown walking around Zenkō-ji. Practically having the temple to myself was a peaceful way to spend sundown on a spring evening. I also liked the atmosphere uphill road leading to the temple, especially at night where it is lit up by street lamps and the mountains cast a strong silhouette in the navy evening sky. At the halfway point of my trip in the Japanese alps I visited Matsumoto Castle, one of the most famous in Japan. In my opinion, the outside of the castle grounds actually looks better but the inside is still worth visiting at only 700JPY. On the inside you can go inside the castle (which feels more like a matchup between a multi-storey shrine and a museum than a typical castle). On the fourth day I went for a ride on the Shinhotaka Ropeway (which can be accessed by bus from both Matsumoto and Takayama). The ropeway barely gets a mention from the guidebooks and online travel blogs, making it the most criminally underrated attraction I have seen in Japan so far. The views at the top of the mountain range were amazing. However, when you come in the winter months there is another thing to see, a mini snow corridor as high as you are running through the trees. The only bad things about the trip are that it takes hours to reach by bus and it is one of the more expensive things to do. Nevertheless, it is still the most impressive sight I saw in the Japanese Alps region. The final part of my trip to the Japanese Alps region was visiting the UNESCO world heritage site of Shirakawa village. I have never been anywhere like it. Even to reach it you have to spend half an hour in darkness going through a mountain tunnel and when you emerge on the other side you arrive at a place composed entirely of thatched roof wooden buildings. When I was walking around the place in the drizzle I couldn’t help but think that it was very much like where I am from in the UK. Both are surrounded by green fields, both are in close proximity to the mountains and the biggest similarity of course being the incessant drizzle that was pouring that day. Report by our participant Jacob
Living in the Japanese countryside If during your Working Holiday in Japan you want to get to know the traditional Japanese countryside with people who have a strong sense of community and are deeply rooted in their traditions, try Sado Island. Sado, after the main islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku and Okinawa, is Japan's six largest island. When gold was found on Sado Island in 1601, the island flourished economically and culturally, developing a unique and rich cultural heritage, including performing arts such as dance, chants and music, the world-famous Taiko drumming, puppet theater, folklore festivals, and traditional handcraft. Sado has hundreds of Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and several historical villages from Edo Period (1603-1867), which have remained architecturally mostly intact. The island is of extreme scenic natural beauty, with 288 km of rocky coastline, dense forests, terraced ricefields and a northern and southern mountain range reaching an altitude of 1172 meters. Sado is sparsely populated, with the vast majority of the population of around 55,000 living in Sado City in the flat middle part of the island. You can find all infrastructure there that you can expect from a Japanese city of that size. As opposed to large cities such as Tokyo, you will find it easy to get in contact with the population, as the people of Sado are very community-oriented and interested in their fellows. Which Working Holiday Jobs are there on Sado Island? Working Holiday jobs mostly exist in the island's 3 main economic sectors, which are tourism/gastronomy, farming and fishing. Jobs in tourism/gastronomy include employment in ryokans, hotels, restaurants and with tourism activity providers. Most opportunities for tourism-related jobs exist during the summer months from May to October. The agricultural produce most typical for Sado are rice and persimons and helpers are usually needed during the planting and harvesting seasons, which are April/May and September/October. Fishery jobs exist throughout the year. Particularly for oysters and mussels the season is during the winter months. While for some jobs, Japanese language skills are required, they might not be necessary for others. As you might struggle arranging a Working Holiday job in the countryside on your own, World Unite! offers support services on Sado Island. They provide for instance English training about how to harvest and classify persimons, which will make non-Japanese speakers employable even by farmers who can only give you instructions in Japanese. What else can I experience on a trip to Sado? You can travel from Niigata to Sado using a Boing 929 Jetfoil. The jetfoil is basically "an airplane on the water", which gets the dynamic lift from sea water instead of air. While the wings are under the water, the passenger cabin is floating on top of the water surface, easily reaching speeds of around 80 km/h.
Experience life with a Japanese family as an Au Pair As an Au Pair you live with a Japanese family for a couple of months. You are supposed to look after the family's children and support doing the household while the parents are at work. You usually receive some pocket money, along with food and accommodation. Finding an Au Pair job in Japan can be difficult because many Japanese families are unfamiliar with the concept and often scared to allow a stranger penetrate into their privacy. There are some agencies offering Au pair jobs in Japan though. It is usually required to have childcare experience to be accepted into their programs. The host families they arrange for foreign Au Pairs to be placed at, are typically residing in villages or small towns, but not in the big cities, because in large cities such as Tokyo or Osaka, apartment sizes are small and there is usually no space to accommodate another person.
An internship in Japan is an investment into your professional future Internships are usually done by students or graduates to get practical work experience, applying the theory they learn at university in a real life work environment. Many students want to do an internship abroad to expand their global and intercultural skills. Unfortunately, the idea of doing a student internship is not very common in Japan. Japanese students, while attending university usually don't aim at getting practical work experience, but they learn about real work only after graduation when entering a company at an entry-level position. It is still the idea of many of them to stay with the same company thoroughout their professional life. As a consequence, many Japanese companies, particularly those with a more traditional mindset, don't see the point why a student wants to be with them for a limited duration of time only, and they don't see the reason why to spend effort into training someone who would leave after short time anyway. As a consequence, it can be really difficult to arrange an internship in Japan. There are agencies that arrange internships in Japan, but you need to expect to pay a relatively high amount of money to use their services. Also, internships in Japan are often not paid, or companies only pay a small living support such as reimbursing your commuting or accommodation costs. With the visa categories issued for internships (e.g. Cultural Activities Visa) it is also legally not allowed to have an income in Japan. It is usually not possible to finance your trip, living expenses and possibly ageny placement fees with the stipend you get for your internship. You should therefore see an internship in Japan as an investment into your professional future.
What are Working Holidays? Working holiday programs are based on bilateral agreements between Japan and partnering countries, making it possible for young nationals of the partnering countries to travel to Japan for a duration of 6-18 months (depending on the nationality), primarily for the purpose of spending holidays which have the aim of cultural learning and exchange, but also allowing them to legally engage in employment with the purpose of supplementing their travel funds. Typical Working Holiday Jobs are jobs in restaurants, cafés and hotels, sales jobs in shops, nanny & au pair, English teacher, sports instructor, farm work, light factory work etc. However, legally (almost) any jobs are possible. In Tokyo, these jobs are typically remunerated with around 890-1500 Yen/hour. At other cities, the salaries are slightly lower, but also living expenses are lower. So if you work part-time (28 hours per week) or full-time (40 hours per week) you can have a relatively good income, which allows you not only to cover your living expenses, but even to save some money, for instance to travel around or to pay for Japanese language lessons. lf you have some professional qualification and/or you have better skills of the Japanese language, you can find jobs with even a higher salary. Contrary to the "roadtrip" concept of Working Holiday like it is common in Australia and New Zealand, where you would travel around all the time and do constant job hopping, in Japan due to the expectations of employers that you stay with the company for a longer time, it might make more sense to plan your stay in Japan in a way, that you don't stay for less than 3 months at one place. It is simply often not feasible to find jobs for a short duration of time only. So if you stay for a full year in Japan, it is advisable not to plan to stay at a total of more than 4 locations if you intend to find remunerated work. To explore more parts of the country, you can travel around in between jobs or during weekends and public holidays. Who can do Working Holidays in Japan? The Japanese Working Holiday Visa currently exists for nationals of the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Austria, France, Portugal, Poland, Slovakia, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. You must be between 18-30 years old by the time of applying for the visa (for some of above mentioned nationalities it is only 18-25 years) and you have to proof you are able to afford the trip. You apply for your Working Holiday Visa before leaving for Japan through the Japanese embassy (or consulates at some countries) at your home country. Even if you can’t speak any or only little Japanese, it is still possible to find a job, but the better your Japanese language skills are, the easier it is. It is always a good idea to attend Japanese language lessons while in Japan though (and prior to your trip). How can I find a job in Japan? The usual steps for Working Holidays in Japan are: 1) to apply for the visa at your home country; 2) to travel to Japan and sort out all formalities that Japanese employers usually require such as registering as a resident, getting a tax number, opening a bank account, and getting a mobile phone contract, and 3) to find a job once you have arrange all of this. It is difficult to secure remunerated jobs from abroad, as potential employers usually want to see that you have a visa which allows you to work in Japan, that you have a Japanese tax number, a bank account where they would pay the salary, and a phone number where they can reach you at. As many things are done completely differently in Japan than at your home country, plus there might be a possible language barrier as English is not wide-spoken in Japan, it might be a good idea for you to use professional support services to assist you with the formalities and to land a job. As an extra service, agencies might also be able to pre-arrange certain jobs prior to your arrival. The leading provider of Working Holiday support services in Japan, with a multi-lingual support team in Tokyo, is World Unite!. Besides providing support services such as sorting out the necessary formalities and helping to find jobs in Tokyo, World Unite! also pre-arranges jobs at ryokans (traditional Japanese hotels), (Western-style) hotels, ski-resorts and farms all over Japan and they run an attractive and affordable share house in central Tokyo. Read more about World Unite!'s Working Holiday support in Japan: Working Holiday in Tokyo Working Holiday jobs at ryokans, hotels and ski resorts Working Holiday jobs at farms World Unite! Share house in Tokyo