Studying and Interning in Tokyo

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

By: Keith Pratt; Foster Undergraduate

Part 1: If you’re considering studying/living in Japan, you’ve probably read blogs and watched Youtube videos about Japan’s ancient tourist sites, amazing convenience stores, extremely packed but convenient train systems and somewhat eerie robotic toilets, but you probably haven’t heard very much about what its companies, called kaisha, are like. So, in this blog post, I will “humbly receive your letting me write,” as they say in formal business Japanese, about my experience interning at a company in Japan. (I won’t list the name of the company in this blog.)

When I entered the company, a Japanese multinational corporation with over a hundred billion dollars in assets, I was taught a little about what the company does and the basics of customer interaction including the ritual of exchanging business cards (which is an entire topic of its own), and then I was sent off to the division I would be interning at. Most of the content of the internship involved shadowing various eigyou-man (somewhat of a slang term), who perform the extremely critical tasks of maintaining customer relationships, making sales/negotiating business transactions, and drinking with customers (I wish I were joking). The company opted to spare me the last function “since you’re still a student.”

The people I worked with—and the company as a whole—were very hospitable and helpful, and I felt like they did their best to make me feel comfortable at the company. Having said that, while I won’t go into the details of my every day, there were some memorable moments one might describe as culture shocks…

Experience 1: Eigyou-man (plural) in Japan meet with clients. A lot. And while my Japanese wasn’t perfect, I knew enough of it to understand that a lot of what the conversations were about had absolutely nothing to do with business. In fact, one day after the team I was with took well over an hour to get to one of our customers’ offices out in a more rural part of Japan, we met with our client, a slightly older gentleman, and for the first forty-five minutes did nothing but talk of the exquisite splendor of Japan’s rich history and other such topics relating to the greatness of Japan. After taking about a half-hour talking about actual business, he proceeded to offer me advice about how to deepen my understanding of what it means to be Japanese through a range of different

methods, and then inquired as to whether one of the other eigyou-man, a girl only a few years older than I, had read the book he recommended to her the last time they met. (It turns out she had bought it but hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet.) We then made the one-hour plus trip back to the office. This kind of experience wasn’t that far from normal.

Experience 2: Another day, an eigyou-man in his mid-twenties and I visited a traditional Japanese electronics company that made about forty billion dollars/year in revenue. The eigyou-man I was with had a fairly close relationship with the company we were visiting, and after briefly talking about some business the eigyou-man on my side changed the topic and bluntly said to the person from the other company, “Please buy these baseball tickets.” And he replied, “okay.” I could not believe my ears—baseball tickets had nothing to do with the electronics company, but he agreed to buy them regardless. I later learned that this type of purchase was normal in order to maintain good relationships between companies (*facepalm). We then bowed, exited the room, and entered the elevator to go down to the first floor… but the man from the other company was still with us. Upon reaching the first floor, we exited the elevator, bowed again, said goodbye and thank-you, and headed towards the set of three sliding doors we would walk through. Before passing through the first sliding door, we turned around, made eye contact with the man who was still standing there, bowed again, and then passed through the first door. This happened twice more, every time we passed through a set of sliding doors, until we were completely out of sight. When it comes to traditional Japanese companies, this is supposedly normal as well.

These are only a couple of my many experiences of visiting Japanese companies.

Part 2: Only a little bit of my time in Japan was actually spent interning, so I’m going to write out some of my thoughts and bits of advice for those of you considering/planning an exchange program in Japan such as one at Gakushuin University.

For those of you studying Japanese, you’ve probably already had some level of exposure to keigo, and you’re probably concerned about not being able to use it properly. But here’s my advice: relax, since just about all the college students in Japan are feeling the same way. In fact, I’ve heard some Japanese people comment on how gaijin (foreigners) are often better than many Japanese at keigo because the Japanese aren’t taught it in school like gaijin are—so don’t worry about it too much. Just make sure you know the basics really well.

For those of you concerned about the smoke in Japan, yes—it is a lot worse than it is in Seattle. However, it’s not nearly as bad as it was in the past; in fact, it’s outlawed in most public places in Tokyo as well as in many restaurants and cafes. Also, I’d like to note that not once was I ever pressured to drink; people were very understanding, to my pleasant surprise.

One of the greatest inconveniences of Japan is the difficulty to get free wifi—not even Starbucks offers free wifi. You can get wifi boxes from service providers like Softbank, but don’t expect to be connected to the internet unless you enter into some kind of contract with a company.

I was pleasantly surprised was to see how lively and energetic the churches I visited in Tokyo were. I often hear how few people in Japan are religious, but I was actually able to make many deep friendships with the locals, especially college students in Tokyo, through the different churches here.

A few other words of advice would be to keep track of when the last trains of the day are; to be active in making friends in your classes, “circles”(clubs), churches, student groups or whatever other organizations you may choose to join since your time in Japan will fly by before you know it; and to make a lot of Japanese friends before leaving for Japan, not only to gain practice speaking, but also since they can help you out once you’re in Japan.

Going to Japan is definitely the best way to improve your Japanese, but in order to make the most of it, you have to speak Japanese. Don’t worry about whether your Japanese isn’t good enough—go for it anyway! I’m not saying you have to hang out with only Japanese people, but having conversations in Japanese with your friends will go a long way in improving your ability to communicate, especially if you own a denshi jisho, an electronic dictionary. Denshi jisho are excellent for intermediate and advanced learners of Japanese, and I think they’re indispensable for understanding lectures in school and learning words while watching TV or talking with friends because you can find words with them far more efficiently than you can with a paper dictionary. Some advantages over using smartphone dictionary apps include longer battery life, better dictionaries/ word lists, and easier word input.

Lastly, I highly, highly recommend finding a host family if at all possible. The quality of my stay in Tokyo was doubled, both in getting to create valuable relationships and in practical ways such as being able to practice my Japanese over dinner, because I was able to stay with my host families.

As I write this, I’m actually in Kyoto studying at Kyoto University, which is quite an experience in of itself. After this semester ends, I will head back to Tokyo where I will do one last internship before returning to Seattle. Since I’ll have experienced living in both Tokyo and Kyoto, if you have questions about what they’re like—or any questions about studying in Japan in general—I’d be happy to answer them!

I hope you make the most of your time abroad, and happy travels!

Ooedo Onsen Monogatari

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

I’m kicking myself now for not trying out a Tokyo onsen sooner.  I had gone to one around two years ago at a hotel in Miyazaki and was just not impressed.  I went with my host family, and it felt like nothing more than an expensive bath where old ladies stare at you because they’ve never seen a white person naked before.  My mistake was assuming that all onsens would be that, well, lame.

Erika (2)Even if you’re not that interested in onsens, I still highly recommend checking out Ooedo Onsen Monogatari.
Japanese site English site

This onsen was recently remodeled and has a very clean, new feeling to it.  While it certainly attracts a lot of foreigners, the majority of the patrons are Japanese.  The entrance fee was cheaper because it’s summer now (about ¥2000) and the food/souvenirs/massages weren’t that bad either!  They give you a key bracelet with a barcode that shop workers will scan when you purchase something extra.  They tally it all up when you leave the onsen so you can walk around and not have to worry about storing your wallet in your yukata (but you can still easily carry your digital camera, etc in the sleeves if you want).

I ate sushi, oden, two iced oolong teas and a giant shaved ice and bought two bath salt packets for omiyage and my total ended up being just short of ¥3000.  The food was very good too, not typical tourist trap food.  That made my total about ¥5000, which is not bad considering it was an all-day affair!  I believe you’d pay considerably more on a trip to Tokyo Disney Land.

There are multiple natural hot spring pools (including outdoor ones) and saunas.  The main baths/saunas and the outdoor footbath are free.  For other things like the sand bath and massages you’ll have to pay extra.  If you’re so inclined, they also have a bath where tiny fish eat the dead skin cells off your feet.  As much as I like trying out “quirky Japan” things, it was one of the more expensive services so I passed.Erika (1)

The nice thing about Tokyo is that they’re much more used to foreigners so there’s no awkward staring (at least to my knowledge) when you’re bathing.  Soap and shampoo is included as are brushes, hair serums and blow dryers afterwards.  I don’t know about the men’s side however, because this is not a mixed-gender onsen. (more…)

Lunchtime Chats in Madrid

Monday, November 24th, 2008

horse-statue.jpgToday, my coworker Elena asked what kind of image Americans have of Spain. “Do they consider it a lesser developed country and lump it with other Spanish-speaking countries?” she said. Personally, I have always lumped Spain with countries like France and Germany. It is hard to imagine that this democratic country was ruled under the Franco dictatorship only 30+ years ago! Spain has emerged from restricting women from opening their own bank account without a husband’s cosign just 30 years ago to becoming the world’s third nation to legalize gay marriage. Developing at a fast rate, Spain takes much pride in the things it does well. The metro system, for example, is extremely efficient, extensive, and well maintained. I saw a poster showing the Statue of Liberty stooping down, peering curiously into a metro entrance. The catchy phrase said, “The Metro the world wishes they had– is right here in Madrid.”

We always have many interesting discussions at my workplace. I get to enjoy a long lunch with my coworkers in the middle of the day, where I have become familiar with everything from Spanish slang to politics to family life. Through many entertaining conversations, I have learned endless Spanish colloquial phrases and words. Harmless words like “monkey” “horse” and “chocolate” can translate to refer to drugs! As far as politics go, Obama is welcomed with great enthusiasm. Spaniards are hopeful that his presidency will help secure a more solid friendship between our nations. My coworkers enjoy talking about American politics; it sometimes surprises me how well informed they are about the US.

spanish-flag.jpgAlso during our lunch, my coworkers love when I recount the tales of my home-stay experience with my “señora”. I am currently living with an older woman, single and retired. She is very kind, and happily cooks my meals and does my laundry. In exchange, I live by the interesting rules of the house. No bare feet on the floor, showers no longer than exactly 10 minutes (complimentary reminders given), and I must never share her hand towel. It seems notions of hygiene are different here. It is also bad form to relax with one’s feet on the furniture, as living rooms tend to be much more formal here. I must also make my bed every day and keep my room tidy, since here it is customary to leave doors to rooms open. My coworkers have explained to me that these tendencies are more specific to her Spanish generation, and that the younger generation lives with a more relaxed style.

Though my señora is from an older generation, she (like every other Madrileño) loves to go out at night! Regular bedtime for her is around 2 or 3 am. I am long asleep by then, as I have to wake up early most mornings. In Madrid, going out is a highlight of the culture. The Spanish do not often invite their friends over to their home, because the home serves more for family and relaxation. To meet up with friends or a date, my señora always goes out for tapas (appetizers with drinks) or for a coffee and a pastry, or to the movies, or even to a dance club (for people her own age, she informs me).

I love soaking up the culture around me, and comparing it to the US. I enjoy many things here, like the tendency of staying up so late and sleeping in, and the abundance of small neighborhood shops serving everything you could need. However, I dislike how so many stores inconveniently close from 2-5pm for the siesta, or how service is continuously slow in restaurants. I think if we could somehow fuse the customs of our nations together, I would have the perfect place to live.

Microcredit in Madrid

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

blogger3.jpg¡Hola, buenos días! My name is Martha, but here in España I am better known as “Marta” or even “Martita.” I am a junior in the Foster School of Business, focusing on Finance and CISB. I chose International Business because of my passion for traveling and learning about other cultures, and this opportunity with EUSA has been opening so many doors for me to explore career options. This internship introduced me to microcredit, which thus has become my newfound passion in life.

The concept of microcredit (giving small loans for business to those unable to access such credit) began in Bangladesh, but now has been spreading and adapting to countries all around the world. Here in Madrid, I work for a non-profit organization called MITA, which is a center for entrepreneurial development especially for immigrants and women. Spain has a huge population of immigrants, many of which bring diverse ideas and products with business potential. Understandably, it is quite difficult for a low-income immigrant to obtain a €25,000 loan and successfully open a business with limited analysis of the Spanish market, business laws and regulations, and limited experience with creating a business plan. Clients come to MITA for training, advising, and assistance in securing a special low-interest loan from one of several banks in Madrid that offer microcredit services.

Only a handful of dedicated workers make up the organization of MITA, curiously, all women. It is a fun atmosphere to work in, light-hearted and casual. There is always plenty of work to do; this small organization is steady with clients. My colleagues, Leticia and Elena, have each about 10-15 ongoing projects with their entrepreneurs-in-training. Currently, most of my work involves researching and compiling reports about market sectors to help determine if a certain type of business would be viable here in Madrid. I find market studies from internet databases, news articles, magazines, and browse through information in past business plans. Most of the business ideas (more…)

Marketing Internship Placement with Academy Music Group, London

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

p1000690.JPGFor this summer, I am doing work experience (aka an internship) at Academy Music Group (AMG), owner and operator of over a dozen live performance venues all over the United Kingdom. Three of our venues are in London: Carling Academies Brixton and Islington, and the Shepherds Bush Empire. I was fortunate to see Death Cab For Cutie in July at our Brixton venue, then The Dandy Warhols the week after at the Empire. Before each show, I toured the venue with the resident venue manager and chatted about their experiences working at the venue. Many of our managers have been at their respective sites for nearly ten years or more! The majority of my work is not on-site, rather, I operate out of the AMG headquarters above the Brixton venue.

p1010399.JPGOur marketing department is comprised of myself, the marketing and PR intern; Justine and Lauren, the assistants; and Louise, the marketing manager.  Technically, I report directly to Justine, but both Lauren and Lou are very participative in my work experience. Daily tasks which I have taken on over time include: searching for relevant press in regional and national publications, maintaining the digital and hard press archives, locating artist press contacts, and uploading show details on venue websites’ gig listings.  Some unique projects I conducted were the research for marketing opportunities and demographic points-of-contact in the Liverpool area for festival outreach and the design of interactive spreadsheets for internal purposes. Learning about the London music scene has been amazing as well! I’m fairly familiar with how my industry works, but there’s always something new to learn when you see how other companies in completely different cultures and geographic areas strive for the same goals and outcomes.

The Final Full Week

Friday, September 5th, 2008

guadalajara-1099.jpgToday is my final full week of work. Next week I have only three days, and then I leave for Cancun for four days (with my dad). It’s so weird that my trip is coming to an end. I feel like I have been here for so long, but at the same time, it all went by so fast. Yesterday we held an event at the President Intercontinental Hotel. An executive from PEMEX (Petróleo Méxicano) presented the effects of the reform that the company will be going through—moving from a fully governmentally owned company to opening for private investments. I can’t help but cringe every time we have a speaker give a presentation. I feel as if the chamber needs to hold a seminar on ‘Successful PowerPoint Presentations.” I am not exaggerating when I say they type every word on each slide and then the graphs they use are super complicated. On top of that, their speech lacks audience engagement. Luckily, it was a lunch conference so my head was in my plate the whole time.

On Wednesday night I went with my boss and a friend to ‘La Casa Mariachi.’ It was a nicely decorated restaurant and had live mariachi music and dance performance. People started pouring in around midnight. It made me wonder if anyone had to work the next morning.

It’s beginning to look like Christmas here. The truth is, the Mexican Independence day is coming up on the 16th of September (no, it’s not Cinco de Mayo). Cinco de Mayo is actually only celebrated by a small town called La Batalla de Puebla when the Mexicans won the battle against the French. The rest of the country celebrates the 15th through 16th of September. I say that it looks like Christmas because they have decorated the town with the colors red, green, and white (the colors of the flag).

Baby Shower

Friday, August 29th, 2008

Last weekend I visited my friend in Morelia. It’s a beautiful city in the state of Michoacan; colonial and tiny. In fact, some residents call it ‘Little Spain,’ since much of the architecture resembles that of Spain’s. In general, I noticed that the people look more native in Morelia than they do here in Guadalajara, and they are much friendlier. I stayed with my friend and her host family. We spent much of Saturday evening talking American politics and Iranian culture. I am now accustomed to hearing, ‘Don’t you guys have to cover your faces and if you don’t, you get beaten?” right after I tell them that I am Middle Eastern. The discussion is fun, actually because I have the opportunity to help them see that not all Muslims are fanatics as shown in the media. I guess the street runs both ways because I now have the chance to return to the U.S. and explain to my friends and family that Mexicans are not as we see them in the states and the country is not all dirt and sun. Mexicans have so much pride in their culture and their country, and unfortunately their image has been tainted by the few who have crossed the border to create a better life.

In about twenty minutes we will be celebrating a co-worker’s baby shower here at the office. Tomorrow night I am going to a wedding. So far, we have fifteen companies who have confirmed to attend our trade mission in Seattle and Portland.

Farmer’s Markets, London Field Research

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

This weekend is Bank Holiday, which is sort of like Labour Day, and means that we all have a four-day weekend, hooray!

wooten1.jpgOne of my Seattle friends was in town this week, so Saturday we took her to Borough Market, a huge farmer’s market by the Thames. It’s off of Borough High Street and is extremely popular for grocery shopping. They have nearly every produce you could imagine, fresh fruits and veggies, smoothies, bakeries, fish vendors, tea, fish and chips, turkish delights, falafel, beer, wine, BBQ, it goes on for quite a while. Between the three of us, we ate BBQ, fish and chips, and more BBQ!

wooten2.jpgWe stopped into a boulangerie and shared an amazing strawberry tart. The custard was the texture of whipped cream and melted in your mouth, while the strawberries were sweet, and the buttery crust just the right amount of flaky. We also found (we think) the world’s largest pyramid of brownies!

Camden Market was very fun today! Once you get past the touristy part of Camden High Street, you get into the area by the canal which has amazing food and much more unique, culturally diverse shopping. I got Bombay potato and a strawberry smoothie, while Pavel got both Jamaican jerk chicken and goat curry. We tried to find the vendor that serves huge coconuts from which you drink the water, but they were gone for a carnival outside of Camden! I’ve vowed to take us back there to get our coconuts and our photo opp!

Trade Mission

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

The Trade Mission in Seattle-Portland is only a month away and we are super busy at the Chamber preparing for it. So far, I have been following up with companies in the state of Jalisco as to whether or not they have received the invitation. Our goal is to have ten companies confirmed to attend next week. The exciting part is that we get to work closely with other sister chambers in Jalisco and in the U.S. in addition to gaining membership interest on the part of corporations. Aside from the lecture and individual meetings that we have planned for the event, we have also arranged a visit to Nike, Microsoft, and the Port of Portland. The goal of the trade mission is to expand business opportunities within Mexico and the U.S. (specifically the Northwest and the state of Jalisco).

Aside from work, I am slowly winding down and preparing myself mentally for my return back to the states. Although I am still here for another month, I feel that it will fly by super fast, considering that I can now visualize how many weekends I have left here and what I will be doing each weekend. It’s interesting that now that I have finally developed strong friendships and I feel as if I am a part of the community in Guadalajara, I have to let it go and return to ‘normal’ life.

This afternoon I will be heading off to Morelia, a city in the neighboring state of Michoacán to visit my friend. She came last weekend and we traveled to Tequila, which is a beautiful town nearby where I live and is also where Jose Cuervo’s hacienda is located; tequila runs like water there. Of course I also showed her downtown Guadalajara and the Sunday markets nearby.

I am excited to see Morelia. I hear it’s very colonial and is often compared to Spain, architecturally. Tonight, we will be going to a Karaoke bar. I have never been to a karaoke bar, let alone one with Spanish songs.

Trade Committee

Friday, August 15th, 2008

guadalajara-872.jpgThis morning the American Chamber held their monthly trade committee meeting in Hotel Hilton. Since I work in the trade department, I helped put the event on. This month’s topic was JALTRADE and external commerce. Basically, since we are preparing for the trade mission in late September, the meeting served more as a manner to gain interest for companies who would like to be a part of the trade mission in Portland and Seattle. We had a speaker from JALTRADE (a company here) present while other executives sat around tables and were served breakfast.

guadalajara-824.jpgThis weekend, my friend from Morelia will be visiting me. We have some plans to go see a nearby town called Tequila. Yes, it also happens to be the same town famous for all the tequila companies and agave plants. I hear it’s very pretty. On Wednesday, I went with my boss and her roommate to see the movie Batman. It was in English with Spanish subtitles. Even though the screen was a bit smaller than what we are accustomed to in the U.S (and tickets much cheaper), the movie was nevertheless amazing.

For the time being, I am convincing my dad to come visit me while I am still here. otH