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!

Hokkaido Bound!

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Akita, Diana5Posted by a Foster School student on exchange at Akita International University.

Another holiday weekend meant another adventure for my friends and me.  With our hearts set on the supposed snow and the promise of fresh powder for snowboarding we headed off to Hokkaido for 4 days and 3 nights.  Though we ended up coming when there was no snowfall, we still made lemons out of lemonade and made the most of our trip.  Going to Sapporo, we did what most AIU students have done; sightseeing at the major tourist attractions.  Some of the places we ended up going to was:

Sapporo Beer Factory: Obviously the namesake of Sapporo beer came from the city it originated from back in 1876.  With a unique chance to see the history of the beer and to do a beer tasting we jumped at the opportunity and it definitely did not disappoint.  A great place for omiyage (souvenirs), a restaurant that makes Genghis Khan-styled lamb, and a variety of beer to try, I was glad to experience a part of the Sapporo culture.

Shiroi Koibito Chocolate: Coming here was vaguely reminiscent of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when I was watching the factory workers make the cookies they let visitors taste. The best part was trying out the other sweets they make and going in a group is extremely beneficial because you get to try a little bit of everything.

Susukino: We actually stayed at a inn in this area, and it was definitely a contrast to AIU life and even what Susukino looks like during the day.  Restaurants, bars, and billboards lit up the night and there was a surprising amount of people on the streets past 10pm.  If you want to experience the nightlife in a place other than Tokyo then this is what Susukino is known for.Akita, Diana6

All in all Sapporo was amazing and it didn’t feel as rushed as my Tokyo trip, so it was the relaxing type of trip I needed so I could get to know my international friends a little bit more and practice my Japanese.  With less than a month left, I’m definitely feeling the pang of having to leave all of the friends I’ve made and go back to UW and finish up what’s left of my degree, but I certainly wouldn’t have given this up for a second. With that said, do what I did and try something different and study abroad at Akita International University and experience what I’ve experienced in Japan. Try the sushi, go to an onsen, and interact with the people.

Tokyo in 2 Days.

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Thankfully Tokyo is only a night bus away from Akita International University and with only 2 days I was wondering if I could get to all the places I wanted to go.  However, with a little bit of organizational help with the group of friends I went with, I was able to see most of the major tourist sites of the many districts in Tokyo. Some of the districts I went to included:

Akita, Diana1Shibuya
Famous for it’s scramble crossing, it’s definitely a site to see when all cars at the interesction stop and people are allowed to populate the interesction going whatever which way to get to their destionation.  One of the busiest Starbucks in the world also overlooks this scramble crossing, so you get a nice view during rush hour as people try to get home. Shibuya is also home of the Hachiko statue (cute story if you want to look it up) and Shibuya 109 a very large shopping mall popular for girls.

Definitely a great place for tourists because of Nakamise-Dori, the long strip of vendors that sells all different types of souvenirs at reasonable prices.  At the end of all these street vendors is the Senso-ji, a Buddhist temple kept in a traditional Japanese style, which is one of Asakusa crowning icons.

It is definitely not what you imagined if your opinion is based off of what Gwen Stefani portrayed, but there are a handful of people who dress in that style, and many other distinct Japanese styles that roam around this district.  Harajuku is definitely one of the fashion centers of Japan and you can find plenty of stores ranging from the luxurious brands to the street vendors who sell clothing at ridiculously low prices, like the 700 en shop.

Known for having the very wealthy Roppongi Hills area I could sadly only visit Mori Tower.  However, I felt like it was the best leg of the trip because of the amazing view of Tokyo you can see from the 52nd floor, the Mori Art Museum, and the fun Doodle 4 Google contest they had going on when I went.  I spent 3 hours just roaming around and trying to find locations in Tokyo from the view, but nonetheless the time was well spent.

Akita, Diana3There are some other sites I went to, but you should definitely see for yourself.  Being at AIU makes the trip to Tokyo so much more exciting and different.  It’s only been a day, but I definitely can’t wait to go back to Tokyo again.

Akita Adventures: From harvesting rice to teaching English!

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Akita, Diana2Konban wa! My name is Diana Nguyen and I’m studying over at Akita International University (AIU) in Akita, Japan.  Here is my little tidbit about my adventures thus far.  Part of the benefits of studying at AIU is being able to participate in their Community Outreach Services program.  The school establishes partnerships with the Akita community and plans small events and activities that range from being conversation partners with highschool students to harvesting persimmons to watching an Akita traditional dance performance.  It takes no effort on your part other than signing and showing up.  To get a taste of what they have been offering, here are some of the events that I have participated in:

Harvesting Rice
It was such a rewarding experience to actually see where the rice I eat everyday comes from and the process in order to get it to our bowls.  It was also extra special because Akita is known for their delicious rice.  Plus, it was really motivating to see that the elementary students that we were harvesting with were just as eager to help do some manual labor.  My favorite part was seeing the yellow fields of rice, and the end result of our couple hours of harvesting.

Teaching English at Elementary Schools
I hadn’t taught English in this type of setting before so I didn’t really know what to expect.  However, the English teachers were really helpful and walked me through the whole process.  The students were also great because they were so intrigued with the idea of having an international student assist in teaching their English lesson.  I loved answering their questions just because they were so excited to take turns and ask questions from an international student.
Akita, Diana4
Just from those descriptions I hope you can tell that if you come to AIU you’ll have plenty of chances to get in touch with the community and do a lot of meaningful events during your stay abroad.

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…)

Visiting a Japanese Onsen

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

Posted by a student studying on exchange at Akita International University.

A trip to Japan is not complete without a visit to a Japanese Onsen (hotspring). I had wanted to go to one, and I knew that I would kick myself if I didn’t have a chance to go. When I heard that a group of students were planning on going to Tazawako (Lake Tazawa), the deepest lake in Japan, I jumped on the opportunity. Due to Japan’s extensive rail system, it was even possible to get there by train. If you are planning on visiting anywhere in Japan, I suggest getting familiar with the train system, and buying a JR Rail-Pass for Golden or Silver Week.

It took 2 and a half hours to get to the lake. We took a bus for the last lag of the journey, and accidentally missed the stop for Tezawako. We decided to just head straight to the Onsen, as it was getting late anyways. No one was sure where the Onsens were, and we didn’t have any Japanese students with us. Someone asked the bus driver where to find the hot springs, and he pointed at a non-descript bus. We hesitantly got onto the bus, and joked about them taking us into the woods and abandoning us.

After a short drive on some of the narrowest roads I have seen, we came to an old looking Japanese building. It was an Onsen, and it only cost 700yen to use. The bus was complimentary. We all relaxed for about an hour, and the water was a nice milky color and smelled like sulfur…it was the real thing. This was a very traditional Onsen, as we got out we saw a woman getting in (she was wearing a towel). We didn’t realize that we were in the non-gender segregated Onsen, so if you think that would be a problem for you, make sure you are going in the right one!

We were going to stop by the lake afterwards, but it had started to rain and it was almost 4pm, so it was getting dark outside. We were all hungry, and Akita is famous for a dish called Kiritanpo, and we had 2 hours to kill before the train would take us back. We figured we could find a good restaurant in the city, and prepared to hike around looking for a restaurant. The search didn’t last long as there was a restaurant 40 yards from the bus stop. The food was delicious, and I got to try horse sashimi (raw horse meat) for the first time, knocking another “things-to-do” item off of my mental list. If only I could stay longer and make it to Hokaido for the snow festival.

While returning, we saw some other exchange students at the train station. We told them about our trip, and they said that they had traveled to a similar Onsen a couple weeks of before. After giving them more details, they were more certain that we had been to the same place. Apparently it was one of Japan’s most traditional, highly rated, and historical Onsens. I did a little research, and confirmed through pictures that the Onsen was called Tsurunoyu Onsen.  It has been around since the 17th century. Considering we didn’t know where we were going, I think we did pretty well.

The trip on a whole was very surreal. I never could have imagined going on such a crazy trip with people from all over the world, who I had just met a couple of months before. It’s one of the great things about studying abroad: getting a chance to meet and spend time with people from all over the world.

One month left

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

With a little less than a month left in Kobe, I’ve decided to think back at what I have conquered during my experience in Japan. One of the greatest highlights of my time in Japan in actually being able to work part-time at a Japanese style izakaya, which are drinking/dining establishments typical in Japan. I have worked at restaurants as a server in Seattle, but I was shocked to experience that working in Japan is completely different. First of all, there are the numerous routine greetings that each worker must memorize, and must use when encountering customers. Starting from the normal “welcome”, irrashaimase, to “thank you”, arigatou gozaimasu, there are numerous others such as restaurant specific “one moment please”, “I will be there shortly”, and so on. In America, I am used to my own serving style, sometimes even casually communicating with customers, so getting used to the Japanese system was shocking at first.

Another different aspect of Japanese dining institutions is that servers must go outside of the restaurant, literally outside into the city, to promote the restaurant and try to get customers to come in. Being a short-term worker, I had to go outside to promote the restaurant numerous times, and this was sometimes easier than actually serving inside, but right now it is the middle of winter and standing outside for 3-4 hours is physically difficult. Nevertheless, the experience was new to me, and I tried to enjoy every aspect of it by actively communicating with customers. One last thing that surprised me is that since the izakaya that I worked at is owned by a larger corporation that manages various other establishments, servers are forced to rotate around and help other locations, even if the other establishments serve a different menu. This may be easier in Japan, since the cities are so close to each other and these establishments are located fairly close. However, first I was super confused at this system, and had a hard time getting used to it. Everything is different, except for the greetings of course, so we have to adapt to the place right away and just try our best I guess. Very unique system, but I guess it is better for flexibly acquiring workers at any time.

I am glad that I was actually able to find a part-time job during my stay in Japan, because you would be surprised how money flies during your time here. The room and board is fairly cheap since we are all staying at the university’s international residence, but everything else costs A LOT of money. Starting from commuting expenses, food costs, super high cell-phone bills, insurance, and of course eating out and shopping, my bank balance is constantly at the limit until payday. But I guess managing daily life is one of the highlights of my experience in Japan also.

It is sad that I have to leave Kobe now that I have actually got used to life here, but I’ve been a little homesick recently, so I can’t wait to go back to Seattle and get to share my experiences with my friends and family once I return home.

My Experience in Japan so Far

Monday, November 10th, 2008

Hi, my name is Evan Eng and I am a senior majoring in marketing and CISB.   Through the business school exchange between UW and Kobe University, I will be studying abroad in Japan for one semester.  Kobe University is located in Kobe, Japan which is in the Kansai region of Japan.  Born and raised in Seattle, the first time I saw Kobe it actually reminded me of Seattle.  The central area of Kobe, called Sannomiya, is a lot like downtown Seattle and is the place that you will be very familiar with if you come to Kobe.  Kobe is also a major port city and plays a vital part in Japan’s trade, much like Seattle.  One thing about Kobe that has not been like Seattle so far is the weather.  Almost every day here has been nice and despite it being Autumn, it has still been pretty warm.

When I first got here I was pretty intimidated since this was all so new to me.  With the help of my tutor and my advisors from the Business School, they showed me what I had to do and helped me tremendously in adjusting to life in Kobe.  The Japanese school system is really different from the American system.  First off, registering was done by hand and we actually had about 2 weeks of classes where we got a chance to “get a feel” for them and see if we actually wanted to take them.  Secondly, every class meets only once a week.  Third, the credit system is a bit different.  Classes here are normally around 2 credits while a normal class at UW is about 4-5 credits.  So here at Kobe University, you can take a lot of different classes in one semester.

The only problem I’ve faced so far was the lack of internet.  Coming to Japan, internet was probably one of the last things I thought that I would have to worry about. Apparently LAN cables are the way to go in Japan and wireless internet is extremely rare.  For the first 2-3 weeks, most of the students living in the dorms that I am staying in were without internet, and we all felt the same way.  The way things are done over here is you have to contact an internet company and sign an agreement.  Once you do that, it takes about 2 weeks for the company to come in and install it in your room.  There is a second option too.  You could also ask people near your room if they already have internet, and if you are one of the lucky ones and your neighbor does have internet already, you can ask if you can share the internet with them and connect a long LAN cable from their router to your room.  This problem isn’t just in the dorms either.  The campus also does not have wireless.  So you can either find a LAN cable connection somewhere on campus or you can use the school computers.  However, it takes about 2 weeks to get your username and password from your advisor, which you need to log onto the school’s computers.  For me and most of the other students living in the dorms, the internet problem is your last real worry and afterwards you can finally focus on enjoying Japan.

Despite the minor internet problem my experience (more…)

My First Month at Kobe

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

My name is Satomi Yokota, and I am a senior at the Foster School of Business, majoring in Finance and CISB.  I am currently studying abroad through the exchange program at the Kobe School of Business in Kobe, Japan.Upon arriving to Japan, the university was very welcoming by providing each of us with a mentor who is a graduate student at the business school. My mentor helped me with every detail required for starting my experience in Japan, from registering at the city office to buying a futon and sheets for my new residence.  I would have been completely lost without his help, so I thought that the exchange student mentor program was very helpful and thoughtful for us students who felt uncertain about everything upon arriving.Where I am currently staying at is the international student residence.  We are provided with one room for ourselves, and then the kitchen, shower, and bathrooms are shared within the floor, which are all separated by gender.  Upon arriving, all of the students looked a little worried about the appearance, however as we got used to the place and bought new furniture and bedding, the place is not bad at all, especially for just $60 a month. Also, you get to talk with others in the housing who are all having a similar experience, so it is an encouraging and comforting environment.

Finally the classes. A lot of the subjects offered are similar to the business school requirements that we have at UW, so I felt difficulty choosing classes, especially because I had most of the upper division courses covered. I ended up choosing one class that I could possibly cover for my major, and then (more…)

Kobe University, the campus

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

About 70% to 80% of Japan is forested and mountainous which is probably why the architects decided to stick a University on the side of a mountain, literally. The city of Kobe lies to the north of Osaka bay and is a main port town, and just to the north of Kobe are the Rokko mountains. It is these mountains which I climb every day to go to school. I have been here for about 2 months already, and as I look back upon my days at the UW I long for the wonderful flatness of the campus and its ease on the legs. However walking is not one’s only option, there is a bus that travels up the mountain for a fixed price of 200 yen, but since I’m somewhat of a “kechi” or stingy person, I enjoy the hike up as long as I save my 200 yen everyday. There is one positive aspect of the University’s location, once you reach the top the view of Kobe is magnificent, and there are many locations on campus where you can sit down to eat lunch while soaking in the vast landscape.

As long as I’m talking about money-saving, I will delve further into this topic which is of great interest to many foreigners living in country with quite a high standard of living. Especially now with the appreciation of the dollar to the yen, I am literally losing money just by letting my U.S. sit in a bank in the U.S. But current exchange rates are besides the point, what I’m basically trying to say is that Japan is really really expensive in my opinion (yes the two “really’s” are really necessary). Some examples:

-Train ticket everyday= 140 yen x 2 ways = 280 yen = $2.50

-Bus ride= 200 yen x 2 ways = 400 yen = $3.58

-Lunch= about 500 yen = $4.47

-TOTAL: $10.55

So that comes to… (more…)