This article is particularly addressed to those who are considering going to Japan to work. Here I’ll tell you about my arrival to Tokyo, which difficulties I found, and I’ll give future creative people who wish to live a new experience in Japan a piece of advice.
First of all, I’ll introduce myself. My name is Gemma Izumi, I'm Catalan-Japanese and I finished the Simultaneous Studies Program at Elisava last June 2018. The same day that I presented my master’s thesis before the panel of professors I got into the plane that would take me to the Japanese capital, where there was a job interview waiting for me.
To understand what brought me here, you have to rewind time and go to Escudellers street. Surely many of you will have passed by the window of the store LOVE STOP, located in the opposite corner of the same block of flats where Elisava is located. Well, one day I went in out of curiosity and I felt particularly incredulous to see some vibrators, sealed with the Iroha brand, which looked like Japanese sweets. The beauty of its design and the ability to transform a product like a vibrator into another with a morphology away from the phallic figure was bewildering. It wasn’t until then when I discovered an industry that I had not previously taken into account: The industry of sexual well-being. I soon investigated the brand and discovered that it was part of the Japanese group TENGA, headquartered in Tokyo.
It happened a couple of years ago, around 2016. The drive that led me to apply for a job in this Japanese company was my time working as a flight attendant at the Mobile World Congress in 2018 for the largest telecommunications group in Japan: the NTT. After living with Japanese for a week I thought that going to Japan might not be such a crazy idea, considering that I had not gone to Erasmus and had a huge desire to go out of the country for a while.
Tokyo is not the cluster of stereotypes we are builing in Europe. Tokyo is what you want to make of it
The idea of moving to Tokyo for a job was, for me, equal to imagining a society obsessed with work and effort, which sacrifices holidays and lives to the limit of stress. But the reality goes much further, as it is a society with cutting edge technology that protects the cultural heritage, where between skyscrapers and skyscrapers you can find a majestic Shinto temple. The city that never sleeps, the mecca of manga and otaku, and the city with the most Michelin stars in the world. Tokyo can be everything you want depending on how you live. There is so much of everything that you will never get out of weekend options. Now, you have to know how not to get lost, you have to bear in mind your city of origin to be able to compare and decide whether or not to fall into the roles and customs that define Japanese society, especially if you are a woman.
“Be open to change, show interest and gratitude, and hope to build the trust of your colleagues to be able to propose improvements”
Looking for a job in Japan means following a completely different process from the exact moment you apply for it. And once inside the company, you find yourself with a series of customs and processes that can sometimes seem inefficient, but that have been followed over time as a tradition. The first weeks –or months– it is normal not to understand anything of what is going on around you. The temptation to question everything and turn it upside down is very big, and it is not wrong, but you have to find the right moment. One of the things that I quickly learnt is that Japanese first accept the role assigned to them and, therefore, they also accept who is in the position to teach and who is in the position to learn. Newbies learn from veterans, accept the rules, and get used to the way of doing business. Everyone has gone through this process, and only few have considered whether it is right or not.
You have to bear in mind that you are the outsider and, therefore, at the beginning you have no choice other than adaptation. And if you really want to improve and suggest changes within an organization, you must first demonstrate your skills to build the confidence of your superiors. Otherwise, they will think that you want to get away with not doing anything and will tend to think that "these foreigners do not want to understand Japanese culture". Slowly, if you are working in a flexible organization, changes will take place, but you have to have patience and perseverance.