Finding a way in foreign working cultures: An interview with Jeanett Ødegård Thomsen
Job hunting in Japan can be daunting. Stories about over-worked Salarimen and so called black companies are told at every Izakaya, and can discourage even the bravest of us. Jeanett Ødegård Thomsen is currently completing her masters in Global communication with a focus on PR at Akita International University. After completing her master’s degree she wants to stay in Japan, but first she wanted to know if the Japanese working environment is really that bad. “I was a little worried at first, there are so many horror stories” she says. Jeanett interned a total of four weeks at CNA – Cable Networks Akita and Stripe International Inc.
“The internships here are very short, often only two weeks each, so I decided to do two right after each other. First I interned at Akita Cable Networks. I did translation work on a Japanese documentary and created subtitles for it in English. After that I stayed 2 weeks at Stripe International, which is a fashion company. There I worked with PR and marketing. They also have a store where I worked for a couple of days.”
Jeanett says she was surprised about how relaxed the working environment was.
“At the first company people dressed semi-formal. I got a bit surprised at the relaxed dress code. Some people even wore jeans. At the second company everybody was very well-kept and fashionable, naturally, as it was a fashion company. Here the working hours was from 9-6. One thing that I though was really cool was that at 6.30 the lights are turned off, and everybody has to leave. By closing the office earlier, they ensure that the workers are more productive during the day, in order to finish their work by 6.30. I thought this was very positive, and surprising. I was happy to see that there are companies like this in Japan.”
Doing an internship can also be challenging, especially when considering the language barriers.
“Working and communication in Japanese was a challenge at first. I learned a lot, and after a couple of days it got easier. I spent two days working in a store, which was especially challenging. When working with costumers there is a whole other level of politeness needed, but this was easier and more relaxed in the office. For instance it was okay to approach the boss if I needed something.”
After her internship, Jeanett says that her view of Japanese work culture has changed.
“Before my internship I was honestly a little skeptic to do job hunting in Japan. I was thinking I’d have to find a job at an international company, or even move to another country. I really wanted to work in Japan, but not under unfair working conditions. My internships proved that there are good companies, and with some research one can find a good job. I even asked all of my coworkers if they liked their jobs, and they all said that they were happy about their work life.”
Jeanetts story shows us that not all companies are as bad as the rumors say. Trough research and internships one can find many good companies and working environments. Jeanette says she now feels ready to start working in Japan after graduating.
“I learned a lot trough my internships, for instance the importance of researching the companies before starting to work there. I recommend students uncertain about whether or not to find a job in Japan to try an internship first.”