Exclusive Interview: What is it like moving to Japan for work?
(Artikel ini juga tersedia dalam bahasa Indonesia)
Exclusive Interview is a series where we interview expats about their experiences. This time, we contacted Wasistha, a customer relations manager in Japan. She studied Japanese literature in Indonesia, then worked as a Japanese interpreter for almost three years before finally moving to Japan. It is her fifth year being an expatriate.
Country of Origin: Indonesia
In Japan since: 2017
Japanese Level: Full Professional
Working Industry: IT
Why did you originally come to Japan?
I was scouted when I worked as a freelance Japanese interpreter. I was accompanying my client doing sales calls. He was the CEO of an inbound tourism company in Tokyo. I ended up giving them insights because I have experience in that field. He was interested and scouted me to work in his company.
To be honest, I wanted to go to Japan for postgraduate school, not work. I accepted the offer thinking that I would be able to continue my study once I got there. I haven’t got a chance to until now, but I’m still thinking about it.
How was your Japanese skill/What was your JLPT level before coming to Japan?
I was N3 level when I graduated from university in 2013. A year later, I managed to reach the N2 level. I have never taken the JLPT test ever since.
Have you worked with Japanese people or in a Japanese company before coming to Japan?
I always work with Japanese people. Right after graduation, I worked as a Japanese-Indonesian interpreter. Then, I worked in a Japanese inbound tourism company. I also did freelance interpreting for almost two years. I actually never work under non-Japanese people.
Did it help your career in Japan?
Yes, definitely. It helps minimize the culture shock when I come to Japan because I’m already familiar with Japanese work ethics. It also helps with my language skills. Even though I graduated from Japanese Literature Study, I hardly speak Japanese. I only learned from textbooks back then.
What initial differences do you have to face working with Japanese people?
I used to think that if the employees finished their work for the day, they had no reason to stay late. I was shocked that Japanese work culture requires the employees to stay after their work hours end or wait until their superiors leave first to be seen as hard workers. It’s not always the case, though, because I don't experience that in some companies I've worked with.
What is your advice to people dealing with this issue?
I think it’s better to speak up. If you can’t speak to your superior, try to at least discuss it with the HR department or anyone that can help your situation. Don’t be a yes-man. They will keep giving you a hard time if you never speak up.
Did you have a mentor or anyone who helped you adapt to the cultural difference?
Yes. Luckily, when I was a fresh graduate, I had university seniors who worked in the same company. He taught me everything about Japanese work culture. It really helped me. When I came to Japan, I also had university seniors there. They helped me a lot because I might know how to speak Japanese, but I didn’t really know how to start life in Japan.
What are the differences in communication style in the working environment in Japan?
Japanese people are detail-oriented. They usually give clear instructions and follow schedules. I think it's really effective because I can make a priority scale to manage my tasks. They also like to think two or three steps ahead. So, when a task is finished, there's not much revision or corrections to do. Everything has been communicated before.
Moreover, Japanese people are very respectful. They always use please, sorry, and thank you. It’s simple, but many people don’t use these words, especially superiors to their subordinators.
Have you ever had difficulty communicating in the office?
I am still confused about honne and tatemae culture in Japan. People here are really kind, but it’s difficult to make friends. I don’t know if my coworkers are just being polite or if they actually want to hang out together outside the office. When someone compliments me, I'm unsure if it is genuine or a tatemae. It is kind of similar to basa-basi culture in Indonesia, but for honne and tatemae situations, I can’t tell it at all.
Do you have advice for anyone about making friends in Japan?
It'd be great for foreigners to join at least one community. They can share their life and find people to lean on there. It’s important because they are alone, far away from their family and home. In my case, I made sure that I had someone in Japan before moving here.
Are there any communities you would recommend for Indonesian people in Japan?
There's a Facebook group of Indonesian expatriates. It's called the Indonesian community in Japan (ICJ). They have thousands of members. People post useful information such as work-related and tax-related and share their experiences living in Japan. I never meet up with anyone through that group, but I think people do that sometimes.
What do you miss about Indonesia?
Food! Sadly, I don't enjoy eating as much as when I was in Indonesia. There are several Indonesian restaurants in Tokyo, but it's impractical for everyday meals. I also have limited options due to religious factors.
How do you overcome that?
I cook by myself or buy Indonesian food online. There are a lot of Indonesians, especially housewives, who sell homemade cooking on Instagram. I usually do a little research before orders, like going through their posts, reading testimonies, and asking my friends if they have tried it before.
Is there any other thing you miss from Indonesia?
I also miss online motorcycle or bike taxis. It's very convenient to move around the city. Japan only has car taxis, and it's expensive. Everyone here uses public transportation, but it’s not as convenient as motorcycle taxis in Jakarta.
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