Welcoming our great blog writer, Amélie!
She has shared with us her heart-warming journey to Japan and is the author of our abundant how to Learn Japanese blogs!
🎤Q: Tell us about yourself!
🎤Q: What was the opportunity that brought you to Japan?
💡A: Love and France-Japan’s Working Holiday Program agreement brought me to Japan — sounds cheesy, I know! When I graduated from University in France, I didn’t know what kind of job I’d like to do. So, I chose to travel around the world, to gain some life (and language) skills. During a 6-month stay I did in Moscow (Russia), I met this kind, funny Japanese guy and fell in love. We started dating, but we eventually had to go back to our home countries. However, our relationship survived the long-distance for almost a year and I eventually hopped on a plane to join him in Tokyo, where he was completing his studies. We’re now married — and I’m still in Japan.
🎤Q: How did you wish you knew before going to Japan?
💡A: Gosh, a lot of things, really! I mean, I’m from that generation who grew up hooked to Japanese animation, manga, J-pop (not so much J-drama though, when it boomed in France, I wasn’t into TV so much). So I thought I ‘had’ some kind of background knowledge. But clearly, it wasn’t enough to prepare me for the culture shock I got. The culture shock, in Japan, isn’t brutal. At first, you’re usually wowed by both natural and urban amazing sceneries, people’s kindness and politeness. But when you try to fit in, you’ll often hit some ‘cultural walls’ that are hard to perceive or understand. So I wish I knew more about Japanese customs, Japanese way of thinking, and of course, Japanese language.
I had no rudiment of the language at all and I was enrolled in a language school. But looking back, I think I should have studied Japanese way before coming. It would certainly have prepared my mind and smoothed out the first few years.
To anyone considering going and studying in Japan, I’d say “seriously study Japanese first, don’t think you’ll start learning once you’re there”.
🎤Q: What is the biggest change to your work style/habits after working in Japan?
💡A: Well, there’s the diet — we eat mainly at home and mostly cook Japanese dishes. If you stick to the traditional way of preparing meals, Japanese diet is rather healthy. But of course, if you’re a noodle lover and indulge yourself once too often with ramen, you’ll probably say it isn’t that healthy! I also became very active. According to the latest statistics, Japanese people are into sports. They practice some form of exercise at least once a week and love walking. I definitely could sense that and got influenced to become more active. Just go to a nearby park and you’ll see people from 6 to 90 years old enjoying nature and moving around!
When it comes to work, I’m not sure I can give a clear answer. I spent my entire career in Japan, first in a 100% Japanese company, then in a company founded by foreigners, but where 50% of the staff is Japanese. I can certainly say that working with Japanese people made me more of a team player. Working well in a group is one of the key foundations of their working culture. As a French, I tend to speak openly and I never hide what I think — it goes against my nature. But my Japanese colleagues taught me to keep my natural frankness while rounding the angles in a conversation, not to hurt the other ones, and to be more understanding.
🎤Q: What is your advice for those who want to work in Japan? Do they need to learn Japanese before they go there?
💡A: I know there are more and more job offers that advertise “no or low Japanese skills OK”, but unless the company has at least 50% of its staff foreign, the transition to a Japanese work environment with no Japanese can and will be painful at times.
Learning the language isn’t only about communication, it’s about understanding how people in a country see and understand the world. With no or limited Japanese, a freshly arrived foreigner will probably miss some significant cues from his coworkers or boss. Even if the person is very skilled, that can dramatically affect their experience, their results, their integration in the company and the country.
The Japanese working culture, although changing with the country is opening up to more foreign labor, is rigid and its codes, very specific. There’s also a lot of unspoken rules that you can only learn through the language. How can you know where to sit in a meeting room, if you can’t grasp the hierarchy order because you don’t know the word “shachou”, “kachou”, “buchou”… How can you meet with a Japanese client if you don’t know how to exchange business cards and what to say at the right time? Japanese employers are forgiving at first. But after a few months, what was considered to be cute ‘clumsiness’ won’t be so easily tolerated.
Now, you’ll always find people that smoothly overcome all this by picking up some Japanese on the way. I think that’s doable for confident people that are quick to adapt themselves to a new environment. It’s certainly possible to get by with no or very limited competency, especially if your employer provides some help in your mother tongue. But I still feel and think, that’s taking the risk to miss out on some opportunities or to have frustrating experiences in the country!
🎤Q: We all know it’s been an unusual year. What are your wishes for 2021?
💡A: The least I can say is that 2020 wasn’t the year I, we, expected. But despite the doom and gloom, I think some positive things happened and I wish 2021 to be more focused on the good, starting with everyone fighting for the Earth. Climate change activism made some noise in the past months, so I hope everyone will root for a greener 2021. On a personal level, I wish to dedicate more time to my Japanese studies. My mother started learning and she’s in her 60s, proving that it’s never too late to learn something new and keep at it!