Living in Japan

The First Week

Aisatsu – Self Introduction:

Be prepared to introduce yourself in Japanese on your first day at work. You should tell people your name, university/college, degree program, the name of your home town in Canada, and end by expressing your gratitude. Do not worry if you are not immediately comfortable with the introduction as you will have the opportunity to prepare an ‘arrival speech’ during the training week prior to departure. You should wear formal clothing on your first day of work.

Gift Giving – Omiyage:

On the first day of work, please prepare a small gift for your supervisor, your kacho (section chief) and something for your work group. Food is a good present for the work group as it can be shared by all, i.e. chocolates, smoked salmon, coffee or wine. In addition, a collection of small Canadian souvenirs will be handy when meeting new people, when invited to someone’s home, etc. You may want to collect a number of items from your hometown before departing for Vancouver. One source for free pins and flags are your local MP or MLA constituency office.

You will learn in Japan that gift-giving is an important custom in Japan. Co-workers almost always bring back souvenirs and small gifts, otherwise referred to as omiyage for their work group after a trip. Almost every tourist orientated location in Japan is well-equipped with omiyage shops selling all sorts of assorted goodies. Should you have the opportunity to travel on business or take a vacation during your work term, remember to bring back some omiyage for your friends at work.

Business Card Exchange:

With regards to introductions, the use and care of business cards is extremely important in Japan. Generally speaking, business cards are presented using both hands, while at the same time stating your company name, project group, name and greeting. Studying each business card briefly as you receive them is a sign of respect and courtesy. After the exchange, both people usually give a small bow.

When being introduced in a formal setting, please be aware that the most senior person initiates the introduction and offers his/her business card first. Your host company may also have company business cards made for you upon arrival. It is considered polite to line up business cards you have received in front of you during a meeting in order to avoid having to remember names. Do not write any comments on a business card as this is considered very disrespectful.

Surviving at Work in Japan

Please arrive promptly to work and for all meetings. Be punctual when returning from breaks or lunch. Be prepared to give up some degree of your personal freedom and flexibility in return for greater acceptance by your work group.

Unlike your work experiences in Canada, you may be surprised by the degree of feedback you receive from your supervisor. Feedback in Japan occurs in different ways and you need to be aware and open to receive feedback the way it occurs – it is implicit not explicit. Expectations for example are not set explicitly and therefore there is no loss of face if they are not met. Much will depend on your attitude; it is important to show a positive and enthusiastic attitude at all times, this will result in a more rewarding work term/internship in Japan.

Specific direction is not often given which is usually quite difficult for students to adjust to initially; you will be expected to determine what is required of you. Patiently, students will work out how they fit into the work group and what the expectations are of them during their period with the company. It is recommended that students develop a weekly work schedule report that they can email and discuss with their supervisor. In this way, feedback regarding your work schedule, goals achieved, problems and work interests can provide both you and your supervisor with a clearer idea of what to expect during the work term.

It is important that you adhere to the work hours outlined in your contract with your host company. Even if other members of your team may be starting later than you, this does not give you the permission to do the same. Please check with your supervisor the hours that you are expected to work on a daily basis and be advised that some Saturdays may also be required. Follow the lead that your co-workers provide you on end times and try to work similar hours of those of your co-workers. In some cases you will be encouraged or expected to work overtime. Please be sensitive to the work culture within your group.

Be meticulous in your work, during the first month your supervisor will be trying to assess both your aptitude and your attitude. You may initially be given easy work, or be required to do a lot of reading to give you the background information on the project that you may be working on. If you are open, friendly, meticulous, prompt and professional, your co-workers and supervisor will like you and you will be rewarded with increased challenges.

Be sure to show your appreciation and thanks when you receive help from your supervisor or co-workers. Remember to also offer your assistance and do not refuse a task even if at first glance it may seem inappropriate. It is important to keep your work space tidy during work hours and ensure it is clear at the end of the day.

With regards to your work group, as society in Japan tends to be hierarchical with age and length of service, remember that as a trainee you are at the bottom of the ladder and should show respect to everyone you meet including all levels of employees in the company. Remember that as the new team member, it is the expectation that you will perform well while remaining humble; this will win you respect, and allow you to make the most of your experience in Japan.

Dormitory Room in Japan

Dormitory rooms are usually small (usually around 4-6 or 6-10 tatami mats). If the dormitory is new, it probably contains a very small ensuite bathroom with shower. If the dormitory is older, rooms may either be Japanese or Western style with a futon or bed. In some cases, a small charge is levied for futon or bedding and students may also be required to pay the utility charges.

All dormitories provide a common bath or ofuro room which consists of a large communal ‘hot tub’ and handheld shower facilities. It is important to have a shower BEFORE entering the ofuro and ensure that all soap and shampoo has been rinsed off before getting in the bath. The bath or ofuro is designed for soaking only and is a wonderful relaxant. Towels are not provided so please bring some with you. While the shower facilities are generally available morning and evening, the water in the ofuro is changed daily and is therefore only available in the evenings.

As a rule, washroom facilities in both the dormitory and the company are western style. Public washrooms however are very often Japanese style (squatting as opposed to sitting). As no toilet paper or hand towels are provided, it is a good idea to carry Kleenex and a handkerchief with you at all times.

The dormitory will have a shokudo or dining room with regular breakfast and dinner hours. Usually, you must indicate your intention to take breakfast and/or dinner a day in advance in order that the appropriate number of meals can be prepared. If you return late to the dormitory on a day when you have requested dinner, it will usually be wrapped and kept for you on a tray. Meals are often not provided on the weekends. Meals are generally Japanese style, with the occasional western style dish such as curry rice or pasta. Japanese style breakfast usually consist of rice, miso soup, raw egg, natto (fermented soy beans), nori (seaweed) and fish. In some dorms, a toaster is provided for students who wish to have just toast and tea or coffee. Sometimes, a communal fridge is also available where you can keep cereal and yogurt.

A television is often located in the shokudo, and in some dorms there is a common room with a TV, sofas and chairs. There is usually a pay phone in the lobby and the manager of the dorm can receive incoming calls on your behalf. An intercom or loudspeaker system will be used to page you if you receive a call.

Laundry facilities are provided in the dorm free of charge and there is often a dry cleaning service available on a pay as you use basis. Usually a clean set of bed linen is provided weekly.

Please note that majority of the dormitories do have an evening curfew. Most do have controlled entrances and you will be given a key or number code in order to unlock the door. You should inform the manager if you are not planning to return to the dorm at night of if you are going on holidays. Please be aware that most dorms do not allow overnight guests. In a few cases where curfews are in effect you should notify the dorm manager if you are planning to be out later than the curfew.

Electrical System

In Japan the whole country runs on 100V, with the northern half of the country on 50Hz and the southern half on 60Hz. Most electronic items will work fine although some items on 50Hz will run slower, and may not run normally when you take them home.


In Japan the most common banking options are keeping money either in a bank account or postal savings account. You will be required by your company to open a bank account so that your pay can be deposited directly; information will be given on how to do this at the training week and by your company on arrival. It is also recommended that you purchase a Hanko, or personal seal upon arrival in Japan. This item is used frequently for signing documents and should be carried with you when doing your banking or other personal business; cost for this will range from 1000-3000 yen.

As Japan is a cash-based society, you should carry money with you when going out. You will find ATM’s in Japan, but many close early and banking exchange hours are limited during the day. Using debit is also not common, and it may be difficult for you to locate an ATM that accepts your Canadian card. Post offices generally have ATM’s where international debit cards can be used. It is also recommended that students take a credit card with them for emergencies.


Large sizes are very hard to find in Japan, especially items like shoes, pants, jackets and so on. It is recommended that you bring along enough clothes from Canada as it may be impossible or very expensive to find comfortable clothing of your size in Japan. Personal items such as contact solution, soaps, shampoos, toothpaste, deodorant etc, can be found easily and are relatively inexpensive although more expensive than in Canada. If you are used to a certain brand of item it is recommended that you take that with you as it may be difficulty to locate the same in Japan. If you are taking any prescription medication or require specific items you should bring along a supply to last your stay in Japan.


Japan is well known for its efficient transportation system. Trains, perhaps the most common form of transportation in Japan, run frequently and on-time; the fastest and most expensive train, the JR Shinkansen or bullet train, runs through most of the main islands of Japan. There are several levels of Shinkansen service from Nozomi, the fastest and most expensive, to Hikari, second fastest and Kodama, the slowest and which makes the most stops. There are several local JR trains as well as many local private lines, it is important to familiarize yourself of the train services in your area upon arrival.

In most major centers there are also very efficient subway systems which are inexpensive and easy to use.

Bus service in Japan is also available in most regions and like other forms of transportation is also very efficient and usually the most cost-effective way of traveling long distances. One difference from the Canadian system is that you board the bus at the rear, take a ticket and pay at the front as you exit. The cost is determined by how far you travelled.

Students are generally not permitted to rent or drive a vehicle in Japan while working for their host company (either during the work week or during private time). For specifics please contact

It is important to note that as students working in Japan for an extended period you are NOT eligible to purchase nor ride on a JR Rail Pass during your stay in Japan. It is an illegal act and you will be prosecuted if found doing so, and you will disgrace your host company and likely lose your visa.

Combating Initial Loneliness in Japan

The larger the company, generally speaking the more effort is required to make friends. Don’t expect to be treated as the special gaijin (foreigner) or you may be disappointed. Get involved immediately – join your work group for lunch. Say greetings each day whether or not they are returned and try to maintain a cheerful attitude. Don’t depend on your work group for socializing after work. Join Company sports teams or other culture clubs, and language exchange classes and check out the local city hall for community events and classes.


Beer and sake come in communal bottles. Generally speaking, people do not pour their own beer or sake but rather offer to pour it for others. The key is not to let someone else’s glass become empty. Always lift your glass to receive beer or sake and say domo or sumimasen. Remember to take turns pouring, this is a sign of respect for others. Usually, the more junior you are in relation to others, the more drinks you will pour.


In a restaurant or at someone’s house, it is a sign of courtesy to wait for everyone to be ready before beginning to eat. If you can remember to say itadakimasu as you begin to eat, that is good manners. The Japanese are particular about chopsticks and would consider the following to be rude: waving chopsticks about while talking; chewing on the end of chopsticks, sticking them upright in food, and rubbing them together prior to eating. Also, passing food with your chopsticks is not appropriate. If serving from a formal communal dish, use the other end of the chopsticks to help yourself to the food, placing it on your own plate, and turning the chopsticks around again to eat.

Rice is a staple food and has a lot of cultural importance. Try to finish all of your rice as a sign of courtesy and if at someone’s house or at a restaurant, don’t pour soy sauce on top of your rice (this would be equivalent to pouring ketchup all over your food). Lift the rice bowl when eating from it, do the same with soup and use your chopsticks to eat the vegetable, fish etc, found in the soup. Try not to refuse what is offered and be prepared to eat lots of fish. If you are someone’s guest, remember to compliment the host on the delicious food; if you can remember, say gochisosama deshita when finished.