I have been in Japan for four-and-a-half years since April
2010. During this period, I’ve had mixed feelings. What has
impressed me most so far is the friendly personality of most
Japanese people, both at work and in private situations.
They’ve always helped me when I needed it.
Before I talk about my experiences in Japan, I want to
briefly introduce my earlier life in my home country of China.
I took the decision to study in Japan after just 1 week,
and landed at Narita Airport and started my life here 6
months later. Actually, I had been interested in Japan for
more than 15 years before I decided to come here.
Just like many other foreigners, Japanese animations,
manga, and TV dramas first interested me when I was a
child. Once I had realized all my favourite things were from
Japan, my interest in our neighbour broadened.
I grew up in Shanghai and after graduating from
university, I worked for western companies for more than 4
years. Then I felt I needed to go back to school to acquire
more knowledge to advance my career. Of course, I could
have studied in China while working, but I was eager to
study abroad, so I quit my job to come to Japan. It wasn’t an
easy decision to start over as a student from zero, but luckily
my parents supported my decision.
I spent the first 2 years in Japan studying at a Japaneselanguage
school, working at a part-time job, and preparing
for the graduate school entrance examination.
Before I came to Japan, I had studied Japanese
only once a week for 3 months and I could hardly read it.
However, since I had watched a lot of Japanese animation
and TV dramas, I had memorized the pronunciation of many
Japanese words before I learned to read them, so I didn’t
get into too much trouble in my daily life when I needed to
speak with local people. I finally settled down and started
looking for a part-time job.
As is well known, Tokyo is one of the most expensive
cities in the world, so most foreign students here take parttime
jobs to help cover living costs. I was no exception, but a
part-time job is also a good way to practice Japanese.
My first job was as a cashier at a supermarket near my
apartment. Frankly, although I had more than 4 years of
solid work experience in Shanghai, I had never worked at a
service job or talked to customers. In addition, my Japanese
was poor compared to the other cashiers who worked so
courteously. I had no confidence at all. I was in a total panic
when asked to stand behind a cashier and try—I couldn’t
remember any of the steps I had practiced so many times.
I couldn’t speak a Japanese word to customers. My trainer
stood next to me to help, but that didn’t help calm me down
at all. When I messed up for the third time, I was asked to go
back to training to practice again.
Luckily, my trainer was really patient. He didn’t get angry
and blame me, but helped me review every step over from
the beginning; from how to operate cashier machines to how
to move baskets to make the working process smoother.
He even taught me by gestures how to count money more
quickly. To help me remember the procedures, he also
allowed me to stand near veteran cashiers so I could watch
their working process.
His patience relieved my nervousness and an hour
later, I was back at my position to challenge it again. This
time, although I still made mistakes and couldn’t speak the
payment and change in Japanese clearly, I finished the
whole process by myself without help. When I got back
home after work that day, I was so fatigued I couldn’t move.
Then I realized people working in service industries are
really awesome. Even simple cashier work needs practice,
courage, and the spirit to give absolutely good service.
Every step in a process lasting hours is performed with a
smile while still concentrating on calculations so as not to
Unfor tunately, when I entered graduate school,
my schedule did not allow me to keep working at this
supermarket, so I started a new part-time job in late 2010
as a sales clerk at Hard Rock Cafe Rock Shop, where I still
I found the job by chance. After checking a part-time
job hunting website, I sent a lot of job applications to many
workplaces that matched my schedule. Hard Rock Cafe
was the only one to invite me to a job interview. Compared
to working as a cashier, working in a café was more difficult
because of my poor Japanese. I couldn’t even remember
the name of the manager who called me. So when I went
to the interview I didn’t think I would be hired, especially
because the job offer was in the Rock Shop, not the
restaurant. That meant I would be a salesclerk who needed
to talk to guests and recommend goods in Japanese.
However, I succeeded in getting the job. Immediately after
the interview, my manager told me that since half the guests
are from overseas, English was as important as Japanese.
Therefore, although I was still anxious, I began my work at
Hard Rock Cafe.
My Japanese was far from good enough to work as
a salesperson and I needed to persuade myself not to
fear approaching guests and talking to them, especially
Japanese guests. We all know there are different levels of
politeness to use when talking to different people. Generally
speaking, people use the most polite Japanese when talking
with guests and clients, but it was really hard for me to do.
So, when I started work, I preferred to fold T-shirts more than
talk to guests. I think my manager and senpai (somebody
who joined the same group like a school or company
earlier than you) soon noticed, so they patiently taught me
the basic knowledge about the apparel, accessories, and
other Hard Rock Cafe products. Of course, it included how
to speak about apparel in Japanese as well. Whenever I
had a question, they would answer and help me remember
by writing a memo or drawing a cute picture. Meanwhile,
I practiced speaking more-polite Japanese. To help
me to overcome my fear of talking to guests, they gently
encouraged me to come and talk to guests as much as I
could. They taught me how to start a natural conversation
and how to make guests feel comfortable.
To start, they suggested talking with foreign guests
because speaking in familiar languages like Chinese and
English wouldn’t make me nervous. In addition, foreigners
usually would be happy to chat with a stranger like a friend.
That really helped me relax and gradually adjust to talking
Of course, I was not allowed to attend only foreign
guests. No matter how reluctant I was to talk to Japanese
guests at that time, it was still an important part of my job.
But when I started to talk to Japanese guests, my manager
and senpai would stay nearby. At the same time, they
would not disturb me and helped only if I had any trouble
communicating with a guest.
But I found I didn’t have to worry because most
Japanese guests were really kind and did not blame me
at all when they knew I was a foreigner. At first, they might
think I was Japanese because Chinese look similar but after
a short conversation they could tell I was a foreigner from
my accent. Then, they would ask where I was from. Many
times after a conversation I realized I had used less-polite
expressions to talk to Japanese guests, but none of them
were ever angry. Sometimes, they would even help correct
my Japanese in a friendly and careful way.
As well as my work experience, I met a lot of friendly
Japanese strangers as well. The most impressive was when
I met a lady on 11 March 2011, the day of the Great East
Due to the earthquake, all trains were stopped so I had
to go home from work by bus. It was a really tough day.
People were going home by taxi, bus, bicycle, and even
on foot, so the traffic was really terrible. My only choice was
standing on a bus packed like sardines and wait for it to inch
forward in a massive traffic jam. My usual 35-minute journey
home by bus took almost 6 hours!
A lady got on the bus at the same stop and stood next
to me. After 3 hours, I noticed she was in pain and I asked if
she needed any help. She said her waist had a problem and
standing for a long time made it really tired and painful. I was
leaning against a pole so I suggested we switch positions,
and we started to chat before exchanging mobile numbers 3
hours later when the bus finally arrived at the terminal.
We have kept in touch since then and sometimes meet.
After the earthquake, food, water, and many daily necessities
were sold out and my new friend thought such a situation
would be hard for me living alone in Japan. So every time we
met, she always brought things like cooking oil, soya sauce,
soft drinks, and even shampoo. They were not so expensive,
but really helped me out a lot at that time. I am happy that
we are still good friends today.
After I arrived in Japan, I experienced and felt
tremendous variety of things every day. And I have so many
things to tell about Japan and Japanese people. Before I
came to Japan, I always had an image that Japanese are
polite but keep distance from other person. But now I know
that was wrong. Japanese would like to help you whenever
you are in need. Their kindness makes me believe that
coming to study in Japan was my best choice.