[From October Issue 2013]
“As a matter of fact, I was in Japan from the age of four to eight for my father’s job,” says American Maria REYES. Growing up, she began to miss Japan and joined a Japanese culture club in college. “I began to read books on Japanese culture and took up tea ceremony as a hobby.”
She made a lot of Japanese friends through these club activities. After one of them told her about the International Cross-cultural Committee, an organization that arranges internships in Japan, she applied. “I was in my second year of Japanese language studies, so my speaking ability was limited. My knowledge of the language, however, compared to other applicants, was an advantage.”
As part of the ICC program, the intern works for two months in Japan and is able to have the experience of going on two trips within the country. The cost, including rent and a 24-hour phone support service, is US$5,500. Maria passed the selection process, but her parents didn’t approve of the idea. Her father had concerns about the cost and whether the program would really be useful for Maria’s studies. Her mother was worried about her safety.
Maria says, “So I persuaded my father by saying, ‘This is a wonderful opportunity.’ I told my mother that ‘Japan is safe and I’ll have some support.’ My family isn’t rich, but they put up the money in the end, saying, ‘If it’s for Maria…’”
Maria arrived in Japan on June 25 and settled into a shared house in Ota Ward, Tokyo. The other residents there besides Maria, are two Japanese, one Malaysian and one American. Maria’s bedroom is about 20 square meters in size. The living room and the kitchen are shared. She’s doing her internship at Takaso Inc., a company based in Akihabara with links to the fashion industry. She sometimes goes to their office in Shibuya, too. Her hours are from ten am to four pm.
“I’ve been lucky,” says Maria. “Some companies only give simple tasks to interns, but I’ve been put in charge of a project. Also, when they learned my major was international marketing, I was asked to ‘Please do a presentation on how this company’s marketing should be done.’”
“The best thing about this internship is I’m actually using knowledge of Japanese culture I acquired from books,” says Maria. “For example, when I made my presentation, I asked if there were ‘Any questions?’ However, no one said anything. I anticipated this, so I made eye contact with my boss. He then encouraged questions by saying, ‘Does anybody have any questions?’ Then they all began to ask questions.”
“The difficulty of Japanese is that people don’t voice their opinions. You have to read the atmosphere,” says Maria. “But if you are in trouble, people sense this and come to your rescue. One day four or five people came to my help.” On her days off, she wanders around searching for nice cafes. “Japanese sweets aren’t too sweet and that’s what’s great about them. I love matcha and tea so much that I’m thinking of opening a cafe one day to introduce the custom of tea drinking to the US.”
Text: SAZAKI Ryo