Job Prospects in Japan: Working for a Hotel

“Job prospects” is a new miniseries of articles, where I will have a look at various types of professions that are commonly available to foreigners in Japan, try and look at whether the field is easy to get into or not, and subsequently discuss whether it is feasible to pursue a career in Japan in that given field.

After looking at Language Teaching in my first article, and Translation and Interpretation in the second one, I thought it was time to move away from the heavy focus on language. But when considering Jobs that are viable and available for foreigners in Japan, the language will usually play a big part. So, in the end, today’s topic is not so different. 

Bilingual reception staff is highly sought after

The Japanese hospitality industry is world-famous for its politeness, attention to detail and sense of “omotenashi”. Highly philosophical and the guiding paradigm of the Japanese service industry, this is a concept you ought to understand if you want to work in a Japanese hotel, as it is fundamental to the kind of service that is provided in Japan. Japanese Wikipedia tells us that “omotenashi” encompasses the following:

おもてなしとは、心のこもった待遇のこと。顧客に対して心をこめて歓待や接待やサービスをすることを言う。

https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/おもてなし

That roughly translates to: “omotenashi” is heartfelt treatment. It is to provide customers with wholehearted hospitality, entertainment and service. Apart from the philosophical debate on what 心をこもる・こめる or the wholehearted, heartfelt treatment actually means, this concept defines a pretty strict hierarchical relationship between the service provider and the customer, putting the customer squarely on top. And while a “the customer is king” attitude is common in many parts of the world, Japans hospitality industry has truly taken this concept to heart. No matter how small or unreasonable, if the customer has a demand or complaint, your first instinct should be to apologize and then go about solving their issue as quickly as possible. 

Putting in the effort? Or just appearing to be?

Now it can be said about Japan, that often, actually making an effort, and just appearing to make an effort can be regarded as the same thing. If a customer were to ask you to get him something that is physically impossible to obtain for you, instead of telling him that outright it would be considered more polite to give the appearance of trying and failing to get him what he wants. Reading this, it sounds a lot harsher than it actually is. Most customers will be perfectly friendly ones, and a few bad eggs that abuse their perceived position of power can be found anywhere in the world. But if you have ambitions of working in a Japanese hotel, best be sure to brush up on your “omotenashi” philosophy skills.

Unlikely to hire you: the famous Japanese capsule hotels

I feel like I went somewhat off-topic there, so let’s get to looking at your prospects if you are wanting to work in a Japanese hotel. To be upfront, I think they are actually pretty good, provided you speak decent Japanese. Japanese people love travelling their own country, so any given hotel is going to have Japanese customers and you are going to be expected to be able to communicate with them in the formal manner that is required of hotel staff. In other words, Japanese Language Proficiency Test Level N2 and a good command of the spoken language, especially polite language, is going to be the bare minimum for you to get hired in many cases. If you have ambitions of working in a luxury resort or for an upscale hotel somewhere in Tokyo, you will probably not be hired unless you are truly fluent in Japanese (and English most likely too). 

Other issues at play

There are some other issues to consider as well. If you choose to work for a hotel in the countryside, the locations will often be very isolated, so if you are a city-person it might be rough for you when it takes 15 minutes by car just to reach the nearest convenience store. Salaries are usually also not very good, as a new hire, you can expect to receive around 200.000 JPY a month, which will only rise very slowly over the period that you work. Hotels often provide cheap accommodation for their staff, for example, a staff-dormitory, but this is less than ideal if you have family or value your privacy. You also need to be able to work in a shift-system with irregular holidays and varying working times. Some hotels even might have shifts where they expect you to work four hours (let’s say 6:00 to 10:00) in the morning and four hours in the evening (18:00 to 22:00), which can be hard to adjust to. 

On the other hand, tourism in Japan is booming with visitor numbers quadrupling over the last ten years (let’s just forget about this year). The industry is highly valued and rapidly growing in Japan and staff that can provide service in different languages is highly sought after. In the end, if you want to work in a hotel, can stomach the issued outlined above and wrap your head around the concept of “omotenashi”, which probably is not as big of a deal as I have made it out to be then I would say that your prospect for finding work are: pretty good!

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