Finding a Job in Japan’s Hospitality Industry
How easy is it to find a job at a hotel or traditional inn in Japan, and how do you go about it? We asked a nationally certified career consultant at Linguage Japanese Language School in Shinjuku about their experiences with the hospitality industry.
The most important thing is that you’re in good physical and mental condition. Hotels operate around the clock, so working hours and schedules are often inconsistent. For example, your job could require multiple night shifts per week, working on weekends, etc. Hotels also serve a wide variety of guests, so it’s important that you have the emotional capacity to appropriately interact with all of them.
On the base level, communication abilities, cleanliness, a firm understanding of how to behave around customers, and cooperativeness are all important.
Japanese Language Requirements
Many employers ask for JLPT level N2 or higher, or N1 specifically.* Skills on this level are often considered necessary because hotels also serve a high number of Japanese customers, and staff members are expected to communicate with each other in Japanese. N3 may be sufficient if you’re applying for a position that doesn’t require direct interaction with guests.
*For the Specified Skills Visa, the minimum requirement is N4. However, many holders of this visa have N3+ Japanese skills. Unless you can present some other convincing selling points, finding a job with N4 alone can prove to be quite difficult.
Necessary certificates etc.
First and foremost, language certificates. For languages other than your mother tongue, it’s best to have an official document that proves your proficiency. For English, a TOEIC score of 800 or more is usually considered to be equivalent to business level. A combination of your native language, Japanese, and English can be a strong selling point.
Aside from languages, knowledge in fields like marketing or hotel management could cause you to be favored over other applicants (depending on the position).
Is work experience necessary?
Having worked in the hotel industry before will be a plus. It’ll be easier to leave a positive impression that way, even if you only have part-time work experience with bed-making and other “behind the scenes” tasks.
Many hotels expect all of their staff to directly interact with customers, regardless of whether they’re Japanese or not. Because of this, they often ask for some degree of customer-serving experience. Many of them also have a job rotation system. This means that you’re likely to be asked to work “on location” for a few months or years first – even if you applied for a marketing or PR position, for example. Because of this, experience as a waiter/waitress in a café or restaurant is looked upon favorably as well.
Hotels in Japan tend to place great importance on the “spirit of Japanese hospitality” (jp. おもてなし). Pinpointing the exact meaning of this term is difficult because it combines the basic idea of hospitality with the rather nebulous concept of “Japaneseness”. Previous experience with dealing with customers in Japan will get you some bonus points. Aside from that, reading Japanese texts on the subject (to get an idea of how people talk about おもてなし) could also be a good idea.
Your salary as hotel staff will depend on the size of your hotel (or hotel company) as well as your position.
The average, across-the-board salary is between 3 to 4 million JPY per year. Whether or not there’s a bonus system also depends on the hotel or company. (A bonus is an additional allowance on top of your regular salary. Payout timing and intervals vary. Some companies give out two bonus payments a year, while some only provide one. There are also companies that don’t use bonus systems.)
The salary itself isn’t particularly low when compared to entry-level positions in other industries. However, some job seekers feel that it is a bit too low for work that requires a lot of stamina and physical strength. Career prospects are rather modest unless you make it to the top and become a top staff member at a high-class hotel (it doesn’t help that competition for these positions among staff is very high).
Is it easy to get a job in hospitality as a foreigner?
Let’s have a look at some numbers: In recent years, the number of foreign visitors to Japan has been increasing steadily. According to the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), over 31,880,000 foreign tourists visited Japan in 2019 – a new historical record (*1). In addition to the US and European counties, the number of tourists from Asian countries like China, Taiwan, and Thailand has been increasing as well.
Foreign tourists are also staying in hotels more frequently than ever. A Japan Tourist Agency (JTA) survey found that the total number of overnight stays by foreign tourists was 101,430,000 in 2019 (*2).
The demand for hotels is increasing, but supply hasn’t been able to catch up yet. New hotels are opening all over the country. Of course, this means that hotel staff – especially foreign staff with the ability to communicate in multiple languages – is in high demand as well. Viewed in this light, the hospitality industry is one of the easiest industries for foreigners to get into.
Recently, however, COVID-19 has left a huge impact on the industry. In April 2020, the total number of overnight stays were down by 97.4% (compared to April 2019). Whether or not hospitality will continue to be an “easy access” industry depends on how the influx of foreign tourists recovers after the pandemic subsides.
*1: 2020 Visitor Arrivals & Japanese Overseas Travelers (JNTO), 2020/05/20
*2: 宿泊旅行統計調査 (JTA), 2020/02/08
How to increase your chances
First of all, be sure to prepare yourself before taking the entrance exam. Visit the hotels you’re interested in and have a look at the entrance, the lobby, the reception counter, the restaurant… every place that you’re able to see as a regular visitor. By getting an idea of how the place looks like, you’ll be able to communicate more effectively and ask better questions during the job interview. For example, you could try sitting in the lobby for about 30 minutes, paying attention to the kind of customer the hotel serves.
When working at a hotel, personal cleanliness is of utmost importance. Imagine yourself as a staff member and think of what kind of appearance the guests would appreciate. Below, you can find some do’s and don’t that you should keep in mind for the job interview (or any other time you’re formally visiting the company as an applicant).
- ■ Wear a black or navy suit (check for wrinkles)
- ■ Tie up your hair & bangs (women)
- ■ Clean up your beard (men)
- ■ Make your nails look clean
- ■ Speak clearly and in a polite manner
- ■ Put on cologne or other fragrance
- ■ Show up with manicured nails or other accessories
- ■ Interrupt conversation partners
What do companies expect foreigners to bring to the table?
Communication skills come first. Being hired as a foreigner means that you’re expected to tend to customers in English and other languages. Just “talking to them” in a general sense won’t be enough – you should be able to quickly pick up on their needs and state of mind through observation and politely communicate with them on top of that.
Next is teamwork. Hotels have a wide variety of staff. For example, at a big hotel you have reception counter staff, concierges, bell and door staff, room service, reservation staff, operators, and fitness/spa staff all in the same place – and that’s only a small fraction of the whole team. Being able to communicate and cooperate with the other staff members to properly deliver a service as a team is a crucial skill. Many Japanese people greatly value the concept of harmony. The teamwork expectations are probably higher than you anticipate!
Lingugage students in the hospitality industry
One Linguage student found a job at a traditional Japanese-style inn (ryokan). They had previously worked at Japanese fast-food chains and bars for a few months and were able to capitalize on those experiences. At that point, their Japanese proficiency was around N3 level, but a convincing smile and a generally positive attitude towards communication convinced the interviewers of their potential. Another factor was a high level of English proficiency – the student had majored in English in their home country.
Hospitality is one of the easier Japanese industries to get into because it doesn’t require much technical knowledge or specific work experience. Common student part-time jobs (ex. waiter/waitress) can equip you with sufficient practical skills. Because of the high demand for hotel staff, applicants can also choose from a wide range of options, from the small Japanese inn in the countryside to business hotels in central Tokyo. Currently, Covid-19 puts job seekers in the industry at a big disadvantage, but things are likely to return to normal once the pandemic subsides.
Communication skills are on the top of the priority list for getting a job, so focus on leveling up your Japanese and finding out about the meaning and background of おもてなし, the central concept that dominates the Japanese hospitality sector.
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