Has Japan been on your bucket list of countries to visit? What if we told you that it’s possible to work and travel there for up to a year? Montreal-based Jeremie has desired to live in Tokyo since he was young and finally got the chance to go to Japan with a Working Holiday Visa (WHV). Not only did he land a job working in his field, but he got an authentic experience of Japanese culture.
What made you decide to get a Working Holiday Visa in Japan?
“Going to Japan has been a dream of mine for a long time. I went to the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) in visual arts and did a student exchange program in Seoul, South Korea, because sadly, Japan didn’t offer an exchange.
At least this way, I was geographically closer to Japan, and it gave me my first connection. After this experience, I knew I wanted to continue travelling in Asia. So, as soon as I finished university, I started the process to apply for a WHV in Japan.”
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What steps did you take to apply for a Working Holiday Visa in Japan?
“There was a bit of paperwork, but I got through it with no issues thanks to all the information available on the International Experience Canada website.
For the Working Holiday Visa in Japan, you need to show that you’re going for both work and travel.
For example, if you choose to go for one year, they make you fill out an itinerary showing that your trip will be a 50/50 split between work and vacation. In my case, my goal was to continue working in my field, so I mainly wanted to work, but I also wanted to live my experience there.
You also need to have the minimum amount of savings of C$3,500 required by the government of Japan.”
What was your first impression when you arrived in Tokyo?
“After twenty hours of flights, it was an incredible shock. I was terrified. Even though I was used to travelling in Asia, I had never experienced a city as intense as Tokyo. Everything was different—the train, the cabs, the language. Zero English speakers. I had a learn a decent base of Japanese in Canada but speaking Japanese in Japan is so much more complex.”
Do you have any tips for finding accommodation during a Working Holiday Visa in Japan?
“I don’t recommend trying to find your own accommodation like I initially did. If you don’t know the city, don’t be afraid to hire rental agencies and companies that specialize in helping expats find a place to live. They can help you find sharehouses or common dwellings in strategic neighbourhoods.
The city of Tokyo is huge, and it was interesting and challenging to research on my own. After two months of this experience, I found a sharehouse through a rental agency in a central area closer to my work.”
How much did your apartment cost to rent in Tokyo?
“My first apartment was a 3-bedroom, which cost me about US$700 per month. My second apartment was a sharehouse that could accommodate 13-15 people, costing me around US$1,000 per month.
The living space sprawled over three floors, we had our own bedrooms, divided bathrooms, a common kitchen and a balcony, and it was always spotless and organized. Surprisingly very hygienic! You might expect the opposite with so many people living there, but it was really cool. We were like a family: half foreigners and half Japanese.”
Do you have any advice on making friends and building a social network during a Working Holiday Visa in Japan?
“Life in the city can be pretty lonely. If you go to Tokyo, it’s a good idea to first live with other professionals, students, or foreigners in a sharehouse.
That way, you can create the feeling of family, and these friendships give you the confidence to meet people in everyday life. In Japanese culture, it isn’t common to mix work with your home life, so work is not the ideal place to meet people, although it is possible.”
What are the main differences between living in Canada and living in Japan?
“There are 12 million more people living in Tokyo than in Montreal. It’s the biggest shock to see crowded subways and the sheer density of people everywhere.”
What kind of jobs can you expect with a Working Holiday Visa in Japan?
“You have the freedom to do anything. I had roommates who found work in the restaurant business and in hospitality and customer service jobs. Some were real estate agents and unpaid architecture interns. Many were students. You don’t have to work in the field you went to school for.”
What job did you end up getting with your Working Holiday Visa in Japan? What was your work experience like?
“I ended up at a multimedia agency, working with leading Japanese brands, and I felt like I was a part of important things.
I secured my job before I got my WHV. Back when I was in Seoul, South Korea, I exchanged contact information with a multimedia studio based out of Tokyo. When I confirmed my WHV plans, I asked them if they would take on a young intern with lots of motivation but little experience. They welcomed me into the company and provided a good basic income that allowed me to live in Tokyo.
One thing to note about Asia is the overtime culture. I was an intern, so I didn’t have many responsibilities in the company and was working a “light 40-hour work week.” My colleagues, however, worked a minimum of 50 hours a week. Life in Japan is about work, and this is especially true in Tokyo. Overtime is not usually required, but it is highly recommended if you want to move up in the company.”
Can you still get a job in Japan if you don’t speak Japanese?
“I suggest having a base understanding of the language, not necessarily for work, but for daily life in Japan. The younger Japanese generation is more open to the international scene and can speak basic English, but you’ll need to speak Japanese if you want to communicate with everyone.
Even though I studied Japanese for two to three years at university, I still got lost in translation. I had an embarrassing moment at lunch with a colleague. She spoke basic English, and I spoke basic Japanese, so we decided to use Google Translate to help with our conversation. She asked if I wanted to go for a drink with friends, and Google translated it to ‘Will you play with me?’ which is a weird question to ask a colleague. Like all languages, Japanese has its own idioms, but Google translates them literally, which can be pretty funny.”
Did you find that the money you earned during your Working Holiday Visa in Japan covered your cost of living there?
“The salary I received as an intern in Japan allowed me to survive; it did not allow me to live. Everything is so expensive in Tokyo! Prepare for the higher costs so you don’t get taken by surprise when you arrive. Keep in mind that public transportation, grocery stores and restaurants can get pricey in a big city. I had saved up about C$3,500 before I went, the minimum amount the Japanese government says you need to apply.”
Do you have any tips for how to travel on a budget with a Working Holiday Visa in Tokyo?
“Definitely buy a bike. A bike will allow you to travel quickly between neighbourhoods as the city is dense and spread out. You can save yourself from crowds and the expense of public transportation if you’re comfortable on a bike. And it allows you to get some fresh air.
In terms of food, you can save a lot of money going to the izakayas. These are after-work bars where the food is greasy, and the atmosphere is good, kind of like a pub. Not the most healthy, but cheap.
You can also save money by living in West Tokyo. This location is an up-and-coming area with lots of development, but it’s farther away from the action. It’s more affordable than other neighbourhoods but has fewer points of interest.”
Did you visit any cities other than Tokyo during your WHV, or were you too busy like everyone else, working non-stop?
“I went to Kyoto for a few days on vacation. It had a completely different vibe from Tokyo, and I highly recommend going. It was so quiet but in a good way.”
What advice would you give someone who dreams of going to Japan on a Working Holiday Visa but is hesitant?
“Put Japan on your list if you want a total culture immersion. Expect a complete change from the daily life you’re used to living. The Japanese culture is so different from anything you could possibly expect.
You just need to go and see it. The feeling of being there is indescribable, so fun and rewarding and 100% worth it.”
If you are a Canadian between the ages of 18 and 35 and want to learn more about the Working Holiday Visa, be sure to visit the International Experience Canada website for more details.
️ For even more inspiration, watch our #NomadTALKS series on YouTube, where we talk with other Canadians who have travelled and worked abroad.
The original interview was conducted by Emilie Robichaud and compiled by Britney Claveau. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.