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Challenges Faced by International Interns in Japan


Internships in Japan have become increasingly popular among students and young professionals like yourself seeking to gain valuable work experience and immerse themselves in a unique cultural setting. Japan is an amazing country to discover and internships are the best way to fully integrate into a culture. However, along with the excitement of interning in Japan, international interns often face a range of challenges that can impact their experience. Understanding these challenges is crucial for anyone considering an internship in Japan.

Language Barriers

One of the most significant challenges for international interns in Japan is the language barrier. While many Japanese companies are becoming more global and incorporating English into their business operations, the primary language in most workplaces is still Japanese. This can create communication challenges, especially in technical discussions or casual conversations with colleagues.

Language barriers can lead to misunderstandings, decreased productivity, and even feelings of isolation. For instance, an intern may struggle to understand detailed instructions given in Japanese, leading to mistakes and a lack of confidence. Furthermore, socializing with colleagues can be difficult, which might affect team cohesion and the intern’s overall integration into the workplace.

To overcome these challenges, interns are encouraged to take Japanese language courses before and during their internships. Learning basic Japanese phrases and business etiquette can significantly improve daily interactions. Additionally, using language translation apps and seeking help from bilingual colleagues can also make a big difference. Some interns find it helpful to join language exchange groups or clubs where they can practice their Japanese in a more relaxed and supportive environment.

Fortunately, with the internships offered through Zentern, there's no requirement for Japanese language skills. While we do encourage you to pick up the basics, all of our internship partners are fluent in English. While you may collaborate with Japanese individuals who have limited English proficiency, your manager will be proficient in English, ensuring a smoother experience for you.

Cultural Differences

Cultural differences are another major challenge for international interns in Japan. Japanese workplace culture is known for its formality, respect for hierarchy, and emphasis on teamwork. These cultural norms can be quite different from what international interns are used to in their home countries.

For instance, the expectation to show deference to senior colleagues, the importance of punctuality, and the preference for indirect communication can be surprising to new interns. In Japan, it is customary to use honorifics and maintain a certain level of formality in all professional interactions, which can be daunting for those unfamiliar with these practices. Moreover, the concept of "honne" (true feelings) versus "tatemae" (public facade) can be challenging to navigate, as interns might find it difficult to understand the true feedback or opinions of their colleagues.

To navigate these cultural differences, it’s important to observe and learn from Japanese colleagues, ask questions when unsure, and be open to adapting to new ways of working. Interns should also take the initiative to learn about Japanese customs and workplace etiquette, such as the proper way to exchange business cards, bowing as a sign of respect, and understanding the importance of group harmony.
You’re not alone! You’ll all learn this during Zentern’s orientation and it’s good to study about Japan’s etiquettes before coming. All of our staff have experience living and working overseas, we know what you’ll be going through and are here to assist you whenever needed. 

Full-Time Internship Challenges

Interning full-time can be intense and demanding, particularly for those who are not used to a full-time schedule. Japan has a different work schedule where you work 9 hours (instead of 8) with a 1-hour lunch included, which can be challenging for interns who are still adjusting.

The pressure to perform well, coupled with the need to quickly adapt to new tasks, can be overwhelming. Interns may find it difficult to balance their workload with their personal lives, leading to stress.

To manage these challenges, interns should prioritize time management, seek feedback regularly, and take breaks. It's also beneficial to engage in activities outside of work to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Engaging in hobbies, social activities, or exploring the local culture can provide much-needed relaxation and mental refreshment. Interns should not hesitate to communicate with their supervisors about their workload and seek support if they feel overwhelmed. Most internships offer work hours from 10 am - 5 pm including lunch so working hours depend on the company and your preferences.

When you choose our Internship + Culture or Internship + Japanese Program, you’ll have fun activities included allowing you to discover the best of Japanese culture. 

Independence and Individual Tasks

Working independently in a new country can be daunting for many international interns. The need to navigate daily life and complete your internship tasks requires a high level of self-reliance and problem-solving skills. 

Sometimes, you might find yourself going out for lunch alone or having a weekend by yourself. The good thing is that doing things by yourself is totally normal in Japan! Did you know that they even have travel packages catered to solo travelers? It’s nothing new to eat out alone or go explore places by yourself.

To build independence, interns should familiarize themselves with local resources, make use of support networks, and develop a proactive attitude toward problem-solving. For example, understanding the public transportation system, knowing where to buy groceries, and learning basic survival phrases in Japanese can greatly enhance an intern's ability to function independently. Engaging with fellow Zenterns and local communities, such as your housemates, can also provide support and enhance the overall experience.

Statistics and Data

According to recent statistics, approximately 20,000 international students participate in internships in Japan each year. This number has been steadily increasing, reflecting the growing interest in Japan as a destination for gaining professional experience. The trend is particularly strong among students from countries such as China, South Korea, and the United States.

In addition, a survey conducted by the Japan Association for Promotion of Internationalization (JAPI) found that over 70% of international interns reported significant professional growth and cultural enrichment during their time in Japan. These statistics highlight the appeal and potential benefits of interning in Japan, despite the challenges involved.

Conclusion and Call to Action

Despite the challenges, interning in Japan offers a unique and enriching experience that can significantly boost your career prospects. By understanding and preparing for these challenges, you can make the most of your internship in Japan. Embracing the opportunity to work in a different cultural context can lead to personal and professional growth which is invaluable in today's globalized world.

If you're considering an internship in Japan, let Zentern Internships help you find the perfect opportunity! Browse our website to learn more and start your journey towards an exciting career adventure in Japan. Our dedicated team is here to support you every step of the way, ensuring that your internship experience is both rewarding and memorable! 

Visiting Asakusa