What It’s Like to Intern at a Japanese Tech Company in Tokyo?

Without a doubt, I am thrilled to be working in Tokyo for a Japanese startup called PhoneAppli, a company that specializes in cloud collaboration technology. I mean…how cool is that? All of my core passions are combined into this experience, as I love to learn and experience new things, and I absolutely adore the technology environment.

Working in the Heart of the Japanese Technology Market

Plus, my research area is all about female entrepreneurship and empowerment. For example, after a recent interview with Yuka Fujii, founder of Famarry – an online platform to select the best photographers and packages for ideal wedding photography and more, she introduced me to her co-working colleagues. While some were Japanese entrepreneurs, there were a few foreigners, including a Content Marketer at Tech in Asia – a premier conference for tech fans in Asia, and a CEO of a financial investment company. While the Asian tech market is definitely smaller than Silicon Valley, as nothing really compares to that environment … yet, it’s definitely a booming industry.

Even the company that I landed an internship with, PhoneAppli – a cloud collaboration directory platform that has the No. 1 market share in Japan, has a grand vision for the future. It’s expanding its market share by launching new products in the unified communications, computer telephony interface, and even the wearable IoT market. Plus, PhoneAppli is partnering with multinational companies such as Microsoft and Salesforce.

 

Cultural Differences for Internships in Japan Versus the USA

Apparently, it’s very difficult to obtain a typical, American internship in Japan, meaning that you spend about 10 weeks working on a few projects, for which you are generally paid. Depending on the industry, you can make a substantial sum, especially if it’s a banking company.

As I had at least three internships, all of which were paid, you could say that I have been spoiled by the experience, particularly when I worked at Google two times. Needless to say, I was eager to leave Kyoto during its hottest season, and experience life somewhere else. And what better way to do it, than by interning at a technology company – my chosen field of interest.

The main cultural difference of internships here versus in Japan is the purpose. Here in Japan, the goal is to hire people. Students don’t normally do internships. Instead, they attend 1 or 2 day events at various companies to “intern.” And the purpose is to introduce the student to the company, and potential future colleagues. Instead of working on a project, they just learn about the company itself. 

Although we have that type of opportunity, we generally call them externships. For example, I did a one-week externship at the Google London office for a UC Berkeley alumni, where I helped her with one of her product marketing projects. She even allowed me to stay in her house for free, which was an incredible experience. And one that I will always remember, as a cherished memory. 

But typical internships are around 10-12 weeks long, as our summer breaks are quite lengthy in college. And it’s generally a prerequisite for obtaining a “good” full-time role, after one graduates. 

Working in a typical corporate environment, allows students to interact with mentors, learn the basic “do’s” and “don’ts” of the office, as well as work on a variety of projects to help the company in some way, shape, or form. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn what it’s really like to work, as it’s not something you can learn in school. 

And in America, this type of experience, sets you apart from the rest, and makes it 100x easier to secure a full-time position. For example, unlike many of my fellow UC Berkeley colleagues, I obtained a full-time offer from Google, 6 months before I even graduated. As such, I didn’t have to stress out about finding a full-time opportunity, although it did restrict me from interviewing at other companies. However, both my parents and I were extremely happy with the result. 

 

How I Obtained this Internship

Without a doubt, the way I obtained my internship was not normal. In fact, the mere facts that I am working for one month and getting paid, are not at all typical. Plus, I am the company’s very first intern. It’s so atypical, but I hope I can make it a more “typical” experience. 

After informing my highly-intelligent professor, Chihiro Suematsu about my strong desire to work during my long, two-month summer break, he mentioned that there may be a few startups, open to the opportunity. With a simple list of qualifications such as a company in Tokyo that was more established, and one that I could contribute value too, Suematsu invited me on a trip to Tokyo! There, we met with a startup called PhoneAppli for a few hours, as he was exploring an opportunity to work together with the company. 

Afterwards, we all went out for a delicious lunch. And while we waited for the deserts, the professor suddenly asked the CEO, Yosuke Ishihara: "Julie really wants an internship. What if she were to work at PhoneAppli?”

Suddenly, everyone at the table was extremely silent. And in that moment, all I wanted to do was crawl under the table and hide. But, I was curious about the CEO's response. To my surprise, the CEO said, “Sure! But, we've never had an intern, so she would be our first one.”

Regardless of the result, I absolutely admired my professor’s innate guts and courage. After all, very few Japanese professors would ever ask such a direct question. In fact, it would even be difficult for me to ask so nonchalantly. Overall, I was impressed with my professor, and right then and there, I  knew I could learn an incredible amount from my professor

 

Internship Project Summary

After securing what I thought would be a translation project from Japanese to English, I actually have been conducting extensive marketing research, and occasionally, editing English content. Even so, it’s been an interesting experience, as the learning curve is very high.

Through my daily research and profusive, hand-written notes, I have begun to understand the complex environment of which I am studying. Although it’s entirely in English, I have had wonderful opportunities to interact with Japanese colleagues.

 

Team-Building Activities at PhoneAppli

Thus far, I have been to a Welcome Dinner for about 4 new employees at a spectacular izakaya (a type of restaurant that serves Japanese tapas and alcohol), and a female colleague dinner at a delicious washoku (Japanese-style restaurant) at Toranomon Hills. One of my favorite dishes, which we ordered 3 of, was a type of semi-sweet tofu tapa. And one was matcha-infused. Amazing, no? It was so delicious that I really want to go back just to eat that one specific dish, if the restaurant allows it.

Thus far, I've finished 7 out of 20 days total. Since it’s such a short time frame, I want to learn and give back as much as possible. Plus, I want to do my best to get know people, so I initiated a lunch with my official team mates, who ate all-you-can-eat karaage (deep-fried chicken), while I ate a deliciously large bowl of oyako donburi (a traditional Japanese dish with deep-fried chicken or pork with cooked egg over rice).

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog. And I hope it's helpful for readers! Feel free to read some more blogs about life in Japan.