Business intern soaking up
Japanese culture in Tokyo

Celia Stokman says she has thrown herself into Japanese culture on her "once in a lifetime" experience developing software for e-commerce company Rakuten on a three-month Asia New Zealand Foundation business internship.

At Rakuten, Celia was tasked with creating web applications for the sales team

When I first arrived at Shinjuku Station, I was overwhelmed by how many people could be in one place. While weaving large travel bags in and out of crowds, rump-a-bumping them over tactile strips, and hauling them up long flights of stairs, I learned my first lesson: in Tokyo, pack lightly.

Tokyo is wonderful. The city is organized and efficient, from trains arriving every few minutes, to categorizing your rubbish, to orderly queues for absolutely everything – and nobody cuts in line!

These were my first impressions before starting my three-month internship at Japan’s largest e-commerce company, Rakuten.

On my first day at the company, I met my friendly, welcoming team and my mentor, who taught me how to effectively develop software in a huge Japanese company.

Previously, I had completed an internship with a New Zealand company, so I was fortunate enough to gain some insight into the differences between work cultures.

In Japan, it’s not uncommon for employees to work late into the night, and they value careful, patient work. Casual conversations are also not as common here, unless it’s about a shared project or asking for help. As a result, the office work environment in Japan is usually quieter than in New Zealand.

Rakuten has what they call their ‘Englishnization’ project, which is meant to promote English as the main language in the workplace. This had me assuming the company would be accessible for English speakers. Unfortunately, the orientation and all of the documentation I needed was completely in Japanese, which lead to my second, perhaps more obvious, lesson: study as much Japanese as you can before an extended stay in Japan.

I was tasked with creating two web applications for the sales team. Each team at Rakuten operates differently, and my team took advantage of script language PHP and the waterfall methodology. This meant having a precise plan before being able to touch a development environment, which required a deep level of understanding between the stakeholders, producers and myself. This was a challenge to overcome with the language barrier, but through various strategies it became a great success.

During the weekends, I am released into the wild. I’ve decided I want to learn as much as possible about Japanese culture. I’ve learned how to make mochi, observed traditional tea ceremony etiquette, collected goshuin stamps at various temples, and wandered around the greatest shopping districts.

The first temple I was able to visit was Hase Temple in Kamakura. I went with a guided tour group who explained the significance of each feature of the temple, and led to a deeper understanding of the area and culture.

Celia and colleagues at Odawara Castle

Another great experience I’ve had was hiking around Kozu for an amazing view of Mt Fuji, finishing with a visit to Odawara Castle.

Having the opportunity to work in Tokyo is a once in a lifetime experience. The things I’ve learned and the people I’ve met have helped me grow immensely as a young developer, and I can’t wait to apply it in the future.

Which brings me to the third lesson I've learned in Tokyo: If you have the chance to do something like this, absolutely dive into it! I guarantee it will be an unforgettable adventure, full of rich experiences and lessons about work, life and fun.