Warm welcome eases
business intern into life in Japan

Tom Herdson describes his first few weeks on an Asia New Zealand Foundation business internship at Tokyo software company Fusion Systems.

As I boarded the plane to Tokyo, I felt excited yet anxious to find out what my life would be like for the next three months, during my first time in Asia.

Tom with a Japanese family

Within 24 hours of arriving in Tokyo Tom was sharing a meal with a local family

Any worries I had were quickly swept away when I made friends with a friendly local who sat next to me on the plane, and who helped me navigate the train system that takes you into the city, and even invited me to a family dinner the following evening!

I was amazed that within just 24 hours of being there I was already enjoying traditional Japanese food and sake at a table of locals eager to hear about New Zealand and recount their experiences there.

My first day of work was just a few days after I arrived in Japan. Having never interned at a firm, or worked in the field of software, I didn’t know what to expect.

My company, Fusion Systems, specialises in creating software solutions of many kinds, including exchange-trading software for large banks and management software for one of the largest sushi chains in Japan.

The project team I was assigned to contains about 10 members, who are working to create an application to help restaurants manage inventory, staff hours, procurement, and all other aspects of running a restaurant chain.

One of the tasks I am currently working on is ‘permissions’. This will allow different employees to have different levels of access to the system. For example, a cashier should not be able to view other employees’ salaries, whereas an HQ account can. This task has allowed me to learn many new skills, including working with SQL databases, react web development, and the microservices architecture.

I have been amazingly lucky with my accommodation, which is extremely central, just a stone’s throw from the iconic Tokyo Tower, and a few minutes on the subway from the nearby centres of Shibuya, Roppongi and Ginza. Furthermore, I can walk to work in just 10 minutes, saving me from the extremely busy metro in the mornings and evenings.

Having heard much of the intense work culture in Japan, I was relieved to discover that Fusion Systems has a much less strict approach. Being made up mostly of foreigners, all communication is in English, making my life as a non-Japanese speaker much easier. For the most part, employees can come and go as they wish, and the hours aren’t too long.

During the weekends, I have tried my best to get out and about and experience Tokyo. The city is exciting, lively and vibrant. There is always plenty to see and do.

I have enjoyed visiting various shrines and temples, one of which I discovered accidentally just 100 metres from my apartment! A trip to Hakone, near Mt Fuji, was a great day trip. It was impressive to see the mountain in person!

Japan is a very beautiful country, with contrasting ancient and modern aspects, as can be seen especially in Tokyo. Just metres away from a 500-year-old temple is a 250 metre tall skyscraper!

Last week, I was lucky enough to go to Hakuba, in the west of Japan, for the holiday break. The shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) allowed me to get there in just a few hours.

Tom standing in front of Japanese building

Exploring Tokyo, Tom has been surprised by the city's diverse mix of architecture with the very new and the very old side by side

It was snowing for almost my entire stay, with metres of fresh powder on the mountains. On my first day I met another friendly local in the hostel I was staying at who offered to take me up the mountain to go skiing.

After a day on the slopes, we went to a nearby onsen (bath house) to warm up and relax, followed by an authentic Japanese dinner.

This opportunity has really helped me develop not only my technical skills, but also familiarise myself with an entirely new country, lifestyle and culture, as well as make new friends from all over the globe.

I have been inspired to learn Japanese in the coming year, so that I can better communicate on my future visits to Japan, and speak with my new friends in their native language. All in all, I can’t think of a better way to have spent my summer break!