anonymousThank you very much for sharing your story anonymously. Please refrain from calling names or anything enabling people from finding out who you are or the company you interned at. The information is still tremendously valuable for us and the “How to have foreign interns” book we are writing now, to teach the companies here how to do it correctly and in favor of the intern. You should have had benefits instead of trouble and sleepless nights at the office. We are against such conditions. Thank you for helping us to change things to the better.

Anonymous-san got in contact with us while already in Japan on a tourist visa, being an intern (before Internship Japan was even founded) with conditions unlikely to be legal, even with gray areas played well by many companies.

1. Please tell us about your education (the field you received your degree in), the country you studied in and why you wanted to intern in Japan.

5-year Diploma of Architecture Engineering, University of Patrai, Greece and 2-year Master of Science in Architecture, Urbanism and Sciences, TUDelft, the Netherlands

2. How was your Japanese language proficiency before you came? Did you learn Japanese in a class while in Japan?

No classes taken. No time or money to attend classes. I was just picking up phrases from my Japanese colleagues.

3. You were already graduated when you came to Japan, so you could not apply for a cultural activities visa, like current students can. Why did you intern after graduation? What was your intention?

I was really intrigued by Japanese architecture and the office that I applied for and worked for in Tokyo is led by two of the best architects worldwide. I grabbed the opportunity so as to establish a good work experience and a strong CV for my next job.

4. Tell us what the company told you about coming to Japan on a tourist visa for an internship. Do they have many tourist-visa interns? Do you think they use this to prevent costs? How about insurance or benefits? Did they cover your transportation at least? Anything?

They usually have around 7 people with a tourist visa (3 months). The office runs on around 25 employees. No insurance, no benefits, no travel costs. They were pretty clear from the beginning about the conditions of work and stay. They suggested that I should buy a bike from another intern that I would replace as his 3 months internship was over. I felt pretty bad when they said that as they were not implying that for my own sake (to save money from public transport). They were saying so as to be prepared to have me able to work late at night when no public transport is available. So yes, it was tough from their part.

5. Did the company tell you before the internship, that they might offer you a full-time position? Did they offer a full-time position in the end? If they did, why didn’t you take the full-time position?

I did not go after it. At the end of the three months I was so sick of being unpaid, working 7 days a week and working 14 hours a day. I had enough, so why continue full time?

6. Why did you agree to their conditions, why didn’t you leave before the internship was finished? It had nothing to do with your graduation, but you still endured it.

See my answer to question number 3.

7. What was positive about this internship if anything, what did you learn?

Great architecture, respect towards my education, abilities and sacrifices to be there.

8. We are not against unpaid internships if it is in non-profits or start-ups for example, but we are against exploitation. There are many things written about paid or unpaid internships. Common thought is that: “If an intern creates value, the company can directly profit from what the intern is doing, it must not be unpaid.” We agree with this, if the company is a profit-making non-start-up and able to pay money or compensate otherwise. Above all, we aim for the Value Add for both parties. But then again, all things depend on the way you see them. So for example if an intern bakes cakes and the company sells the cakes for profit, the intern must not be unpaid. You made models you said. How were the models used and are they “for profit” in your opinion?

The models made where used just for internal use. They were used so as to come up with the final design. That was really useful and I learned a lot. However I do not consider that I should be paid only the models were to be used for exhibition or selling purposes. After my experience I am totally opposed to any unpaid job. Even if it is an non-profit or start-up. We should not confuse the words job and voluntarism.

If I want to volunteer there are so much better world-improving-people saving things I could spend my time and money on.

9. Is it all a common practice in your field, not only in Japan? Have you heard of other interns in similar conditions?

In Japan there are offices that pay a minimum salary for interns. But not all of them. This is something pretty common in other European countries as well. Such as the Netherlands, Greece, France, Germany and Spain. Not in UK though.

10. What do you want Internship Japan to do about this? How could we help the best?

Promote yourselves as much as you can abroad so that people know the conditions before coming to Japan. Try to convince them about the consequences of unpaid work in general, not just for them. Establish relationships with other organisations in Japan and help companies provide salaries to their employees.

11. What do you want to tell graduates in your field willing to intern in Japan? Any message for any other youngster willing to come to Japan?

Come to Japan! Its an incredible place to be and build your working experience. Don’t let your dreams overrule your dignity and pride!