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Julia Ayuso

SHŪKATSU (就活), or how to work as an architect in Japan


Shot from “Recruit Rhapsody” (video available on Youtube) by Maho Yoshida. Tokyo University of the Arts, 2012.

Shūkatsu (abbreviation of the expression shūshoku katsudō, literally “activities to seek employment“) is very common practice in most Japanese companies in order to hire a great number of recent graduates before they actually leave school. In other words, in Japan, the recruiting process begins in the third year of studies when students attend hiring seminars both on and off-campus. In the fourth year they send their job applications out the companies where they would like to work in order to complete the entire selection process and be hired. Those who are graduate from university in March in order to be able to begin work on the 1st of April of the following year, coinciding with the beginning of the fiscal year. This way, anyone who finishes their university degree has a guarantee of employment, and the best companies divvy up the most prestigious universities.

This year, 2016, I have the opportunity to experience cultural change. I am getting to know Japan through a professional lens. I work in Tokyo for the architecture firm Nikken Sekkei.  It is the most important private architecture firm in Japan, and the third largest architecture agency in the world in terms of the number of architects. Experience, in addition to working in an international firm and obtaining technical knowledge, has enabled me to bring about a social change. It is a journey full of nuances involving exploration and participation in an office, a community, a city and a culture that are completely different from what I am accustomed to.

As a tourist, Japan is a paradise. But as a worker, perhaps not so much. Based on my experience, I would highlight two aspects that, although obvious, seem fundamental to bear in mind for someone interested in emigrating to Japan.

  1. Japan speaks Japanese. Japanese can be difficult. Not only do you need to learn to speak it, you also need to learn to write it, almost as if you were a child. Speaking it, though, is simple for those with a Spanish mother tongue because most of the sounds to pronounce are very similar, if not identical, to Spanish.
  2. In Japan people work Japanese style. In Spain people work, and in Japan too. But the working cultures are completely different, and the Japanese working culture is very much a world unto itself. It is tidy, and, as the rest of Japanese culture seems to be, and it is impregnated in a feeling of community. Leaving the office at 9 p.m. is considered normal. Many return at 10 or 11 p.m…and some spend the night at the office. What is expected is for you to be at the office the same hours as everyone else, even though it’s not necessary, just because you are part of the team. You have to enjoy that environment and have that latent curiosity to learn in order to keep up the pace. The office becomes the entire sphere of interaction and work where daily life is led. Time at work is more important than time with the family, and although many people don’t actually think so, this is how people proceed.

If, despite the difficulties, you get used to the pace and take advantage of the positive, Japan will hook you. As a tourist, it always does. If you integrate, the Japanese language will no longer be a problem, and you will have some Japanese friends. You’ll surprise yourself as you say thank you with a slight bow of your head, and as you find yourself feeling as comfortable squatting as standing. And you’ll discover something you weren’t counting on. You’ll want to stay.

(Elche, 1983) Como resultado de mi trabajo de investigación, hago labores de diseño y consultoría de espacios de trabajo centrados en las personas, que contribuyen a la mejora de su salud, bienestar y productividad. Soy Doctora Arquitecta y Project Manager especialista en cuantificar el beneficio económico que supone para las empresas la implementación de estrategias de diseño centrado en las personas, y actualmente dirijo People Lab en CBRE. No siempre quise ser arquitecta. Cuando era una niña pensaba que tal vez sería exploradora, o científica, o inventora. He viajado por todo el mundo para ver, tocar y sentir la arquitectura que me emociona. He vivido varios años en Japón, y lo que más me gusta de este país es su amor por lo bello y lo sutil (y el matcha).

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