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Japan | Working holiday | Roadtester

Everything you need to know about a working holiday in Japan

How to work a ski season in Japan. When you don’t speak Japanese. Or ski.

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I’d just graduated from Loughborough University and I thought it was about time I go on that gap year that I never went on. I was researching and researching all the places and things I wanted to do and see. The choice can be overwhelming if, like me, you want to see and do everything.

I came across the working holiday visa in Japan, and not only that, but a ski season in Niseko.

Now, I had never been to Asia before, let alone Japan. And I had never even done one winter sport, let alone skiing. But I thought, what a place to learn.

My parents would say that I always like doing things the hard way; I’m still not sure if I’m being brave or foolish. But no matter which it is, I know it’ll be an unforgettable experience.

So, I’m going to prove that ski seasons aren’t just for the seasoned skiers. I’ve muddled through all the phone calls, emails, shop-trawling, and website searching so you hopefully will be a little less clueless than I was.

1. Getting the visa

I thought the visa was a good place to start since it was one of the more challenging and lengthy processes to work out. The important thing to remember is that if the absolute worst-case scenario comes true and your visa is rejected - you can just reapply until you get it approved. My visa was rejected at first and I made it to Japan just fine. Here are some key tips to help get it right first time around:

Get organised. I am a list person, so ticking off all the ten or so documents I needed for the visa appointment and putting them in a little folder helped me not only get prepared but feel prepared too.

Delete ‘work’ from your vocabulary. Despite being called a working holiday visa, do not mention or even imply that you are working on your visa forms. If the embassy officials think you may be visiting Japan for work rather than tourism, your visa will likely be rejected (speaking from experience…). As part of your visa application, you’ll need to fill out an outline of intended activities form. Here you should write how you plan to spend equal and decent amounts of time in several places in Japan, and also showcase your knowledge and passion about Japanese places and culture in your personal statement. Finally, indicate that you will stay a minimum of nine months out of the possible year in your application form. Remember, none of these documents are binding so your plans can change once you are in Japan.

Book the visa appointment sooner rather than later. This can be no earlier than three months before you plan to fly to Japan. This makes any hiccups or rejections more of a funny story to tell rather than a reason to have a breakdown.

Do not lose the ID number. When booking the appointment over the phone, they will give you an ID number. This will be the first thing they ask for when you turn up to your appointment, and they do not keep a note of it for you. This applies to the receipt they give you after your visa is approved. You must bring this paper receipt when you come to collect your visa and passport, otherwise you will be leaving empty-handed.

Take your laptop to the visa appointment. This way, if there are any problems with any of the documents you prepared, you can make any edits then and there and email it right back to them. The embassy officials are super helpful, and usually tell you what to change in order to get approved. Listen to them.

2. Getting the job

Getting a job was actually one of the easier parts of going on the ski season. I checked out the available companies, locations and job roles, and narrowed down my options according to my priorities. Niseko appealed to me as it boasts a better nightlife, whereas Rusutsu and Furano seem to be more family-oriented.

I emailed a CV and cover letter over for a Front Desk role at Niseko. I thought this role would be most suited to me out of all the possibilities (and it was one of the best paid which can never hurt): bus driver, night auditor, concierge, waitress, kitchen porter, bar staff, etc.

They replied within a couple weeks offering me a video interview, which had to be a one-hour slot between 1am to 5am due to the time difference… I must have made a good impression despite the antisocial time as I got offered the job a few days later. The employers offered a seemingly standard but nonetheless appreciated package of employee benefits, including a discounted lift pass, subsidised staff accommodation and support with setting up a Japanese bank account.

Nothing beat knowing, however, that I already had a job waiting for me in this place so far from home.

3. Buying the ski gear

This is an interesting one if neither you nor your family has ever skied. It is like entering a whole new world. The trickiest thing was finding a balance between quality and price since you could easily justify spending endless amounts of money on all the different ski gear you need.

My advice to those of you on a budget like I was, begin with asking an expert so you know where to start. This could be a relative or friend that is an avid skier, or a ski/snowboard shop (Snowtrax was my hero). They can point you in the right direction in terms of sizing, brand, features, etc., of the different equipment you will need. Don’t be scared to be a pest. You’ll find people are usually pretty helpful, especially when you’re asking them about one of their passions.

Now you have more knowledge about what to look for, you can get to buying things second-hand. I managed to buy a lot of used but good quality stuff from Vinted. It was also a good excuse for me to go charity shopping even more regularly. I was pleased to find that charity shops have a surprising amount of ski stuff. I got a basically new ski jacket for £8.50 (rather than the usual £85 and upwards!).

Another tip, try to buy things pre-season when there are generous shop discounts and people are selling their gear from last season. I got my base layers heavily discounted in Mountain Warehouse in the UK, where I took the opportunity to purchase a couple of merino wool thermals. If you have never heard of this like I hadn’t, this is a natural material that is extremely warm, but also light weight, and anti-bacterial so doesn’t need to be washed as often. As you can imagine, it’s pretty expensive full price.

I will say that with some ski gear, you may be better off buying it new than second-hand. A ski season in Japan is especially cold and known to have some of the deepest powder, meaning you are going to be constantly hit in the face with a lot of cold snow. I decided that being able to see and being warm were good reasons to splash out, so I purchased some new Oakley ski goggles and some high-quality ski gloves. You can always sell them at the end of your season and still get a good price for them. It’s all up to your budget and priorities, but you don’t want to go all that way to be miserably cold or unsafe.

Finally, I’ll point out that there are good second-hand stores and Facebook groups from which you can purchase used gear in good condition when you arrive in Hokkaido – try to avoid buying things directly from the ski resort as the prices will be extortionate. However, this brings us onto the next dilemma: how much to buy and pack at home vs how much to buy when you arrive in Japan.




Betsy Lake

JENZA Work Japan roadtester 

It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. Our roadtesters trial and shape every JENZA experience to make sure it serves our travel community first. Because if it didn't fly with them, it's not going to fly with you.

"Now, I had never been to Asia before, let alone Japan. And I had never even done one winter sport, let alone skiing. But I thought, what a place to learn."

4. Packing for the flights

I have always hated packing, especially when you bring in airplane baggage limits. With curly hair and a five-step skin care routine, I had to seriously (and reluctantly) reign in the number of toiletries I took. This was made harder by recommendations to bring enough toiletries to last me for the whole ski season as Japan has very few western brands, and things like deodorant, medication, and suncream is often either much weaker or much more expensive.

Things were further complicated by the fact that I am 5ft7” with wide, size 6 feet. This is quite a bit bigger than the average Japanese woman, meaning I could struggle to find some clothes, and especially shoes, in my size. So, I stocked up on warm base layers (maybe a bit too much), snowboots, ski socks, ski gloves, salopettes, and a ski jacket to have all the essentials. I left most of the ski equipment (helmet, skis, poles, ski boots) to purchase when I arrived in Japan.

International flights are usually pretty good with baggage limits, with a 30kg check-in bag and 7kg carry-on bag. The problem comes when having to fly within Japan to the ski resort, as domestic flights usually have lower baggage limits. So, keep an eye on this when booking your domestic flights. You’ve got the typical budget airlines, like Peach and Jetstar, that are extremely strict with the baggage weight AND dimensions limits (another lesson I learned the hard way!). If you’re happy to pay a bit more to be freer with your baggage, then Japan Airlines and Air Nippon Airlines are more for you.

There are other options if you cannot sacrifice any of those toiletries or clothes, and don’t want to pay an arm and a leg. From the UK, Send My Bag was a very good option for sending an extra suitcase or even a ski bag to Japan from my home country, with speedy delivery and decent prices (a 15kg suitcase for £120, for example). Or Yamato Transport was another reliable and reasonably priced courier company to transport luggage within Japan. I chose in the end to suck it up and stick to the 20kg to avoid the extra faff and expense, especially since I plan to travel round Japan after my ski season so having extra bags would be a massive pain.

5. Sorting the money

Japan remains a cash country. However, it can be expensive to withdraw cash when in Japan, so I was recommended to take enough JPY in cash to be able to live (and have some fun) for 1-2 months, depending on when you will first get paid by your employer and how much ski gear you have left to buy when you arrive.

When you arrive in Tokyo on JENZA’s Work Japan, you’ll will be supported in setting up a Japanese bank account for your salary to be paid into. But you cannot transfer money into this from an international bank account for the first six months. However, Transferwise can help get around this problem through a lot of transferring between their bank accounts in many countries, including Japan. If you are buying something that has the option of using card, it seems that Revolut, Monzo or credit cards are some of the best options in terms of exchange rates and global transaction fees. So don’t worry, you won’t be stranded in Japan without access to money, there is always some work around!

6. Using a phone

Now, I was told that you need a credit card to get a Japanese SIM contract, so I got my first ever credit card - so grown-up I know. It turned out debit cards work fine too, but why not take the opportunity to start building that credit score. Two good companies to look at for either data-only contracts or contracts where you get your own Japanese mobile number are Iljmio and Sakura Mobile. Iljmio is less expensive, but unlike Sakura Mobile, there is no English support. A good way to test your Japanese if you’re keen! I went with a data-only plan as my employers did not need me to get a Japanese number. I also downloaded and set up LINE before I left for Japan, which is basically the Japanese WhatsApp.

I didn’t want to lose my English number but definitely didn’t want to pay for two SIM contracts at once. So, what I have to do is switch to pay as you go with my English SIM contract and then use my English SIM once every 90 days in Japan to keep it active – let’s see if I manage to remember.

7. Insurance

Promise I’m not a paid promoter, but I used Go Walkabout for my travel insurance, and they were so good. Not only did they patiently answer my millions of questions, but they specialise in working holiday visa travel insurance and have great add-on skiing cover at like half the price of other insurance providers I looked at.

8. Driving

I had to get an International Driving Permit for my job role, but I would’ve got one anyway as I am not missing out on the chance to go real-life Mario Karting in the streets of Tokyo! It only takes ten minutes to apply for one and doesn’t cost much at all. It’s harder to get one once you are in Japan, so it may be worth doing before you leave.

The prep is a big part of doing a ski season. It’s completely normal to find it stressful or overwhelming at times - you are moving to a different country! Take it slow, accept that you will have the occasional freak out, and most importantly, see this stage as a build-up to get buzzed about your trip.

JENZA Work Japan includes visa help, 5 nights in Tokyo to sort all the work essentials and permits, and a pre-arranged ski season job – usually with subsidised staff accommodation. Find out more.



Betsy Lake

JENZA Work Japan roadtester 

It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. Our roadtesters trial and shape every JENZA experience to make sure it serves our travel community first. Because if it didn't fly with them, it's not going to fly with you.

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