After the 2021 Victorian Japanese Language Speech Contest, I was granted an amazing opportunity to intern at Ito En Australia, all thanks to my participation in the JCCIM Internship Program. My internship at Ito En Australia, a subsidiary of the world-renowned Japanese tea manufacturer Ito En, could not have come at a better time. I had just finished a university course unit about Japanese language use in professional work environments and I saw an exciting chance to put what I had learned to use.
Prior to taking this internship, I was already familiar with the sorts of language to use, namely honorifics. However, I will be the first to say that not everything went smoothly all the time. I often found it difficult to express things with the correct words, particularly under the immense time pressure of an actual dynamic conversation. Though as frustrating as all of this was in the moment, I can hardly say that it does not feel greatly rewarding now. I was able to make use of an opportunity to truly hone my language skills in an environment I was barely comfortable in, and that made all the difficulties and tongue-tied moments truly worth it.
However, aside from language, I also learned much about the philosophy of Japanese companies in general. The commitment to service and passion was not lost on me at all. My supervisors were all so keen to inform me of each and every detail about green tea, from its health benefits to its growing process. I also saw their dedication to Japanese practices such as ‘route sales’, which is none other than personally delivering products to participating businesses. My puzzlement quickly turned to enthusiasm as I felt myself getting more knowledgeable and also more passionate about the products we were providing and the Japanese philosophy of loving one’s work.
Although most of my time was spent at the sales office, I also received an amazing opportunity to visit Ito En Australia’s tea farms and factory facilities, which gave me a deeper insight into the logistics behind their tea distribution and the amount of labour involved. I was particularly impressed by the contracting of Australian farmers to grow much of the tea, which just demonstrated to me how, despite Ito En’s identification with Japan and Japanese culture, they still worked to integrate their presence into the Australian landscape.
One of the most memorable experiences for me came towards the end of my internship and involved Ito En Australia’s participation in the annual Emperor’s Birthday celebration in collaboration with the Japanese consulate general. Ito En had set up a stall advertising their products alongside other well-known Japanese brands, and one of my jobs was to describe Ito En’s products to the participants and have them try our drinks. Through this experience, I was able to meet and greet many people from across the Japanese business landscape and it was a truly wonderful experience, especially in terms of network opportunities.
This internship did so many things for me. It helped me improve my Japanese language skills; it helped me understand Japanese workplace culture and business practices, and it provided me with crucial networking opportunities. Overall, it was both memorable and insightful and has given me much to bring into my future career and professional life.