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Creating Cultural Playgrounds

Business development manager Yuka Fujisaki of Transit General Office on how the company hired foreign staff and brought authenticity to its international dining venues in Tokyo.

Transit General Office is a company that “creates cultural playgrounds,” says its founder, Sadahiro Nakamura. “Our business started from producing cafés and shared offices and has since expanded to different categories and countless places,” he says. “In a nutshell, we’ve built ‘cities’ through playgrounds.”

We sat down with Yuka Fujisaki, a manager in the Transit General Office business operations unit to talk about the company’s reasons for recruiting foreign service staff, the difference this has made to its operations and what they learned about hiring non-Japanese staff from working with GPlusMedia.

GPlusMedia services used:

  • CareerEngine, Japan Today, GaijinPot, Savvy Tokyo
  • Advertorials, banner ads, job postings, sponsored articles

Why did Transit General Office decide to use GPlusMedia to hire non-Japanese staff?

Yuka Fujisaki: We seriously began hiring foreign staff three years ago. Initially, we mainly focused on recruiting them for positions with relatively little communication, like bussers. However, we now also recruit and hire foreigners as service or kitchen staff.

We develop restaurants across diverse categories, including Italian and Greek food. They need human resources that can create an authentic atmosphere and serve foreign tourists as well as expatriates in Japan, so we expanded the scope of our recruitment.

Did you notice anything noteworthy when hiring foreigners? 

YF: We had little experience and no knowledge regarding hiring foreigners, so we were anxious about various points, including […] whether applicants’ visas would allow them to work in restaurants. We always strive to create environments in which foreigners can work without worry, as we consult with managers and certified social security and labor consultants.

What is your focus during interviews when hiring foreigners?

YF: Foreigners who work in Japan need immense courage. We endeavor to offer whatever opportunities we can to meet their needs. We try to ascertain whether our hires have the motivation to learn their job and Japanese customs rather than whether they have experience in the restaurant business. We look at their drive, character and self-discipline. These points are particularly vital for service staff who interact with customers.

For kitchen staff, we focus on [their] cooking skills and work experience. The need for Japanese language skills differs depending on the restaurant, but it is not essential. When our recruits cannot speak Japanese very well, we consider compatibility and other factors, including whether restaurants have English-speaking staff, when assigning staff so that individuals do not struggle to fit in.

Yuka Fujisaki from Transit General Office

What have been the benefits of employing non-Japanese staff?

YF: Bringing on foreign staff has motivated our Japanese employees and brought a higher degree of refinement to the atmosphere of our restaurants. Expatriates have also enlivened their workplaces by offering new ideas and opinions. Our foreign staff is a valuable asset in providing quality service. Just one foreigner working in a restaurant brings in regular customers, making expatriates essential in raising customer reviews, sales and restaurant growth.

Have you faced any challenges in hiring foreigners?

YF: Yes, we have. For instance, we have to review much paperwork when hiring foreigners, so we need time to complete all the necessary procedures when we do not have the paperwork formatted in other languages. We also encounter miscommunication when our words do not get through all that well. We also need to understand religious beliefs and customs.

These are all issues we must overcome when working together with foreign staff. We need to change our organizations to allow for mutual respect. We also need to create an environment in which all our staff members can work comfortably.

What is the company’s plan for the future in regard to hiring forein staff?

YF: We are expanding our recruitment as we approach the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Currently, we employ 2,400 individuals, including our temp staff, but our ratio of foreign employees remains low at six percent, of which only 1.5 percent are full-time employees. Within the year, we aim to raise this figure to 10 percent, so we continue our recruitment efforts. We are putting together an international support team, which currently consists of three individuals, me and two others from abroad. Our priority is advancing our efforts to hire foreigners. We aim to promote our corporate goals of increasing the number of foreign employees, training our people to offer service of an international standard and acquiring more customers.

Currently, we develop three types of restaurants: directly managed, subcontracted and international brand-licensed. We are particularly pouring our efforts into licenses for international brands and we intend to deploy categories of restaurants that have not reached Japan while maintaining global standards. As we deploy these restaurants, we need to respond to the needs of our foreign owners and customers, so we will need to hire even more foreign staff. For an Italian restaurant we will open in April, we plan, at the request of the brand’s owner, to hire foreigners who speak Italian or English to make up at least half of the service staff.

Do you have some tips for companies currently considering non-Japanese employees?

YF: Our company is not hiring foreigners to supplement the shortage of Japanese labor. As an organization, we aim to learn as much as we can from our foreign staff while becoming more international and continuing to grow. While there are advantages and disadvantages to hiring foreigners, companies need foreigners to survive. I want other companies to see this situation as a challenge to overcome rather than an annoyance to address.

Initially, you will likely encounter many unknowns and much confusion. In such moments, I think you should start by gathering information, whether by asking other companies or participating in seminars or roundtable discussions. I once struggled to find a job while on a working holiday in Canada, and I will never forget the gratitude I felt to the company that hired me. With this feeling of gratitude, I hope to increase, to whatever extent is possible, the employment of foreigners who love Japan and are full of the desire to succeed.