Saturday, April 2, 2011

Life as an OFW in Japan

It has already been four months since I came here in Japan as an IT Engineer - an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) in other words - and I have met a lot of people, both Japanese and fellow Filipinos. After meeting so many Filipinos here, I realized that Filipinos have already become a huge part of the Japanese community and are not really considered that foreign anymore - which is good because it makes adjusting a bit easier. But, as a 19-year old working in a foreign, and rather strictly disciplined, country, life can be tough.

First of all there's the age issue. In the Philippines, the legal age is 18 years old. When you turn 18, you are free to do whatever you want. Actually, even before 18 you can do almost anything. In Japan, however, 20 is the legal age. For those below 20 years of age and living by themselves (like me), it can get a bit rough. First, no drinking of alcoholic beverages. Not that I mind not being able to drink but the Japanese love alcohol and I feel that I cannot fully connect with them if I'm not able to drink, especially when our company holds parties or gatherings.

Furthermore, many services in Japan require an individual to be at least 20 years of age in order to avail. An example would be applying for an internet connection. My housemate and I encountered this problem when we tried applying for an internet connection under my name. It turned out that I am not yet qualified to apply for one because I am not yet 20 years old. So, it took months before we were able to get a connection, one that we placed under my housemate's name instead.

Another issue is the language barrier. Very few Japanese can understand English, let alone speak English. You won't be able to get away without learning and mastering their language. If you want to survive here, learn Japanese. Easier said than done, eh? I can easily attest to that. Even though I have a Japanese teacher teaching me Nihongo right now, I'd be lying if I said that I'm not having a hard time. Sometimes I even wish that I didn't know English in the first place because I can't help but compare the two languages - their structure, especially - and it can get really confusing. Thinking of sentences in English and then translating them into Japanese doesn't work all the time. Sometimes you'd just end up with strange, or worse, grammatically incorrect, Japanese sentences. To make things worse, the Japanese language has several levels of formality, which you need to learn when and how to use depending on who you are talking to. As the youngest in the company, and a Filipino at that, I am required to address everyone in "polite" Japanese but they talk to me in "casual" Japanese. The two forms are very different and I have to learn both and more.

An interesting thing that I learned recently, however, is that when giving a speech in front of Japanese people, it is best not to end your speech with a hanging question. In English that's how speeches usually end - they give the audience something to think about. In Japan, it might be considered impolite, especially if you're the youngest, when you end your speech with a question, because it would seem that you are burdening your senior audience with having to think about an answer. This made me realize that as a foreigner employee in a Japanese company, it is very important to learn their culture, and business practices and etiquettes.

Finally, the biggest challenge that a young OFW like me has to overcome while in Japan is the not-so-good image that they have of Filipinos and the Philippines. I bet even Filipinos working in other countries have the same challenge to overcome, and every OFW is burdened with the responsibility of uplifting (can't really say "uphold" now, can I?) our image to the world.

In a strict country like Japan, it feels as if they are closely watching our every move, waiting for us to slip up so they can say, "Ah, Filipinos really are no good. No wonder the Philippines is poor." This is why I and the other Filipinos at the company I am working for right now are cautious about the way we act, dress, and talk while in Japan. It is very important that we carry ourselves in a carefully disciplined way, show that we are serious about our work, and let them see that we can be entrusted with responsibilities. We are not only promoting our schools but our country as a whole.

Yes, life as an OFW in Japan is tough, but more so than that, it is very fun and the things that I learn are really invaluable. As a 19-year old working for a Japanese IT company, I get a lot of praises for being so young yet already being able to go this far. Furthermore, being able to work in a first-world country gives me the chance to know what makes a first-world country tick, and hopefully bring that knowledge back to the Philippines.

For now, what I really want to do while in Japan is to embrace and adopt the discipline that the Japanese so effortlessly display. It amazes me how naturally it comes to them, and I believe that this firmly rooted trait of the Japanese is one of the key reasons to their progressive country.


So they say that OFWs are the "New Heroes". But I believe that we can be heroes not only by bringing money to the Philippines, but also by bringing back something that will have greater impact on our country - and those are the lessons that we learn from our experiences in a foreign country. WE may be the ones who have to struggle to do that now, but if it can help the Philippines, or even just a small part of it, I'd be glad to.


  1. Wow.. Very nice post kate. i am very proud of you. Such a young and smart lady.. Keep it up and good luck jud.. Take care pud and pray always..

  2. i am as well, so proud and happy for you I am reading this, I'm telling to myself "This is Kate Mariel, ,my friend, my classmate, my group mate, and look how far she has gone.." and you're only 19!..there are still many best things to come..and forever we will be happy and proud of you..

    Keep it up Kate..and don't forget to connect to Him..^_^..miss you..


  3. Thank you, te Kha! Miss you, too. :-) Bonding with you in spirit na lang. Hehehe.

  4. Kate, i love your bog entry. Maka-inspire. :))

  5. KATE!!! SO PROUD OF YOU..!!!

  6. been working in Japan for 2 years but my nihongo is "mada mada dame desu" (^_^')? we're always forcing our Japanese colleagues to speak in English ^0^

    if you're living within the area of tokyo cherry blossoms will be in full bloom this weekend (i think). enjoy hanami ^_^

  7. Hi Ms. Kate

    I've read your post regarding the steps I need to undergo in processing my application to work abroad through direct hiring.

    I would like to ask cos it wasnt mentioned in your blog the names of the clinics/hospitals which are accredited by POEA..

    I do really want to know ..

    I'll be looking forward to hearing a reply from you soon....

    Your blog is really informative and very helpful to us too ..!

    Keep it up and take care ..

  8. Hi, Angela! Thanks for reading my blog. :-) I'm glad that you found it helpful.

    About the names of the clinics, I can only remember the name of the one I went to when I applied - it was called Medisense. Here's their website:

    But it would be better to find out directly from POEA because I think they change the accredited clinics every 6 months.

  9. Thanks for sharing all of these great insights! I see you had posted this after the unprecedented Japan disaster, so I'm going to assume that you are doing okay. I am proud of you and what you're doing at such a young age, representing the Philippines with such professionalism and dignity, and at the same time, sharing what you know and learn. I'm going to add your blog to my Blogroll so that I can follow you along on your journey! Mabuhay! :)


  10. hi kate this jukie of cebu!!!i love your blog its really such a great help especially the process in poea thanx a lot and godbless you..

  11. i am so proud of you Kate..your blog was very inspiring! Keep on sharing your wonderful blogs! More power and Godbless!

  12. wow! such a great story. very inspiring. a teen age girl with a big break. congrats!