Feature: International Snow Season Workers in Japan
Ever wanted to come to Japan and get some of the powder you have been hearing so much about? Done a great deal of skiing/boarding overseas and perhaps met some Japanese folk doing the same? Have a significant other that also wants to come to Japan but worried you may not be able to find work/accommodation together? If you answered yes to any of the above, you are not alone.
Come with me in this volume of the setting journals as we meet a couple that has now “been there, done that” and survived to tell the story…
The following fictional conversation takes place in a bar at a snow resort town in America. It is between a veteran of the snow industry known as “Slats”, and the author of the fictional conversation, Seth Masia:
“I think everyone has moments when you could sell ‘em on wintersports.
“What do you mean?”
“The first skiers were Norwegians, and the ‘foreigners’ were Anglos. Didn’t matter if you could speak the language. Hell, the right language wasn’t even English, it was Scandihoovian. Back East, the Anglos caught on so fast that the ski clubs had to quit talking Norwegian in their meetings so their Yankee and Acadian neighbors could participate. And this when you couldn’t get on a golf course or tennis court unless you had Puritan grandparents. The thing is, skiing started as a sport for working people: miners and farmers.”
“Yeah. So skiers have been welcoming strangers into our midst right from the start.”
“Well, not always. If you’d wanted to get into a snooty New England ski club in, say, 1932, what would have happened?”
“Well, right. Those guys at the Lake Placid Club and Hochgeberg and New York Amateur Ski Club - they weren’t mountain town folks, they were visiting dilettantes from Nob Hill. Their big deal was to turn the sport into an exclusive club. But after the war - that would be World War II - you had immigrants and their kids building lifts and starting ski shops all over the country. The Ivies might not want you in their Lodge, but it was okay to ski on their hill.”
“Yeah. In this sport there’s a lot more prejudice against using the wrong binding than having the wrong grandparents. Think about it. If a guy skis the fall line and buys a drink once in awhile, he fits in. But if he looks weird - like he uses funny-looking skis or makes a different kind of turn - you sort of edge away. Until something even stranger comes along, and then he’s okay. Like we were suspicious of telemarkers in the ‘70S, and then snowboarders came along and made the free heel guys look pretty kosher. We sort of wondered about African Americans when they hit town, but they figured out how to ski and liked hanging out in bars, so now they are part of the scene, at least during school holidays.”
“Well, okay, but why don’t we see more brown faces around here?”
“The business, more than the sport, is an old boys’ club. It’s easy to join the sport. You just have to forsake all others and resolve to spend the rest of your life above 6,000 feet. But every time one of these guys starts a new business, he hires old friends. Most places, it’s self-perpetuating. You ever been to New Mexico?”
“Here’s Ernie Blake, a Jewish refugee. He arrives, sets up some lifts, and instead of sending to Dartmouth and Middlebury for help, he hires locals. That means Indians and Hispanics. Same all over the state. You get it at Tahoe, too - the resorts hired local kids, so they got children of Italian and Japanese farmers, Basque shepherds, Anglos from ranching and mining families, along with the usual carloads of socialites. Big happy family, right away.”
Out of bounds column titled “Emerging Markets”
Update as of 12 May 2006
Family has been on my mind a great deal lately, as I find myself “sandwiched” between the generations. Further understanding of families came to light for me last month when I was working on the mountain as a substitute lift attendant. That day permitted me a chance to get to know a lift engineer better than the usual greetings in passing that we have exchanged for several years now…
The co-worker above is presently 33-years-old. A popular good-looking guy, an observer might be surprised to find out that he has yet to marry. His story unfortunately is only too common in the rice-farming parts of Japan however. He is the oldest son in his family, so must assume the duty of looking after the family farm and produce an heir to assume the same role. Problem is, few want to marry into such a life these days, so he has spent his adult life to date working the fields each summer and manning the lifts at the resort each winter. Turns out most of the young lift attendants fit into this role, so the resort is blessed with a tight group of friends that return year after year…
During our conversation that day, the co-worker starts speaking about English communication & how it has become important, both for performing his duties given all the International guests as well as communicating with seasonal foreign workers. He spoke in particular about one snowboarder from New Zealand that worked at the resort this season, and how it was very enjoyable to communicate about boarding and the like with him.
With the family theme from the Sam magazine article above, it was at this point that everything fell into place. Here were two guys from very separate upbringings brought together into one big happy family, despite their lack of a common language. A scene repeated winter after winter at snow resorts all over the world. How did this come about?
To find out, lets meet both him and his lovely Canadian partner…
International Seasonal Workers, A Couple’s Perspective
Arai has just finished the fourth consecutive white season of employing seasonal foreign workers via the working holiday visa program. Although the first such employee via this channel had a tough time of things, gradually a system within the resort has fallen into place to enable additional hiring of such staff. For white season 2005-’06, six such staff members were hired to work in the ski school at the resort. While there is always room for more of such potential employees during the winter, the ones that make it through and actually work here end up making a real contribution to smooth operations (and most often enjoying themselves in the process).
So how does one go about getting a job at a resort like ARAI? Persistence pays is the short and the thick of it. In the case of this couple, e-mails and the like flew back and forth over a period of three months as follows:
With similar employees the above process has taken only one month, but for others it stretched out to almost half a year. Regardless, it requires time and resources from all parties involved. So is it worth it? Read on and see for yourself.
Can tell us a bit about your background?
What position do you have at Arai? How did you get to that position?
Did you have any responses from other resorts in Japan?
Natalie applied to a few hotel resorts in and around Niseko that offered childcare, which were also found on Snow Japan. When we went to the related site link for these places and forwarded an e-mail asking about work for foreigners, their response was, “Can you speak Japanese?” Given that our level of the language was minimal at the time, employment with these places was out of the question.
We turned back to Snow Japan & wound up doing searches for resorts by prefectures, & that was when we stumbled across Arai. This time however the associated link led us to an English site for the resort that our browser could handle & voila, we had found our winter destination. Compared with our initial experiences above, it was relatively easy to get in touch with Arai to arrange employment.
What kind of qualifications do you bring to the job?
What does your job involve (the whole wide picture)? And on a day-to-day basis?
My job involves teaching mainly English-speaking children up to and including level 3.
I start my day in the salon of the Guide Center at 8:30 greeting and registering guests. The full day program includes a "kids lunch" which the kids eat together with their coach. The kids are fully attended to until 3:30 pm when the course finishes. At the end of the day following ski time I once again greet parents and we discuss their child’s progress. As you can see, although the generic job description is ski guide, we’re actually responsible for quite a bit more.
Are you a skier/snowboarder? And for how long? Do you get to ski much now?
Have you managed to visit any other snow resorts during your stay in Japan?
What do you think of the quality and quantity of Snow in Japan?
There are so many resorts in Japan. How does ARAI try to set itself apart from other resorts? Is it difficult to do that?
Does Arai see itself primarily as a ski resort, or a hotel resort… and how does it go about marketing the resort?
What was your lifestyle like as a foreign couple working and living at a Japanese resort?
How do you see the Japanese winter sports industry going in the next 5 or 10 years and beyond?
Do you have anything else that you wish to share with Snow Japan readers?
It is obviously not for everyone, but definitely an experience for those that are up for it. Somebody famous once said “ You are the sum of your life’s experiences”. If you like powder, Japan should be one such experience of your life at some point.
Arai would like to take this opportunity to thank Michael & Natalie for coming to work at the resort, and all the other seasonal foreign workers that have preceded them. The resort has become a better place because of their efforts, and future seasonal foreign workers will benefit from the tracks that they have made…
This volume of the setting journals is dedicated to both seasonal foreign workers & guests (who made their employment possible) that have graced the resort to date. Together, everyone has done their bit to keep Arai one big happy family.