How to become a gardener in Japan

I often get E-mails where people ask if I know a way how to get a gardener-job in Japan.

Last year’s picture: Japanese tree staking.

Maybe it is time to write down my experiences in a blog post for everyone..

First of all: I was very very lucky when I came to Japan. I met the best people in the world who helped me getting settled.
It is not that easy to find a job as a gardener in Japan, but I would say it is not impossible either.

I would like to start with what it is like to work as a gardener in Japan. I have several friends who made a long-term internship and of course I have my own experiences.

Let’s start with Jenny, former staff of Niwashyu Garden Design Shop and founder of Real Japanese Gardens.
She did an 11 month internship as gardener in Saitama prefecture, worked as Garden Designer and did another three month internship as gardener in Kyoto.
You can read some of her experiences about the last internship in her blog “90 days in Kyoto“.
However, let me tell you that it was a hard but most enjoying time!

Kuma worked for a company on Shikoku and was able to eat Sanuki Udon every day. I envy him!
He had a hard time, though, working in full sun at 40 degrees on a rice paddy every day and had to learn all methods and plant names anew in Japanese, but he wouldn’t want to miss the experience of this internship.
His work was not only about garden construction and garden maintenance, in rural areas the families often have vegetables and rice as well, which also have to be maintained.
Kumas advice is: even if the work is hard or if there are hard times with cultural differences, it is worth to stay. All the positives: meeting nice people, making new friends, being able to travel around this beautiful country, outweighs the hard work.

Kato stayed at a gardening company in Saitama for 11 months.
One cannot deny that this company is a very nice one with fixed working hours from 8:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. Preparation and cleaning time not included.
Kato thinks, Japan is not as easy going as the USA. In Japan you have to fight and prove yourself to get accepted. There are a lot of hurdles like the polite use of speech or the right behaviour when interacting with Japanese people. If you make an eternal mistake, it can happen that you have lost a chance for a friendship forever. But when you show that you are interested in Japan and interested in learning all those manners, Japanese are friendly and welcoming.
But you have to prove yourself, during work and in private!
And it is important to not mistake the Japan you get to know while working here with the Japan you get to know while travelling. Both are totally different worlds!
Katos advice is to get involved in mixed groups to make friends more easily.

Last but not least Laura, who stayed on Kyushu and often worked in a semi-public park as well as in private gardens.
One of her works was getting hundreds of tulip bulbs into the earth in time, which resulted in working 7 days a week from dusk till dawn.
Work has to be done, even if it results in working until late into the evening in full sun. In Japan work is mostly one: work! You are not supposed to do like you want and insist on free time.

Maybe you think it is easy to get an internship as a gardener in Japan after reading the experiences of those four people.
But unfortunately it is not that easy.. All of us came here thanks to the Japanese Agricultural Exchange Council, who sponsor internships in Japan and organize internships for Japanese farmer and gardener all over the world.
Maybe you are lucky and find your country on the list of exchange partners.
They will also sponsor a visa, the main problem when it comes to working in Japan..
There are several more organizations like Internship Japan helping with internships. But most of them only have connections to companies offering office work.
Nonetheless, it can’t be bad to ask them.

If you are ok to not getting paid, there are some more options you can go for.
Jenny used one of those possibilities when going to Kyoto.
She used her three months visitors visa to study under a well known gardener there. You have to be aware that it is forbidden to work for money when coming on a visitor visa!
However, there are some deals around, which promise you free accomodation and food as long as you work for it.
One very famous system is wwoofing.
Although wwoofing is common on farms or in hotels, maybe you are lucky and find a gardener on the list?

Only as an idea of a naive German girl: Why not saving enough money before coming to Japan, keeping the wwoof system in the back of your head while traveling through the country and asking every gardener along for food and accomodation against work?
Or if you are on a Working Holiday visa why not asking for Baito (Baito is the lowest level of work one can apply to. It is what university students or high school students are doing to earn a little money. )
If you can ask politely in Japanese and talk to the gardener about your passion for Japanese gardens, he may agree or have an idea where to ask next.
It is one great possibility to get in contact with Japanese gardeners and who knows? Maybe a real contract may follow?

In my opinion, there are two bigger problems when it comes to working in Japan long-term: the visa and the language.

There are several types of visa in Japan. Let me say, for most of them you need a sponsor inside the country.
That person or organization will have to take responsibility for your behaviour and has to pay for you if you face the problem of running out of money.
Now think about yourself, would you sponsor a person who you don’t know? I guess most of you wouldn’t, as do Japanese people..

After working for over 1 year I was allowed to do “teire”.

Following this, the first thing to do is making connections.
To make connections it is helpful to understand and speak the language in this country.
A lot of Japanese people, especially gardeners, are still not able to communicate in English or don’t want to explain everything in English during work.
What you really should do before coming to Japan is to learn the basics of Japanese.
If you want to stay longer, you should be able to communicate in Japanese to a level, which allows you to organize your life in Japan by yourself.
Of course it is really really helpful to learn Japanese working terms and plant names if you desire to work as a gardener!
No one here uses Botanical names so you have to know what Satsuki, Matsu, Mochi, Maki and Inutsuge are!
For connecting with Japan you can start with getting into Social Media. There are several Forums where Japanese people want to interact with foreigners.
This way you won’t get a visa, but you can practice Japanese, make friends and may be invited to your new friends’ homes for some days when visiting Japan.
As we all know, today it may be the most important thing to have a huge network of people we know.

When being ready, knowing Japanese and made Japanese friends, it is time to decide on the next step: the way to Japan.

I think it is almost impossible to get a real job as a gardener from outside of Japan.
So the first step is to actually come to Japan.
Some people (no gardeners) are coming on a visitors visa to Japan and think they will find a job and a company who sponsors their visa in the first weeks. They are well educated in their countries and have plenty of knowledge.
They will learn very fast, that jobs do not lie on the streets of Tokyo and have just to be picked up.
As a gardener it might even be more difficult.
Be aware that the way to your dream job in your dream country may be a hard one.
In the text above I already mentioned a way which could work: asking every gardener you see for work. Either as Baito or for accommodation and food.
If you worked well and the gardener starts to trust you and really needs an apprentice, he might sponsor your visa.

Mastering “karikomi”-like style. In a typical garden in Japan.

But one more word to the working style in Japan.
Every workman of every occupation says it will take 10 years until an apprentice can call himself a real workman who is able to open an own company.
As an educated gardener in your country it might not take so long, because you are learning faster.
But you will still need the regular training to master cutting trees for example.
After 2 full years and 2 halfs as an “uekiyasan” in Japan I know the techniques, but the gardeners I am working with are really really fast!
I guess 4 more years full time and I would be equally fast..
Of course, these gardeners will test you at the beginning. This testing phase will begin with easy tasks like cleaning or weeding. They are also testing your patience with this. Try to watch the gardeners working and learn from it. The Japanese system is based on copying. At first, you will copy every step the other gardeners are doing. Even if you think it is stupid to do it this way.
When you already worked for some time in the company, the other gardeners will ask you to start more advanced work. If they don’t, don’t be shy and ask by yourself. Some are waiting for you taking the next step.
When I started to work in my company in Saitama, I was allowed to cut my first tree after one month. After one year I could do all the works the other were doing as well. I climbed 7 m high trees of any kind, worked with the string trimmer to cut the lawn and worked together with another “Baito” alone in peoples gardens.
When doing maintenance work in private gardens, the work shouldn’t get split on several days. If the invoice was for one day, you have to finish in one day. Even if the person who did the invoice miscalculated. This means, you might work from 8am until 10pm. If the company has too many customers or is in urgent need of money (who isn’t? ^_-), you might work on weekends as well.
Actually, if the customer needs to be around while you are working, the only possible day might be a weekend day..

This is me, working while having an influenza-like illness.

As a resume: Passion is the most important thing you need for working as a gardener in Japan.
Don’t throw your old life away without a good preparation!
Learn the language, connect with Japanese and save money.
Try to see Japan not from the tourist site, but get deeper into the true culture: What are the working laws? What have you to do to get an apartment? Which insurances do you need and how much do they cost? How much are the normal living expenses and how much is a “beginner” – baito earning?
What kind of visa are available and which could be the right one for you? Which are the requirements and regulations? Can you get a Japanese driver’s license easily?
Where do you want to live in Japan? How is the climate there?

There are thousand more questions. Just let me tell you, to emigrate is not easy! Look at all the immigrants in your country. You will probably face the same problems in Japan.
We have one infamous TV program in Germany, which is called “Goodbye Germany”. It mainly focuses on families who emigrate and fail greatly… Moving without plan, without money and without knowing the language. But sometimes there are also people with a good plan who do the right things, good preparations and success!

Important is, it is up to you how successful you are in Japan!
To use Kumas words: “When working in Japan you have to adapt to the company rules. When a superiour says “run” you have to run. That’s what everyone else is doing as well.”
Adapting doesn’t mean that you have to change yourself, abandon your culture and become fully Japanese. In a company you just have to find a way to stay yourself, but fit into it in a way that doesn’t disturb others.

-Anika


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11 responses to “How to become a gardener in Japan

  1. Pingback: Discipline in smaller details in the Japanese garden | Real Japanese Gardens·

  2. Pingback: 5 Culture Shocks foreign gardeners face in Japan | Real Japanese Gardens·

      • I have been to Hello Work, in Ibaraki, they can search all the areas in clouding Tokyo(not too far from where I live, Tsukuba). The best they could find was cleaning toilets. I’m a young man with lots of energy that has worked either landscaping or roofing my whole life, I really don’t fancy cleaning a toilet ^^ I dunno’, maybe they didn’t search properly… I often see foreigners at big flower parks with jobs weeding ponds and flower-beds… or sometimes I see on TV young people that study the hedging of small trees(I guess they are more or less studying this oppose to having it as a job)…still…there must be something. I speak some Japanese, I’m sure that wouldn’t be a problem. I have on checked the work magazines once, they seem to be filled with restaurant and otherwise jobs with a demand for high level Japanese skills. Hmmmmm…still searching….

      • Try to use this page https://jp.indeed.com/
        And you can also try and ask the gardeners around if they know a company who is in search of someone.
        A lot of people working in the great parks in Tokyo are doing it as volunteers. The people in TV often come as an intern or were invited by the TV Show and are only staying for a relatively short time.
        Next time when you see a foreigner working as a gardener, just ask how they found work there 🙂

      • Yes…alright..I shall check this “indeed” site… it seems the only jobs offered in Gaijin pot are for teaching English or otherwise really smart specialists people for a very specific job. There are no labourer jobs or jobs that take us outside with the birds and fresh air ^^ I like teaching children English…however, I really like sunshine. if I ever open my own school, the entire building is going to be made of glass (^。^)

      • Good idea!
        On indeed I found some jobs in the Tokyo area. However, I would really just try to approach companies directly…

      • …ok…honestly..I’ve never really seen any…almost no grass in Japan (^^) it’s either house, concreate infastructure, or farm. almost no one has a lawn (^O^) hmmm… and the crews on the roads clearing bush all seem to be old men with machines hired by the government. I don’t think it’s easy to find a crew that uses shovels anymore ^ – ^ hmm.. I also thought.. what about an apple farm or grape farm, this would be so much fun..even if it wasn’t so much money..I just have no idea where to ask.. I’m quite certain these farms are all word of mouth, and mainly kept in the family..and even more kept away from foreigners(not in a bad way.. just..not what they fancy I think; however, I’m sure some of these farmers would enjoy a new opinion..hmm)

        I’m cleaning my home now, before my wife returns…she is going to be angry if it’s not spotless, especially because I have no work (^^) I’m going to check Indeed tonight.

        Thank-you

      • There’s nothing to lose, only to win. Just ask the gardeners around!
        Indeed, the gardeners doing the roadsides are hired by the city. However, they are not employed by the cities. I too was doing that work with my former company and we did not exclusively work for the city.
        For work on apple or grape farms… A conversative farm will spray very often. I think apples are sprayed around 10 times a year. In a gardening company you have to spray too, but I guess it’s not as unhealthy as a farm (they don’t wear protective clothes).
        Spraying with pesticides was the reason why I quit the normal gardener’s life in Japan.

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