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Lesson Transcript

Jessi: Hi everyone, Jesse here. Welcome back to our JCC special on Izakaya or Japanese style pubs. Now, in the last lesson, we talked all about the experience of going to an Izakaya. If you want to learn more, please check out our last JCC lesson.

Lesson focus

Jessi: In this lesson, we will talk to Kat about her experience as a staff member at an Izakaya. Now Kat, from what I understand, you’ve actually worked in an Izakaya before. Is that right?
Kat: Yes I actually have. I worked in one for about 9 months during my working holiday in Japan. Having already worked with a company as 正社員 or a full time employee in Tokyo, I came back on this working holiday visa and I decided I wanted to experience a real part time job which Japanese people actually do.
Jessi: Right.
Kat: I looked online at Japanese websites with part time job information aimed at young people and find a place quite near to where I live in Yokohama. It was just a normal chain Izakaya in a building full of restaurants and drinking places. So I was really, really nervous but I phoned the number given on the help wanted advertisement and I asked to speak to the manager. Then he asked me a few questions about my experience, my age, my current occupation et cetera. He offered me an interview and the rest is history.
Jessi: Great. And what were your job duties there?
Kat: Well I was what’s called ホールスタッフ hall staff which meant I had to greet customers to ご案内 which means taking customers to their table, giving them おしぼり the wet cloth, taking their food and drink orders, carrying orders from the kitchen to the tables, cleaning up. Everything you have to do as a waitress anywhere I suppose except with more bowing and 敬語。
Jessi: Good way to put it. Was there anything that surprised you working at an Izakaya like cultural differences or anything?
Kat: Oh yeah definitely. There were lots of things which took a lot of getting used to. The most obvious one would be 敬語 as I just mentioned. The language register used by food service staff is completely different from anything you would ever use in your normal life in Japan. I had studied all the polite and humble forms while at university of course and I do like 敬語 and I find it nice to listen to and to say but having to use it all the time is exhausting even for Japanese people.
Jessi: I bet. Could you give us an example of how?
Kat: Absolutely yeah. When you are using 尊敬語 everything you say becomes about three times as long as a normal casual Japanese. For example, 飲み物は? which you would say to a friend, what do you want to drink becomes お飲み物はいかがなさいますか? which is what would you so honorably like to drink to a customer.
Jessi: It really does become like three times…
Kat: Yeah three times obviously. Using 敬語 could be quite stressful as even when under a lot of pressure, you can’t let it slip because Japanese customers expect top service no matter where they are and some people can be quite harsh on the staff if they feel that they aren’t being respected enough because in Japan, you say お客様は神様, literally “the customer is god”. And that’s taken really seriously.
Jessi: Right. You definitely hear that a lot.
Kat: So just to mention something else that is language related but is not related to 敬語 is the code that the staff use amongst each other. At the place I worked for example, the code was N for 生 or “draft” plus the number. So two beers would be N2.
Jessi: Interesting N2.
Kat: N2! And finally, I need to mention when you go into an Izakaya, you probably notice that it’s so, so noisy when you go inside. So I need to explain a bit about the yelling that goes on.
Jessi: Very true, it’s very noisy.
Kat: Absolutely and it’s not just the drunken customers making the noise, it’s the staff and it’s part of the job actually that they train you. In order to give the impression of being 元気 or being really go getting and like ready to work and of being a teamwork he’s won to please the customer, the staff have to yell out almost everything they do.
Jessi: Umm right.
Kat: So for example, the greetings when the customer leaves お客様お帰りでございます。ありがとうございました。 like in that kind of sing song voice.
Jessi: Right, right, right.
Kat: Thank you so much for coming and all that stuff.
Jessi: In a really loud voice.
Kat: Really loud voice, yeah. When you receive an orders, you say ご注文いただきました、お願いします, so you are kind of asking the kitchen to make it for you as well as saying thank you to the customer.
Jessi: Right.
Kat: So when you drop something or make a loud noise 失礼いたしました。 I am so sorry.
Jessi: Right.
Kat: All done in top volume. So that was kind of embarrassing to start with but I got used to it in the end.
Jessi: Ah yes. It sounds like a tough job but at the same time one you can really learn a lot from especially in the way of language and cultural customs.
Kat: Definitely, definitely.
Jessi: And lastly, do you have any interesting stories to share from your time working at an Izakaya?
Kat: Well there are so many but one actually stands out. We had this one couple, an older man and a woman and they were perfectly nice right up until it came for me to ring up their bill at the cash register. So the woman while smiling the whole time, she said in a really sweet and complementary voice, the last order, it didn’t come in the end, did it? And I didn’t quite catch what she said and I thought she was being complimentary. So I just smiled and nodded as I usually do at which point she just exploded and yelled, stop smiling, you forgot it, didn’t you. You forgot our order. And I was so shocked and I hadn’t even been waiting on that table.
Jessi: Oh wow!
Kat: And it was like I kind of stood out because you know I am white with blonde hair. I know Japanese. So I don’t know how she made mistake like that but all I could say was, I am so sorry, I am so sorry, please forgive me while making this scared face at the 店長 or the manager who came running over to save me and apologized profusely. So I still don’t know what that was about.
Jessi: Wow!
Kat: To my knowledge, they hadn’t even been waiting for anything to arrive. So I really – I really don’t know what that was about.
Jessi: That’s quite a story. I would have been shocked too…
Kat: No I was. I was just like umm…
Jessi: All right. Well it’s really interesting to hear about the Izakaya experience from the perspective of someone who’s worked at one. So thank you so much for sharing with us.
Kat: Oh you are perfectly welcome. I’d love to talk about it.
Jessi: Okay well, all of this talk about Izakaya makes me want to go out for a drink.
Kat: Definitely. To those listeners out there who are planning to come to Japan some time or who are already in Japan, we really recommend trying out an Izakaya.
Jessi: Good food and good drinks at a good price, locations everywhere. You really can’t go wrong.
Kat: No. You really can’t. If you’ve been to an Izakaya, leave us a comment, share your thoughts and let us know how you liked it.


Jessi: Kat, thank you for your time and for sharing your experiences with us.
Kat: My pleasure!
Jessi: And that’s going to wrap up this JCC lesson. Until next time, bye everyone.