Forget the beach, try an on-the-job vacation

Firm offers 65 'destinations' for occupational day-trippers

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

KidZania, the theme park where children can role-play professions such as doctor or firefighter, has proved popular around the world: entertainment centers are now operating in 10 countries in addition to Japan, including Mexico, Indonesia and Portugal.

Similarly, in Tokyo, there is a business that offers adults the chance to try their hand at interesting jobs, getting guidance directly from professionals in the field, in the name of travel.

“We think each job is its own world. Based on that thought, we provide customers ‘travel’ opportunities to the various worlds,” said Tsubasa Tanaka, head of Job-travel Agency.

Since January 2011, when the company started, 2,000 customers have paid to travel to jobs with the cooperation of business owners and professionals.

As of Aug. 2, there were 65 “job travel” destinations offered on the firm’s website, according to Tanaka. Destinations include flower shops, cafes, general stores, an animal hospital, a sake shop, a Japanese-language school and a shrine.

He said flower shops and general stores are among the most popular destinations because many Japanese dreamed of working at them as children.

A typical job travel lasts a day and costs roughly ¥10,000 to ¥20,000. Generally, the business owner gives a lecture about the job, and answers questions over lunch, according to Tanaka.

Tanaka, 34, started the firm with his business partner in the hope of spreading an idea that came to him while working in the financial sector.

Tanaka said he regarded company life as ordinary, but gradually felt a sense of discomfort as a corporate employee and asked himself what it meant to work. This led him to visit other companies to explore other kinds of jobs, with the cooperation of acquaintances met through networking events.

“I got culture shock as each company I visited had a different culture from my own. I came to know there were various types of values and styles of working out there,” Tanaka explained, adding he wanted to share his culture shock with others so they too could experience other ways of working.

Tanaka said the firm vets potential job travel destinations to make sure all the programs it sells are interesting.

“Rakugo” comic storyteller Katsura Udanji agreed to offer a destination after being contacted by Job-travel Agency. As one of just six female “shinuchi,” or master storytellers, in a profession with more than 400 males, Katsura is a rarity.

On Aug. 3, five people, ranging in age from their 20s to 40s, paid ¥14,000 to visit Tokyo’s traditional Asakusa and Ueno districts for Katsura’s one-day “travel to be a rakugo storyteller” program, featuring a tour of a hall, usually off-limits to the public, rakugo lessons and an actual performance by the participants at the end of the day.

Haruo Tagawa, a 47-year-old sushi chef based in Germany, said he has liked rakugo since high school and decided to take part while on a visit to Japan.

Koji Takahashi, a 42-year-old editor, said he had never seen a live rakugo performance, and the opportunity to interact with a rakugo artist prompted him to participate.

Katsura began the day with a backstage tour of Asakusa Engei Hall, where Japanese variety entertainment is performed. Later they took in various performances at the hall, including rakugo and other comedy routines.

After lunch, in a room at a hall in Ueno, Katsura gave a lesson and a performance.

Participants learned how to use a Japanese folding fan and washcloth, two important rakugo stage props, which they then used to retell several short stories taught by Katsura.

Rie Sugihara, a 35-year-old company employee, said she recognized the depth of the rakugo world and felt she wanted to listen to more sessions.

Yumiko Takagawa, 27, from Osaka, who works at an event hall, said she fully enjoyed the whole day, including the backstage tour of the Asakusa facility.

Yuki Sato, a 26-year-old post office worker, said it was fun though difficult to perform the art, and felt he wanted to learn more about it.

Katsura, whose rakugo career stretches more than 20 years, said she wanted the participants to have a rare and interesting rakugo experience.

“All the participants did a really good job in their rakugo performance. Everybody was active, and I was indeed inspired,” she said.

Tanaka of Job-travel Agency noted 50 to 60 percent of the 2,000 participants are in their 20s or 30s, with women accounting for roughly 60 percent.

“We regard the 20s and 30s as our main business target. But the youngest we had was 10 years old and the oldest 67.”

Motives for taking part vary, Tanaka said.

“Roughly 40 percent of the participants joined the travels to have fun, while 30 percent came for self-awareness and the last 30 percent to collect information on a particular job with a career change in sight.”

Currently most of the travels are in the Kanto region and surrounding areas, but Tanaka expressed hope to expand into other regions.

“I feel businesses unique to local areas are very interesting. However, people who engaged in those types of businesses don’t understand the charms of them, or they face a lack of successors. That’s where we can come in and possibly contribute to the growth of the businesses and the area.”

Tanaka also set his sights on increasing the number of jobs from the current 65 to the thousands.

“It’s said there are 5,000 types of jobs in Japan, so I’d like to boost our number of job travels to the thousands. In addition, I’d like to popularize the concept of job travel, as one option among various types of travels.”