(Part three of a short series on Hello Work)
Back in May, in the midst of the State of Emergency in Japan, I had the unfortunate luck to be laid off from my position at a small, family-run eikaiwa (English language training program). Thankfully, I qualified to receive unemployment benefits, a godsend during these uncertain Covid times.
In order to receive these benefits, I had to apply through Hello Work, the organization that runs the unemployment insurance scheme in Japan. After registering, applicants have to appear in-person at Hello Work every 28 days.
Hello Work in Tokyo
On July 10, I had my third consultation.
Before I could get to the appointment, however, I had to figure out where to go. For Tokyo, there is a website with English information offering assistance to foreigners seeking employment – but it listed three different offices. After combing through the fine print, I deduced that I would need to go to the Nishi Shinjuku office. Location: check.
Then I needed to tackle the question of translation. For both of my previous appointments, I had been staying temporarily in Kanazawa and enlisted the help of local friends. But, according to the website I was reading, the Shinjuku Hello Work office offers translation assistance. I called the Nishi Shinjuku office – but got a recording that their number had changed. I called the new number, and got through to the Tokyo Employment Service Center for Foreigners, but no one speaking English was available to help me. I decided to throw in the towel and ask a friend to go with me, again. Translator: check.
We met in Nishi Shinjuku on the big day and took the elevator to the 23rd floor of the Shinjuku L Tower building. I must say, the view from the 23rd floor of the L Tower is impressive. Sometimes on the ground in Tokyo, it’s possible to forget just how big the city is, but from the aerial view, one gazes at a sea of concrete jungle and buildings that stretch to the horizon. “I wonder how many people out there are looking for jobs right now,” I thought to myself.
While the view from out the window was stunning, the view from inside the Hello Work office was standardly depressing. This was a Friday morning, and the room was packed. I was alarmed by the number of elderly people and senior citizens I saw. Although Hello Work was doing it’s best to mitigate the spread of disease through masks, plastic sheet barriers, and hand sanitizer, a large portion of the people waiting were of the vulnerable population. At least the music was better than in Kanazawa, by which I mean, there was none.
Calculating My Eligibility and Benefits
After a thirty minute wait, my number was called. We were assisted by a bright young man who did not balk at my foreignness, but listened and did all the procedures accordingly. I provided him with my unemployment certificate, and he helped me fill it out. He asked me about any part-time work I had done in the past 28 days, and any days where I worked 4 hours or more were noted. This work will affect how much money I receive, but will not affect the amount of time I can receive benefits.
Between the second and third appointments, I also had to participate in at least two “job-seeking activities”. I noted the names of the companies I had applied for, the type of activity I’d done (ie – applied online), and the result on the unemployment certificate. That finished, we were directed to wait a bit more, while our trusty Hello Work staffer ran around to finalize my paperwork and calculate how much money I would receive that month.
We were called back, and the same young man presented me with my Hello Work record, which had been updated to show that I’d attended this appointment and stated how much I would receive for this period. He also politely informed us that my next appointment would actually be on a Thursday. While Hello Work in Kanazawa accepts these consultations on Fridays, in Tokyo they don’t, but he had taken pity on me and accommodated me this time.
Next Step-Job Search
I felt that the appointment had gone well and thought it fortunate that we’d gotten in and out in less than an hour – but it wasn’t over yet.
One service that Hello Work offers is to provide consultations to connect job seekers with jobs. Which is a great and surely valuable service. But, in the EFL (English as a Foreign Language) industry, most of the jobs are found online on English-language websites. I was inclined to skip the consultation, but that clearly wasn’t an option.
I was paired with a polite and demure middle-aged civil servant. She was so polite, in fact, that I could barely understand her soft voice as she mumbled questions in keigo at me. It was for this stage that I was truly grateful to have a bilingual friend presentーI probably could have stumbled my way through with the sharp young man, but not with this woman.
You could see in her eyes that she too, had no idea what to do with me, but she dutifully followed through her checklist. Was I married? (No.) How old? (32.) Why did I lose my job? (Corona.) Did I want to find a job right away? Where did I live? What station? How far is the walk from my apartment to the station?
She wrote down the answers to all these questions on her form, and then asked if she could look for jobs for me. I politely declined and told her I would take a look myself. Trust me, it’s better that way.
From this point out, my Hello Work journey should be smooth sailing. Hopefully it’s a matter of applying for jobs at two sites and showing up for my appointment next month, on a Thursday this time. Rinse, wash, repeat. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about life in Japan, it’s that sometimes, nothing goes as smoothly as you expect!
Author: Maureen Stone