We asked a Japanese girl who has worked in cafes both in Japan and Canada to compare the two. Here are the top five things that surprised her, from the concept of “ladies first” to free drinks.

Our girl, who we’ll call A-chan, stayed in Canada on a Working Holiday visa when she was 29 years old. Before going abroad, she’d worked in cafes in Japan before…

▼ No, not that kind of cafe.


…but she was still pretty surprised by some of the arrangements in her new, Canadian workplace. So let’s take a look at A-chan’s top five! The following is a translation of her report.

1. Tips get split!

“There’s no custom of tipping in Japan, so I was surprised (pleasantly, we hope, A-chan!) to find out that along with my wages, I’d also get to keep tips from my cafe job. In front of the cash register there was a tips jar, which customers would put money into.

At midday, the jar would be emptied and the contents divided up between staff who’d worked that morning. When the store closed for the day, the rest of the tips would likewise be split between the afternoon staff.

Apparently, at this particular cafe it didn’t used to be like that. The owner used to keep all the tips, but staff got mad about it, complained, and this system was put in place.”

What do they call good tippers in Japan?


(Just kidding – people don’t tip in Japan, I just told you that. Pay attention!)

2. Free coffee while you work

“I’ve worked at a bunch of eateries in Japan, and the only thing I was ever allowed to drink while working was water. If I wanted to take a sip of water while working I would always crouch down behind the counter or cash register so customers couldn’t see. It was the same whether I worked in an izakaya [a Japanese bar serving food] or any other kind of cafe or restaurant in Japan.

But at this cafe in Canada, not only could you drink as much coffee as you want, you could just drink it while you were working in full view of customers. (We weren’t allowed to make lattes or that kind of thing though, just regular coffee). This made the job a lot easier and I never used to get stressed or anything.

The one exception in Japan was when I worked at Starbucks. There you were allowed one free drink – anything at all – for each shift you worked.”

▼ Well, anything available in Japan…so not a Pumpkin Spiced Latte, then. Good thing, really, as pumpkin belongs in soup and nowhere else.


3. Getting told “You can go home early today!”

“When there weren’t many customers in, the owner used to send me home. And if there were no customers, we’d just close the shop completely!

I’d also get called on my day off and asked if I could work that day. That used to happen in Japan too, so I didn’t think anything of it, but sending staff home because there aren’t many customers – I think that’s terrible! If you don’t get to do your scheduled hours, you don’t get paid for them. I’d never once been told to go home early from a job in Japan. I was really surprised by that one.” Don’t worry, A-chan, we’re sure plenty of Canadians think that’s pretty sucky too.

Also, our girl noted, “even if you came to work early, it didn’t gain you a good reputation or anything.”

4. “My Korean-Canadian boss wanted to hire Japanese staff”

“Japanese people are pretty serious and diligent. If work starts at 9, we go to work at 8:45, get ready, and start on the dot at 9 o’clock. Without complaining, we get on with the job at hand. This is just basic common sense for Japanese people. Of course, there are some people who aren’t like this, but it’s mostly true.

Turns out my boss at the cafe, who was South Korean-Canadian, knew that and mainly hired Japanese people. I saw some Japanese staff whose English was really bad get hired. My boss put them working in the kitchen or in places where they wouldn’t have contact with customers.”

▼ 9 o’clock? You’re late already!


5. Ladies First!

“Once when I was just about to go into the cafe, I met a man in his sixties in the doorway. I said, “After you!” but he refused, saying “No, no, you first!” I then told him I was an employee at the cafe, so he should go first, but he wouldn’t budge, and eventually I ended up going in before him. I thought about it a lot, and realised, ‘this is how instilled the culture of “ladies first” is!’ If that happened in Japan, the customer would probably go first, before the employee.”

We suspect A-chan might just have been a victim of a (not necessarily gender-specific) awkward “no, no, after you!” moment, but it’s a nice anecdote all the same.

Obviously these are just the experiences of one person, but we hope you’ll agree they are a nice insight into western culture from (one pair of) Japanese eyes.

So what do you make of our girl’s experiences? Can any of our Canadian readers shed more light on some of the cultural observations going on here? We’re looking forward to reading your comments!

Featured image: RocketNews24