Being an Intern at a Startup in Japan

What? There are startups in Japan? Yes, there are. However, students in Japan rarely ever hear about this almost hidden community that actually has a huge number of players.

I have been the community manager for Justa the past six months. My daily tasks included tweeting, Facebook posting and occasionally I respond to client emails and attend meetings with Nik.

What made working at Justa challenging for me was not only the difficult startup ecosystem in Tokyo, but also the fact that our team is mostly composed of people from abroad. Out of all the internships I have experienced, my internship with Justa was by far the most challenging and enjoyable.


To my surprise there have been quite a number of Japanese startups with employees who are able to speak English fluently in Japan. Still, since the majority of them only speak Japanese we can only do business in Japanese. This is where my ability to write persuasively in Japanese at times becomes the key to whether we can get a new client or not.

When I wrote my first ever e-mail to a startup, I made sure that everything was perfect and there were no errors. It took me a few hours to compose the e-mail and finally press send. Within an hour I received a response, which said “no thank you.” I felt that my hours of effort all went to waste. Then I thought of the “what ifs.” “What if Nik (or someone else) was the one who pitched?” There were numerous times like this when I felt that if someone else had written the email, we could have signed up a new client. I felt I was not good enough to produce any value and I could not hide my obvious annoyance by these clients.

It sounds dreadful having to be rejected many times. Still, I never gave up trying to talk to these startups no matter how many of them have turned me down. After contacting a lot of startups, I was able to get responses from a few of them. Those moments make me feel great that I never gave up. When I think about this experience, this is a task that wouldn’t usually be given to an intern. I have never had this much responsibility in any other internship I have done.

Connecting on Social Media

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 3.34.30 PM
Tweeting about our very first event, Startups ❤ Hackers

I became in charge of Justa’s social media accounts since I have experience with it at a past internship. It was something I was used to, but I also knew it would be difficult.

Other than attempting to engage users, I discovered that there is another way to utilize social media. For example, Nik has reached out to a number of different communities using Twitter and have been able to connect to different engineering groups or startup founders through it. I’ve been able to contact writers to possibly interview us in order to gain more exposure to the Japanese startup community.

Although interacting with a large number of users may be more ideal for some, communicating with individuals who are valuable connections is much more important.

The Environment

Unpaid internships are very unpopular with students, but popular with startups. Though I generally would like to be paid for my work, I have been working with Justa for the past six months for the simple reason that I really enjoy working with them and enjoy what I have been doing.

The best part is that Justa creates an environment where I can always voice my opinion. Although I have to admit that initially I was afraid to speak up because I felt my opinion should not hold that much weight. However, I quickly learned that everyone’s work and contributions are valued here. The other day Nik and Adam were asking for my opinion on an email design. I told them I didn’t like the font and they should change it. The three of us stared at the screen for a while trying out different fonts until we were finally able to settle on one.

Debating about design with Nik and Adam

Being able to feel involved in a project is the main reason why I enjoyed my time here so much.

Last but not Least…

I have no work experience apart from internships, and these are purely my opinions and experiences from working at Justa. My point was to tell my story and encourage other students in Japan to intern at startups. I want students to know that there are other places to work other than corporate Japan. I also want people to know that Silicon Valley is not the only place with startups – Tokyo is also one. You just need to know where to look.

by Kumiko Karaki, Community Manager @justajapan/startup newbie/college student going on to the real world

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