Campus Interview: Out Of The Pan And Into The Fryer

A part time job, or Arubaito as it's called in Japan, is a common and socially accepted way for students and young adults to earn some money while they study, whether it's to fulfill their daily needs or splash out on some treats. Many foreign students in Tokyo take up Arubaito too and as expected, their diversity of jobs is impressive, ranging from language teachers and food servers to professional photographers and tour guides. Adjusting to another culture and language while simultaneously plunging headfirst into a new profession definitely takes a lot of daring for an overseas student and these experiences can be unforgettable, whether for better or worse.

Her Campus was delighted to conduct an interview with one such student who previously worked at a McDonald's in Tokyo. Out of concern for the student's privacy, their name and nationality will be left anonymous. 

Via Flickr

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background, and current interests? 

I'm a Waseda University student in my 3rd Year. I'm fully [dependent] on a scholarship in Japan and took up a part time at McDonald's to meet my basic needs. My hobbies are playing boardgames, weightlifting and coding. I'm currently reading books about Stoicism. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your part time job, tenure and position?

I worked at a McDondald's in Nakano [Tokyo] for eight months, through 2016 and 2017. I did the job for the experience, planning to complete one year, but I couldn't persevere. It was hellish. 

At McDonald's, basically, we have a 'Front' and 'Back'. The back is made up of people who prepare the orders and the front crew are the ones who take the food, lay out the order, put things on plates and give it out to costumers. I was only on the front and mostly handled the cash register, but I also made fries, placed the food on the tray and handed it over to costumers. 

If you had to sum up your part-time work experience in Japan in one sentence, what would you say?

Okyakusama kami sama.

(The costumer is God)

Prior to your experience of working in McDonald’s, what was your perception of Japanese customer service? How has this view changed after taking up a part time job?

Mostly, Japanese customer service is very shinsetsu (caring). But actually, I think it’s not caring, but proper. It isn't omotenashi (hospitality) even though it’s called that; it's not done as an act of care, but because it’s a requirement. Most workers in customer service don’t really care about you, but have to meet the standard whether it’s a facade or not. I understand why they lose their sincerity.

In my country, when servers are not friendly they really don't care [about the customer]. But on the contrary when they’re friendly, they really are caring. People are genuine, whether it’s bad or good. 

What were some of the pros and cons of your part time job?

The pros: Most of your coworkers are nice, including your manager. My manager was really nice to me. 

The cons: The pay was lower than average and not every coworker or manager is normal. You have the manager who needs anger management, the manager who’s a boot licker, or the male manager who’s only kind to girls. You can’t go take a break or end your shift if it’s in rush time or peak hours. In my case, there was a customer who directly complained to the manager that a crew member left while they were waiting for their burger. Even if your shift ends at three but there are lots of customers, you won’t be sent out until there are less people.

The place being Nakano, there were a lot of strange and agitating customers. 

Tell us about the strangest encounter you had at your job?

Guy in a wheelchair comes by my counter, dressed in a twentieth century metal band fashion with big rings and a leather jacket. He was staring [up] at the menu, I think, to the top right side of the wall and not paying attention to me. I wanted to give him the menu [card] but because he was in the wheelchair, his eye level was much lower than the counter. I had to hesitate because he wasn’t paying attention to me and I couldn’t show him the menu when he wasn’t looking at me. He suddenly averted his gaze from the top right of the menu board on the wall, looked at me, and started scolding me for ridiculing him. Because I was hesitating as to whether to give him the menu or not, he thought I was mocking him.

He rudely asked me “What in the world are you doing, you..?” and was going on in Japanese I couldn’t understand. I proceeded to call my manager, who listened to his complaints.  What sickened me was that when the man in the wheelchair was scolding me and accusing me of mocking him, he was trying to assert his dominance by being a loud, mean and angry customer. But when he was talking to my manager, he was trying to gain her sympathy by speaking meekly and quietly and showing her his legs and the wheelchair. Basically, he was hyper-victimizing himself in order to gain favor and blame me. My main manager just listened to him and said sorry for around ten minutes until he finished. I couldn't follow their Japanese. My shop manager was [also] beside me, asking me what had happened. At that time, I had no idea that he was angry because I had hesitated to give him the menu, so I was surprised.

In the end, he finished talking and my shop manager persuaded him to continue with his order. Then he changed his face into the loud, angry customer face and went on to berate me, asking me whether I went to school or not and asking me how could I be a shakai jin (member of society) like this. When I apologized, he disregarded it as if it was not enough (I did a ninety degree bow with my manager) because I wasn’t responding in the way he wished. He got angrier, talked to the operational manager again and had to be calmed down until he finally agreed to place his order.

Twist of the story: He nonchalantly placed his order.........without looking at the menu I was trying to show him. 


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From your perspective, how did the job challenges differ between male and female employees?

Customers show their dominance for various reasons. Some have legitimate reason to complain but others want superficial respect to make themselves feel better. They’re more likely to commit such actions when the crew member on the cashier register looks weak. I think they’re much more prone to getting angry with small looking males or meek women.   

At night, drunk customers can annoy girl crew members or female cashiers with a flirty attitude. However, there are lots of other workers around her so these customers are not likely to go too far. But I find that female customers can be more mean to female cashiers. I think they [would rather] get angry with another female, rather than a male. This is according to what I observed after a new female cashier joined the team. 

Would you recommend your part time job position to other interested applicants? 


Well, it depends. I wouldn’t recommend my specific store in Nakano, but the one in Waseda seems to be a solid place. Most of the customers are Waseda University students so you will have less stranger customers. Also, you don’t need to smile in other McDonalds, I think. 

Tell us how to become your favorite customer?

Don't order "Hotto". It can be hot coffee or hot tea and I have to confirm with the customer. If I do that, they’ll get angry, but they'll also get angry if I don't. 

Then, don’t just show me a hundred yen coin and force me to guess what you want, and then get angry if I get it wrong.

Also, please speak louder, especially if it’s peak time or rush hour. 

How does someone become a dreaded customer?

By thinking you're God and that you're always right, [that] we’re always wrong and that you’re special.

Please don’t complain about the way I hand back your change. Some customers like their receipt and coins money and their coins together, but some others like it separately and some of them will take the coins and throw the receipt on the counter. Every customer is different. 

Again, everyone who orders "Hotto" is a scoundrel. 

If you could change anything about your workplace, what would it be?

In my McDonald's, [I would have] a backdoor in our workplace, so we can leave when our shifts end and take a break without the managers having an excuse to overtime us. Also, [have a backdoor] so the customers won’t see that we’re going up to take a break or end our shift. 

Under the condition of total anonymity, would you be willing to divulge a workplace secret?

You can always order ‘no ice’ on your drinks to get more, but I’m sure lots of you know that.

We have to throw out fries that have been out of the fryer for three minutes. If you really care, order your fries Agetate, to be fresh out of the fryer, because not all stores remake their fries every three minutes.

We also have to throw away everything that gets canceled, rejected or made by mistake. 

Not everyone washes their hands every hour, as per rules. 

If you want burgers, go to Freshness; if you want fries, go to McDonalds; if you want nuggets, go to Burger King. 

Our hot coffee and our ice coffee use different beans. Also, our premium hot coffee is not premium at all. 

And finally, complaining about customers in the office is in our work culture. 

Via Flickr

We'd like to thank our source for taking the time to participate in this interview. Her Campus wishes this student all the very best in their academic and extracurricular pursuits.

Photo Credits

Cover Image via Flickr