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Architectural internship Shigeru Ban - Tokyo, Japan

brthrtgrs

I got an offer to do an architectural internship at Shigeru Ban in Tokyo and I am really curious if someone could share their opinion about an internship like this (experiences, costs, if it's worth, etc.)?

Currently doing a master Architecture, Building & Planning at a Technical University in the Netherlands. 

Thank you! 

 
Nov 9, 21 11:04 am
Non Sequitur

Is it a paid internship?

Nov 9, 21 11:06 am  · 
1  · 
brthrtgrs

Nope! Unfortunately not

Nov 9, 21 11:24 am  · 
 ·  2
Non Sequitur

Then it's a very obvious and most-definate NO. Never, ever, take an unpaid internship. I figured that office had something going for it, but now it's just as shitty as all the others. Your "experience" is worth absolute zero if they can't be bothered to pay you.

Nov 9, 21 11:56 am  · 
5  · 
Jay1122

unpaid internship, not even a job offer. Do you even live in Japan or in Tokyo? Moving there to take an unpaid internship? The fact you even have to ask people makes me laugh. Are you going to ask Mommy for your rent and expense support? Dip into your saving funds thinking the starchitect name is worth? Or work another part time job in 7/11 while doing unpaid internship? I am curious.

Nov 9, 21 12:51 pm  · 
1  · 

Don't be a dick Jay.

Nov 9, 21 12:53 pm  · 
2  ·  1
Jay1122

No matter how I think, it just does not make any sense. Moving to a new country to take on an unpaid internship? Dick or not, I don't care. If you want to take, just take it. Maybe your family is super rich, you can afford it.

Nov 9, 21 12:56 pm  · 
 · 

You can say that without being a pejorative ass trying to belittle the OP.

Nov 9, 21 1:02 pm  · 
3  ·  1
Jay1122

Chad, let that be the OP's problem. You don't have to jump out to make yourself look good. And I truly don't care. Just passing by. It just sounds retarded to me. Move to a new country for unpaid internship in one of the highest cost living city just to make some diagrams/renderings. Hey. no judgement from me. Just don't regret it.

Nov 9, 21 1:29 pm  · 
1  ·  4

Sounds like you're having a disappointing day at work and you're tying to make yourself feel better by picking on someone less informed.

That's a real dick move.  Don't do that. 

Nov 9, 21 1:38 pm  · 
3  ·  1
monosierra

I agree with Chad Miller. This is way more than "passing by".

Nov 12, 21 8:38 am  · 
 ·  1
RJ87

I lived in Tokyo for about a month, loved the city. I don't know about that firm specifically but from folks i've talked to that have lived & worked there for a while it's a grind. Japanese working culture is no joke. I also never recommend working anywhere for free.

Cool city though, i'd definitely recommend checking out Japan.

Nov 9, 21 11:47 am  · 
2  · 
randomised

Don’t get hung up on the unpaid bit, it’s an investment in your future self, for what 3 to 6 months? Internships in Holland will get you like €500-700 a month, that’s peanuts anyways, I’d treat it just like taking a studio but not at uni...you’ll learn tons that will benefit you for the rest of your career. 

Nov 9, 21 3:08 pm  · 
 ·  3
Non Sequitur

It’s not an investment. It’s acceptance of slavery and a shit culture. OP needs to have some self respect and say no to exploration. No experience is far better than unpaid experience.

Nov 9, 21 3:36 pm  · 
5  · 

I have to side with NS on this. Unpaid internships are worthless. You're not going to learn more than an normal paid internship.

I think rando is thinking of a student internship. Even then it should be paid way more than $700 a month.  That's $4.37 an hour.  Ridiculous.  

Nov 9, 21 3:52 pm  · 
 · 
Jay1122

Nah, I think OP should pay the starchitect firm to intern there. Consider the payment as "tuition". Investment in your future. The boss will treat you better for sure.

Nov 9, 21 5:20 pm  · 
 · 

Is that what you did Jay? Explains why you're so bitter. :P

Nov 9, 21 5:30 pm  · 
 · 
randomised

Internships are for people that are enrolled in university, you’re a student doing a students job in an office environment, you don’t get paid to do a studio in university, even though your university is using your work too to earn money. Nobody is forcing anyone to travel to the other end of the globe to do this internship, it’s an opportunity...you can either take it and benefit your future self or you can leave it and wonder “what if” for the rest of your career. As a student in the Netherlands you would probably still get financial

Nov 11, 21 7:25 am  · 
 · 
randomised

support (study finance) when going abroad.

Nov 11, 21 7:26 am  · 
 · 
Non Sequitur

Bad advice rando.

Nov 11, 21 7:28 am  · 
 · 
randomised

If you can afford it it is totally worth the experience, if you can’t afford it a little internship money for 3-6 months is not going to solve your problems either...you’ll be missing out on a career defining opportunity just to make a point and for what? a little extra cash that will be easily earned back with your first or second salary already. People pay tens of thousands in tuition fees but can’t afford an internship in Japan for half a year? I spent travelling unpaid much longer than that, if you want to spend your entire life going from pay check to pay check...you also need to live a little...

Nov 11, 21 10:07 am  · 
 ·  3

Rando - I think there is a reginal terminology issue here. 

In the US and Canada an intern is someone who has a degree but isn't licensed. A student intern is someone who hasn't graduated yet. Even then student internships in the US and Canada are typically paid if they aren't for school credit.

Back when I was in school (2000ish) I was making $12 and hour as a student intern working part time doing drafting work.

Nov 11, 21 10:27 am  · 
4  · 
Non Sequitur

Rando, if the office is using your unpaid labour to chase projects, draft washroom elevations, cut foam, wash to corporate helicopter, etc... then your advice is fucking terrible. It's a job, the office is making collecting fees, you deserve at the very least, minimum wage for every hour work. None of this silly stipend or "investment" garbage. I did not know you were so casual about modern slavery. Who knew.

Nov 11, 21 11:08 am  · 
 · 

Rando - we have a high school senior working in our office currently. She's a student intern participating in a work study program that gives her high school credit for working with us. 

The school district pays her above minimum wage for her time.  To do otherwise is illegal in my state.  

Nov 11, 21 1:23 pm  · 
2  · 
randomised

All you guys see is the little money in front of you without seeing the bigger picture here...

Nov 11, 21 3:40 pm  · 
 ·  4
Non Sequitur

Strange hill you’re choosing to die on here Rando. Very sad. The work experience is worthless if the office can’t be bothered to pay at the least, minimum wage. There is literally no useful défense for unpaid internships.

Nov 11, 21 3:57 pm  · 
2  · 

Stop trolling Rando, you suck at it.

Nov 11, 21 3:57 pm  · 
2  · 
JLC-1

I just realized I couldn't have finished my degree in the US, (or in any of these countries allowing unpaid internships), I married during my second year and lived off credit for 3 years. What some of the defendants of this slavery system don't realize is not everybody has a fall back financier at hand.

Nov 11, 21 4:47 pm  · 
 · 

Accepting voluntary slave work perpetuates slave culture.

Nov 11, 21 5:08 pm  · 
1  · 
square.

it's also easy to say in a country where a lot of your basic costs are covered through an actual welfare state. good luck paying for your hospital bill, when, in the US, you accidentally slip and slice your hand open with the olfa after cutting foam for 12 hours.

Nov 11, 21 5:42 pm  · 
 · 
randomised

People pay top dollar to study under a professor of Shigeru Ban’s stature, when that studying is done in their office and not university it is suddenly the biggest crime against humanity? Penny wise pound foolish is how I see it...

Nov 11, 21 5:48 pm  · 
 ·  3
JLC-1

no sir, a uni can give me a loan, I can't eat experience, it's simple really. Only a privileged upbringing wouldn't see it.

Nov 11, 21 5:49 pm  · 
1  · 
square.

you're a fool if you think education and work are the same thing. also, why do these offices deserve free labor?

...

Nov 11, 21 5:51 pm  · 
2  · 

Rando - I take it your new job isn't working out and you're bored again. Stop trolling, you're not very good at it.

Nov 11, 21 6:55 pm  · 
2  · 
Non Sequitur

Shiguru whatever is just useless talentless garbage if he needs to rely on slavery.

Nov 11, 21 7:01 pm  · 
 · 
midlander

the whole discussion assumes one actually learns something doing minor tasks and urgent but inessential work for someone too busy to notice you or organize the work. generally no - but sometimes you will meet good people in the environment and the famous name on a resume is a good starting point in future job interviews.

Nov 11, 21 7:02 pm  · 
1  · 
midlander

it isn't fair that these bonus points are more accessible for people with money. unfortunately money makes life easier in every single way and all situations, yet it's distributed irrationally.

Nov 11, 21 7:05 pm  · 
2  · 
midlander

worth recognizing too is that one thing you can learn working in an environment like this is how to run an office that doesn't make enough money to hire skilled staff or pay inexperienced trainees. this is a less useful skill than students imagine.

Nov 11, 21 7:07 pm  · 
 · 
randomised

It's not slavery if its voluntary, right?...OP can choose to intern wherever, in NL where it is paid or anywhere in the EU where it is paid...yet chooses to apply for an unpaid position all the way in faraway and expensive Japan. They obviously don't care that much about not getting paid as it isn't even mentioned in the initial post. So this privileged person has enough money or is willing to invest 3 to 6 months into their future 40+ years career while still studying architecture. I wish them all the best and enjoy the experience. And to all the people that equate this voluntary gaining of international experience to slavery, they clearly don't know what slavery is.

Nov 12, 21 7:41 am  · 
1  ·  2
Non Sequitur

Not an investment.

Nov 12, 21 7:42 am  · 
 · 
randomised

Of course it is, OP is obviously willing to gain experience somewhere on the other side of the planet to advance their architecture skills and future career without direct financial compensation...I wish I was that privileged back in uni or now even. They are investing in their resume and skillset and future career, people not willing or able to see that are as I said penny wise pound foolish.

Nov 12, 21 8:04 am  · 
 · 
Non Sequitur

You really don't get it rando. Unpaid experience is worth shit and any office willing to profit off the "sacrifice" of deluded fresh grads is not worth anyone's time. I've said it many times before, but I would never hire someone who has taken an unpaid intership. I can't respect anyone who thinks so little of themselves and I certainly would not trust them to work and/or know the value of their time. So a sad a pathetic pov you're expressing here.

Nov 12, 21 8:20 am  · 
 · 
randomised

It is not work, it's for students, while enrolled at university...you'd still be getting your govt students stipend in NL (and don't have to pay it back) when doing an internship, paid or unpaid...who cares if you're foaming models at uni in the model room or in Tokyo in Shigeru Ban's studio? If you're not willing to see the distinction between work and being a student, I can't help you. I know the system is broken and nobody should ideally be interning unpaid, but if you're privileged enough to consider going all the way to Japan to intern unpaid money never was an/the issue, now is it...The people I know that went to Japan as an unpaid intern over a decade ago are either still there architecting or have started their own office somewhere on the globe. So I think they knew exactly what they were doing and got themselves into, worked out great for them and I wish the same for OP. You don't need to worry about hiring people that could afford interning unpaid, they'd be the ones doing the hiring...

Nov 12, 21 8:45 am  · 
 · 
Non Sequitur

You're not getting any of this rando.

Nov 12, 21 9:04 am  · 
1  · 
randomised

no i'm not getting an unpaid internship, can't afford 'em...

Nov 12, 21 9:22 am  · 
1  · 
square.

cashing in on that privilege makes it worse for everyone else, aka the majority.. but i doubt your myopic view allows you to see any of that.

Nov 12, 21 9:26 am  · 
 · 
randomised

why put the responsibility of not cashing in on ones privilege with the OP? why should anyone not try to better themselves, get valuable exposure and experience to be a better architect in the future if they can afford to?

Nov 12, 21 9:37 am  · 
 · 
square.

because they might have a sense of empathy or, i dunno, societal ethics and concerns. ever heard of it?

your claims are also incredibly dubious, but you're asserting them like they are facts. far from it.

Nov 12, 21 9:42 am  · 
 · 
Non Sequitur

Having unpaid interns is specifically forbidden under my arch association's ethics regulations. So, if you want to stay in the past and promote abusive work places, then go for it. The rest of us see through the bullshit.

Nov 12, 21 9:47 am  · 
1  · 
randomised

square, OP apparently doesn't have those ethics or even empathy, why else apply for an unpaid internship(!) they'd probably vote for Trump if they could! who has better ethics, someone not accepting payment to work on sustainable projects in disaster areas or the one that only works for cold hard cash to do whatever shitty mcmansion or glass and concrete office towers or condominiums...

Nov 12, 21 10:03 am  · 
 · 
square.

the example you cited is a form of service (which i have done gladly for free or reduced pay) vs the topic at hand, which is giving your labor freely to a for-profit private company - your example, per usual, is a false equivalency.

Nov 12, 21 11:08 am  · 
 · 

Rando - I get you're bored but please stop. You're not good at this and all you're accomplishing is making yourself look foolish, unethical, and out of touch with reality.

Nov 12, 21 12:45 pm  · 
 · 
randomised

square, I gave an example based on the work of Shigeru Ban, but whatever...keep doing what you’re doing, I regard the ethics of people willing to not get paid to work on sustainable projects for people in need a little higher than the schmucks doing unsustainable office towers and condominiums for money...

Nov 12, 21 1:38 pm  · 
 · 
Non Sequitur

Still exceptionally bad pov Rando. I'm sure mr. Ban is getting paid handsomely for his efforts. You're just trying to justify an antiquated custom which needs a violent and bloody death.

Nov 12, 21 1:50 pm  · 
1  · 
randomised

I’m not justifying unpaid internships, just saying that if you can afford to do one, that it can be a great experience one can benefit from for an entire career. Is that fair? Probably not regarding others that are less privileged...but hell, what you gonna do? I think it’s better if privileged rich kids do the unpaid internships so the paid internships are left for the less fortunate ones...If you want to go all in and travel the entire globe to work your ass off for free, you must not have financial worries at all, and probably never will. Good for them, use that privilege to do something good for the world and give back by doing something worthwhile for people in need.

Nov 12, 21 2:19 pm  · 
 · 
randomised

Chad, I’m not bored, doing some renovation work at home and taking care of my kids actually...I just don’t think it is necessarily unethical to do an unpaid internship at an office like Shigeru Ban’s if you can afford to...I do think it’s unethical to design American prisons and of course to unnecessarily kill animals, but that’s a different story ;-)

Nov 12, 21 2:32 pm  · 
 · 
IDH-IBC

I think what's also getting lost is that the OP and the firm in question aren't in the US. So maybe they have different perceptions of what is acceptable practice or not. OP may have no qualms about it, the firm may see it as some sort of apprenticeship...who knows.

Nov 12, 21 2:38 pm  · 
 ·  2
Non Sequitur

It's entirely, 100%, no argument to be made, bonafide organic unethical for S.Ban to accept unpaid labour while he makes a living selling his projects... regardless of the purpose of his work. 

 Moreover, it's entirely unethical for anyone in the profession to respect the unpaid internship because: 

  • It's one more gatekeeping layer where only the wealthy are able to gain "experience" in name-brand offices.
  • It devalues our work because most of the time spent making the magasine-worthy project is done at no cost to the office and client.
  • It keeps entry level salaries in respectable offices near the floor because new grads don't know their worth
  • It keeps an antiquated morally backwards starving artist mentality alive.


Nov 12, 21 2:40 pm  · 
1  · 
Non Sequitur

IDH, the firm sees it as free and disposable labour and an easy way to line it's own pockets. Easy to make good projects when you don't have to spend a dime on the people who help you get there.

Nov 12, 21 2:46 pm  · 
 · 
IDH-IBC

I totally agree with you, especially as it concerns gatekeeping. It's a terrible practice for a high profile firm in a city as expensive as Tokyo. Actually, for any firm, regardless of profile or location. It makes me wonder why the OP would consider it in the first place.

Nov 12, 21 3:11 pm  · 
 · 
Non Sequitur

"It makes me wonder why the OP would consider it in the first place."

Sex appeal of a one-liner on their CV.  That's it.  It's the illusion that they earned the experience while they only got it because they were dumb enough to agree to work for free.  They did not earn that experience at all, they bought it.



Nov 12, 21 3:14 pm  · 
 · 
IDH-IBC

I'm guessing they won't even be allowed to take samples of whatever they worked on, assuming they get anything worthwhile to do while they're there .

Nov 12, 21 3:21 pm  · 
 · 
square.

rando is making the most bizarre, out of touch and antiquated argument. with someone who is so concerned with "progress," this is one of the most conservative arguments from an ethical and economic perspective. as least the coyotes have his attention.

Nov 12, 21 4:35 pm  · 
1  · 
luvu

This master and apprentice system is by no means uniquely to architecture in a broader societal/work context in Japan. There's a word in Japanese that literally means " overwork death ". It's an expectation that workers have to come to work on time and stay back late every single day, and that's a norm.

I understand where  Rando is coming from and I think this topic needs to be viewed in a wider angle.

Nov 12, 21 7:40 pm  · 
 · 
square.

"overwork death" definitely seems like something we should be able to move beyond in the 21st-century with all its material abundance- again, a conservative take on labor relations based on "tradition."

Nov 13, 21 4:34 pm  · 
 · 
randomised

On a side note, I'd rather work in Japan though as it has 26-36 days of paid holidays and a year of (paid) parental leave...where USA has zero (source: wiki)

Nov 14, 21 4:52 pm  · 
 · 
randomised

It is also very easy to say someone shouldn't take an unpaid internship (even though they clearly can afford it or are ready, willing and able to spend their pocket money on it) to help kickstart their career when you are already an established professional yourself....it's tough out there, some need all the help they can get(!) 

With rent in Tokyo being over 50% lower than in NY it is actually smarter to go all the way to Tokyo and rent something there while doing an unpaid internship and rent out your place in NY, than staying in NY, pay your rent and do a paid internship there...[/perspective]

Nov 14, 21 5:06 pm  · 
 ·  2

Rando - Have you ever worked in Japan? I ask because I had classmates that did. Those 26-36 days of paid holiday leave you mentioned - you'll be working. It's normal to do 70 hour weeks and 100 hour weeks are common.

Nov 16, 21 10:49 am  · 
1  · 
randomised

I had classmates that did/are working in Japan, but I used wiki to get the numbers or in the case of the States the lack of numbers (zero!)...their parental leave is actually quite new, not too long ago their Environment Minister took it and it was all over the news.

Nov 16, 21 11:44 am  · 
 · 
square.

varies in the states- in NY we have 12 weeks maternity/paternity leave, so, again, the comparison is a bit off.

Nov 16, 21 1:20 pm  · 
 · 

Rando - you need to do some more research. Parental leave varies by state. Here in Colorado you have 12 weeks.

I notice how you didn't touch on the crazy work hours that are typical in Japan.  

As I've said before - stop trolling.  You're not very good at it. 

Nov 16, 21 1:52 pm  · 
1  · 
Non Sequitur

12 week parental leave? Laughs in Canadian.

Nov 16, 21 2:14 pm  · 
2  · 
randomised

Chad, those 12 meagre American weeks are still unpaid and most likely for birth mothers only...You’re still light years behind the civilised world. ( I think it is still a while when CO will have this arranged, I believe ‘24 ) Also, I’m not trolling I’m simply schooling you ;-)

Nov 16, 21 3:46 pm  · 
 · 

You're not schooling anyone. In CO it's paid parental leave for both parents. It's not perfect though.

You really are bad at trolling.  

Nov 16, 21 3:54 pm  · 
1  · 
square.

this is what happens when you rely on wiki for your sources..

Nov 16, 21 3:57 pm  · 
 · 

It's what happens when you're bad at trolling.

Nov 16, 21 4:08 pm  · 
 · 
randomised

it will still take some years before those 12 weeks paid parental leave will be implemented in CO though, that's what i meant...but whatever, you consider everything trolling when you're left without any counter argument ;-)

Nov 19, 21 6:00 am  · 
 · 

Rando - wrong again. Those 12 weeks of paid parental are already implemented.  A coworker of mine is using it right now. 

I only think you're trolling because if you're not then you're an ill informed fool.  

Stop trolling, you're only making yourself look foolish. 

Nov 19, 21 1:20 pm  · 
 · 
gibbost

I probably shouldn't wade into this as I am not a CO resident . . . I'm assuming Randomised is referring to the Colorado Paid Family & Medical leave act which was passed during the Nov 2020 election cycle. It does in fact, go into effect Jan 1, 2024. Perhaps there are other measures already in place that your coworker is taking advantage of.  I'm hopeful that this new bill is a model for other states.

Nov 19, 21 2:30 pm  · 
1  · 

Correct. 

The Colorado Paid Family & Medical Leave Act  allows both parents / care givers leave at the same time. This will go into effect in 2024.  The current law only allows one parent / care giver to have leave.

Rando needs to stop doing half assed research if he's going to try a be a troll.  


Nov 19, 21 3:08 pm  · 
 · 
randomised

I’m not trying to be a troll, just a reminder that my info is/was correct all along...

Nov 19, 21 4:01 pm  · 
 · 
archinet

I did a low paid internship once when studying and it was by far the worst experience in that I did not learn much. In my experience the more I got paid for an internship the more responsibility I got and therefore the more I learned. If you are very rich, and very inexperienced and have alot of time on your hands and nothing to do, maybe do it. But honestly try to find a decently paid internship- I do not think it is worth it.   

Nov 11, 21 9:08 am  · 
3  · 
ham17

I worked 45 hour weeks at a firm based in Seoul, South Korea this summer and was given a $500 monthly stipend (a horrifying $2.8/hr). I lived with my best friend and that money barely covered my shared apartment costs, resulting in me digging into my own work money from the previous year to eat + buy necessities. The experience overall was positive as I spent the summer with my friend in a beautiful country, got good work experience, and got a great letter of recommendation for grad school, but I would never do it again. Know your worth.


Nov 11, 21 2:05 pm  · 
 ·  1
Non Sequitur

Sorry for your loss.

Nov 11, 21 2:51 pm  · 
 · 
square.

sounds like squid game without the money

Nov 11, 21 5:40 pm  · 
3  · 
IDH-IBC

I was required to do internships during undergrad (we were on a quarter system, so alternate work and school). I could never have afforded to do an unpaid internship. Most employers had a connection or were approved by the school and as far as I knew, were paying. But there were plenty of places, in very expensive parts of the country, that weren't. The kids taking them didn't have to worry about paying their bills for 3-6 months. If you can do that, then perhaps you may find it worthwhile. But I do wonder if all you'd get out of it is a bit of name cache on your CV especially when you may not get to work on anything substantial. Now if there's a chance at a long term opportunity, it might be worth it. But there's no guarantees. 

Nov 11, 21 2:21 pm  · 
 · 
atelier nobody

Internships during school are a different animal from internships after graduation, but neither should be unpaid.

Nov 11, 21 6:21 pm  · 
1  · 
IDH-IBC

I don't disagree and I would never take any internship for free but if a fully informed individual wants to volunteer at a big name firm that's on them.

Nov 11, 21 7:19 pm  · 
 · 
Non Sequitur

No. That's not how that works. The office that willfully takes on slaves needs to be ridiculed and their work labelled as abusive shit. No grey zone, no half-ass pitiful "free will" excuses.

Nov 11, 21 7:30 pm  · 
1  · 
IDH-IBC

Here you go

Nov 11, 21 9:15 pm  · 
4  · 
Volunteer

"Our internship program is Non Compensation based"

But we have these really nifty paper hospitals should you contract a serious illness. 

Nov 12, 21 8:08 am  · 
1  · 
Non Sequitur

I wonder if Mr ban's lectures and other speaking events are also non-compensation based.

Nov 12, 21 8:18 am  · 
 · 
IDH-IBC

Speaking fees for me, no compensation for thee.

Nov 12, 21 9:14 am  · 
 · 
monosierra

Kengo Kuma is probably the only Japanese starchitect that pays his interns competitive wages. I like how REX criticizes unpaid internships - firms who do so are essentially culling their pool of potential employees to those who could afford not to get paid. Not good for the firm or industry, and a good sign of poor business practices.

Nov 12, 21 9:13 am  · 
2  · 
randomised

agreed

Nov 12, 21 9:23 am  · 
 · 

Is this actually a current post? It feels quite strange since a visa to go to Japan right now is difficult due to covid. I'm curious how this is even possible, in all honesty.

As far as unpaid internships are concerned it is common in Japan still. Really they are set up for Japanese culture, and for Japanese students who have an entirely different education than those in the West. There is not as much practical training, and learning on the job is entirely normal. Hence the invention of the open-desk (internship), which is literally what it sounds like. An open space to go and absorb what you can in a professional setting but also with the understanding that you are not necessarily going to contribute all that much to the office because you dont know very much yet.

This is not entirely how it plays out in reality, but that is the foundational idea. We might call it apprentice versus master in the west, but it is not exactly the same. I am skipping a lot of subtlety in my description.

Foreign trained students often join in this game and are kind of a strange animal (in my opinion). Much better trained technically but entirely incompetent when it comes to language (nobody speaks English in Japan) and regulations, the roles that the non-Japanese intern in this setting can play are somewhat limited.

I'm not sure how Ban's office is now, but like most Japanese offices it is not as professionalized as you might expect in the west. There is a lot of leeway with things and a certain amount of disorder. Like an atelier I suppose. It is then hit or miss how the experience goes, depending on the project and the people you are working with. I have heard both wonderful and horrible stories from all of the offices. Some interns turn the internship into a proper job, most do not. My knowledge of this experience is from students who come through our office after working for the larger offices first. We pay interns, the same as in NL, which is not a lot, but we are a Dutch office historically speaking even though we are based in Tokyo, so that is not so strange from our point of view...so we attract the European interns as often as not.

Based on that meager connection to the student story I can say that there have only been a few cases where a student told me they regretted the experience.

As far as how the experience of Tokyo is, well the hours are indeed long. Meetings in the middle of the night are very common. A lot of things will not make much sense until you have been in Japan for a few years, and because it is such a short term experience it is likely parts of the entire endeavor will never make sense. That does not make the experience unworthy, but some parts of it might always be out of reach. Especially for Dutch culture, which is more rational than Japan ;-)

Cost of living in Japan is relatively cheap. Much cheaper than NY or other world cities. Trains are awesome in Tokyo and quality of life in Tokyo is high even if the streets look a mess to the western eye. It is a good place to experience first hand. Food quality is probably much higher than you are used to, and not expensive either, which is a bonus. A lot of the interns stay at a place called sakura house, or similar. No idea how this place works now with covid as it was based on pretty tight quarters. Nice thing is they accept foreigners and its possible to arrange things in English. Not common in Japan.

The idea that unpaid internships is not cool is one that I agree with, personally. But it is the way of things in Japan for better or worse. Junya Ishigami felt the sting of the Western way of doing things when he designed the Serpentine with unpaid interns, and perhaps Ban will eventually have the same problem, but that does nothing to answer your question now.

Ban does very good work and his way of thinking is exceptional as far as architecture goes. I only know this from seeing his lectures and talking to his students, not from working in his office (to be transparent, I taught at the same school as him for the last 10 years). From the outside looking in, if I had the time and went through an education system that encouraged internships of this kind then it might very well be worth it.

With covid going on though, I dont know. Daily life is a bit more tense than it used to be. Maybe that spills over into the experience. Or maybe it doesnt matter cuz the whole world is in the same boat.

Nov 15, 21 7:34 pm  · 
7  · 
midlander

do japanese students compete intensely for these limited internship slots at known studios? what is the internship experience for a normal young architect in JP - are they doing it to really learn how to do work or more for building professional connections?

Nov 16, 21 9:49 am  · 
 · 
gibbost

Context matters and is always important to any story. Thank you Will for your unique perspective. I'm glad you also made a point to callout unpaid internships for what they are, but also offered insight on why they might exist outside the US.

Nov 16, 21 9:56 am  · 
 · 

Japan works a bit differently perhaps than other countries. Usually people will have a job in hand a year before graduating for instance, and that is a year long process that is intense and very competitive. Usually those jobs are open calls but the school you go to is quite important. Which means, in all honesty, the actual competition took place in high school and in the process of getting into a school (all based on entrance exams and extremely competitive). If you go to Keio or U of Tokyo you get access to Sejima and Ban and Kuma because that is where they teach. The open desk is a way to get a feel for the professional world because university is quite another thing altogether. As far as education goes, it looks a lot like education in the west but is not. Students apply as much to a professor as to a school for instance and will mostly work collaboratively as a research group on a project organized by the professor and his staff. Senior students help with that process; junior students come in with little knowledge as undergrad students and are guided by the grad students on whatever the prof has going on. Its like a small office of 15 to 20 people, with everyone from undergrad students to PhDs all working under the prof. That is the context. The open desk arrangement is a kind of extension of that, a tendril that connects practice to education. The foreign students who come in from overseas are nominally in the same group, but the context is entirely different and the expectations and outcomes are going to be different too. But as I wrote above, they are kind of a strange animal in that whole eco-system. It is not without merit, however the conversation about unpaid internship is muddied by the setup. It is not black and white. There is more going on than a random person shows up to do work for free. Im not saying it is correct or moral, but it is at the very least not what you think it is if you are comparing to the same arrangement in the West.

Nov 16, 21 11:28 am  · 
5  · 

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