Interviewed by Isao Tokuhashi
Edited by Daniel Penso
Mail to: email@example.com
A series of interviews called “Tell me, Japanese people! @ Company”, which highlights foreign staff working at Japanese companies, has been done with a long-established company and a startup so far. Our third interview was conducted with one called Prime Assistance Inc.
Prime Assistance (PRA) is a group company of SOMPO Holdings, a holding company that owns Sompo Japan Nipponkoa, one of the “Three Mega Non-life Insurers” in Japan. SOMPO Holdings launched a new company in 2012 with the aim of enhancing customer support by building a contact center for non-life insurance within the group, which was generally outsourced. That is PRA. With contact centers in Akita, Tokyo, and Kagoshima, PRA mainly provides roadside assistance services for automobile insurance and home assistance services for fire insurance.
In 2016, a multilingual contact center called “Global Team” was established within PRA.
The Global Team was originally established with the aim of providing a 24/7 service in the Chinese language to introduce medical institutions and arrange cashless treatment for Chinese tourists visiting Japan who had purchased the overseas travel insurance from SOMPO CHINA (日本财产保险（中国）有限公司). Later, they started offering the same service to Japanese expatriates and business travelers.
In addition, PRA started to expand into fields other than insurance to reach people who were not insured by Sompo Japan Nipponkoa. After gaining experience in the tourist business in Japan by supporting Chinese tourists visiting the country, PRA casted an eye on “vacation rentals”. They entered into a partnership with Airbnb, the world’s largest vacation rental platform, and launched the “message services” in 2018. The team members communicate with tourists visiting Japan in foreign languages on behalf of the landowners who rent out their rooms to the tourists as lodging facilities.
PRA is aiming to recruit people from all over the world in the future in order to provide even better care for Chinese tourists visiting Japan, Japanese businessmen working overseas, and foreign tourists and hosts in Japan using an Airbnb platform. We will introduce some stories of the “bridges” and questions they pose to Japanese people.
*Interviews at PRA Tokyo Center (Nakano-ku)
*Photos by M.M.
Currently, I am involved in providing services for Chinese tourists visiting Japan. For example, if a visitor to Japan gets sick here, we can help him/her find hospitals or medical consultations in Japan within his/her insurance coverage, and provide Chinese to Japanese/Japanese to Chinese medical interpretations. We also provide information to people who have lost their passports and contact the embassy on their behalf. This service, which requires not only Japanese language skills but also medical knowledge, was launched in April 2016 in response to the increasing number of tourists visiting Japan, and I have been involved as a supervisor since then.
Before coming to Japan, I was working as an office worker at SOMPO CHINA, a Chinese subsidiary of Sompo Japan Nipponkoa. After that, I was transferred to PRA as a transfer within the SOMPO group companies. The company I worked for in China is a Japanese one, but I have actually had a connection with Japan since I was a student.
I studied Japanese at a Japanese language school and at a Japanese language program at a university. Then, I was doing research about multicultural societies at a Japanese university. After graduation, I worked at a music magazine publisher in Japan and then returned to China. When I was working in the music industry in Beijing, I was worried that I might forget the Japanese language if I didn’t do anything. But, fortunately, I could join SOMPO CHINA just by chance. When I came back to Japan for the first time in over ten years, I remembered lyrics from “Ii Hi Tabidachi” (Day That Used To Be), song by the Japanese singer Momoe Yamaguchi: “There is someone waiting for me somewhere in Japan,” and my heart trembled because I felt she was singing about my life.
Japan is a “healing place” for me. It is a foreign country to me, things don’t always go as smoothly as I would like, but strangely enough, it is also in Japan that I can heal the physical and mental fatigue I feel. Perhaps it is because in Japan, I can enjoy a rich life and maintain the right distances in my relationships. And I’m sure it’s because I have had a deep connection with Japan. So I would like people from overseas to come to Japan on a trip and experience Japan with their own five senses before evaluating the country. If you still don’t like Japan at all, there is no need to force yourself to live or work in Japan.
In the future, I would like to pursue my own hobbies in parallel with my work. I like to draw pictures so I would like to become even better at it. I also want to put into writing what I have experienced in my life so far.
When Ai was a foreign student in Japan, she was struck by the sight of a single tree growing tall, which overlapped with her own image as a foreigner living in Japan. Thirteen years later, when she visited the area again, she was moved by the fact that the tree was still standing strong and unchanged so drew a picture of it.
I would be happy if I could contribute more to my company than I do now, and live a healthy life both physically and mentally. Also, I sincerely wish for world peace.
Question: Why do you eat lunch so fast? I think it’s bad for your stomach!
Kaiyuan Wu (China)
I am mainly in charge of messaging with people who use Airbnb vacation rentals. When some trouble happens in a room, I work with Airbnb property management companies to solve it using Chinese, English, and Japanese. I am also involved in the provision of medical services to Chinese visitors to Japan.
I have been living in Japan for almost 10 years. My first encounter with Japan was origami that a relative who visited Japan gave me as a souvenir when I was a junior high school student. Origami was popular at my junior high school at the time, and I was attracted to the designs and vivid colors of Japanese ones, which were different from those in China. Later, after I entered university, I started watching a drama called “1 Liter of Tears” (一公升眼泪), starring Erika Sawajiri, online with my dorm roommate who liked Japanese dramas. At first, I tried to understand the story somehow by picking up only Chinese characters from the Japanese subtitles. But, I ended up seeing the Chinese subtitles (laugh).
I studied economics, mainly real estate, at a university in China. After graduation, I joined a real estate-related IT company in Shanghai as a salesperson. However, the impact of the Lehman Shock had spread to China, and I found it difficult to get a job there. At that time, I remembered something I had heard when I was in college. “The current real estate situation in China is similar to the real estate bubble era in Japan” – the desire to learn what Japan had experienced was created in me and I decided to study in Japan. Despite the geographical proximity, the way people thought was different from ours, which was another reason why I was interested in Japan. What pushed me further was a student of my mentor in college. She told me a story about how she went away from her family to Japan, started studying Japanese from scratch, went on to a graduate school in Japan and got a job at a Japanese company. I seriously wanted to become independent and grow like her.
After coming to Japan in 2010 and studying Japanese, I entered a graduate school in Kanagawa Prefecture. I continued my research on real estate for two years there, then I wrote a thesis on “villages within Chinese cities,” meaning slums, and completed my graduate studies. I became interested in drugstores, where new products are constantly being developed and put on store shelves. I joined a major chain in the industry in Japan as a Chinese speaking staff. After that, I made a career move to an Airbnb property management company because I felt a great potential in the home-stay business, which was growing rapidly but still had room for improvement in rules and standards in a field close to my major of real estate. I worked as a Chinese and English speaking staff who took care of guests, and it was where I met a person who would lead me to here. She was a colleague there, but she joined this company before I did so I took a look at its recruitment page. I applied for the position because I thought I could make use of my experience in the vacation rental business and offer various suggestions. Above all, I wanted to work with her again. That’s actually why I wanted to join my current company (laugh).
In the work of messaging with Airbnb users, which I am currently mainly in charge of, it is not enough to translate the requests and responses from tourists, hosts, and Airbnb property management agencies into Chinese, English, or Japanese and tell them. We discuss how to express our messages every single day so that everyone can communicate without feeling hurt. I find it very rewarding.
I would like to plan and propose a variety of businesses related to the vacation rental. My dream is to bring smiles to the faces of people visiting Japan from all over the world!
Question: Why do we hardly ever see our neighbors in Japan?
Prime Assistance： prime-as.co.jp/en/