SOJC PR student Eric Medina learned about the importance of communication during his internship at The Japan Times in Tokyo.

Story by Eric Medina

If you’re ever lucky enough to go to Japan, you have to be ready for — and OK with — being lost. When I arrived in Tokyo in June for an internship at The Japan Times, the oldest English-language newspaper in the country, I had a hard time navigating life because I don’t speak Japanese. While ordering food — even with menus that have pictures I could point to — I mistook liver for beef more than once. Making my way around on the trains was an adventure as well; because I wasn’t able to read the signs, I’d often travel multiple stops in the wrong direction.

At the newspaper, I soon realized the Japanese-English issue wasn’t the only language barrier I’d face. As a public relations student, I’ve been taught to use adjectives, but at the news office I was told to edit the adjectives out. The features section staff, which regularly deals with PR reps for articles on events or the arts, also instructed me to present my articles in a way that lets readers decide for themselves. But coming from a PR background, I found it difficult to not promote the events we’d feature. The lesson I’ve learned is that in journalism, it’s not our job to sell it. It’s our job just to tell it.

I also found that what you say matters when you least expect it. One day during lunch, someone asked the table, “What do you see yourself doing in 50 years?” Some people answered silly things, but I answered honestly, sharing that I want to be a fashion editor at Vogue. As it turned out, the right person overheard this, and soon I was given more editorial responsibilities. Later my supervisor told me he was impressed by my answer.

In my new role, I began editing the events page of the newspaper (with supervision, of course), attending events and writing my own pieces. The editing experience taught me a lot. I got to select which event stories would be featured and learned how to tailor each one to a specific audience, from families to anime fanatics. Dealing with Japanese writers also taught me about differences in cultural expression. I sharpened my design skills as well while creating the layout for this weekly spread.

Eric Medina

Eric Medina

I learned about the finer details of criticism while doing a music review of a Birdy concert at Billboard Live Tokyo. For American audiences, criticism doesn’t mean finding fault, but instead giving a sense of how things really are — and we get suspicious if things are too perfect, so honest criticism is necessary. To Japanese readers who live in a society that is based on communal harmony, however, criticism can be perceived as rude and destructive. I had to learn how to find a balance in order to write a review that catered to both types of readers.

I got to sit in the audience of a press conference for the film release of “Independence Day: Resurgence.” At an American PR event for a new movie, it’s usually about the actors, but at the Japanese press conference I found it was more about the movie’s overall presentation. At this event, I experienced how, for a PR professional, creating strategies for a client can be different across cultures. And that, while it seems obvious, knowing your audience is key for a successful PR plan.

When asked to write a story, I attended an art party hosted by the global creative agency UltraSuperNew. Reporting this story showed me the full mechanics of what it’s like to work at a newspaper: conducting interviews, writing and editing, then formatting the work into a layout that complements the other stories on the page. While interviewing a Japanese abstract artist and the event’s producers, I adjusted my interview style to be politer in order to match their communication style. I was reminded that meeting people from different backgrounds and being sociable are two things I really enjoy.

In fact, living in Tokyo was a great chance to meet people and build new professional connections. I formed relationships with the newspaper’s staff and the other interns (remember, today’s interns could be tomorrow’s CEOs). And these people came from all over the place, not just Japan — other parts of the U.S., Canada, Singapore, Britain and Australia. I was also excited to get to know professionals within Tokyo’s fashion community who work in journalism, photography, styling and creative directing.

My final takeaway: Communication is the key to success at an internship.

If you know how to converse with people from all walks of life, it can open doors to opportunities in any industry. This includes knowing the beats of a conversation, listening to people and being aware of how you are presenting yourself. I think these traits are what helped me to get my next internship at FashioNXT, a fashion PR and marketing company in Portland.

Upon returning to the States, I look forward to applying the lessons and skills I gained at The Japan Times at my next internship and kicking off the autumn of my final year as a Duck.

Eric Medina is a fashion stylist and aspiring fashion magazine director who plans to graduate from the SOJC with a public relations degree this winter. He is currently working as an editorial intern at The Japan Times in Tokyo. Later this summer, he will serve as a media relations intern at FashioNXT, a fashion PR and marketing company in Portland, where he will help put on an international runway fashion show and fashion-tech exhibit. Previously, he has worked as a program coordinator with Young Life, a nonprofit, faith-based youth organization in Eugene. Eric also works as the long distance track and field coach for Cal Young middle school, volunteers as an AVID tutor and trains for triathlons. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ericrmedina.