Labor-short Japanese pubs turn to Vietnamese for help

A Vietnamese student serves beer and yakitori at a Torikizoku branch in Osaka.

OSAKA/TOKYO (NIKKEI ASIAN REVIEW, Aug 28,2017):  — A growing number of Japan’s izakaya pub chains, troubled by a shortage of workers, are increasingly hiring Vietnamese part-time workers to fill positions.

Torikizoku, an Osaka-based purveyor of grilled chicken, or yakitori, is one such chain. Known for its across-the-board menu price of 302 yen ($2.76), the chain has been hiring Vietnamese to replace its dwindling number of Chinese employees, who used to make up the majority of its foreign part-time workers, but who now comprise only 1%. At some outlets in central Tokyo, all employees — except managers — are Vietnamese, depending on the shift.

About one-and-a-half years ago, a 24-year-old Vietnamese started working at an Osaka branch of Torikizoku. The woman, who attends university during the day, says she likes waiting on customers, but has difficulty speaking Japanese. Torikizoku’s touch-screen order system makes the job easier.

Nguyen Thi Toan waits on a customer at Japanese restaurant Tengu in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward.

The chain has become a popular place to work for Vietnamese students, who are known for their good work ethic and strong community network. The students say there is cuisine similar to yakitori in Vietnam, and that they hear from relatives that Torikizoku makes a good workplace for people with limited Japanese fluency.

Hiroyuki Ogawa, managing director of the Japan-Vietnam Association, said that despite Vietnam’s relatively underdeveloped mass media, word travels fast in the country. And Torikizoku seems to be well-known.

The chain aims to have 1,000 branches operating by July 2021, so securing human resources is critical. To help train its rapidly increasing Vietnamese staff, the company has produced video cooking manuals in Vietnamese.

“They have to serve customers in Japanese, but more manuals for background roles should be made in Vietnamese,” said Hidehito Nakanishi of Torikizoku.

“Vietnamese part-time employees are very hard-working and straightforward, and they are the best as long as they can speak the language,” said Eita Iida, president of Ten Allied, operator of Tengu Sakaba and other pubs. As of July, Ten Allied had 480 Vietnamese part-time employees, about a tenfold increase from 2014. Vietnamese account for about 18% of the company’s part-time employees — the largest group of foreign nationals in the company.

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