When we think of Japan, cities like Tokyo and Osaka or food like sushi and ramen would likely come into our minds first. For those of us who aren’t familiar with the Japanese language, searching for and booking activities when planning to travel in the country can be a tad bit challenging.
Removing this barrier might just be the first step for a travel tech company like Klook. But dismantling the wall alone isn’t enough. There leaves a gap for a sturdy bridge that connects global travelers to a country’s culture. This is an aspiration that Miharu Tanaka had a decade ago and has kept close to her heart since.
Originally from Kobe, Miharu first joined Klook as a manager of our Business Development team in Osaka in January 2019. Prior to joining our team, she had been in the travel industry for over a decade.
Associate Manager, Business Development
She had learned about Klook through our former lead of Business Development. “We have known each other for quite a long time as friends. She was looking for someone with knowledge about travel agencies and the travel industry in Japan to support Klook. Having been in the travel industry for 15 years now, I can still see so much potential in Japan, a small island country boasting a lot of hidden gems.”
“So when I heard about Klook, I reflected on my personal aspirations. Is my dream to become a bridge that connects travelers outside of Japan to our culture and beautiful places? I was still enthusiastic about this and so it led me to Klook.”
One important life decision led her to a road less traveled. Her relocation to Dubai meant that she would have to bid farewell to Klook. But for Miharu, it wasn’t a goodbye but a see-you-later. Let’s hear about her two-part journey at Klook!
How long were you at Klook before embarking on a new journey?
I was at Klook for about nine months, although it had felt longer to me. During this period, I even went to the Hong Kong office and made several business trips. I was really happy working at Klook. However, my husband had to relocate to Dubai for work, and I had to wrap up my journey at Klook. I moved to Dubai in January 2020 and lived there for two years, during which I started my own online business and kept myself busy with it.
How did you decide to rejoin Klook two years later? Did you have any hesitation before applying with us again?
When my husband and I decided to come back to Osaka in 2022, I started searching for jobs and to my surprise, I found Klook’s opening for Business Development Manager based in Osaka, and it was the position I used to have.
Since I made a conscious decision to quit previously, I felt kind of guilty and hesitated a little bit. Then I thought to myself, “Well, I am just hoping I could go back to something I’m passionate about as I know the travel industry well.”
I was in the middle of important projects when I left. Thinking back about my aspiration of becoming the bridge between Japan and travelers, I didn’t feel I quite achieved that. This is why I decided to apply with Klook again, knowing that I’m already familiar with its environment and the people I used to work with, rather than picking things up from scratch.
I got in touch with Mariko-san from People & Culture, whom I’d previously worked with at Klook. I said to her, “Is it weird or is it okay to apply to Klook again? I’ve never done this before – this is my first time considering rejoining a company I used to work for.”
Miharu on a video call with colleagues from People & Culture.
I really appreciate her candidness with me, when she shared that the current Klook environment is totally different - not necessarily better or worse - from what I was familiar with. She didn’t want me to be in a situation where I would realize, during the hiring process, there’s a disparity between reality and my memory. It’s with this context that I decided to continue, went through four rounds of interviews, and the rest is history!
Now that you’re 7 months into your role at Klook, how did you find the Japan team after meeting them in person for the first time at Shibuya Sky? How much has changed within the team?
The Japan team is very energetic! Everyone’s always helping each other which is, of course, one of our core beliefs. But we’re not doing so just for the sake of complying with the core belief. It’s more so that the flat hierarchy at Klook enables us to communicate feedback across verticals and teams easily.
Before the pandemic, I was able to meet our CEO and co-founder, Ethan at a press conference in Osaka. And in 2022, we crossed paths again in the same city. He said to me, “I haven’t visited Japan since the press conference was held in 2019. Not much has changed since then.” Despite having left Klook for 2 years, I don’t seem to feel the gap. It felt like I never left at all. Back to your question, Klookers in the Tokyo office are exactly how I expected, in a good way. Even the vibes. I feel like I came back to the same company.
Team JP’s summer outing at Shibuya Sky!
We’re happy to hear that! We’d previously interviewed your teammate Saori, who was a huge force behind our Dynamic Pass for Yokohama Chinatown. The pass eliminates the hassle of purchasing paper tickets for travelers, and we’ve seen its great impact on inbound travel. How do the merchants perceive digitalization in general?
Many merchants here in Japan aren’t so keen to seek outsiders’ help to promote their products and services; they believe they could handle it all by themselves. They can only communicate in Japanese, so naturally, there’s a language barrier and they can’t provide information in English to international tourists. Our initiative is to convince merchants to get onboarded to remove that language barrier so that other travelers can book their tickets through us easily. During the peaks of the pandemic, merchants were having a tough time, so they eventually needed help from us.
Miharu with the Tokyo team in spirit. *whisper* Spot our CEO Ethan at the back.
Right, most merchants in Japan operate in a traditional way. Some travelers would book tickets on the spot and pay by cash, which can be inconvenient at times.
Yes, cash usage in Japan is still very high at around 80%. Even though we’re a developed country with advanced technology, we still use papers, stamps, and even fax machines! [laughs] Say you want to send a lump sum of money to a bank account in Japan from overseas, the paperwork is sent through a fax machine, instead of a PDF file via email.
You mentioned that you felt a sense of guilt when you wanted to rejoin Klook. Is that sense of guilt common among Japanese who rejoin a company they used to work in?
That’s an interesting question. Well, I can’t speak for the Japanese people here, but I can say returning to a company is a unique case, depending on the reason for leaving the company in the first place. While I think it’s still okay, it’s unusual for the society. Some people worry about being rejected if they apply to rejoin a company they used to work for. They’d probably prefer that a company approach them and say, “If you’re interested, you can come back to our company anytime”. That’s when they will consider submitting an application to their former employer.
As a Business Development Manager, do you have to communicate with merchants every day? What is your daily schedule like?
Yeah, we usually do so. In fact, I just made a day trip to Shikoku, an island close to Kobe, to walk a merchant through our merchant portal installation and ticket redemption processes. For Japanese merchants, we often provide more elaborate explanations since our system is mostly in English. Even then, we already built a lot of good manuals in Japanese in the past two years, but it’s common for us to get in touch with merchants to ensure they adapt to our system smoothly.
Dolphin show at Shikoku Aquarium, one of our merchants in Kagawa, Japan
Dealing with merchants and acquisitions is my biggest focus right now. I usually research merchants, look for their contacts, and talk to them. My online meetings with clients have also increased after the pandemic. It’s actually a silver lining that comes out of the pandemic because we used to visit the merchants in person all the time when online meetings weren’t an option before the pandemic. Now that virtual meetings are more common, it’s much easier and more convenient for us to stay connected with them.
Mickey & Minnie greeting Miharu every time she enters her office room at WeWork Osaka!
Besides meeting merchants, what are things that keep you excited at Klook? Perhaps coffee?
Yes, definitely coffee! Another thing is that I like erasing tasks and crossing them off the list. I like structuring my to-do list in bullet points, and striking those items off the list makes me feel good.
Remote working isn’t easy, so I’m also glad that the Japan team accommodates our schedules so that we can be more involved in all their activities. The Japan team also has a Klook Circle meeting where we come together to discuss how we can encourage outside-of-work interactions. I always look forward to it as it helps me separate myself from work a little bit.
Driven by the same aspiration as Miharu?
Posted by Klook Careers