Updated: Jul 25, 2022
Every month on WOMENCANFLY.CO’s blog series, The Way, we introduce inspirational women who live abroad.
In this segment, we meet Hiroyo Miyamoto, a pastry chef living in France. After working for a Japanese patisserie for seven years, she went to France by herself on a working visa in 2017. She currently works at a patisserie in Paris.
Hiroyo never imagined that she would ever change jobs in France but at the end of our interview, she says with a smile, “I’m really glad I came to France!” We hear about Hiroyo’s career as a pastry chef, the differences between Japan and France and what life is like in France.
Hiroyo’s childhood dream of becoming a pastry chef
Hiroyo has always enjoyed making others happy ever since she was a kid and dreamed of opening a cake shop one day.
“I remember when I was in primary school, I enjoyed making donuts with my dad. The happiness I felt with my family when we ate the donuts we made was what made me dream of running a cake shop one day.”
After graduating from a confectionery school in Tokyo, Hiroyo got a job at a local patisserie in Ibaraki.
She thought she would know how difficult it would be through her classes and part-time jobs but when she actually worked, it was harder than she had imagined.
“Being a pastry chef is a lot of early mornings and hard work. After the store closes, we practice making desserts and sometimes continue until dawn.”
Hiroyo cried almost every day at the beginning after her seniors gave her strict directions but her efforts led her to receive a Bronze Award in the junior category of the Japan Cake Show in her first year. Following that, Hiroyo continued to win several prizes.
“At the time I felt angry every day but now that I think about it, I’m grateful for being told off all the time. My colleagues who overcame those hardships with me have been very important to me even now.”
Going to France on a working holiday visa
Seven years after working at a local patisserie, Hiroyo decided to move to the next stage of her life and changed jobs. This was when she was assigned as the manager of the second store of her patisserie.
Since becoming a store manager, she had more management responsibilities so she wanted to focus on making desserts again.
“When I decided to change jobs, I remember wanting to go overseas as a high school student. It was a big challenge for me as I’m a shy person but I felt it was now or never because I’d have many options for a visa. I really wasn’t sure though but my brother said, “Just try it”, and gave me the push I needed to take the next step.”
In April 2017, Hiroyo left for France on a working holiday visa. She worked at a patisserie in Paris and moved jobs to a French restaurant in the summer of that year. Hiroyo gained experience as a pastry chef exclusively for restaurants. In May 2020, she changed jobs again to another patisserie.
“I came to Paris without being able to speak English or French so it was difficult when I first arrived. I couldn’t communicate well with my French colleagues and even though everything came naturally to me in Japan, I couldn’t say anything.”
Although Hiroyo was worried when she first arrived in France, she began to study French like crazy as she hates to lose. This led to Hiroyo being able to communicate with her colleagues and friends in French.
Hiroyo got a working visa through the restaurant she worked at. Getting a work visa takes time due to the large number of documents and procedures involved. To work in France, it’s common to enter the country first on a working holiday or student visa and then switch to a working visa.
What are the differences in working styles between Japan and France?
The difference between Japan and France becomes apparent from the job hunting stage.
“In Japan, humility is a virtue but in France it’s not something taken into account. Patisserie chefs place great importance on displaying achievements so it’s important to showcase them. On my resume, I also talk about what motivated me.”
The way the staff communicate with each other is also different.
“In France, everyone talks in a straightforward manner regardless of their position or role. I also try to express my opinions firmly and have become stronger since coming to France.”
Also, in Japan you have to refrain from using expensive butter but in France where dairy products are cheap, you can use it without hesitation. In Japan, most patisseries start early in the morning but in France, most start in the middle of the night. In Japan, you finish your work well to the point where strawberries are cut at an angle but in France, work is done more efficiently. In France, where the cheque culture remains, there are some patisseries who give your salary as a cheque.
The biggest difference is that France attracts top-tier pastry chefs from around the world. As a result, it’s possible to seize opportunities that Japan can’t offer.
“In 2018, when the World Chocolate Masters Tournament was held in Paris, I was a member of the Japanese national team led by Chef Akihiro Kakimoto. I was really glad to have worked with top chefs from Japan who I admired. I think this experience was only possible because I was in France.”
French women return to work four months after giving birth
France is said to be a developed country with a declining birth rate.
In public schools, school fees are free from kindergarten to high school. Financial support is generous and family allowances are provided when the second child is born. When a third child is born, the allowance is further increased. It seems that many families around Hiroyo have three children.
Economically, the hurdles are low for raising children.
Many women continue to work after giving birth and there are few cases where giving birth or raising children hinder career advancement.
“There are many women working around me. In France, you can take three years of leave to take care of your children but my friend went back to work four months after giving birth.”
As there are many babysitting services, it’s common for children to hire a babysitter from age 0 and return to work three to four months after giving birth. French women who don’t have to give up their careers seem to balance work and parenting like this.
“There are many patisserie chefs who work while raising children. It’s convenient because they can work part time by taking on the early morning preparation shift so I think it’s a job that is sustainable while women raise their children.”
France not only has a childcare leave system and family assistance but also medical insurance. If you have both public medical insurance then you are obligated to take out medical insurance called, ‘Mutuelle’, which is taken out voluntarily with almost no expenses. If you get sick or injured you don’t have to worry about medical expenses.
Enjoying life in France but struggling to find a place to stay
One of the difficulties Hiroyo has had in France was finding a place to stay.
Since it’s expensive to go through a real estate agent, Hiroyo searched for properties on a website and contacted the owners directly. However, she would often suddenly lose contact with them so it took a lot of perseverance and luck to find a nice place to stay.
“I’ve moved three times since moving to France and it’s been difficult each time.”
Place No. 1: Shared a room with French lady Place No. 2: Shared a 5-bunk bed room with 10 people in one room Place No. 3: Rented a room on the upper floor of a restaurant Place No. 4: Took over a friend’s room and finally made it Hiroyo’s ideal room
The rent in Paris is high and even when Hiroyo shared a room with 10 people, the monthly rent was 550 euros (The equivalent to 65,590 yen as of June 1, 2020). Depending on the room, there are rules like only being able to shower from 7am to 11pm and needing to label your things in the fridge.
Finding a place was hard but Hiroyo seems to like living in Paris very much.
According to French labour laws, it is compulsory to take paid leave of five weeks or more a year so for Hiroyo who has two days off per week, she has the time of her life.
Paris has many parks filled with nature so one her days off, Hiroyo likes to have picnics and go cycling with her friends and colleagues.
The best days off are if there’s wine, baguettes and cheese.
Aiming to progress her career as a pastry chef
Hiroyo’s career as a pastry chef has progressed as she has accumulated experience across various patisseries. As she has worked in one store for seven years in Japan, Hiroyo has challenged herself with changing jobs in France.
“Now, my goal is to progress my career and become stronger day by day. I want to work in cities outside of Paris and try working in a French patisserie where all the staff are French.”
Eventually, Hiroyo wants a place where she can express herself. Whether it’s a physical store, online store or something completely different, she’s still looking for it.
“When I meet up with my friends and eat with them, I talk to them about the things I want to do. I even have friends who aren’t pastry chefs and I’m glad I was able to come to France and broaden my mind. I wasn’t expecting to work in France but I’m really glad I came!”
Hiroyo feels the happiest when her desserts make someone smile.
“I still remember my grandfather who passed away last year. He doesn’t usually laugh that much but I made a sumo wrestler cake for my grandfather who loves sumo wrestling for his 88th birthday. He cried tears of joy. I believe desserts can make people happy. I want to continue making desserts that make everyone from children and adults smile.”
Hiroyo is pursuing her career in a way she never would have imagined by moving jobs from Japan to France but her underlying purpose to bring people joy hasn’t changed since she made donuts with her father as a child.
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