This article will be a start-to-finish guide on getting a job in Japan using your Japanese skills, from initial contemplation to the first few weeks in the office.
Japan in the last few years been gradually opening up to foreign workers. According to the Fujitsu research institute, the Japanese labour force is emptying which has been catalysing these changes towards policies about foreigners working and settling in the country. Doing a job in a foreign language is a very challenging and often rewarding endeavour which would also give you sick props back at home. Additionally, it gives you the superpower in that when someone asks if you’re a teacher, you can look at them square in the face and say, “no, I work for a Japanese company that heads up *something impressive(!)”; the first few times saying that do feel good.
Having the 人文知識･国際業務ビザ(Specialist in Humanities/International Services) visa would be beneficial. If you are on the Educator visa through a public school job, that can be changed relatively smoothly once you have received a letter from your next employer.
So, what kind of jobs are available?
To get the ball rolling, have a look below at the kind of jobs that are very popular with the Japanese speaking foreign community in Japan.
High-pace, high-pressure role based on KPI’s. Due to the industry’s high turn-over of staff, there is always a position for people looking to break from the English teaching cycle. Depending on the company, your responsibilities will include tasks such as: headhunting, sourcing candidates, CV building advise, cold calling, calling clients to advertise services, and convincing candidates to take positions from your clients. Recruiting is ultimately a sales job and can be very mentally and physically taxing on individuals who do not have the right mindset. However, the enumeration tends to be above average to meet the pressure. Here’s an interview about the recruiting industry in Japan.
Usually target-based and similar in structure to recruiting. There are all kinds of sales, B2B(business to business), B2C (business to customer), international sales, inside sales and online sales so it’s very hard to give you an umbrella example of these roles. These jobs often give you percentage incentives for successful sales closings. A high level of Japanese is generally needed for this role as you will be expected to be able to run business meetings, presentations and Q&As in Japanese.
Although starting wages tend to be a bit lower than sales, this job is a great fit for people who are into the back-office planning side of the business. People with prior know-how or experience would slip into this role with ease. The Japanese proficiency hurdle also doesn’t tend to be as strict as sales as you will be working a lot more with your coworkers. This means the pressure of client-side good impressions is not as integral as sales, so the pressure will be lower (with a little lower financial upside as a result).
Japan’s rigid policy on rental property for foreigners means we have to claim a guarantor for any property, which could mean paying one month’s rent, fire money, key money and guarantor. Paying upwards of ¥300k-¥600k for an old box in Tokyo is not unusual.
The workaround is the marginally cheaper share house which less initial fees. Due to so many foreigners picking this route, the need for foreign staff to oversee house management, tenant management are highly sought after. The role also gives these companies an international face which is a bonus for them. The job can vary in Japanese proficiency requirements, and fits people who like to help and deal with a wide variety of personalities on a regular basis. Opportunities to use English as well as Japanese are often available.
Generally high paying and common in Tokyo, but harder to find elsewhere. A lot of entry-level and mid-career IT jobs come up on JobsinJapan.com. Japan has a dire shortage of IT experts to the extent that one of their main contenders, Rakuten, has changed the office language to English. Although there are many opportunities to use Japanese with the non-engineers, Japanese national coworkers, this job has the lowest hurdle when it comes to Japanese proficiency due to the shortage. Many engineers don’t speak much Japanese at all, and don’t have to, but there’s a lot of room for advancement if you can add Japanese language skills on top of your coding language skills.
A job that requires a high level of English proficiency and a good level of Japanese. The role usually also used people with specialised knowledge such as medicine or aero science in order to guarantee what is being corrected is being understood by the company’s staff and clients. A lot of these jobs allow remote work which is also a great perk.
Usually coming with a hospitality visa and a shift-based schedule. Hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, etc. The initial pay is relatively low and some require you to live in a dormitory but not all companies are like this and the job tends to come with some good perks for your family and friends if they visit. It’s a great starter job for people who want to come and make their mark in Japan, but perhaps don’t have a degree or don’t want to teach English. Once you’re here it’s easier to switch jobs than to get a company to sponsor a new visa for you.
We have a very insightful podcast on this kind of position here. If your level of Japanese is high, you can get a pretty penny for this job, but there is also a lot of low paying scud work you might have to do in order to make the right contacts and prove (or improve) your translating skills. Translating and interpreting are very different to just being bilingual so I recommend you have a look at what is needed to actually do the job, as expectations are higher than just having a loose conversation with your drinking buddies.
Customer Service Staff
Due to Japan’s tourism boom, millions of foreigners are coming into Japanese every year. Before mentioning the 2020 Olympics prediction of an extra 40-million tourists, hotel booking sites and venues with no Japanese ability will be looking for someone to help out in the middle. Where there are limitations, some see an opportunity and have started employing foreigners to fill this gap. These jobs tend to be councillor counter jobs or call-centre jobs, but more management level jobs are coming around as hotels become more open to foreigners in leadership roles.
Teacher Coordinator/Syllabus Coordinator
Although you may be wanting to break out of the English education hamster wheel, there is a career to be had in managing teachers, training teachers and using your experience and creativity by making the syllabuses for the school. Your job would require a lot more interaction with Japanese management. Additionally, would be making use of your transferable skills and priming yourself for other managerial roles in the future.
So you want a job learning Japanese?
Working in a job using Japanese you will experience a lot of changes from your job at a school or Eikaiwa as you’ll be expected to be a member of a team with your Japanese co-workers, as opposed to being Genki Sam-Sensei from California-Shu. Not to mention your ‘literally’ 8-hour job will most likely bloat to a 9-hour job due to Japanese businesses not counting lunch as an hour worked. However, by opening up to new career prospects in Japan, you are giving yourself access to a career progression ladder and new horizons. You will be challenging yourself to improve in professional fields you will be able to build upon anywhere in the world.
I would also encourage to go for positions where an N2 level of Japanese is asked for. As long as you are at a communicative level in Japanese, many companies will give you some leeway while your level of Japanese improves as you work for them (which it will, although this will be very challenging for the first few months).
Also good to remember when changing industries is that expectations are very different between teachers and people who work in offices and/or with Japanese businesses. A prominent example of this would be the fact you have to get back on those cram trains at rush hour Monday to Friday. Working in a position where you communicate with Japanese companies and clients means you have to be up and working at the same time they are.
Although the Japanese government is trying to relieve the public transport disaster that is rush hour by encouraging companies to spread their offices our of inner Tokyo, and diversifying work hours, unfortunately, many businesses don’t want to risk these changes, as for now its grit your teeth, put your hand on the door frame and push with your back, baby.
What you need to apply.
Jobs using Japanese often require two documents required by all Japanese nationals, a 履歴書-(Rirekisho) and a 職務経歴書(Shokumukeirekisho).
A Rirekisho is the bare-bones, straight to the point document showing your timeline starting with your basic details like your name, age and address, followed by your 学歴 (gakureki) education history from most recent, then your 職歴 (shokureki) work history, again, from most recent. In the section below you will find a box called 自己PR(jikoPR) or self PR.
The tone of your paragraph should not be a shopping list of stuff you’re great at. Good advice for any job you apply for, it should highlight the ways your talents would benefit the company. Keep it relevant and read up on what the company goals to enhance the allure of your application.
Check here to download a template of a Rirekisho, including handy tips on how to write one effectively. See below for my translations of a standard Rirekisho.
The Shokumukeirekisho is a far more meaty document in which you need to talk about your responsibilities in your job roles and accomplishments. You also have to fill the gaps and job changes with detailed reasons you left the job.
Avoid negative reasons like the salary was low (I feel you) or you didn’t like the boss; these kinds of answers give a very bad image and may deter Japanese employers from taking you on.
Alternatively, take a more constructive spin on your excuses like you wanted the opportunity to find a position with more career growth. Additionally, even a neutral reason like having to move locations and the place of work becoming too far is better than being honest about an awful middle manager.
If the stars align and you get an invitation for an interview with your job, here are a few tippets for the interview.
As you are applying for a job using Japanese, it is likely they will want to conduct the interview in Japanese. But fear not, they know you’re not Japanese and it is never as daunting as you think.
The general kinds of questions asked in interviews will be things like:
Can you explain a little about yourself?
Don’t you miss your family?
How long have you lived in Japan?
How long have you learned Japanese?
Can you use kanji?/ Can you read and write?
What are the reasons you decided to live in Japan?
What do you like about Japan?
What do you know about our company and the role?
Why did you choose our company?
Here’s a basic template I’ve made to be used as a reference when applying to a company.
Dear hiring representative
Nice to meet you. My name is ●●
I saw you’re hiring for the position of △△. As I possess the experience to be a good fit for this role.
I am contacting you with the hopes of applying to this position.
I have attached my rirekisho and shokumukeirekisho in the description.
I would appreciate it if you could look through them.
Sorry to bother you but, if I may be able to attend an interview I would be very grateful.
Name, furigana if needed, too.
Postcode & Address
Welcome to the team!
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! The first few weeks of a job in a Japanese office are integral to how you are perceived by your coworkers. In your introduction I would highly recommend using the following phrase:
色々とご迷惑をおかけすることもあるかと思いますが、これからよろしくお願いします。 (iroiro to gomeiwaku okakesuru koto mo aru ka to omoimasuga, korekara yoroshiku onegaishimasu).
The implication of this often-used saying is; “Due to my lack of experience in the job/company, I may cause you all some bother but please bear with me.”
Although not literal, being able to fit this into your 自己紹介 (Jiko shoukai) self-introduction, will certainly give a very good impression and signal to your coworkers you can comprehend business/professional relationships in a Japanese office.
Faux-pas avoidance survival kit
When a senior staff member approaches you at your desk, stand up and address them with an ‘ -さん、お疲れ様です‘(-san otsukaresamadesu)。
Furthermore, when clocking out, don’t leave right on the bell, it looks like you don’t want to work. Rather, leave it 10-30 minutes before telling your superiors and coworkers ‘お先に失礼します’ (osaki ni shitsurei shimasu), sorry for leaving first.
You will be greeted with a murmur of ‘otsukaresama desu’ which you should respond with the same.
Finally, as the old Japanese saying goes, the nail that sticks out gets hammered down, the same certainly applies here. Keep an air of positivity and modesty and you’ll never go wrong.
Opportunities for foreigners to work in a variety of fields are steadily increasing in Japan. It’s important to keep your CV’s up-to-date and always have an eye on our job board, as well as letting your friends know you are looking for something.
Take your time
There’s no rush, whatever level your Japanese is now, you can improve very quickly with short but consistent study habits. Moreover, picking up a book on business Japanese would also give you a head start in the new office environment. Furthermore, choose wisely when picking a job. Japanese employers are aware of foreign nationals’ tendency to job-hop. Which is why you need to ensure you’ve done as much research as possible before signing the contract. As you are looking for a job using Japanese in Japan, its also a good idea to check Japanese job review sites as well!