The Difficulties of Becoming a Salary-Man

November 1st, 2013By Category: Work Tips

It's funny how hard I worked for this stupid piece of metal.

It’s funny how hard I worked for this stupid piece of metal.

It’s a common story: you came here to teach English not knowing what else to do or where it’ll take you. You have a couple years of working experience in Japan. You graduated from a decent university. Finally, your Japanese skills are so much better than before. So you think you will stay and actually find a “real job” in Japan, right? In terms of Japanese standards, you couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, finding a “real job” here has been one of the hardest things I have done.

Let me start off by saying, I am not trying to be a Debbie Downer nor am I trying to brag—I will try to give you my experiences, my motivation, and my opinions about finding that “real job”. Next, I am going to use the term, “real job”, lightly. It was my parents who coined it after hearing I was coming to Japan to teach English instead of finding a job in my undergraduate field of study and it has just stuck. In all respects, your idea of a “real job” could be teaching English and that’s perfectly fine. But, for the majority of English teachers, it seems that coming to Japan was a way just to get away from home while we figure out what we want to do with our lives, and not our career paths.

Long story short, I originally came to Japan for a gap year before law school. In December 2011, I took the LSAT. By April 2012, I deferred four law school acceptances to stay another year and look for that “real job”. I perfected my resume in both English and Japanese, bought the perfect salary man suit, and started looking… everywhere. Every day was spent online, constantly refreshing the approximately ten websites I used to find a job. Nothing. I attended a career fair in Akihabara, tried networking in Japan to try and find that perfect job. Nothing. In America, it is hard to find jobs because there are none. The more I searched, the more I noticed there were plenty of jobs available, but no company was interested in me. After more than eight months of searching and only one other interview that went nowhere, I finally found my current job here on GaijinPot.

Out of all other foreign friends who were English teachers, I know one another teacher who was able to make the switch to a “real job”. One—out of the approximately one-hundred foreigners I have met—just one. So then why can’t foreigners find jobs other than teaching easily in Japan? In my opinion, there are many reasons, but I will highlight the most important ones.

First, your Japanese must be fluent… and I am not meaning conversationally fluent. Fluent Japanese and conversational Japanese are totally different. It seems even the JLPT N2 level does not guarantee a job. Next, unlike teaching, your foreigner status is most likely not going to help you. I have witnessed that Japanese companies just don’t want to be bothered with visas and giving positions to foreigners. Companies just don’t deal with the hassle unless for the most qualified people, who usually have been hired from their home country and moved here. Finally and probably most debatable, teaching English in Japan doesn’t really count as Japanese work experience like we think. Japanese expect twenty-something foreigners to be students or teachers and it is almost impossible to try and escape that stereotype.

Even though entering the Japanese workforce can seem hopeless, I have noticed three ways you can improve your chances. The most crucial, yet easiest way is to make connections. The people who you know and meet are most likely to get you a job, or know someone who can. My friend I mentioned earlier got his job through one of his students he taught—this networking is the best part of teaching if utilized correctly. If you teach adults, you never know what doors they could open. Next, you need to have prior working experiences other than teaching. If you have no other work experience, it seems there is a very small chance you will find a job here in Japan. I came here with six years’ experience working in a law firm and it was the biggest advantage I had when finding my position. Finally, become fluent in Japanese. Although it’s easy to only hang around with other foreign teachers, don’t. I spoke absolutely no Japanese when I first arrived but after six months, I was able to become conversational in Japanese without ever taking a class. How? This is Japan and almost all of my friends I made only spoke Japanese. Every day you wake up you can practice with native speakers, do not only meet other English speakers. Actually, I am pretty sure I learned most of my Japanese from talking to strangers while drinking in Izakayas.

Although finding a “real job” here has been difficult, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Teaching was fun, but knowing that that I have been able to make the switch is personally much more rewarding. So now I have to ask all of you, how many of you have found that “real job” in Japan? What problems have you faced? What advice do you have? I will say this: it is tough and stressful, but with luck, persistence, and hard work, the day you can call yourself a サラリーマン ( orウマン), you’ll be very proud to wear that title.

Author of this article

Collin Garcia

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  • Moustafa el gohary

    Oh my god , first I want to thank you very much for your post , it’s actually right 100 % and I am also at this situation same same but different of the period of time , I actually been in Japan for 2 months ago and I decided to stay but it’s very hard also to find job here , I am already start to study Japanese language at 2 places at the same time bec I think no way to find great job without Japanese language , I also have a japaneses wife but we communicate in English Lang , so I appreciate your post you make me feel that’s not only me have this situation with work and life in Japan . 🙂 and I hope to find chance soon

  • Collin Garcia

    @moustafaelgohary:disqus You can do it, it just takes a lot of work. I hope it works for you.

  • mlg4035

    I’ve lived here going on 14 years now, and it hasn’t been all that hard to find decent work. Translation/proofreading, Web development, Technical Consultant…and all without taking the JLPT. My Japanese is conversational with a bit of business Japanese, but I wouldn’t say I’m “fluent”. Yes, I read/write kanji, but I still need a dictionary to read a newspaper…It can be done.
    Oh, and I’m raising two girls (from previous marriage to a Japanese woman) at the same time. Yes, it can be done!

  • Alexis Rodriguez

    Can you tell me more? My email is aoeu512@gmail.com

    What was your college major? You networked a lot in your job, and outside of your job?

  • I found my job by networking with everyone I possibly could while in Tokyo for eleven weeks in the summer of 2011. I had eight years of experience in my field, and it was a chance meeting with a company I hadn’t heard of before that got me to Japan. My Japanese was non-existent, and it’s still terrible because my colleagues and the people outside the company whom I deal with all speak English, so that’s a problem. But overall you’re absolutely correct: it’s about who you know and what you did before.

    I was thinking about forwarding this blog post to a friend who is trying to make this same transition, but I think it would only discourage him, since he hasn’t satisfied any of your recommended criteria….

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