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.