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6 things I wish someone had told me about job hunting in Japan

14 Comments
By Chiara Terzuolo, Savvy Tokyo

Looking for a job in Japan, especially if you don’t have native English teaching skills, can be a frustrating endeavor. Besides the obvious issues of the language gap and physical distance (if applying from abroad), our own assumptions and the tendency to look at things through rose-colored glasses may make the entire process far more complicated. So, in order not to make the same mistakes as me, here are a few key points to keep in mind when looking for a job in Japan — which I came to learn the hard way. 

#1. Being multilingual is not a carte blanche for getting hired

Back when I was attending grad school in London and searching for jobs in Japan, I was sure that my Japanese language skills coupled with English would make me a shoo-in for an entry-level position. But I was absolutely wrong. I applied to every possible job, looked for contacts in the Japanese community in London, went to bilingual job fairs and ran after every lead. It took almost two years (and big support from all gods of luck you can name!) to finally find a job at a small company that would take me to Tokyo.

So, unless you have a true calling to teach or really unique skills that are high in demand, it is in general very tough to find companies that would be willing to hire and send a new graduate across the ocean based on language skills alone. So, instead of doing it the regular way, try something different—coming to Japan first, building connections on LinkedIn or other business groups, talking to people who’ve been through the process already and the like.

#2. “Business-level Japanese” means way more than Konnichiwa

Once you’ve settled down in Japan, have gained experience and are looking to change companies, one of the most important things to keep in mind is to beware of the moniker “business-level Japanese.” In 99 percent of cases, this means “a perfectly bilingual person who can speak/write Japanese and English at a native level.” Most companies will ask for JLPT results, with JLPT2 often being considered the minimum and JLPT 1 preferable.

I personally don’t believe that a JLPT1 necessarily indicates any particular ability to fend for oneself in business, but what it comes down to, really, is being absolutely honest with yourself about your level of language ability. I have interviewed many job seekers who labeled themselves as “business level” or “near-native” speakers when they could barely carry on a coherent conversation. If the position you’re applying for needs the language, you better be prepared for it.

#3. Don’t try to blend in—it’s pointless!

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© Savvy Tokyo

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

14 Comments
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#3. Don’t try to blend in—it’s pointless!

Yeah probably the best bit of advice anyone can ever give you here. Anyway, postive thoughts.. positive thoughts..love the picture.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

The take away message from section 3 is, don't bother working in Japan if you're a foreigner.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Looking for a job in another country far away is a tough row to hoe for anyone. I came in on a tourist visa, stayed with a friend, and interviewed nonstop using leads from Kansai Time Out, and got a job right quick. Then I hopped over to Korea to get my visa settled because you couldn't transfer a tourist visa to a working visa in Japan. Alternatively, save up money at home and go to a language school in Japan and look for a job while studying.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I have been living here in Japan for over 20 years and have happily helped friends get a job here in Tokyo. Thats another way to get a job. Friends.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Networking and not being afraid to put yourself in for things you think might be out of your reach would be my addition. It can be done.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Don't do it if you're not a Japanese male.
0 ( +2 / -2 )

I have also been in Tokyo for over 20 years, and a respected Country Manager and business owner.

Networking is a key ingredient, but more importantly understanding who you should network with. Forget about the usual circle jerk events, find networking events that have Director and higher level managers in attendance. How you find these is to inquire where your Managing Directors or CEO's hang out. It takes a little elbow grease and leg work but put in the time and effort.

"Dress for success" is another key one. Buy a decent tailored (bespoke) suit, tie (not mickey mouse or some jerk-off tie), and for pete's sake, some nice shoes. I see more people showing up like homeless hobo's to my interview when they should have showed up clean, tidy and well dressed. (This goes against my Southern California lax dress attire, but when you want to demand and command a nice life here, dress for success, even in the mugginess of summer.)

All-in-all, being a bilingual 9-6 worker bee here will give you more cash in hand than in your home country, because your crazy, bold business ideas are needed here.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

The ideal is not to find a job in Japan but find a job in your country that will send you to work in Japan as an expat with all the related benefits. This is particularly true for those who are married and have kids of school age. Benefits may include a large, luxury apartment in central Tokyo and the fees for international schools.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

In my experience, being able to send and receive emails in Japanese is indispensable. Although you will you always have leeway for mis-steps because you are a gaijin, not upsetting anyone is also very important.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It really depends on your network, your skills and language capability.

I came to Japan because I know the president of my current company through networking. After that he invited me based on my skills.

Now having a good job for 15 years in Japan and a wonderful wife (Brazilian) and a wonderful daughter.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Must be on a need to know basis and I didn’t need to know because I have only worked one day in 25 years when I did an English radio program.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

There's opportunities here,but it's not easy.If it were,every foreigner would be happy and doing what they want to do. Stay in your lane and in time,though it can be long,you'll find your niche and progress upward.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Dress for success" is another key one. Buy a decent tailored (bespoke) suit

I know I'm nitpicking here, but a tailored or made to measure suit is not the same as a bespoke suit. MTM is relative affordable for most, starting at about 30 000 yen and up. A real (and I do mean real, excluding the fake bespoke tailors) bespoke suit will run upwards of 300 or 400 000 yen here at least

1 ( +2 / -1 )

4 - last sentence of paragraph two. Couldn't be My more truer.

Large recruitment companies have a low barrier to entry (junior people with no market experience or knowledge) and high KPI's in their first performance based role. It leads to self interests above that of the candidate.

There are many very good boutique companies in Tokyo.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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