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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