In a previous article, I covered the main requirements for obtaining a working holiday visa in Japan. I would now like to go through the job hunting process which should logically follow. Like in every country, finding a job in Japan can be difficult, particularly at the moment, in a time of economic moroseness. But take heart however, it is not impossible and on many aspects, if you have the right profile and the right approach, you might find the Japanese job market more flexible and full of opportunities than the one of your country of origin. In some cases, some people have been able to completely reinvent themselves professionally in Japan!
Now there are a few rules to know when looking for a job in Japan and the next section contains the ones I have figured out during my job search.
Like everywhere, having a good curriculum vitae is really important as it is the very first thing that the employer will look at. Your curriculum vitae must be concise and written in plain, clear English because your employer might not actually be a fluent speaker. Keep it short, 2 pages max and don't hesitate to use bullet points. Strictly focus on the job you are applying for. It is desirable to create several different curriculum vitae that are optimized for different occupations. Be succinct in your description of yourself, only target the aspects that are really relevant to the type of job you are applying for. Japanese employers prefer people that are good at one thing rather than people mediocre in many things. You must absolutely put a recent picture of you on a CV in Japan. Gentlemen should wear a suit and a tie. Also, please make sure you have a neat and tidy haircut and avoid facial hair. Your picture should not be taken from too close; your shoulders should be visible. The Japanese tend to think that people providing close up pictures try to hide their overweight... I am not certain whether a CV translated in Japanese is a good idea or not. If you don't speak well Japanese, it might be misleading for your employer but then, it can also help if he or she has poor command of English. I guess it depends on the job you are applying for. If you have any interest in Japanese culture or competence in a Japanese discipline, make sure you state it. Employers will love to hear that you took sushi cooking classes or that you are a 10 years practitioner of Kendo, it shows that you really like Japan, it gives you a higher status and provides potential topics for interviews. If you want more info about how to write a good Japanese CV, check out this page and that one. This page shows you how a rirekisho form looks like.
Regardless of which method you use for conducting your work search in Japan, I would strongly advise you to actually go there to perform your prospecting. The reasons are multiple. First, it allows you to attend job interviews which are really important, particularly when hiring foreigners where the level of English/Japanese and the personal character will be assessed thoroughly. Moreover, sending an application from Japan shows that you are really committed to find a job there and that it is not just an idea thrown up in the air. You can spend up to three months in Japan on a standard tourist visa which is more than enough to at least do your searches, apply, attend interviews and sign the contract. The visa can be taken care of subsequently when you are back home. Tokyo is of course the place of choice for foreigners but if you are really willing to work, you can find a job pretty much anywhere, especially in the teaching and entertainement/leisures fields.
Perhaps the most important thing for a foreigner in order to find work in Japan is to hold a university degree. The discipline studied does not matter as much as the actual degree itself. This is especially true if you don't speak Japanese. Fluent Japanese speakers can get away with a more basic level of education but the market being difficult, and the number of foreigners being on a steady increase, the selection gets tougher. Make scan copies of your diplomas and degrees before you go as they might be required for completing your application.
This section is not solely dedicated to job hunt since the details that follow are good practice for anybody settling in Japan for a while. We saw earlier that having a Japanese address was a big help in order to catch the attention of the potential employer. Another crucial part of the Japanese panoply is the keitai denwa, the mobile phone. As soon as you arrive, get yourself one of these babies and put the number and email address associated with it on your CV, it will make you look like a long-term resident. While you are at it, get yourself a bank account but make sure that you bought an inkan prior to going to the bank as it will be required as well as your alien registration card.
Apply to your local foreigner registration center as soon as you arrive. Foreigners staying in Japan for more than 90 days are required to register within 90 days of landing in Japan. The applicant must provide a completed application form, passport and (for applicants 16 years old or older) two identification photos. Alien registration is a prerequisite to many activities in Japan, such as purchasing a mobile phone, opening a bank account or obtaining a driver's license.
The Japanese use this personalized printing stamp in place of signature. Most of the times, you will get away with signing your official documents but in some cases like for opening an account, the inkan might be required. Get a wooden one, not rubber, it will cost you about ¥3000.
Foreigners doing long stays in a country are advised to register to their embassy. This is especially important in Japan, a country prone to natural disasters, you want the authorities to know that you are there.
An International Driving Permit (IDP) allows you to drive a private motor vehicle in Japan when accompanied by a valid license from your home country. It can be worth getting one if you get offered a job where commuting or driving is involved. In any case, it might advantage you compared to other applicants.
Unlike in Europe, pay as you go phones are not popular in Japan and finding a shop that sells them can prove rather difficult, even in Tokyo. Try Softbank, the models are limited and expensive (about ¥10 000) but they are the only option if you do not want to commit for a minimum of 2 years contract. New keitai are expensive but you can look up adds from foreigners leaving Japan often sell theirs at low price. If you are buying a new one, the phone company might want you to show your gaikokujin card so make sure you apply for it as soon as you arrive as it can take up to two weeks to get it made. Alternatively, a simple proof of address might suffice if you are still waiting to get your alien registration card to be made. Proof of address can be obtained in exchange of ¥300 at your local foreigner registration office. They will also want to make a copy of your visa, people on tourist visas cannot buy a mobile phone as far as I am aware.
A bank account will be absolutely necessary for you to get paid. Be careful, it is not rare to enter a branch where no one speaks English so you might want to bring a friend along with you. Also, some employer will want you to open an account in one specific bank to avoid processing fees. Basic accounts don't cost anything. Before you go, try to write down your full name in katakana as it will be written in this alphabet on your card.
Getting yourself a suit is an absolute requirement for both your pictures and for attending interviews. Women should also wear formal wear. For men, facial hair are to be avoided for the first meeting and a short, tidy haircut is a must. Do bring your own suit with you as from my own experience, it can be very difficult to find fitting clothes if you are above 6 foot, even in Tokyo. I had to go through two tailors in order to make me a uniform when I worked at a restaurant in Ginza and even with that, my shirt sleeves were slightly too short as well as my vest!
Sitting at home waiting for a call will not be enough, you will have to spend a significant amount of time going through job offers and creating résumés.
Afew organisms can help to find work you once you are in Japan. The following ones have specific services for foreigners. Keep in mind however that these are deigned as "lifelines" and that if you are very qualified/specialised, these might not be able to do much for you.
The following list gives you the main sites I am aware of for finding jobs in Japan. Most of them are free but the range of jobs offered are mainly IT and teaching related. Set up email alerts in order to get the info as soon as it becomes available. Make sure you create an online résumé and submit your application promptly as soon as you get the alert. Always state your current location and visa status.
The Japan Times is probably the most used newspaper by foreigners looking for jobs. Most jobs are based in Tokyo although a separate section exists for other areas. Other English language national newspapers include the Daily Yomiuri, Daily Mainichi and Asahi Evening News but their job sections are somewhat more reduced. For people living in Tokyo, it might also be a good idea to pick up issues of the free magazine Metropolis.
If you have a specific industry or company in mind, it might but just as efficient, if not more, to send unsolicited applications to all the potential companies you can find. Do a thorough web search to get the relevant email addresses and fire off your applications. More often than not, you might get an answer, a recommendation for another job or company, or even a tailor made job fitting your profile.
A good friend of mine once told me that Japan is a country built on networks. With the right recommendation from the right individual, you might be given a job for which you would never have passed the pre-screening step otherwise. This is how I got to be a waiter in a posh restaurant in Ginza. I had no experience as a waiter, I spoke no Japanese at all but I had the recommendation from one of the most famous sommeliers in Japan. Don't hesitate to ask all your friends in Japan or those who used to be in Japan if they can provide you with any contact.
Unless you are a qualified teacher, it might be hard to get a teaching job. A lot more people try to find work in Japan these days and recruiters have a lot of candidates to chose from. Most of the times, language schools want native teachers of the desired language. Native English speakers therefore have a big advantage even though they might not be better qualified than a non-native teacher. Teachers are quite poorly paid and it can be difficult to be given a full-time position. You can of course register on websites such as findstudents.net and give private lessons but there too, the competition is fierce and frankly, you could well end up spend your class fee in coffee and transports. The other thing is that most of the people doing freelance teachign do not declare their income and as always in Japan, breaking the law is easy but the consequences of being caught might not be worth the risk. I found it hard to make any significant amount of money from it but it is sure a way to socialize if you don't know anybody in town!
Whether you are fed up with your current job, feel that you are not being treated well, or have found a better job, don't hesitate to resign, it is very easy to do in Japan. Working holiday visa holders have it easy because their visa is not attached to a specific job or company but even people who have a sponsored work visa should not let themselves being bullied or blackmailed into staying. By recommending you for a work visa to the immigration authorities, the company tries to convince them that you are a trustworthy individual. They will therefore avoid making any fuss after the visa has been granted because they want to keep the administration happy in order to provide the subsequent working visa to future employees. Give the proper notice and you will get your due salary and no hassle. That being said, think carefully about it before you commit to a new job, think that you may be taking somebody else's place and don't discourage employers to hire foreigners because of your bad attitude. Working for Japanese companies can be very tough and different from what you are used to in your own country but it is partly why you are in Japan in the first place. In my case, after sending unsolicited applications to all the international shcools in Tokyo, I got lucky enough to be offered a one year contract teaching high school biology in exchange of a very good salary. However, before that I gave private French classes and I worked as a waiter. In other words, good things come to those who wait!
Once again, with the right set of skills and some level of Japanese, you can pretty much find work anywhere you want and in any field you like. There are however some jobs that are particulalr y adapted for foreigners, I will describe some of them here.
With the increasing taste of Japanese people for foreign experiences, the number of foreign bars and restaurant is ever increasing and often, management will try to have at least one native barman or waiter in their establishment. Beware however, this is a tough job, long hours (12+ per day) and low hourly rates (about ¥1200 per hour) are the norm. Also, remember that holders of working holiday visas are not supposed to do night work such as working in bars or nightclubs.
Souvenir from my short lived career as a waiter
The first job that foreigners think about when thinking about working in Japan is teaching their native language. It is certainly a good way to start even though native English speakers have it much easier than people speaking other languages. While casual, part time teaching jobs are the easiest to find, they often offer mediocre pay and it can be difficult to get enough hours down in order to make a significant amount that helps you say, pay this ridiculously high rent you are paying for your 8 square meter room in Tokyo. Getting a full-time job in a private school is really the option of choice but these posts tend to be filled by word of mouth and not necessarily advertised on the search engines. Proper teaching qualification and past work experience is often essential. More information about teaching can be found at this website.
Teaching biology at an international school
Strangely enough, these kinds of jobs should not be overlooked since they do pay well and are not as hard to find as one might think, even if you don't look like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie. The hard part is to find who to contact. Many companies recruit online nowadays but make sure you avoid scams so stay away from those asking for advance money or processing fees.
Foreign contractors are very desirable for Japanese companies and this field is definitely one of the most promising for people with the right set of skills. There are plenty of job offers posted on the web for programmers, network engineers, web developers etc.
These jobs are obviously aimed at fluent Japanese speakers but it is not always enough. Formal education in a particular field (life sciences, law, engineering...) can be a very big advantage and previous experience is often a must have.
The JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program offer placements for teachers as well as administrators. The salary are often very interesting and the placement can run for several years. The only drawback is that you will not necessarily have the choice of your geographic location. More information is available on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program website.
I hope that these few points will be useful to you. If you keep them in mind and keep courage, you will most likely find a job, just remember that it can take a couple of months. Working in Japan, as opposed to coming as a tourist, will completely change your conception of the country. Working is also a great way to integrate yourself socially and make friends. If you can think of any other info that should appear in this article, don't hesitate to contact me and I will update it. Best of luck and welcome to Japan!