Getting a job in Japan: Japanese speaking ability- while not a requirement, it has its advantages
By Josh Bellendir
The typical industries in Tokyo Catering to Non-native Japanese speakers
Okay, well a common question I get when I meet people currently living in Japan as well as traveling through Japan is “do I need to speak Japanese to get a job in Japan?
To answer this question, it really depends on what exactly you mean by a job. Are you looking for something fun that will provide you with a salary and some freedom, or are you looking for something more, such as a career, something that will provide you with a nice salary and potential growth and career advancement?
If the answer to this question was the former, then there are plenty of these jobs, but most involve you teaching English, being a recruiter, or bartending at a bar. These are the most common jobs held by individuals living in Japan that cannot speak Japanese. of course, this is not an exhaustive list, as there are other jobs available, but these are the most common. Now, as with any country, if you possess a skill or trade that every few people can match, there is always a job for you and you will always be sought after: Whether you speak Japanese or not.
Let’s say something very specialized, like a scientist that studies and created new drugs. I’m pretty sure these people have jobs here in japan and are required to use very little Japanese, if any at all. But if you were one of those people you would already know this. Another example is an amazing American football player. There is an American football league here in Japan and there are several teams here in Japan that have recruited and paid talented American football players to play on their team. They give them an imaginary job at their company (like Toshiba, Panasonic, etc) with a real desk to sit at and a salary of over 100K USD to play football. Their teammates even learn basic plays and calls in English so that they can communicate on the field, all because he is a valuable asset and can run faster and throw the ball farther. So if you have something to offer that can’t be beaten, the rules that apply to joe the plumber, don’t apply to you.
Okay, so let’s not get off topic too much. Where are these jobs available and to who? Well, the above list I gave you, the only job that applies to areas outside of Tokyo, Japan are the English teachers. You could easily get a job teaching English anywhere in Japan, or any country for that matter, and it’s pretty much the only job you could get anywhere in Japan without speaking Japanese. But, you are probably reading this article, or at least I hope you are, to find ideas and answers on how to find a rewarding career in Japan in a industry with upward and outward mobility. Hence, you are probably not looking for ways to find an English teaching job in the mountains of Japan, so let’s move on.
Now, that leaves us pretty much with Tokyo as being the only area to really find work in Japan. This is not to say you couldn’t find a job in Osaka, Kobe, or Yokohama, some of the largest cities in Japan outside of Tokyo. but it would be extremely difficult, as most of the jobs are in Tokyo. It’s the same reason most Japanese relocate to Tokyo for work. For example, rather than you having 300 companies to choose from in Tokyo you will have something more like 2 when outside of Tokyo. Opportunities are just more limited and the number of jobs and the industries outside of Tokyo are simply scarce, especially for the foreign worker. For the most part, everything happens in Tokyo. The japanese relocates to Tokyo from other prefectures to get a job, because good jobs are far and few between in other cities and unless you want to work in a factory, retail store, restaurant, or sell potatoes out of a street vendor cart, you will need to look toward Tokyo for a job.
If you wish to be a headhunter, there are plenty of opportunities in Tokyo to do this as well. The payout is nice, so I hear, but it’s not really a job that offers you much career growth, and it’s definitely no a job for everyone. You will and should end up being a fantastic sales person and reader of people, but other than that, there is not much to further expand upon. However, this might be a good career path as a jumping point. You can meet many people, network, see what jobs suit your tastes and then at the right time interview out to these companies and start your career.
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