6 Tidbits to Know When Job-hunting in Japan as a Foreigner

It’s been a little over a year since I first left my comfy little home in Hawaii and moved out to the bustling city life in Tokyo to work at a Japanese company. I can honestly say that during this past year, I’ve experienced some extreme highs and lows as I navigate life in this crazy foreign land. The one thing that makes my life easier is knowing I have great friends over here to keep me company and go on other unexpected adventures with me. Surprisingly, I have a decent number of friends from back home who’ve made the trek to start their professional careers in Japan as well! …which is great since we can all get together over beers to lament over our difficulties of working for Japanese companies, haha! That being said, I’m sure there are quite a few people abroad who are interested in living in Japan, so I thought I’d share a bit of what I learned about the job-hunting process here as I’ve been on both the job-hunting and the recruiting side now…and what I wish someone would’ve told be a year ago! Job-hunting can be by far one of most daunting and stressful experiences in one’s life. Whether you’re fresh out of college or thinking about a career change, finding a job can take an incredible amount of effort and time, especially in a foreign country.

就活 Shuukatsu 
In Japan, for college students, job-hunting or shuukatsu marks a huge change in their life. Students face immense pressure to find the “perfect” job before they graduate, since their first job will most likely define and influence their entire professional life. This is because career-changes, although more common in recent decades, are still relatively new to Japan. “Life-time employment”, “company loyalty”, and “promotion based on seniority” are still three very prominent ideologies embedded within Japanese corporate society. For many salarymen, their life revolves around their company, and “work-life balance” or placing oneself before the company’s needs is pretty much unheard of.

Japanese university students take shuukatsu very seriously and start  job-hunting in the beginning of their 3rd year of college. They purchase their shuukatsu suits, dye their hair black, attend company seminars, cram for the company entrance exams, and practice their interview questions and their Jiko PR (essentially an introduction aimed at selling yourself and showing your marketable and good talents to the company). Some companies even require prospective candidates to work on a trial as a part of their interview process. As this one of the most crucial points in their life, it’s not uncommon for students to apply to dozens of companies during this period. If students are lucky, they may receive an informal offer at the beginning of their senior year, and then officially receive a formal offer when they graduate.

Now then, what about foreigners? How difficult is it to get a job in Japan as a foreigner, especially if you don’t have a visa? While we do not necessarily have to go through the same arduous process as Japanese students, I have learned that it can be quite difficult for foreigners to establish a professional career in Japan without the proper skill sets. While I may not have all the information regarding job-hunting in Japan, I thought I’d share my musings and observations based off of both my own as well as many of my friends’ experiences.

1.Speaking Japanese will only get you so far, so don’t be too reliant on it. While having Japanese language ability can be incredibly beneficial when working in Japan, it won’t necessarily land you the job… so it may be best to rethink that major in Japanese (a minor or double major will look great on your resume though)! Unless you are applying for a translation job, trying to get a job solely off of your Japanese language skills/bilingual ability can be quite difficult. This is due to the increasing number of Japanese people that can speak English. Most Japanese have a basic understanding of English, and within the past few decades, students are taking their English studies more seriously. Many students choose to go abroad to during their college years to improve their English skills, and most companies test for English ability in their company examinations.

Unless your industry calls specifically for fluent/perfect English speaking ability, most Japanese corporations will be simply satisfied with Japanese workers who can speak business level English, and have no need for foreigners with native English. Thus if your only skill set is Japanese, the company is more likely to choose a Japanese candidate with English skills as opposed to a foreigner with Japanese skills. It’s generally less of a hassle for the company to hire a Japanese national rather than a foreigner. That way the company doesn’t have to worry about visa issues, housing issues, or their foreign employee fitting into Japanese company culture (as it is a rather strict and unforgiving environment). Hiring a Japanese person who can speak English is usually more attractive to the company.

That being said, there are of course some jobs that do not require any Japanese at all, and I will touch on that a bit later in this article❤︎

2. Teaching jobs can be easily obtained. Generally, there are three types of teaching jobs in Japan.

The first is an ALT (or an assistant language teacher). An ALT is an assistant language teacher who teaches in Japanese public schools. This is perhaps the easiest job to get as it doesn’t necessarily require any teaching experience/credentials or require you to be a native English speaker. While the position says “assistant teacher,” please note the ALTs’ role may vary depending on the school they teach at. Some ALTs are expected to run the class entirely by themselves with the Japanese teacher taking a supporting role during class, and some ALTs are expected to just follow the instructions of the Japanese teacher. The ALT position is also generally a low paying position unless you are working for JET. Depending on the city, some ALTs are paid daily, getting no summer vacation, holiday, or winter vacation pay. ALT salaries usually range from ($1,800-$2,500 per month). Please note that many ALT companies do not offer free-housing, health insurance, and expect you to finance your flight to Japan. Also, the competition to secure a full-time position within the Kanto area, especially Tokyo, is very tough and successful candidates will usually have some teaching experience or other credentials.

The second is an english instructor at an Eikaiwa or English conversation school. Eikaiwa teachers generally get paid more than ALTs (with some companies offering subsidized housing/bonuses). That being said, a higher level of English skill is usually required for working at English conversation schools, and most schools only accepting native English speakers. There are generally two different types of schedules Eikaiwa instructors can have. The first is very flexible, where instructors are able to schedule lessons around their availability, and are paid per lesson (usually from $20-40 per lesson). The second one is more unforgiving, where the instructors have a set schedule (the typical 9-hour work day, with one hour lunch break), and are paid per month (around $2,700 or above). While English instructors do tend to receive a higher salary than ALTs, they also have less free time due to longer working hours. English instructors will normally end work usually around 9/10PM, and they may also work weekends, since most of their customers attend school or work during the day.

The third is a teaching job at an international school/university. These jobs tend to be the most coveted jobs as teachers working at international schools receive the highest salaries and the best benefits. International school teachers can earn as much as $100,000 or more per year. However, they also require the most qualifications. As an international school teacher, you probably won’t be teaching English, but rather you’ll be teaching a particular subject in English. Therefore, most schools/universities will require candidates to have a degree in the subject they will be teaching or hold a teaching license in their home country. Of course, extensive teaching experience is one of the usual requirements.

☆Note☆: Having citizenship from America, South Africa, the UK, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand also up your chances if you are looking to become an ALT. Unless you have some other visa such as a long-term, spousal, or permanent resident visa, the company will have to sponsor an instructor visa for ALTs, and the Japanese Immigration usually can process visas faster if you are from one of the above countries. This does not apply to English instructors at English conversation or private schools as they require a Humanities visa.

3. Gaishikei or foreign companies in Japan tend to recruit more foreigners, so it doesn’t hurt to apply! If you have a specific skill set or a background in finance, accounting, IT, or recruiting, your best bet may be to apply to a foreign company in Japan. Foreign companies in Japan tend to have a good mix of both international and Japanese staff. Japanese language skills may or may not be requirement depending on your skill set. If you have desirable skills and qualifications that the company wants, your Japanese skills may be completely irrelevant, and the company could be willing to hire solely based on your credentials. This was the case for a guy I knew who worked at Google Japan. He had no Japanese language ability, but he had a very strong financial and IT background that landed him the job. This of course is largely dependent on the company as well as your own skill set. Larger companies or companies with a highly internationalized environment such as Google, Goldman Sachs, etc., may not demand a high-level of Japanese ability from their employees if they have the appropriate qualifications. On the other hand, I had another friend who had a strong education in finance with no work experience and was ultimately rejected from Accenture due to his lack of Japanese ability. While my friend could watch the news and read the newspaper, he could not prepare financial statements in Japanese, and without any valuable work experience or skills in finance, the company could not offer him a position.

☆Note☆: Japanese recruiters pay close attention to your alma mater and your certifications. Having brand name schools such Standford, Berkeley, or any of the Ivy League schools on your resume will definitely help get your foot in the door. Having a certification such as a CPA or a higher degree such as an MBA or law degree will also be very attractive to Japanese companies.

4. If you are applying to a Japanese company, know that company’s current climate. This goes without saying, but it’s beneficial to know whether the Japanese companies you will be applying for are looking to hire foreigners. If they are aiming towards global expansion or have already established themselves as an international company, then they will be more willing to recruit foreigners. For example, companies such as Rakuten or Uniqlo have drastically increased the amount of international employees in their company within the past decade due to their rapid internationalization and globalization of the company. Many of my friends who work at Rakuten have little to no Japanese skill, but they do come from strong educational backgrounds; the company actually provides its employees with Japanese lessons. If the company you are applying to is not looking to expand globally or is not as internationalized, please don’t be too surprised if you find that it’s harder for foreigners to be accepted. Essentially, you will be on the same level and competing with all of the other Japanese candidates, thus Japanese skills are a must-have. You will be expected to submit your resume in Japanese, take the company entrance examination in Japanese, and of course interview in Japanese. If your Japanese level is near native, then your English skills will probably work in advantage in this case; however, if you Japanese level is intermediate/beginner, your English skills may not cut it.

5. If you have Japanese language ability, the Boston Career Forum may be right for you! The Career Forum is hosted every year by Disco, a large Japanese recruiting company, and they hold recruiting events in all different parts of the globe such as London, Tokyo, San Francisco, L.A., Sydney, etc. The most notable is the Boston Career Forum, which is usually held in November. Many Japanese and foreign companies attend the Forum to specifically recruit bilingual candidates. I want to note; however, that most companies come to the Career Forum to recruit Japanese nationals who are currently studying abroad or working in the United States, so it isn’t really geared towards foreigners. Many of the companies will have native level Japanese and business level English requirements. There are of course few exceptions to this and there are a handful of companies that require conversational or business level Japanese. Most Japanese people that attend this event are bilingual and have experience living in both America and Japan, so please note that competition is quite fierce.

☆Preparation for Boston Career Forum☆: I recommend applying to companies ahead of time via the career forum website. The Boston Career Forum is only 3-days, so many companies don’t actually accept walk-ins. Companies will usually set up phone/Skype interviews after you submit your application online. The interviews may either be in English, Japanese or both; it depends on your interviewer, and you may also have to take an online test (in Japanese). If you are able to make it pass all of the initial stages, they will usually schedule you for an in person interview at the Boston Career Forum. Depending on the company, you may have anywhere from 2-9 interviews; most of the larger financial institutions have longer interview processes. If they don’t finish your interview process at the Career Forum, they may also reschedule your final interviews over Skype. Most times, however, the hiring process is incredible fast at the Forum. You may interview 2-5 times and then receive a final offer that weekend. In my case, I interviewed on Friday and the interviewer told me right after that I had passed. We scheduled a final interview for Saturday and I received a formal offer right after the interview.

♥︎Another thing to note is that many companies will host dinners at night for those who have passed at least the first round of interviews or are expected to interview. Please try to go and mingle at these dinners if possible. The interviewers are trying to feel you out and see what kind of person you are in a private setting, so it’s best to be friendly and engaging.

6. Job-hunting Academies are also an option (provided you already live in Japan). For those who are currently studying abroad in Japan and speak Japanese, it may be helpful to take lessons specifically centered on job-hunting. There are academies our there that will guide and counsel students through the job-hunting process, whether it be how to interview or how study for a particular company’s entrance examination.

 

Please note this list is not extensive. There are plenty of other ways to secure a job in Japan, but I just wanted to share the ways that I feel are the most common. If you are starting the job-hunting process, please don’t feel too overwhelmed. Employing foreigners has become more attractive to companies in Japan within the past decade, so try to cease the opportunity! Working in a foreign country definitely has its own special set of pros and cons but the experience can be invaluable~♥︎

9 Tips for Renting an Apartment in Tokyo

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Finding a place to live, much less finding a place to live in Tokyo, is not an easy task for a foreigner, and for someone like me, renting your first apartment in another language can be absolutely terrifying. Anyway as a foreigner, there are a couple things I learned about the renting process in Japan. I first started my apartment-hunting, where most people turn to for all their answers, Google.

After putting in a standard search for “Apartments in Tokyo”, I clicked on about a dozen sites and found a few I liked. Most of them were geared towards expats, students, and foreigners moving to Japan, which was great because they have bilingual realtors who are ready to help. The sites were relatively easy to use, and I was able to refine my search by area, price, how old the building was, size, whether it allowed pets, etc. I found a few apartments to my liking and contacted the realtors via e-mail to inquire more. While I did find out valuable information, in the end I went with the realtor my company suggested (which was a little hard at times because they operated completely in Japanese, but I did find a pretty nice apartment)!

These are just few things I learned along the way that I wanted to note:

1) The official rental process may start after you arrive. Unless you are being contracted through your company, you may not be able to begin the rental process without going to the real estate agency in person. Your residency card among other documents is necessary to begin. This may seem rather troublesome in the beginning, but there are some benefits to this, since most real estate websites do not post their entire listings online and will show you more in person. If your company does help you with housing, they may outsource you to a real estate agency they often work with and will show you a couple of listings for you to choose from. These listings will usually come fully furnished to make the move easier for you (i.e. washer, refrigerator, table, etc.). My apartment didn’t come with a bed though, so I will probably go and purchase one from Ikea out in Chiba.

2) It may be better to use a real estate agency aimed at foreigners. Unless your Japanese is extremely fluent and you are very familiar with Japanese customs, I would suggest using a real estate agency for foreigners. While I hate to admit this, xenophobia exists in Japan to some extent, and from what I heard, there are a few landlords out there that aren’t keen on renting to foreigners. This is because many foreigners are not completely familiar with Japanese customs and the landlords are afraid this may be bothersome to their potential future neighbors. There are also landlords only/prefer to rent to females, believing that girls make better tenants.

3) Don’t be afraid to ask questions and haggle. As with most apartments, prices may be negotiable and it doesn’t hurt to ask. One of my friends was able to lower his monthly rent by 10000yen!

4) The standard lease is for 2-years.  If you rent through your company, while the lease may be for 2-years, there may not be a cancellation fee if you do decide to/have to move out before then. If 2-years seems like too much of a commitment, I would look around the web since many people also sublet their apartments for shorter periods.

5) The initial move-in expenses are quite high. You will probably have to account for other initial move-in expenses such as fire insurance, key money, key-exchange money, and the initial deposit.

Fire insurance or 火災保険 (Kasaihoken): Usually covers your 2-year rental contract and may be anywhere from 10000 to 25000yen.
Key money or 礼金 (Reikin): Depends completely on the landlord. This is similar to a deposit; however, you do not get this money back (the landlord pockets this). If you’re lucky, some landlords won’t charge this fee, but most normally charge around 1-2 months rent.
Key-exchange money or 鍵交換費 (Kagi-koukanhi): This is the fee for them to change the lock and key to the apartment from the previous renter.
Initial deposit or 敷金 (Shikikin): The initial deposit is usually around 1-2 months rent (this is refundable).

6) Factor in utility costs and maintenance fees into the monthly budget. It’s up to you to set up a plan to the utility companies (electricity, gas, and water) after you’ve decided on a place to live. As with most utility companies they are structured as oligopolies/monopolies. In Tokyo, it’s Tokyo Gas, Bureau of Waterworks Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and the Tokyo Electric Power Company. When you sign up for utilities, you can either choose to receive a bill every month where you can pay it at any convenience store, post office or even at your bank. You can also choose to have it automatically deducted from your bank account. Electricity is usually billed every month while gas and water may be billed every two months. I would estimate the average utilities bill for one person living in a studio is anywhere from 10000-14000yen per month.

7) Learn the trash routine of your area! The trash routine differs from area to area along with the types of appropriate bags to use (some cities require special plastic bags for burnable trash while others do not. These can usually be picked up at any grocery or convenience store in bulk). Usually you will sort most of your trash to burnable, non-burnable, cardboard, plastic bottles, paper, glass bottles, metal, and oversized trash (which usually comes once a month and you may need to pay a fee). Stricter places will require you to further separate your trash but it really depends on your city. Most cities have handouts for when you move in, so it’s relatively easy to learn the system. Furthermore, most things you purchase in Japan will have a little symbol to help you sort your trash (it may say プラ (Pura) for plastic, 紙 (Kami) for paper, etc). Lucky for us! Foreigners are known for making mistakes on the trash pickup, which can be annoying for the local residents, so be sure to follow the schedule!

8) Recommended places to live in Tokyo (These are just my personal preference!):

1. Minato-ku (港区) is probably the most expensive area in Tokyo. Many foreign expats, politicians, and celebrities live here; includes areas such as:
Azabujuban 麻布十番– boutique-y area with restaurants and shops, lots of foreign embassies, within walking distance to Roppongi, very upscale place. My personal favorite!
Azabudai 麻布台– lots of foreign embassies, apartments here usually have a beautiful view of Tokyo tower! Very upscale area
Akasaka 赤坂– upscale neighborhood, lots of foreign embassies
Shirokanedai 白金台– on the border of Minato ward and Meguro ward, upscale neighborhood, residential area
Hiroo 広尾– upscale neighborhood, residential area
Roppongi 六本木– Roppongi Hills (upscale shopping center), great night life, lots of clubs, bars, restaurants, shops. Note: some areas of Roppongi can be quite dangerous at night

2. Meguro-ku (目黒区)Meguro-ku is also a great choice and has a trendy upscale vibe; includes area such as:
Meguro 目黒– Trendy upscale older neighborhood, convenient since it’s on the JR Yamanote Line
Nakameguro 中目黒– Trendy upscale neighborhood, there’s a river lined with cherry blossoms that’s beautiful in the spring, great for boutique shopping
Ebisu 恵比寿 & Gotanda 五反田– Trendy upscale neighborhoods, convenient since they’re on the JR Yamanote Line
Jiyugaoka 自由が丘– Trendy upscale neighborhood, lots of shopping boutiques

3. Shinagawa-ku (品川区)– Notable areas are Shinagawa (品川) and Gotanda (五反田), which are both upscale areas

4. Shibuya-ku (渋谷区)
Omotesando (表参道)– full of designer apartments, Omotesando Hills (upscale outdoor shopping area filled with foreign designer brands), near Harajuku (原宿) which is famous for being a major shopping district, close to Yoyogi park
Shibuya (渋谷)– mixture of upscale and rundown apartments, it’s in shibuya (which can be good and bad), great for young people, lots of shopping, clubs, bars, bustling night life.
Yoyogi (代々木)– Rather quaint area, near Yoyogi park

5. Chuo-ku (中央区)– notable areas include Ginza (銀座) and Nihonbashi (日本橋), which are known for having many upscale department stores and being the headquarters for many companies

6. Setagaya-ku (世田谷区)– upscale residential area (mostly houses)

7. Nakano-ku (中野区), Suginami-ku (杉並区)– both are close to central Tokyo, many nice neighborhoods, perfect for those who do not want the hustle and bustle of the city but still want its convenience. Nakano is known for its shopping and Anime related stores. Also Meiji college is within walking distance from Nakano Station

8. Shinjuku-ku新宿区, Chiyoda-ku千代田区– perfect for those who want to be in the heart of Tokyo. Chiyoda-ku is home to many businesses as well as Sophia University.
Shinjuku (新宿)– great for night-life and shopping, Shinjuku station is also one of the most convenient as well as the busiest station in Tokyo
Takadanobaba (高田馬場)- perfect for those who want to live in the city for cheaper prices, college town, a lot of Waseda University students
Okubo (大久保)- great price for central Tokyo, lots of foreigners (Koreans, Chinese, etc.), can be on the dangerous side at night, but in a very convenient location
Kagurazaka (神楽坂)- great boutique-y area, lots of shops and such

9. Toshima-ku (豊島区), Koto-ku (江東区)– notables areas are Ikebukuro (池袋) and Sugamo (巣鴨)(both on the Yamanote Line), these wards are perfect for those on budget who still want to be in the city, close to Ikebukuro which has Sunshine60 (huge shopping mall). Ikebukuro also has many shops, bars, and restaurants. Lots of young people hang out here

9) Share houses are a great option for those on a budget! Share houses are also a great option for those who are either on a tight budget or are staying in Tokyo for less than a year (I stayed in these while I studied abroad here!). The monthly rent is usually around 50000-70000yen. You can also stay for a daily rate of 2000-8000yen per night (which is also a great deal!). There are a couple of share houses that cater specifically to foreigners as well as ones that pride themselves on being international (including both Japanese and foreigners).

It’s a great way to meet new people especially if you are new to the city. I would often spend time with the other residents watching TV, playing billiards, cooking, and eating together. Overall, most share houses have a very communal feel and the international share houses work to bring its residents closer together with parties and special events held throughout the year. There is usually a communal kitchen/eating area, recreational rooms, showers, bathroom, and laundry room. The rooms come equipped with desks, lamp, trashcan, internet, refrigerator, and bedding (usually costs a little more though).

One drawback, however, is that these share houses usually are quite strict with their rules. The one I stayed at didn’t have a curfew, but some do. Most of the time you cannot bring anyone of the opposite gender to your room much less your floor (there may be a co-ed floor, but some floors are strictly men-only or women-only floors. Visitors are required to sign in and usually cannot stay past a certain time. Furthermore, you may have to pay 2000yen or so per night for any overnight guests you may have.

In any case, share houses are quite fun for the amount you’re paying!

10) Important things to know: These are just based on my own experiences and preferences (I’m still learning too)! If there is any you’d like to add to this list or correct me on feel free to comment or message me.

Considering I lived in a dorm all throughout college, renting my first apartment on my own has definitely been an invaluable experience. I feel like once you can rent an apartment in a foreign country (in a foreign language to boot), you can definitely rent an apartment in your home country. This has been a real world learning experience for me (haha! college did not prepare me for this), but overall I’m quite happy with the apartment I got and while this has been stressful, it had it’s own upsides!  I can definitely use this knowledge I’ve gained for the future ♥︎.