Not that long ago, I’ve heard that any English speaker could hop a flight to Tokyo’s Narita airport and score a high-paying gig in Japan within just a few days of clearing customs. I know a few people who originally moved here during those Golden Years, and they tell me it was truly a special period.
Sometime around the G.W. Bush Administration, things began to change for those thinking about moving to Japan.
For a start, there were a lot more of us. I don’t have any statistics handy, but when I decided to move here in 2003, there were blue-eyed Americans everywhere I went in Tokyo. And Starbucks too. There were places in the smaller cities and the countryside where non-Japanese were still rare, but you could no longer expect celebrity status by virtue of your birth.
Another change was that most Japanese towns and cities were in financial trouble. The recession that had hit Japan hard at the end of the 90s didn’t seem to effect the government very much in the beginning, but when it came, it came down hard. Many towns went bankrupt and were forced to ask to be annexed by neighboring cities. These cities were often a lot tighter with spending and didn’t like the idea of paying full-time wages and benefits to entry-level teachers with no teaching ability. Private temp agencies began to thrive.
Meanwhile, the English conversation industry was experiencing rapid growth. Anyone and everyone with a reasonable command of English was finding employment with companies like NOVA to teach ineffective lessons to Japanese students who paid exorbitant prices on long-term contracts. It sounds like a model for massive profit in the near view, but eventually, people came to see what a shifty system it was, and NOVA fell into bankruptcy in 2007.
Exactly when I was thinking about returning to Japan after a short hiatus back in Atlanta, the market was inundated with thousands of newly-laid-off former NOVA employees willing to work for next to nothing until they could afford to get back home. Let me tell you, it was a difficult job market to be competing in.
To obtain quality employment in Japan today is much tougher than it was 15 years ago. Honestly, even just a few years ago. There is a lot more competition, beginning salaries are much lower, and being from another country is just not all that special anymore.
So how can you increase your chance of finding work? Simple: you have to have a plan.
From 2010, English will be a required course of study for elementary 5th and 6th grade students. Conversation schools have learned from NOVA’s example and are adjusting their services and more flexible contracts. They’re also being more discerning with their hiring.
Thanks to the global economic uncertainty and the meteoric rise of some of Japan’s Asian neighbors, Japanese businesses are paying more attention to language skills. Television programs often feature visits to Chinese and Korean schools full of happy students speaking English at a much higher proficiency than their Japanese counterparts. This is a nation that takes pride in its business savvy, and they do not want to lose to China.
Also, you may not think this is news, but we’ve got this thing called the World Wide Web now. Yes, I know it’s been around a while, but for most people in the world, it’s a very new ability, and most Japanese are still learning to use it. The cool thing about the internet is that it’s turning English into the de facto lingua franca of the 21st century (wow, two Latin phrases in one sentence). Japanese people, especially younger ones, want to learn English to communicate online and find out what’s going on in places they find more exciting than where they are.
Speaking of excitement, tons of Japanese are interested in travel, especially young women. Sometimes it seems as if more than half of the English students I meet in Japan are young women who want to visit places like Hawaii and New Zealand. There is a big demand for people to teach English conversation without all the confusing grammar everybody hates learning in junior high school.
Getting a job in Japan is different from finding employment where you are now. Besides the difficulties associated with international communication, travel, and etc., you also need to deal with Japanese people and their culture (and their stereotypes of your culture).
I’m going to just tell you the bad news first, because it may save you from making a mistake if you can’t handle it. The bad news is: you will probably not be able to land your dream job in Japan if you haven’t already been here.
I’m not telling you that it’s impossible, but you shouldn’t hope to send a resume overseas with no experience and no Japanese ability and get given a great job with great pay and benefits in an area you want to live in. You can’t expect that kind of deal at home, so you’d be silly to expect it in Japan, right? I knew you’d see it my way. Which is why I know you want to prepare the best possible plan to get yourself over here so you can start looking for the job you really want.
Times have changed, and it’s no longer enough to simply fly over and begin living the dream right away, but don’t think it isn’t possible to live a totally fulfilling life doing what you truly love in Japan. It is quite doable, and with the right planning, it’s inevitable.
By jamie_nakamura from Pixabay