For foreigners who wish to live in Japan, teaching English has always been, and will continue to be the most freely available form of employment across the country. The fact is, Japan will always need English teachers, so there should, hopefully, always be a demand for those who know their way around a classroom.
However, the long hours, monotony and occasional cultural and social issues that arise from teaching English here in Japan for several years can sometimes leave a person feeling “burned out” and in need of a fresh challenge. So, today I present a selection of possible options for those who want to pursue a new direction in Japan.
1) Translation and Interpreting
As far as life beyond English teaching goes, this has always been a popular one among the expat community. Indeed companies all across Japan have need of people with native English and a Japanese language N1 certificate. The downside is that getting that elusive N1 certification can take several years. Those fortunate enough to pass the N1 will find themselves with a knowledge of Japanese that exceeds 97 percent of the native Japanese population. For daily conversation, N2 or possibly even N3 would suffice. Translation, however, requires the type of linguistic precision that only an N1 holder can wield.
A further complicating factor appears when we consider what we actually have to write about. Many of the translation jobs in Japan involve translating scientific manuals or complex technical documents. As such, companies often exclusively employ candidates with a degree or prior work experience in that specific scientific field.
Like journalism, translating in Japan is primarily a freelance industry. Income is sporadic and securing enough ongoing work to maintain a basic living standard can be very difficult.
2) Writing and Journalism
Now, this is something I know a thing or two about. Given Japan’s rich culture, fascinating history and amazing technology, there’s certainly no shortage of things to write about, if you have the ability. Unfortunately, starting a “my life in Tokyo” type blog is hardly original these days. In order to make your work stand out and build an audience and a reputation for yourself, you need to try and always seek out new and original slants on stories.
Writing a story of one or two thousand words seldom takes me more than a couple of hours. However, formulating the initial idea can sometimes take days. It is best to investigate as much as you can, look around for websites or English language publications that have need of a writer and then put some submissions together.
It’s also best to focus on areas that are of interest to you. For example, one of my great passions is travel, so besides my work here on GaijinPot, I also contribute regularly to a travel website here in Japan.
As with translation, however, the emphasis is very much on freelance assignments in this industry. I am fortunate to have regular weekly work from both of my employers. However, the six articles I produce every week between the two sites still brings in less than half of my monthly wage as a teacher. Like translation, building a good client base as a writer takes a long time. In the short to medium-term, if you want to maintain a stable income, writing is probably best done as a part-time venture.
3) Corporate Training
Ok, so technically this is still teaching, but the daily dynamics of the job are quite different. Corporate training involves not just training company executives in how to use English, but you will also be responsible for increasing their cultural awareness and informing them of the various sensibilities that need to be respected in an international business environment.
The job can also be exciting as you may be given the chance from time to time to visit the various branch offices of your company, across Japan and sometimes even outside of the country. These types of roles are rarely advertised openly, and in many cases, it comes down to who you know rather than what you know.
As you will be interacting with Japanese executives every day you’ll probably need at least N2 level Japanese certification. A solid sense of the Japanese corporate climate and previous experience in a “salaryman”-type role is also highly beneficial.
4) Acting and Modeling
You’ll probably notice that for a country that is 98 percent ethnically Asian, Japan seems to have a disproportionately high percentage of non-Asians in their adverts and TV commercials. For those with the confidence to do it, there is money to be made in this line of work, but it’s important to be realistic. Firstly, no matter what any of the talent agencies will tell you, this is highly unlikely to ever work out as a full-time gig. Secondly, the work you do get is infrequent and will require you to be very flexible with your schedule.
Finally, and probably most importantly, acting and modeling are very image focused. So, if you are the type who gets upset easily or is sensitive about your looks, then this probably isn’t for you.
Also, it’s important to note that, even for non-speaking roles, an intermediate level of Japanese will be required so you can take directions from the production team.
This final entry is probably the most demanding, and risky of all the opportunities listed here. However, it also offers the greatest potential to make a lot of money in a very short space of time. Competition amongst companies in Japan’s major cities for talent is huge and as such several HR firms have emerged in recent times to help these firms get the best talent.
One of the biggest concerns for companies recruiting staff in the big cities like Tokyo, Osaka and so on is the English level of these potential recruits. As a result, a growing number of recruitment firms are looking to bring on native English speakers, as recruitment consultants. These jobs are high-stress, and the largely commission-based salaries represent a considerable risk. However, most of these firms have huge bonus incentives for those who can find and place the best talent; but you need to have a pretty thick skin to work in this industry.
A typical day will be spent largely hitting the phones, trying to bring on new candidates who will be interested in the jobs you have to offer. You can also expect to spend a lot of time sourcing, as you trawl through the company database looking to match your candidates to the best positions. You will then have to meet the candidates at least a few times, to ascertain their suitability before you introduce them to the client company.
If all goes well, they will get hired, your company will be paid a hefty finder’s fee and you will get your cut. For a successful consultant, earnings in the region of 7 to 10 million yen per year aren’t that unusual, and the formal entry qualifications are more or less the same as those of an English teacher. Whilst some Japanese language ability is a definite plus, it is not always necessary. The atmosphere of a recruitment consultancy is very intense however and the “sink or swim” mentality of the work means that you will have to find your way very quickly or you won’t last long.
I tried it for a while in Tokyo a number of years ago, and it didn’t work out for me. I guess I don’t have the ruthlessness or the thick skin required to be a recruiter. That’s not to say it couldn’t work for you. As you can see, Japan has a variety of jobs to offer talented foreigners beyond just teaching English. Check out GaijinPot’s job vacancies today and see what new challenges await you.