Five Alternative Jobs to English Teaching in Japan

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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.

5) Headhunting

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.

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Teacher, journalist and now blogger.
  • Pushkar Shejwalkar says:

    After living in Japan for three years or more, My conclusion is you can find pretty much any job. Only thing is that you need to speak, write, understand and comprehend high level of Japanese. If you cannot speak Japanese (not N5 or N4 level but at least N3 Minimum) then TRY TO FIND A JOB ELSEWHERE….!!! But if you can at least show them you can speak read and write business level Japanese then this place is heaven for you….!!!

  • kirin says:

    I am going to college to be a Computer Programmer, It’s not a very popular job but I wanted to know if it would be possible to find a job as a foreigner.

  • Barnaby Jones says:

    Ah, that explains why you never have to ask a Foreigner in Japan what their job is (if they have one). It’s always English teacher…

  • How about copywriters? Right now I work for foreign companies that know a good amount of English, but they still hire me to make the words sexy and salesy. Any jobs like that in Japan?

  • Liam Carrigan says:

    Thank you for your detailed reply, however, the figures you give are no longer pertinent to the exam in its current form.
    The test underwent significant changes a few years ago and there is no longer a specified Kanji list, so i dont know where you’re getting 2000 from. There are indicators and practice questions on the JLPT site but not full past papers. However this is by no means a guarantee of what will appear in the exam. From the various study guides and online opinions i have read the required kanji number is far higher than you say it is. And as a junior high school teacher, i can testify that 2000 kanji is by no means a given for the average student these days.
    The fact that the test is multiple choice isnt relevant to this debate. Lets respectfully agree to disagree on this point. I think you understate the difficulty of this exam and in doing so you do a great disservice to those who work so hard to attain the grade.
    Thank you for your contribution.

    • K m says:

      Ok so this is a really old conversation, but just in case anyone(like I did stumbles on this article). I’m pretty clued up on the Japanese language prof test, got level 2 of the old style test, got N2 of the new style test, and have failed level 1 of both the old style and new N1 about 8 times… (the last 5 fails I have missed the pass mark by 5% to 1%… missing the pass mark by 1percent was particularly annoying)… anyway on to my point, I hate to burst anyones bubble, but the N1 could be passed by any literate Japanese adult. Actually, from working with Japanese of all ages, I’ve figured out that basically a Japanese Junior High School 2nd grade student should be able to pass N1. (as long as they are not total slackers…) I teach a couple of 9 year old Japanese kids, who when I showed them some N1 test questions, could pretty much answer all the questions… (granted these are smart kids). So as disappointing as it may be for western people who are having a hard time passing N1(like myself) its not really that difficult for native Japanese speakers, and all these nonsense “97% of Japanese couldn’t pass it” rumors, are just that rumors… Also for work, most companies if you have N2, they’ll get you to interview and check how good your Japanese is at interview…. that said, I just applied to a couple of local government jobs here, and I wrote I had N1 on my application(just to get a foot in the door)… back fired this time, when they asked me for copies of my certificate…. 🙁 But that aside, I have worked for loads of Japanese companies and lack of N1 has not been a problem before.

    • m says:

      There’s no specified kanji list, but you are expected to know at least 2000 kanji to pass the N1. The 2000 kanji is the number of kanji that Japanese students are expected to know on average by the time they graduate high school. There are over 6000 kanji in existence (the highest level of the kanji kentei test requires you to have memorized 6000 kanji), but only 2136 of them are needed for daily use like reading a newspaper.

    • Eido INOUE says:

      I never said it was easy. One should be proud of the achievement.

      However, one is delusional if they think that a non-native Japanese user has a Japanese ability (whether it be understanding of grammar, kanji, reading comprehension, or anything else) better than “97% of Japanese” (the original poster’s own claim).

      I think it’s safe to say that if you pass the N1, your understand of Japanese is
      probably better than 97% of people who were not raised/educated in
      Japan
      . And that’s still something to be proud of.

  • ShuichiAy says:

    hahahaHa so funny 😀

  • Lee Tao Dana says:

    Or possibly enter a zen temple. I did that before and may do it again if I can’t find a job.

  • Barnaby Jones says:

    Is my impression correct that most jobs in Japan are only accessible to foreigners, if that particular job specifically requires a foreign person?
    Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never seen a Gaijin postman, Store manager, or what have you.

  • SocialMammal says:

    Anyone know if someone with Political Science university background (minor in Japanese Language and Culture Studies) would make it to Corporate Training? Or is the English language the main way to go?

  • Quatro Naruhodo Briefs says:

    I am confident in doing some acting and modelling, going on the advice of my female friends ^_^

    But I will be happy doing anything!

  • Bognár Andor says:

    I am wondering about the chances of getting jp-eng translator job there as a non-native speaker. Any experiences or advices?

  • ShuichiAy says:

    More details about the talent agencies please ?

  • primalxconvoy says:

    Other, non “Eikaiwa” jobs, in teaching can include international school teaching (teaching near native or native English speaking pupils, from either Japan or other countries), daycare or kindergarten schools, etc. These may require additional teaching qualifications (such as a PGSE (https://www.ucas.com/ucas/teacher-training), or equivalent., although some might allow those with experience and/or alternate qualifications (TEFL certificates or diplomas, etc) to apply. The British council, for example, requires a diploma or above in TEFL, plus additional official Japanese language proficiency for EFL positrons, or a PGSE to teach native English speaking pupils.

    Also, going part time is another way to ease stress from work, which could then allow some to take up extra studies. Studying for the Japanese proficiency exam, or a diploma or Master’s in EFL can really help you to climb out of the Eikaiwa pit.

  • papiGiulio says:

    n1 isnt necessary at all thank god. The Japanese design company i work for hired me when I had n4 level. I was extremely lucky.

  • meh says:

    Long hours?

  • *tSuKiNoKo ^.~* says:

    I also have most of a linguistics degree 😉

  • *tSuKiNoKo ^.~* says:

    For those who know of the JET Programme, there are two other positions, aside from the ALT (Assisstant Language Teacher):
    SEA: Sports Exchange Advisor
    CIR: Coordinator of International Relations

    I already have the N1, and I have a TESOL certificate, with experience teaching in Japan, but I’m currently studying an interpreting and translation degree, so I hope to become a CIR, for up to five years, because that is one of their main jobs 😉
    (I am in no way a sports person! LOL.)

  • Eido INOUE says:

    Those fortunate enough to pass the N1 will find themselves with a knowledge of Japanese that exceeds 97% of the native Japanese population.

    Wow what a load a baloney.

    An average Japanese junior high school graduate can pass N1 without trying with high marks.

    Real, qualified translators (and interpreters) have their own certifications and professional organizations. The JTF ほんやく検定 separates the real pros from those who are faking it.

    You may get casual Japanese to English work from firms looking to save a few yen by not hiring a professional, but you will be canned if you misrepresent yourself as a real translator and the client discovers you’re nothing but a re-writer using machine translation to fake it. I’ve met somebody who lost a job this way.

    There’s a great article on Tofugu that’s a confession by a “translator” who faked her way through jobs.

    • *tSuKiNoKo ^.~* says:

      I have the N1, but so many Japanese people I know say that the test is so difficult to pass, even for Japanese people.
      So it’s NOT a freaking load of baloney >=/

      • Eido INOUE says:

        Any 15 year old 3rd year junior high school that was raised in Japan can pass the JLPT N1 with flying colors without really trying. They may not get a perfect score, but it will probably be due to not paying attention and blazing through the test. That’s because the JLPT is designed to test Japanese from the perspective of those who’ve learned it as a foreign language, not a native language.

        My daughter, who is born and raised and educated in Japan, is a Jr. High student student and passed it no problem (she took an old test I gave showed her for fun) using only half the time. She missed a few questions so the perfect score eluded her, but that was because she wasn’t trying very hard and taking it casually.

        The tests that are hard for Japanese are the ones designed for native speakers: the JKAT, the nihongo-kentei, and the kokugoryoku-kentei.

        Just like how I’ve taken TOEFL and passed it with flying colors going twice the speed (960 out of 990… I missed a few because I went too fast and wasn’t paying attention).

        P.S. I have the JLPT 1* too. It may be a big deal to those that live outside Japan, but in Japan, there are a lot of foreigners that have it and their Japanese ability is considered “average” compared to their peers.

        Once you have the N1 and you’re working in a real job in Japan do you realize that N1 is merely the start line, not the finish line.

        * I’m old; the “N”1 didn’t exist back when I took it.

        • Liam Carrigan says:

          Thanks for contributing your opinion, but I think you’re being a tad unfair. The idea that the N1 is challenging even for native Japanese is backed up by research. I commend you on your Japanese ability but please dont assume just because something was easy for you that it is so for everyone else. The idea that the N1 is challenging even to natives is certainly not “baloney”.
          The sheer number of Kanji required for the test far exceeds the average known vocabulary of a typical Japanese person.

      • lowbitdisco says:

        Yes it is- that’s the more advanced equivalent of “Konnichiwa! -Nihongo jouzu!!!” No adult Japanese native (or even most Japanese natives by J3/S1) would have any problem passing N1. They might not get perfect scores, but while N1 does cover some obscure/outdated/difficult points and the reading can be tricky since some of it is about comprehension skills and not just Japanese ability, that’s not the majority of the test. It’s like TOEIC/TOFEL- every once in a while there’s a word on there that most native speakers don’t know and there would be questions you’d have to think for a second about, but a native would definitely pass.

        Also I find Japanese people usually don’t know what 日本語能力検定 is and think you’re talking about something like 国語検定 or 漢検, which would be difficult even for native speakers because they’re for language and kanji buffs.

  • i know quite a few people with N2 JLPT working as translators.

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