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Learn Japanese to Get a Better Job in Japan

Don't want to be an English teacher in Japan? Here are real examples why you should learn Japanese to get a better job in Japan.

By 6 min read

Finding a job in Japan isn’t always easy. In addition to showcasing your experience and skills on your resume, certain positions may require proficiency in Japanese. I began my journey in Japan as an English teacher, a common path for many expats. However, I soon realized teaching wasn’t the right fit for me. I knew I needed to learn Japanese to get a better job in Japan.

I dedicated myself to learning the language, although at the time, I didn’t know anyone who had successfully pivoted industries by learning Japanese. Even my coworkers claimed it couldn’t be done. Despite the skepticism, I proved them wrong and acquired the necessary language skills to secure my desired job.

Looking back, I believe having some encouragement would have made the process smoother. With this in mind, I reached out to my colleagues at GaijinPot to ask a simple question: How did learning Japanese contribute to your job success in Japan?

Laura’s JLPT Journey

The ultimate goal for living in Japan.

First, I had a conversation with Laura, a GaijinPot Study coordinator from the United States, like myself. Laura discussed her experiences with the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N2, which is widely regarded as the “business level” of the test. This indicates that Laura put significant effort into her studies, and it’s evident that her hard work has paid off. Among foreigners, her Japanese proficiency is among the best I’ve encountered.

Here’s what she had to say.

“I’ve always wanted to work in a role where I could use Japanese, which was a major factor in my decision to move to Japan. Despite achieving N2 certification, the second-highest level on the JLPT, I lacked the confidence to apply for positions requiring Japanese proficiency. So, I set a goal to study for the N1 exam.

The JLPT was a useful roadmap for acquiring the skills that eventually led me to a job.

Upon passing the N1, I gained the confidence to apply for jobs that specifically demanded Japanese skills. However, I don’t view the N1 as the ultimate measure of Japanese proficiency. There’s much more to learn beyond what’s tested, particularly in business Japanese, which encompasses more than grammar, vocabulary, and kanji.

Nevertheless, reaching the N1 level exposed me to a broad range of vocabulary that I wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. While the test isn’t comprehensive, its expansive vocabulary section covers various fields like construction, medicine, and politics. This exposure helped me expand my vocabulary beyond what I knew in my native language.

Consequently, during job interviews, I could easily define terms I had encountered in my studies. While it’s possible to achieve this without JLPT preparation, the exam was a useful roadmap for acquiring the skills that eventually led me to a job where I could use Japanese daily.”

Key Points

  • Career Goals: Aim for roles in Japan requiring Japanese proficiency to align with career aspirations.
  • Confidence Boost: Attain higher JLPT levels, like N1, to bolster confidence in applying for language-demanding positions.
  • Vocabulary Help: JLPT offers exposure to varied vocabulary, although it’s not the sole indicator of proficiency.
  • Interview Preparation: Expand vocabulary using JLPT study resources for job interviews.
  • Language Skill Development: Utilize JLPT for language skills needed for daily use in Japanese workplaces.

Insights from Cindy: Navigating The Workplace

Japan isn’t as advanced as people think.

To gather additional perspectives, I reached out to my colleague Cindy from the Philippines to share her journey. She plays a vital role in our Japan Room Finder and Japan Home Finder services, connecting customers with English-speaking real estate agents in Japan. Cindy shared a very inspirational story about learning Japanese, and It motivates me to keep learning.

“I’ve wanted to live in Japan for as long as I can remember. However, I soon realized that teaching English wasn’t my calling, so I made a concerted effort to study Japanese extensively during my schooling.

Despite passing the N2 exam before graduating, I quickly learned that working in a Japanese company provides a rapid education in the language. My initial job was difficult, with overwhelming kanji and keigo (formal Japanese). There were nights filled with frustration and tears as I grappled with my perceived shortcomings. Looking back, though, those setbacks ultimately paved the way for my current position—a realization that brings me immense gratitude.

Traditional workplaces still rely on phone and fax communications, so know how to use them.

I recommend prioritizing speaking and writing skills for those aspiring to work in a Japanese company, particularly for emails (handwriting is optional but beneficial). Many companies assess candidates based on their verbal communication abilities, so refining pronunciation, diction, and fluency is crucial. Additionally, some traditional workplaces still rely on phone and fax communications, so you should know how to use them.

Each person’s career path is unique, and what worked for me may not align with your interests. Conduct thorough research into the requirements of your desired field and tailor your studies accordingly—it’ll significantly ease your job search.

Mastering Japanese is a lengthy and challenging journey, with experiences varying for each individual. If you ever feel apprehensive or uncertain about the road ahead, remember that people are willing to support you and learning extends far beyond securing a job offer.”

Key Points

  • Language Proficiency: Prioritize learning Japanese for success in Japanese workplaces.
  • Communication Skills: Focus on improving verbal communication, pronunciation, and fluency for job interviews and daily interactions.
  • Adapt to Old School: Familiarize yourself with traditional communication methods such as phone and fax, which are still prevalent in some Japanese workplaces.
  • Tailored Study Approach: Customize your language studies based on the specific requirements of your desired field to enhance your job prospects.
  • Persistence and Resilience: Embrace setbacks as opportunities for growth, as navigating challenges is part of the journey to success in a Japanese career.

Reflecting on My Journey to JLPT N2 Certification

Invest in yourself!

To conclude, I’d like to share a bit about my own experience. My primary goal was passing the N2 level on the JLPT, as it would enable me to confidently label myself as “business level” on my resume. Although attending a language school would have been ideal, financial constraints led me to pursue self-study. I spent many weekends immersed in Japanese textbooks, fueled by endless cups of coffee at family restaurant drink bars.

After taking the N2 test, while awaiting my results, I felt sufficiently confident in my Japanese proficiency to start applying for jobs. Through multiple interviews conducted in Japanese, I demonstrated my skills and secured a position. Fortunately, I also passed the N2 exam!

The takeaway from my experience is this: with dedication and effort, obtaining a good job in Japan is achievable through Japanese language study. Despite naysayers who may doubt your ability to learn Japanese proficiently enough for employment in Japan, many individuals, including myself, have successfully done so.

And, of course, if you need an extra push, consider exploring resources like our GaijinPot Study page for additional support.

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