Studying Japanese in Japan: What You Can Get Out of It

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People always ask me, “Can you really just find a job where the only skill you can bring is speaking Japanese?” In a word: “Yes!” Let me tell you why I’m so confident about that for people who choose to study Japanese in Japan, but first a little background.

Many of you probably know that the Japanese school year starts in April, and that’s also a pretty popular month for international students to come to Japan. In fact, the application period is right now (those visa applications take time, after all… ). These days, a lot of folks interested in learning Japanese are coming to language schools here, but it can be difficult to know which type of school and what location is best for you.

An Akamonkai class

Luckily, guiding people through this process is a lot of what I get to do in Japan for GaijinPot’s Student Placement Program. 

I can certainly tell you the great demand for bilingual workers. A tidbit of information also supported by statistics, such as with the 2015 Survey on Career and Retention for International Students by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI). In the survey, businesses cited the top reason to hire foreigners is to stimulate the workplace by increasing diversity within the company. (Oh, and the least imported stated reason was that they couldn’t find a Japanese person to do the job — in case you think it’ll be too hard to compete with the locals).

Learning Japanese in Japan: The fast route vs. the slow burn?

Lots of people just study Japanese as a hobby, and there’s no problem with that at all.

Coming to the country and living here as a student is a lot of fun. Still, though, some of you may also have doubts as to what exactly Japanese can do for you after your studies are finished. I certainly get that question a lot when speaking to potential students, so I wanted to share a bit about my own story and what I’ve learned from living, working and studying in Japan myself.

JCLI interior for learning Japanese inJapan

GaijinPot has the largest job board for foreigners in Japan, so I really get to see what the job market is like in Japan. Back to the question, “Can you really just find a job where the only skill you can bring is speaking Japanese?”

Again, I can site statistics, like how that 2015 Survey on Career and Retention for International Students by METI stated that Japanese language skill is the most important trait when hiring foreigners by a large margin (over 75 percent of non-manufacturing jobs. English language skills were only 11 percent). But, statistics are just a number, interesting but so impersonal. How can I be so confident about the value of language study?

My experience

Even though I’m in charge of GaijinPot Study and have spent a fair amount of my career in the Japanese education industry, I never actually studied in Japan. Crazy, right? I did study in Singapore, but since they speak English there, I didn’t have much to worry about — and besides I knew I would be coming home afterwards. So, what advice can I possibly give about studying here? Well, I can definitely tell you what studying could have done for me.

Well, I can definitely tell you what studying could have done for me.

I came here through another common route to Japan — the JET Programme. My goal seemed reasonable: I graduated with a degree in finance and wanted to get some international experience. Tokyo, being a major financial center, seemed like a logical option and JET could get me to the country easily enough.I spent three years in Ishikawa Prefecture teaching high school students. It was fun for sure, but it wasn’t the best environment to study the language.

I didn’t really study Japanese before coming here, but knew I would need to learn it to have any kind of future here. I did some self-study and went to a community center that offered classes twice a week, for about an hour each time. It seemed like pretty serious study at the time and my Japanese level did improve, though slowly.

Eventually my three years on JET were coming to an end and I started looking for my next job. I continued with my goal to look up financial offices based in Tokyo and even managed to get a few interviews with them. Great, everything going according to plan…

…until the interview started.

Right away, I realized I was in over my head. I had practiced some answers to basic questions but couldn’t remember how to put them together when the time came. Even worse, I was talking like a high school student, not using the appropriate forms of politeness. I was just so used to speaking in that manner and using slang that I didn’t even realize what a problem it could be.

At Akamonkai learning Japanese in Japan

(As an aside, I always laugh when students complain that they learn the polite forms first before moving onto the more casual forms, saying that they want to speak “real” Japanese to their friends.  I always tell them this story to show them why it’s important.)

I had slacked during the last three years, and now I was paying the price. I tried interviewing for other jobs but kept getting shut out due to my Japanese level. Those statistics don’t lie!

As soon as my language skills reached an acceptable level it was like a whole new world was open to me.

The worst part was that my peers on JET who also moved to Tokyo found jobs with what seemed like barely any effort. Most of them didn’t even have any kind of specialist degrees, some of them only majored in Japanese at university, so they didn’t have much else to show other than language ability. Eventually, I got a job where I could get by with English, but after that, I put much more focus on learning Japanese in Japan and I got to the point where I did find a proper job in Japanese as a short-term contract worker, and working in an all-Japanese environment really accelerated my language skills.

Ever since that job, I haven’t had much problem finding work here in a variety of industries and I eventually settled into the world of helping people learn Japanese. It had really happened! As soon as my language skills reached an acceptable level, it was like a whole new world opened up to me.

Why I wish I had studied Japanese in Japan

Kyoshin Language Academy students learning Japanese in Japan

Looking back, I only wish I went to an intensive language school to enhance my Japanese in Japan. I’d say that my level after three years of unfocused study was the same of about six months at a language school — and it probably would have been a lot better (and polite)!

That’s why I know that you can get a lot out of Japanese study. Since joining GaijinPot, I’ve really seen how foreigners are in demand. It’s like a gold rush, with tons of jobs available for foreigners who can speak the language — and we’re talking full-time jobs with real career potential. It seems hard to believe but I’ve seen it, most of the motivated students end up finding work without too much difficulty.

Even if you don’t think you’d want to stay here, there are Japanese companies all over the world which would love to hire people who can speak the language…

Even if you don’t think you’d want to stay here, there are Japanese companies all over the world that would love to hire people who can speak the language and are knowledgeable about the culture, or even foreign multinationals that do business in Japan.

Students from Akamonkai studying Japanese in Japan

It’s the same thing for going to university here after finishing at the language school. The universities are trying to get so many international students that if you start off and get your skills up at a language school, you’ll have your pick of higher education institutions and programs — with plenty of scholarships to take advantage of.

With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics coming up, this is definitely the best time to get started studying Japanese in Japan since there is a huge push for companies to become more international. If you were to start in April 2018, it would give you enough time to get your language skill set up and find work in an attractive market.  

Sign-Up for GaijinPot Study

If you’re ready to take that next step, GaijinPot is here to guide you through every step of the way and also support you in your life in Japan. We’ll get you here, help you find housing, give you some tips of how to spend your time in Japan and even assist you with your job search in the future.  

We have options through the GaijinPot Student Placement Program and can find the right school for you. The application deadline for the April 2018 program start is Nov. 8.  Don’t worry, though, there are admissions four times a year if you need a bit more time to plan things out!

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GaijinPot Study coordinator who does a bit of blogging on the side.

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