A while back I wrote a post about 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Major in Japanese (and 2 You Might Consider it) and then followed up that post with How to Get a Job in Japan. But what about those of you looking for a Japanese related job not in Japan? Not everyone who wants to have a Japanese related job actually wants to live in Japan, so what sort of jobs are available, what kind of experience do you need, and how can you get them in your home country?
To find out, I teamed up with my good friend Joe who just got back from two years living and teaching English in Japan and had now started work with a Japanese moving company here in the States. He went through the same Japanese program that I did at college, but his two years actually living in Japan really rocketed his Japanese skills to new heights. In this article we’ll be exploring his journey for employment back here in America.
FYI Joe’s actual thoughts and words will be italicized for your reading pleasure.
Like I mentioned above, Joe majored in Japanese at Ohio State University and then went on to teach English in Japan for two years through the JET program (more info on that and how to apply here). Some of you may remember how mediocre I thought OSU’s Japanese program was, but as with most things – you get out what you put in.
Joe was in a lot of the same Japanese classes as me during undergrad, but since Japanese was his only major, he could afford to put a lot more time and effort into the language than I could (I double majored in Japanese and economics and minored in engineering).
After graduating, Joe started looking for jobs in Japan and managed to land a pretty nice gig through JET teaching English. He was way up on the island of Hokkaido- far, far away from all things English. This was immersion at its finest.
I am like, so immersed right now…
Joe’s stint in Japan really bolstered his Japanese skills and his own confidence in his abilities. But how hard is it to find a job in a country like the United States when most all of your experience is in Japanese? Where do you search? What kind of jobs can you expect to find? Let’s follow Joe’s journey and find out.
Q: So Joe, why don’t you describe what sort of jobs you were looking for and where you found them. How many did you apply to? How many did you actually hear back from?
A: I haven’t been at it long enough to speak with any great amount of experience, but at the outset I cast a wide net over the internet, just looking for jobs available in Ohio. What I came up with wasn’t much, but it led to my job at Yamato Transport USA (a moving/delivery company) and could certainly lead to more.
There are recruiting companies such as TOP Chicago who actively search for people with Japanese qualifications and try to refer them to their clientele – Japanese companies in America. They did a lot of the foot work for me, and that is what led me to a few Skype interviews and one in-person interview.
Searching is hard :(
While I (John again here) was looking for jobs, I had my own dealings with TOP Chicago as well. I had one phone interview and one in-person interview. The in-person interview ended up not panning out because I was a little misled as to what the actual position was, and the other interview didn’t pan out because I wasn’t actually qualified for the job.
So basically the takeaway here, I think, is to apply like crazy to everywhere. There’s no harm in applying, right? Recruiting companies such as TOP Chicago are a great resource, but definitely do not rely solely on them. You never know what you might find on your own.
The Interview Process
Q: Could you describe the interviews you had? What was the process like?
A: My first Skype interviews were with the recruiters at TOP Chicago, and they seemed to be primarily to get a feel for what kind of work I was looking for, but since these were all conducted in Japanese, they also served the double purpose of testing my Japanese ability to better find a suitable position for me.
I also had a Skype interview with one of TOP’s clients, a sales firm not far from where I live, which ultimately didn’t pan out (I’m not sure why). Shortly thereafter I had a Skype interview with my soon-to-be boss at Yamato, and eventually TOP and Yamato set up a live interview for me.
This was my only live interview that I had (mind you, I’d only really been at this for a little less than two months), and the position sounded pretty good to me. I would be able to be out and about, getting exercise and working up a good sweat, all the while working in a Japanese environment.
I found a job! Yey!
The interview itself was a mix of Japanese and English, but eventually turned into primarily Japanese as my interviewer/boss became familiar with my level of Japanese comprehension. However, it was an unusual interview in that I didn’t feel like I was competing for the position at all. In fact, he spent more of the interview warning me about the struggle it would be to work there – mentally and physically – than he did trying to get to know me or my qualifications.
(As it turns out, the market here is pretty flush with Japanese majors who taught English in Japan and now want jobs here – I was hired just two weeks after another friend from OSU had been hired for the same position, and another long-term employee had similar qualifications when he started.)
The Job Itself
Q: So, your job at Yamato – could you describe more what the job is like? How is Japanese utilized and how much Japanese skill do you feel you really need there? How much of the day are you actually using Japanese? Is it mostly speaking, writing, reading?
A: For my particular position, it isn’t entirely too necessary to know much Japanese, being that I’m just starting out as a box-moving grunt, except when receiving training, advice, and directions from the boss, who by my second day stopped using English with me.
However, with time and practice (particularly with polite Japanese), I’d be able to fully utilize my Japanese language ability while interacting with customers, confirming orders, and asking directions from the customers regarding items to be packed and their destinations, etc.
That sort of job could be considered a promotion actually, and would be a fully integrated mix of reading and writing paperwork and box labels, as well as speaking and listening to customers and fellow employees at the home office.
John again here – for those of you who aren’t already aware, Yamato is the number one parcel express and delivery company in Japan. You heard of takkyubin? Yamato is king. In America, they still do the same sort of stuff, they just get a whole lot of their business from Japanese people since they already know who Yamato is and are familiar with their quality and professionalism.
Q: So Joe, do you have any advice to offer that wasn’t covered in the other sections? What do you think set you apart that got you hired for the position you landed? Was living in Japan the most helpful? Undergrad studies? Feel free to share anything you wished you had done differently during the process.
A: Living in Japan was an invaluable experience and I would recommend it to anyone (here’s some ways to get there cheap), especially anyone who is interested in the Japanese language or Japan related jobs. If, however, I wanted to do anything differently, it would be to find a non-teaching job IN JAPAN while living in Japan.
To do this you must be very resolute in your search, and have little or nothing to draw you out of Japan (companies don’t want to invest in someone who might be a flight risk) once you get there. The market there has a much higher demand for foreigners who can speak Japanese, while American-based Japanese companies will almost certainly prefer a native who can speak English.
My undergraduate studies in Japanese were also invaluable. I had a wonderful experience in that community within the university and made a bunch of lifelong friends – many of them on the study abroad to Kobe, like John! But again, if I were going to do anything differently, it would definitely be NOT TO MAJOR IN JAPANESE EXCLUSIVELY.
I also very much agree with this.
A double major or a Japanese minor with something else is definitely the way to go here. For example, computer science and engineering and Japanese language double major, or economics/business with a Japanese minor, or some other combination that brings more skills to the table.
Overall, as I continue my search for employment opportunities in Japanese-related fields, my JET experience is definitely one of my strongest points, but more and more it seems that Japanese language should have been a supplemental skill adding to other, more desirable qualifications.
Finally – and this could be a whole Tofugu post all on its own (if it isn’t already) (it kind of is) – beware of working for a Japanese company. It is well-known that Japanese people work very long hours for little reward, and that is a distinct characteristic that is not exclusive to their home country.
So, have any of you landed Japanese related jobs in your home countries? What sort of jobs are they and how did you find them and get hired for them? Any advice for those currently on the job search? Please, share your advice in the comments!
I would also love to hear other people’s advice and comments! I’m still looking for bigger and better things!