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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.

The Experience

JET-logo-bigLike 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.

pensive

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.

The Search

job-searchQ: 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.

pls

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

Photo by Grace Buchele

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.

success

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

yamatoQ: 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.

Advice

adviceQ: 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.

yes

Photo by Natalie Dee

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!

  • Aya and Viet’s Son

    Conclusion: don’t major only in japanese. I would love to know how much is Joe earning? Does Yamato pay well?

  • http://mindlog6.tumblr.com/ Eduardo França

    And you’re Brazilian, still struggling to learn Japanese, living in Brazil and tottaly broke. Any idea?

  • 楢木城

    The warehouse position to which I was hired pays about $14.50 an hour, but that is for the contract period through TOP Chicago. I’m not sure how/if it changes with a full hire. =/

  • Allyson Larimer

    If anyone is able to speak Japanese (like N2 and above) and wants a job, please, please, come to Columbus, OH. All our Japanese businesses are expanding and they are looking for translators, secretaries, engineers, and accountants who can speak Japanese! The market is wide open.

  • http://www.tadaimatte.com/ Ashley Haley

    I have relatives down that way! What sort of businesses are they?

  • TannerC

    As a college senior, I’ve felt some regret even before I started reading these articles. My major is not just the Japanese language, but “Japan Studies,” which is a history major specializing in Japan. Unfortunately, that doesn’t offer a lot of opportunities either. Outside of museums there isn’t really anything one can do with a history major. The only other option I can think of as a job outside Japan is a translating job at a company. Definitely a huge mistake I made in picking Japan Studies an exclusive major.

  • Allyson Larimer

    Mostly automotive. There are some (like Yamato) which do logistics and others that do insurance or consulting services (there is even a travel agent that I heard was looking for someone not too long ago), but I would say 90% of the companies out here make parts for Honda. Still, its a really friendly environment, from my experience.

  • Grace Buchele

    I can agree with the struggle. I switched my major from Japanese to East Asian Studies and International Relations, because that sounded better on paper. Plus, I was terrified I would major in Japanese, then be unable to adequately SPEAK Japanese (and have everyone wonder, hey wait, didn’t you major in this language?)

    So far, I have no regrets.
    Congrats on the job!

  • 楢木城

    I’m studying for N2 right now, I’d love to hear more about some of these companies/positions!

  • Laura

    I majored in graphic design and minored in Japanese, I ended up briefly working in marketing for a Japanese-owned structural engineering company. The workplace culture was downright suicidal, everyone worked overtime and lived in fear of the 5 a.m. emails they would be expected to answer immediately from any of the branch offices worldwide. I think this is probably an exception though, I can’t imagine this is very common elsewhere in the U.S.
    I left that company as soon as I found something better, but have not had a job utilizing my Japanese since…

  • John

    Sorry, no idea :(

  • John

    Hopefully things pan out favorably for you one way or another!

  • John

    So what sort of job do you think you’ll be interested in getting after you graduate?

  • John

    Well at least you found something better, that job sounded terrible!

  • DAVIDPD

    Buddy of mine went to Japan because he liked their culture. Learned Japanese. Started to work at Nike store. After two years, he was working in the corporate office at Nike Japan. Now he works at Beaverton, WA HQ for Japanese Division. Pretty sweet niche he carved out for himself. Hard work is still the best option out there.

  • LiluMummy

    Straight out of university and on the back of a years university exchange I landed a secretarial/translators job with a Japanese firm where I lived in Australia. I had majored in language only. BIG mistake. If I could do it over again I would double major for sure.
    I worked at this firm for six years. It was fantastic for my daily use of Japanese but not so great for career progression.
    My bosses only saw me as the assistant and nothing else. So I was never valued as a bi-lingual graduate but rather just a helper. I could never go to Japan despite building professional relationships through the company and recording translations in English for them.
    In the end I had to get out.
    I retrained years later and now I’m a high school Japanese teacher because I want to use my Japanese. Still should have done a double major ……

  • Jay Sanders

    Thought I heard Brazil has more Japanese immigrants (or descendants of immigrants) than any other country. Make some friends and start networking. Assuming you can find any, I know Brazil is big but not sure of the population densities.

  • John

    Dang, yeah – that’s awesome.

  • John

    That’s crazy. Is the high school Japanese teacher gig treating you well now though?

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    About 13 years ago when it was time for me to attend university (God, I feel so old! *g*), I decided not to make my hobby my job and did not choose Japanese studies or anything related to it.
    I’ve regretted it a few times during my university time. I tried to study Japanese on the side, but my majors kept me too busy.

    Fast forward: I came to Japan 6 years ago. I’m an English teacher – and I really like it!
    In the first 2 years I used all of my free time to study Japanese. I took N2 3 years ago, no problem. Could have passed N1 at that time as well, I guess.
    I’ve always only lived in the countryside (pure immersion) and I’ve travelled to all 47 Japanese prefectures (including some remote islands).

    Living in Japan for such a long time has turned me into a “Japan expert”. You will learn so many nuances you’d never get to know by sitting in a university! You’ll get to know the language, the culture, the history, the religion etc. first-hand!
    I’ve met a few Japanese studies graduates and while they knew a lot about religion and history (for examply what it means when a statue has her hands like this and that), they clearly couldn’t function well in Japan. Even simple conversations were difficult for them if they’ve never been in Japan before!

    Being an English teacher has also boosted my English skills. I’m more or less fluent in German (my mother tongue), English and Japanese – and while I could get a non-teaching job in Japan, I don’t want to. Not at this point.

    If you’re really interested in a Japan-related job, then your best bet is to come here and live here for some time!
    Just don’t make the mistake to live in the “English bubble” and hang out with foreigners all the time. Try to live in the countryside and hang out with Japanese people! ;)

  • Artem

    KansaiFleaMarket YO!
    They make it rain jobs!

  • syrup16g

    The Boston Career Forum is a good place to see what companies are recruiting bilingual speakers and how they do so. If you plan on going, make sure you can speak Japanese (as in an entire interview only in Japanese) and are familiar with the SPI test — you will be asked to take it on the spot. I would also save up because if you get to a final interview you are going to need to do it at the company’s HQ in Japan–and most companies will not pay your way there.

  • LiluMummy

    It’s very early days but it’s A LOT more work than you think. Teaching a language to kids who could think of nothing worse is sure a challenge to say the least. However, teaching them about Japanese culture, inspiring them to open up their worlds beyond the every day immediate can be very rewarding. I encourage them to read this blog whenever there are articles I feel really could open their eyes to their greater potential – or encourage them not to give up. At least in a selfish way it is Japan related and I get to keep working on my own understanding of the language. :) Maybe one day inspire kids to head to Japan for themselves – where they’re sure to fall in love with it all like I did.

  • Ashley Tieman

    I lived in Japan two years, did the English teaching gig a bit, then became a stay at home mom for the rest of my time. But spending time with Japanese friends, I picked up a lot of the language. Not fluent, mind you, and still way behind in my kanji (but I’m wanikani’ing it now)…but passable, and definitely mastered the basics. My biggest fear in moving back to America was not being able to keep up with my skills and deteriorating into level one again.

    BUT, I was really lucky to hear about a brand new language school in my new American city (Memphis) that just so happened to be interested in having a Japanese teacher on staff…and they liked that they could get an experienced English teacher and a Japanese teacher in a two for one deal.

    Now I teach basic Japanese (language + culture/food) to little kids in an after school program at a private Christian school twice a week, plus one adult beginning Japanese class for Mitsubishi employees. And occasionally I do volunteer translation for medical situations since Japanese is a very rare language for medical translators in this area.

    Is it a full time dream job? Nope. But I’m primarily a stay at home mom, so I only want a few hours a week anyway. It’s the perfect way to keep my mind focusing on Japanese every day while preparing materials and get paid for loving Japan and Japanese. Don’t give up hope, there are opportunities in America for sure!

  • Justin

    Haha, i also worked at yamato, not in the states but in yokohama as a part time job while I was in language school…. my group leader was an ass and i told him if he touched me again id kill him. Good times those were, good times indeed.

  • Zitterdackel

    My husband works for a japanese international machine tool company here in Germany as a Service Engineer.
    In Germany it’s different with jobs. You don’t have to study to get a good education for good jobs. So he just went to a job interview and they took him.
    Also his work environment is a mix of german (with the german customers) and english it’d be good if he would know some japanese. Some manuals of the machines are completely in japanese and also questions to japanese hotlines or coworkers are hard to ask in english because their english isn’t quite good.
    He experienced japanese coworkers leaving germany because of their language skills.

    He has a quite high salary as a unstudied worker in Germany and also the possibility to be transferred to any other country he wants with a hq of the company.
    So maybe we’ll use that after i finished studying to go to japan.

  • Shanghai Ronin

    I am a double major in Public Relations and Japanese, and to be honest I thought that Public Relations would be the degree to help me find a job—but I was wrong.

    I did the JET Program for 2 years (go Niigata!), and instead of return to the USA I went to Beijing and studied Chinese for about 6 months. After my course finished, I went job hunting and Shanghai and was alarmed to find that no one wanted me for my Chinese or PR skills—they needed my Japanese.

    I used a variety of Japanese headhunters (similar to TOP) in China to find my job. I worked as a Japanese business analyst at a consulting firm for about 1 year where I did non-stop research in Japanese and made over 6 hours of phone calls (in Japanese) on a daily basis. Now I work at a Japanese advertising firm as their assistant and interpreter/translator.

    I agree that majoring ONLY in Japanese is not a smart idea (especially if you can’t speak the language upon graduation, I was the same—thank god for JET) and if possible, try to major in something that is somewhat useful (engineering, business, design—my PR degree is so useless to me now).

    BUT for all those people out there who majored in Japanese and CAN speak Japanese, don’t despair! There’s a ton of job opportunities for you, and I think Japanese can also be the way to get introduced into a new career or field (i.e. being a translator is not the only option). If I had stayed in the consulting field, I could have risen in the ranks and become a senior consultant.

    Japanese is actually one of (if not THE) highest paid language pair for translation and interpretation (sadly because Japanese people do not have a high level of English). After learning Chinese, I realized that Japanese is way more in demand and makes more money, language-wise.

    If you had a business degree with fluent Japanese to boot—oh, the possibilities!

  • John

    Haha, awesome – keep up the good work!

  • Allyson Larimer

    I’ve seen ads for the Boston Career Forum but I’ve never been there. Did you take the whole SPI test? I see that it is broken up into several sections so I was wondering if they make you take 言語 and 非言語能力? About how long did it take? Did you end up getting a job through it?

  • Allyson Larimer

    Its pretty simple, just go on to any job site (monster, indeed, careerbuilder) and search the key word “Japanese” in Columbus. I just did it and found 13 that are hiring today. It comes and goes but there are usually at least half a dozen at any given point during the year. You may have a hard time without actually having N2 though. I have one friend who got a job without it and another who can’t get any interviews without it. It just depends on the company.

    P.S. If you are in Columbus now and you want to come practice your Japanese, check out our Benkyoukai! http://www.meetup.com/Columbus-Benkyoukai/

  • ヘレン ちゃん

    If you can speak fluent English and can get your Bachelors degree, you can still teach in Japan. Not through JET, but JET isn’t the only English teaching company that schools use. Others include Westgate, Amity, Berlitz, etc, and I’ve read blogs by people online who are not American, but are teaching English in Japan (and sometimes, though not as commonly, I believe people do teach other languages as well). You’ll want to save some money still though, to get there if they don’t pay for that, or you have to be reimbursed later for it, or be able to pay first and last months rent, etc. Like, Westgate has teacher apartments, but a language school like Berlitz, i don’t know that they do.
    Hope that helps. :)

  • ヘレン ちゃん

    This was a great article! Thanks John!

  • ヘレン ちゃん

    Great points! Thanks!
    (you were one of the non-Americans who didn’t go through the JET program, that i was thinking about when i wrote my comment above!) ;)

  • http://www.usguyintokyo.com/ Dave Faulkmore

    There is a huge scam around McDegrees. Offering “know that” degrees and with no promise of any application anywhere. Even within academia. Only advice is to self-study. Tech up! If you have student debt in the US the laws say u can’t declare bankruptcy. You are a debt slave for life, from money that was literally printed out of thin air. Don’t fall for this debt bubble. You don’t have to make payments on a McDegree.

  • JA_JP

    I’ve dealt with TOPS-Los Angeles and found them to be rude and won’t give you the time of day if you don’t pass their Japanese speaking test. A friend has dealt with the New York branch, and while she is studying to take the JLPT N1 she also found them to be rude and won’t give any information as to why she wasn’t selected. They also seem to forget they are in the states and have the attitude that I’m only eligible to work for them. Nope, I’m a US citizen and can work for anyone. Deal with it. I did finally manage to pry an answer out of a non-Japanese that works for them, and he said that N3 would be the absolute minimum to be considered for employment.

  • 楢木城

    I’m on the hunt using that very strategy right now, but to be honest my priority is N2… Thanks for the offer to your 勉強会!

  • 楢木城

    That’s actually my exact fear in working for a Japanese company, and also my worry in trying to move in a direction away from Japanese.

  • 楢木城

    I’m not a big fan of making generalizations, but that does seem to be a pretty common complaint around the internet about Japanese companies in the US. TOP Chicago is definitely pretty open and nice to me, but at the same time I haven’t put a lot of eggs in that basket.

  • JA_JP

    Too bad I’m not at N2 yet. I have a BS in accounting and looking for a permanent career where I can also use my Japanese. Ok butt, let’s get in gear and get to studying to improve. I’m also open to practicing with others online.

  • JA_JP

    I find non-Japanese recruiters to be rude in general if you don’t have exactly what they’re looking for and you’re not local. I’m finding the question “Are you open to relocate?” to be more of a rhetorical question than a genuine one. As Allyson said, you can go on any job site and search for “japanese” to bypass recruiters.

  • Koichi’s Father

    Memrise is free. Grammar-wise you have Tae Kim’s guide. Reading materials on kanji koohi. Listening material on youtube and the previously mentioned site. Speaking “material” on Skype.
    PLUS, you live in Brazil (aka the Second Japan) so if you look around you are bound to have actual Japanese people who can help you.

  • Tofugu’s Father

    This is a great motivational boost! ^^

  • http://mindlog6.tumblr.com/ Eduardo França

    LOL, I really like the “Second Japan” thing, but I live a bit far from the places Japanese people migrated to during Second World War, I’m actually considering moving to São Paulo (there were massive numbers of Japanese people moving there in the past).

  • Marisa Lopez

    This was so useful and well written, my brother is going through a similar process and was considering getting a summer job in Hawaii, while he finishes college in San Diego. Do you recommend a line of work in particular, taking into account that he also speaks fluent spanish?

  • Marisa Lopez

    P.S. Joe is so cute.