Working in Japan Without Speaking Japanese: Yes, You Can!2 March 2020
Many people believe that the only job you can find in Japan, if you do not speak Japanese, is as an English teacher. That is not true. There are dozens of foreigners who can’t speak a single word of Japanese working in various industries in Japan. Finding a job is not that difficult, even without speaking the language. But once you live there, you should rapidly learn at least conversational Japanese, otherwise lots of doors will close in front of you.
Start as an English teacher and learn to speak Japanese
In Japan, chances are no one will ever tell you that you should make the effort of learning and speaking Japanese. But that doesn’t mean they don’t think it. Without it, you risk missing out in promotions or other job offers. Learning Japanese will help in your search.
You need to start somewhere, right? And although teaching English in Japan is not the only job you can find, it remains a great way to get started. After that, you can do almost anything you want. Thanks to the new Humanities/International Services/Engineering visa, dating back from 2015, very few jobs are off limits to foreigners who originally came to Japan to teach English.
To find a job: Take the time to visit companies
The best way to find a job in Japan is to show up at companies hiring. Not everyone will see you, of course, but those that do will have a better understanding of who you are, which a resume won’t provide. Speaking in English, remain polite at all time. Make sure to put your best foot forward and listen to the information they give back to you, so you can use this as a learning experience as well.
One of the best strategies is to aim for multinational corporations, such as Google or Apple, preferably not Japanese. There, you can find a position in a team in which locals have more chances of being bilingual. Again, keep in mind that the sooner you learn some Japanese and show your willingness to do so, the faster you’ll be accepted by your colleagues.
If living in Japan is your dream: Go for it!
Long-term assignments in Japan can be really hard to find in your home country. Just because you started working at the local branch of Matsuda, does not guarantee you will get a long-term assignment to Japan or even a chance to move there. But there are ways to make your dream of living in Japan come true, and you just have to make it happen.
For example, if you were an artist back home, why not try to continue your trade in Japan? You can start out as an English teacher, as your day job, and practice your art at night (or the reverse) until you make enough money with your craft and then you can stop teaching or keep only a few students.
At some point, you will need to learn the language
We have been hinting at this all along and now it is time to make it clear: If you want to remain in Japan you will have to learn the language and culture. That is the only way to find the best opportunities. Once you start, you will discover that Japanese culture is embedded in the language, and suddenly, you will start understanding people’s true meaning behind their words. Japanese people really feel much more at ease communicating in their native language. In fact, for many Japanese, just the thought of having to speak English is a source of anxiety.
Audio lessons and taking volunteer classes at the local ward office are the best way to learn. At the ward office you will also get access to native speakers at low cost which you can benefit from. You will soon notice that even at a conversational level you will be able to solve problems you could not before.
Moving from teaching to any other job you want
Starting as a teacher does not mean you will do that for the rest of your life in Japan. It can simply be a stepping stone. Some start out by giving private lessons and then move on to teaching in a school, where the opportunity to meet lots of people can turn into a new job offer in a completely different field.
Once you understand what expats in Japan can do, and you hang around them for a while, you will be exposed to entrepreneurs and people working in different fields which can also lead to finding a job. The more people you have around you and talk to, the more chances you’ll have to find new opportunities. You never know where your next lead will come from! But one thing is sure, being in Japan is the biggest advantage you could ever have.
A few words on recruiters
Be careful with recruiting agencies. There is a large number of them but many go bankrupt every year. They often don’t deliver anything at all, and you only risk reducing the pay from your future employment as their fee comes out of your pay check.