Working the Japanese office job

You know, if you were brought to Japan on a sweet expat package, or you came over of your own initiative with the drive to make a name for yourself and by scotch, that’s exactly what you did, I salute you. I do.

But for every one of you, I’d like to think there are a couple folk like me: people that came here with no real plan, arguably with no real skill set, yet nonetheless decided, “You know what? Screw it, I’m staying.” Unfortunately, that’s where things get a bit tricky. People fitting this profile tend to be (to draw a sweeping generalization) doing the English-teaching grind, be it on the JET Program or at some ungodly chain eikaiwa English conversation school. No offense if that’s you and you genuinely like what you do, but that was me and it got old fast. And I know I’m not the only one.

Being an English teacher outside of a university setting tends to mean, to draw another generalization, that you are keiyaku shain, a contract worker with substandard benefits and the ever-present possibility of being let go should your employer deem you not economically viable. No matter what you are told, eikaiwa (at least, big-chain eikaiwa) is not a career. So, what to do?

The obvious answer is to get a job that will treat you as a seishain, a full-time employee with all the benefits (medical, unemployment, paid vacation and national holidays, etc.) that entails. You may very well find something at a foreign company, but there’s a good chance that getting in the door will require a couple of the same things that a Japanese one would — namely, the ability to communicate in at least conversational Japanese, and a Japanese-language resume, the more common of which (yes, there are two of them) is the 履歴書, or rirekisho. I can give you a couple pointers with the former, but the latter is what made me want to post this information on the Net in the first place.

I was fluent in Japanese when preparing to send out resumes, but I’d never done a rirekisho before, and frankly the information out there — both in English and Japanese — was not very helpful. I spent a long time trawling different sites and comparing different formats before finally coming up with the resources that allowed me to snare the positions I’ve landed since leaving eikaiwa. This blog will allow me to share them with you.

Have the positions I’ve worked post-eikaiwa been, how you say, boring office jobs? You better believe it. They’ve been boring as fuck office jobs, entailing for the most part sitting in front of a computer all day, doing the occasional bit of work interspersed with refreshing Google News for hours on end. They have also paid $10-12,000 per year more than the average eikaiwa teacher earns.

Given the crappy wages of most eikaiwa teachers, this isn’t much to brag about. But considering the above-mentioned benefits and the freedom of no longer being anyone’s English monkey, selling out to the Japanese version of The Man, while soul-crushing in its monotony, sure beats the alternative.

This is where I find myself now — a salaryman, a Japanese office worker.

I am not a success, in that if “success” is a measure of monetary gain, the chances that you are now or will in the near future be earning far more than me are rather good. But I came here with no goal and ended up with one: to land a job that didn’t involve teaching English and to settle down here permanently, becoming a part of this society. And I’ve done it.

Those of you for whom this experience holds relevance, stick around. More from the front lines to come.

6 Responses

  1. “To land a job that didn’t involve teaching English and to settle down here permanently, becoming a part of this society.”

    That is precisely what I’m trying to do right now. I have the level 2 Japanese exam impending in December and a double major in Japanese Studies and English. I’ve been here since September 2006, and have found myself struggling to get out of the eikaiwa industry. Monetarily, I’ve been kicked around a couple of times – the collapse of Nova and the lessening work at the tiny eikaiwa I’m working at in Shibuya at the moment. I also teach classes twice a week on my own at a computer company.

    I want a full time job! I’ve got an apartment, a longterm Japanese boyfriend and..well…crap, in the job department. At the moment I’m preparing to write my first rirekisho.

    Do you have any advice? I’m 24 years old, female, with Canadian and British passports. I’m incredibly stressed out right now too, so your page has been wonderfully helpful so far. I’m hoping we can talk some more?

    Thanks,
    Jessica

  2. Hey there Jessica,

    Check your e-mail inbox. Take care.

  3. this post seems to be the place for lost souls looking for a career in Tokyo… I’ll be moving back to Japan in a months time. My Japanese is poor, but have a decent IT skill. I’d hate to end up being in an Eikaiwa, but it may be necessary for a year – to learn as much language as I can.

  4. A year isn’t that bad of a stretch if you can make the most of it, Peter.

    I studied Japanese like a mad fiend when I was doing the English teaching thing — a couple hours kanji in the morning, a couple hours vocab after work, and about a half day’s worth of whatever on Saturday and Sunday. I also spoke a lot more Japanese on the job than you’d think; if you’re persistent, you can wear down the old “no Japanese” rule. Additionally, I had a language exchange thing going on with one of my Japanese co-workers who spoke very high-level English; we’d get to work 45 minutes or so before our shifts and then take turns answering each other’s pre-prepared questions. There are lots of ways to wrangle in some language study on the job.

  5. I think I’m in pretty much the same as Jessica – though I’m a monkey in a university and have a little more freedom with my lessons – it’s still not a career and I have no job security. I think I’m done with this English teaching stuff, I’m bored of it after going for 5 years. I need to find a job that suits me, so I’m hoping to go into tech support / computer repair, eventually work my way up to systems and network admin – trouble is I dont really have any formal qualifications for it (just a university degree…). I found your page after a friend mentioned there was a rirekisho template out there on the internets somewhere. Very grateful for that template. Will be tackling it soon, so thank you so much for the walkthrough!

    Ahh, to have a job with real BONUSES, just like a real Japanese person!! One can but dream….

  6. Glad to be of help, James. Hopefully it will be of some use to you.

    And excellent usage of “internets.” Far too many people these days make reference to “the Internet,” in the singular and capitalized to boot. I find this disturbing.

    Incidentally, my current job doesn’t dish out bonuses. Nor did my previous one. Yes, the stinginess applies to some J-companies as well, and I have been blessed to have worked at two of them.

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