“If you’re a foreigner in Japan and you’ve got qualifications then there’s an incredible amount of opportunities out there for you, especially in Tokyo. It’s easy to get jobs right now with any kind of IT skill.
“I came to Japan in 2005 and taught English for a few years till I realized I was doing it past my expiration date.
“Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed teaching English and several of my good friends are still active in that profession. They even have families, houses, and they’re productive members of society. That said, there’s also a large proportion of foreigners who come to teach English in Japan who do have other goals. And I’m one of them. Even before coming here, I already had a marketable skill: programming. But it could just as well have been graphic design, online marketing or writing and it would still have opened doors. Instead, I chose to be ‘stuck’ in English teaching because I was hesitant to change. I lacked confidence and just wasn’t enterprising enough. Maybe it was my Japanese skills. But I wasn’t at my highest earning potential and it sucked. So I focused on my Japanese and once I got that sorted out, I knew I could get professionally employed in Japan with the marketable skill I had, along with sufficient language skills. In hindsight, I didn’t need to be ultra- perfectly fluent in Japanese to have plenty of professional opportunities that will pay far more. It depends on what your thing is. Mine’s IT. Come to think of it, I could have gotten IT jobs even with zero Japanese.”
Play your cards right
“When applying for jobs in Japan, don’t play the Japanese new hire game. I don’t advise following that process because it’s so random. Instead, play the I’m-a-foreigner-I-should-be-hired-mid-career card. In IT it’s really easy. Japanese companies are not well adapted yet to the current modern reality of skilled workers. They don’t know how to hire them when they’re just out of college. They have no respect for the skills and capabilities of their youngest employees despite the fact that these newly graduates can make tremendous contributions just by the virtue of who they are and their immediate experience. It’s really sad. The vast majority of Japanese companies still live in that illusion world—that does not exist anymore—of lifetime employment, where it’s OK to sacrifice five years of the early career of new grads and let them do irrelevant work with no value just so they can seep in the culture and the values of the company and know everything there is to know about the company. And then they can start contributing.”
(Mathieu is an enterprise IT consultant from Montreal, Canada, on Big Data infrastructure and analytics applications. He writes technical blogs, gives talks, and is well-versed in machine learning, which he believes is a crucial invention that will enable people to do more and make things that were difficult accessible.)