Tips for your career in Japan

Key considerations before working in Japan

There are many reasons why you may be considering job-hunting and working in Japan, but it isn't for everyone. There is a large range of factors you need to consider, however, before you come to Japan you should certainly give some thought to the following issues relating to your work life, your social life and managing your finances.

1) Work: Can you handle Japanese business culture?

Even if you work for a gaishikei in Japan, you will have to work with Japanese people who perhaps have different ways of thinking to yourself. To give a more concrete example, it's very common in Japan to think of tasks or targets as processes that can be broken down, resulting in a requirement to have a deadline for each of these bitesize tasks. This may seem puzzling and perhaps overly meticulous from a Western perspective, but simply going about tasks in any way possible with nothing but a final deadline to guide you will seem negligent from a Japanese perspective. Are you willing to compromise on things that seem to be basic common sense to you? Hiring a foreigner is an indication that a company seeks foreign influence, but inevitably you will have to compromise some of your principles too.

Note: It's also worth mentioning that working in a Japanese company for the sake of it and without a true career goal is likely to end badly. Consider your end game and what you would like to acheive by working in Japan.

2) Social: Are you open-minded enough to make new friends?

One true fact of life is that friends throughout your lifetime will change and this isn't necessarily a bad thing; creating new friends and a new network in a foreign country is a good experience and offers you the ability to pick and choose people who match your personal values rather than having "friends by default". Creating friends in the first place requires you to come out of your shell and learn how to deal with people from all walks of life, allowing you to be a more well-rounded person which can also be useful in business.

The rules for meeting new people are almost universal, but it's a good idea to clarify how you may want to make friends in Japan.

- Be open minded. Not everyone will have your exact way of thinking but it's important to adapt and find the good in people.
- Hang out with colleagues. Maintaining good relationships at work means that people are more likely to help you out and listen to you if you have a problem.
- Go to bars. Talk to people you feel you may get along with and don't be afraid to talk to people you don't know.

Note from the author: Talking to people with the intention of "improving your Japanese/English" rarely has impactful results on either your language ability or widening your social network. Forcing conversation will lead you to repeat the same thing over and over again and people will recognise that your desire to speak with them is insincere. Be willing to understand people and listen to them and conversation will flow more naturally. If ultimately you would like to improve your language level, people will be much more open to helping you once you have established a sincere relationship. They are more likely to introduce you to their friends and even if your Japanese/English ability is low there will probably be someone you want to talk to who is easier to communicate with in the language you are learning. In my experience, "international parties" have been a haven of insincere conversation, while bars and hobby "communities" have a larger ratio of people who geniunely want to meet other similarly-minded people.

3) Financial: Will your salary allow you to live comfortably?

A typical salary for a new graduate is as low as 2M to 2.5M JPY per year, meaning that you may take home around 180,000 JPY per month. The extent this salary will go to depends largely on where you are located, but living in big cities like Tokyo will mean living frugally on such a wage.

Renting an apartment in Tokyo by yourself requires a two-year contract in addition to an upfront fee in many places, however if you do plan to stay for two or more years you can save money going this route rather than paying 20% more rent with guesthouse operators just to have the flexibility to leave when you wish.

You can expect to pay up to 120,000 JPY per month for a reasonable apartment to yourself in the centre of Tokyo, or as little as 40,000 JPY for a room in a guest house with a shared bathroom/kitchen outside the centre. There are also dormitories available if you do not mind sleeping in the same room as other people which can be inexpensive, but possibly not a long term solution.

Food in Japan is expensive and the lack of intense competition between supermarkets means that "Buy one get one free" or half price offers are not common at all. Try to discover which foods are cheap and will still satisfy your hunger (100 Yen Lawson is always a good place to start, yogurts and frozen blueberries/strawberries are very cheap and nutritious). You can probably expect to pay around 10,000 JPY per week on food, including eating out a few times.

Having a social life in Japan can be expensive but many people will be looking to live cheaply just like you. The practice of takunomi or "drinking at home" will save you a lot of money if you don't mind having your friends over, but some bars charge as little as 250-300 JPY for a drink. All-you-can-drink nomihoudai may sound cheap, but it can add up.

It's also very easy to lose a sense of reality when dealing with a foreign currency and I've heard many people say that "spending Yen feels like spending Monopoly money". This money may have different people printed on it but its value is very real (admittedly, not as real as when money was valued based on the gold standard). Fluctuating exchange rates can also heighten or lessen your sensitivity to the price of certain items. Be sure to ensure that financial discipline is maintained even when dealing in Yen and get a feel for the relative value of your salary compared to what can be purchased with it within Japan.

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