Japan is a beautiful and great place to live. The culture, the people, the food, the landscape, and the language give you a great Japan experience. All of it is in one word, ‘Amazing.’ But as in every culture, there is some weird stuff that boggles the mind and will leave you with a great question mark above your head. Looking for work in Japan is not as easy as one would have thought…
Such a question mark happened to me quite recently that actually has a more underlying issue covering the entire country.
Alright, storytime: In October, there was a post on a Facebook group (Minishare, a Craigslist for APU students in Beppu) that invited all international students to join a seminar that was organized by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). This seminar was to inform foreign students about finding a job in the Kyushu island. For those who do not know, Kyushu is the southern island of Japan. I thought: “Great! This is nice, as I would love to work in Japan, mind, and look at this seminar. The Facebook post stated the following: “※The seminar will be conducted mainly in simple Japanese and there will be English interpretation in some parts.” Of course, I was worried about this as I am not that proficient in the Japanese language. Still, I had some hope regarding that some things would have some explanation in English.
I went to the seminar, guess what….. It was all in Japanese. Yes, there was a lady that would “translate” maybe 5% of the entire seminar. Still, her translation was extremely lacking, and adding the word ‘like’ 4 times in a sentence does not really convey the message. If you think I am lying, please have a look at their recent Youtube video uploaded to “attract” internationals: How you should not attract internationals
Fortunately, I had an employee of the METI who spoke English sitting next to me to translate the presentation to me. The presentation went to fast for him to be able to translate everything accurately. I was sitting in a group of 2 Egyptians and 1 Palestinian. During the break, I told the METI employee my frustrations about this whole fiasco. I would love to work in Japan, but everything is in Japanese. The employee said to me that they were targeting international students that had have been living for a long time in Japan and were able to converse in the Japanese language on a high level. In this context, it means undergraduate students that have studied for 4 years in Japan, whereas the 3 students from the Arab country and me were all Master’s students. We have a mere 2 years to study in Japan, which will definitely not be enough to get to N2 JLPT level (Starting from N5 up to N1).
I told him that Japan is not ready for the international world. The working environment is not foreign-friendly. About 60% of the APU undergraduate students, who found a job in Japan, would leave Japan in the first year as they cannot cope with the Japanese work ethos. APU is pumping undergraduate students to work in Japan, and it flaunts their results on their website about how many students found a job in Japan. However, it fails to report, explicitly, how many not only left the job but also left the country.
This whole seminar made no sense to me. Imagine yourself holding a seminar to attract international students to your country/region for work. Would you do it in your native language? Of course not! I cannot imagine the international student’s look if I would conduct an entire seminar in Dutch.
The situation is quite sad as Japan is reluctant to change anytime to internationalize. Of all countries in the world, Japan needs to internationalize due to its decline in population. As reported by the Japan Times (2017, July 5), Japan’s population has been declining for 8 years. The number of births in Japan was 981,202, and deaths were 1,309,515, a decline of 328,313 people. Japan is in dire need of a solution for its decline. This decline puts a lot of stress on the economic situation of Japan.
As described by Forbes (2017, July 10), Japan has a debt-to-GDP ratio of 234%(!). Greece, with a deb-to-GDP ratio of 176%, is a joke compared to Japan. My (Japanese) teacher asked me: “To whom does Japan owe all this debt?” To which I answered: “To foreign countries.” Which she replied: ”No, to the Japanese citizens.” This surprised me a lot as Japan has been spending its people’s money. Clearly, Japan is in an economic ****hole.
The course name was Society and Culture. Here we discussed the current social issues of Japan regarding the economic issues and population decline. For this, we used a book Critical Issues in Contemporary Japan by Jeff Kingston. One of the chapters goes deep into the social issue, and it suggested two solutions to the economic issue. One of the solutions was to increase women in the labour force. Women are highly discriminated in Japan regarding work. It is hard for a Japanese woman to go up the promotion ladder as the Japanese society expects that a woman will eventually marry and have kids and remain at home. As such, it is hard for women to keep up their working life. The Japan Times (2016, April 8) did report that there is an increase of women in the labour force. 43% of Japanese women are working nowadays, coming from 36% three decades ago.
That is indeed great news, but remember we are talking about Japan, where long working hours are not alien. With long, I mean loooooonnnggggg (12+ working hours). Furthermore, childcare is lacking. There are long queues for day-cares as many families want to drop their child at a day-care before going to work. If that wasn’t enough, as reported by JapanInfo (2017, Jan 17), women want to earn less than ¥1 million because earning more than that, the government will tax the women heavily, and pension money will be deducted. This is because the men are the biggest breadwinners and stay working the entire day, also known as Salarymen.
I agree that increasing women in the workplace and giving them the same career opportunity is required. But will this be enough to lift the economy up? If women do work, they do not have the time to rear a child. Working long hours is the norm. I admit it is changing, but not fast enough!
In my opinion, option 2 is the best, namely open the borders for international workers. This is because many highly motivated, skilled, and talented people would love to be part of Japanese society. When talking about international workers, people immediately think of uneducated people and do dirty jobs. The criminality rate will increase. No, this is, of course, bullocks. There are educated people out there who love to work in Japan, but the environment is not ready.
It is a norm to prepare to find a job in your last year as an undergraduate in Japan. Meaning, at the start of your 4th year, you start looking for a job. If you are looking for a job at the end of your 4th year, you are too late. Japanese employers want the jobseekers to spend an entire year looking for a job because the process takes a whole year… There are 6 hurdles you will need to partake before you are accepted for a job. The 6 hurdles are: 1) an entry (probably your application), 2) job fair seminar, 3) resume entry sheet, 4) paper test and a web test (aptitude test and math test), 5) job interview (group interview, group discussions, personal interview. All in that order), 6) getting a job offer. All of this and maybe, just maybe, you will get the job. Just keep in mind, you do this with at least 20 companies because the job interviews are killing. This also means you are required to do lots of traveling in order to participate in the interviews.
I told the METI employee why I would want to go through so much trouble to find a single job in Japan while I could just send my CV and application letter to a company in, for example, Germany, go for a (Skype) interview, and get accepted all within one month?! Before you even apply, you will need to have a JLPT N2 level. A JLPT N2 level tests your ability to read, listen, and write in Japanese (grammar and spelling), but it does not cover speaking. If you do not have JLPT N2, do not even think about looking for a job in Japan. When you finally achieved the JLPT N2, you are only half-way. Getting to the N2 level takes 3 to 5 years. The hurdles are amazing.
When you have read this, I probably have demotivated you to find a job in Japan. I am not saying it is impossible. If you have managed to jump over all the mentioned hurdles above, you will find a job in Japan. I want you to be realistic about your idea of finding a job in Japan. I have not given up, as I would still love to find a job in Japan and be a beautiful society. But as the Japanese say: You have to ‘Ganbatte‘ a lot and overcome Japan’s stranger things.
Forbes, (2017, July 10), Japan Has Entered The Next Phase: Unlimited Money Printing
JapanInfo, (2017, January 17), Why Are Many Women in Japan Stay-At-Home Wives? Here Are 6 Reasons
The Japan Times, (2016, April 8), Still a struggle for working women
The Japan Times (2017, July 5), Japan’s population falls for eighth straight year but number of foreign residents rises