Japan Entry Program – Part Two
Learning and Looking:
Some regular readers will be getting sick of my message about the fact that ALL foreigners arriving in Japan need to take time to learn Japanese. But the reality is that the competition for jobs for foreigners has been heating up ever since the government opened up the country to Chinese students some years ago (peaking at 70,000+ students in 2003, but down in 2004 after the murders of a Fukuoka family by 3 Chinese students causing Immigration to clamp down on Chinese student numbers). Many of these students are trilingual and have basic qualifications in the skills area they are applying for. Because they are trilingual and because recently foreign firms think both China and Japan when they map out a North Asia strategy, demand for these people is quite high.
Therefore, the absolute minimum you need to hold down a meaningful job outside the English-teaching/writing industry is the Japan Foundation's JLPT, 2-kyuu level. According to people taking the test, it takes a minimum of 600 hours of very intensive study to reach "ni-kyuu". See this page for more details: http://www.thejapanesepage2.com/kanji/jlpt.htm.
So, you've been working a part-time job for 6 months and you've resisted several job offers, so that you can finish your language course, and now you're ready to start looking for THE job. Our writer from last week, 17-year old Canadian Ms. NL, wants to become a fashion designer. While I don`t know the first thing about fashion (just ask my wife and teenage daughters), I can imagine that her efforts will go something like this...
Around the time her Japanese reaches a reasonable conversational level, NL will start attending fashion shows, finding out who the up-and-coming players are. She may make friends with some young Japanese women who are involved in organizing events, buyers, journalists, etc., and start to go out to events with them, as a "foreign friend". Especifically if you’re young, foreign, and fun to be with, Japanese will love to invite you along, initially as a mascot, but eventually once they get to know you, as a friend.
Through NL's networking, she will start to figure out which companies are hitting the big time, but don't yet have egos to match. She will target establishing some friendships within one or two companies, with a view to doing a part-time internship. The starting date for the internship will start the working day after she passes her 2-kyuu exams at the language school - and hopefully before her student visa runs out. This is probably the most nerve-wracking time for her, wondering if she's going to score a proper paying job and thus visa sponsorship before having to leave the country. An internship will help seal such an opportunity. Usually the internship will run for 3 months, and NL will be doing her best to impress her Japanese colleagues about her sincerity and passion for the job.
At the same time, she will be continuing to support herself with a part-time job. Who knows, she may be able to get a grateful employer to sponsor the visa for a year, in return for her staying on for at least the term of the internship at the fashion place. Now, this is where I would be concerned for a 17-year old girl coming to Japan. It is easy to fall into trouble here, taking the easy way out and getting involved in Japan's steamier underground industries. I'd like to think that NL would have the strength of personality, that if she found herself in trouble, that she would be prepared to put her dream on hold for a couple of years and head back home for a breather.
But if all goes well, and in Tokyo I've seen some quite amazing success stories by determined young Westerners, she will have made a paid position in a design firm. Of course, she is going to be in for the toughest apprenticeship of her life, working long hours and always being considered the outsider. However, with some smart moves, such as trying to help the company gain foreign relationships and business, she could wind up creating the job of her life.