Japanese Ability Not Always Required
While Japanese ability is required for most jobs in multinationals, and is certainly a strategic skill to have, there are nevertheless a number of job categories out there which do not require much more than basic “Where is the train station?” skills.
Top of these would be of course English teaching. Given that there is a shortage of qualified teachers in Japan in general, most English schools these days have someone who looks after non-Japanese speakers from the point at which they arrive in Japan.
Companies providing services to foreign consumers – such as restaurants, bars, clubs, international schools, etc. Although it helps to have Japanese skills to at least talk to the owners and suppliers of these establishments, in actual fact, your Japanese can be pretty much zero. Owners of these establishments are usually most interested in how low a salary you’ll accept, or your gregarious nature and thus ability to attract repeat customers. An interesting side note is that I was told by one reader that students on a Japanese-language studies visa who are working part-time are not supposed to work in bars and clubs due to those occupations not being salubrious. You might want to check this point out with your school.
Companies selling services to foreign companies – especially in the recruiting, IT, HR and training, advertising, travel, and other similar industries. There is a whole secondary industry of small foreign-run service providers who look after the larger foreign firms here in Japan. You can find them as Associate and Entrepreneur members of the ACCJ, BCCJ, and other chambers of commerce member directories. These firms know that selling to foreign companies can be difficult and time-consuming unless you find that right channel, and they use foreign – often non-Japanese speaking – employees to do this.
Let me explain. If you’re a new company and faced with trying to penetrate a 2,000-person foreign bank or oil company, you’ll find it quite difficult to get business by walking in through the front door. So what vendors do is to find a strategically placed foreign manager, they’re often the CFO or a Board member of the Japanese operation, and sell to them first. Once you have that person convinced, you can then expect a top-down directive to the rest of the organization to check the product or service out. Further, local business owners know well that “like attracts like” and so they prefer to hire foreign staff to interface with key foreign clients. Americans for American clients, French for French clients, and so on.
Companies selling services to Japanese – especially in the recruiting, financial consulting, and import/export businesses. Sometimes companies employ non-Japanese speaking foreigners as an “advance guard” – opening doors through the foreign staff member’s shock value. For example, some direct sales companies use foreign staff as a quick way to get in to the top of smaller firms. The idea is to ring a company, then using English only, force the receiver of the call to pass to someone on the elite track, who has studied English. You can quickly meet international business development executives in particular, using this system.
Using English to filter your target audience is also used by recruiting firms, who employ foreigners and use English to find out in a large company who is bilingual. Once the person is on the phone, they charm them into agreeing to an out-of-hours meeting and the sales process begins.