Japanese Ability Not Always Required - Part Two
Technical, Financial, Senior Management
Continuing on about jobs and opportunities where you don't need to speak Japanese to work in Japan, probably the best paid jobs are those in categories in which Japan has a shortage of qualified people. These shortages are usually in areas which require a high level of technical expertise - not just technology, but also general know-how.
What categories would these be? Firstly, let's look at technology related jobs. Right now, there is such a high demand for internet and network security specialists that companies are hiring non-Japanese speakers to fill the gap. I have personally met a number of individuals who initially came to Japan on a short-term assessment or project management contract and were asked to stay on long-term to oversee a particular company's security policies and technology efforts. These guys are typically engineering managers and come complete with bilingual junior Japanese staff.
Another area is web work, particularly design and search engine optimization (SEO). Although English language web work is not a huge industry, opportunities do exist for people with skills in animation, video and software development experience. One job advertised on DaiJob at present (http://www.daijob.com/dj4/en/jobdetail.jsp?id=2146217642 ) is for an individual to produce multimedia news clips for placement on the web site of a large international news organization. Now, admittedly pretty much all the information will be in English, but even if it were not, there is a shortage of people who know all the technical aspects of producing animated or live online content.
Then of course there is my favorite sector within IT, which is software development and network engineering. Well, you can find plenty of infomation about these types of jobs elsewhere in my article back numbers, but I think it's safe to say that if you're a high-end Java developer, games developer, network security or data center specialist, or if you have experience project managing large and complicated office moves and factory build-outs, then you probably have a reasonable chance of getting a temporary job here.
Another technical area where innovation is creating skills shortages is in finance. I remember a few years ago that there were very few Private Equity specialists in Japan, and so banks brought foreigners in regardless of their Japanese abilities. More recently we have seen financial restructuring analysis and planning getting passed to non-Japanese as a stop-gap until the local staff become more knowledgeable about the stytems.
In the rarified atmosphere of international finance, many deals take place in English and Japanese is basically unnecessary. Take for instance the listing of a Japanese company overseas, international fund raising, or M&A of foreign companies by Japanese ones. Then there is FX trading and similar trading work, which largely requires participation on an international level and where speed of reflexes and an aggressive personality are greater assets than your grasp of keigo.
Lastly, Japanese is not necessarily required in senior management positions. There are plenty of people in Japan in senior positions who don't have strong Japanese skills. You will find these people every evening over at the Tokyo American Club and other expatriate communities. However, you'll quickly notice that almost all these people have relationships with their hiring firms going back years - to their countries of origin. This insider track requirement for expatriate senior positions makes it much harder for local non-Japanese to get top-level positions here. But they do still exist, for people with proven track records, great personal networks, and who have successfully created a strategy for handling their lack of Japanese ability. In particular, you'll find such people thriving at the top of companies which have a bilingual employee hiring policy. This means most foreign banks, software companies, direct marketing origanizations, and other high-profit, high-tech (both technique and technology) enterprises.
In the preceding examples, you may have noticed that many of the job opportunities for non-Japanese speakers come out of short-term skills shortages, so you might be wondering about job security. I find that job security over the long-term is more related to your cost-performance within the company than it is a function of language. If you're noticeably better paid than your Japanese colleagues, and yet some of them have already acquired the same skills level as you - then you would have to expect that your job will be in danger sooner or later.