Marketing/designer Job Hurdles Part One: The Reality

Marketing/designer Job Hurdles Part One: The Reality

One of the business world's most interesting job categories is design and marketing. And yet the opportunity for English-only foreigners to pursue this career path in Japan is extremely limited - mainly to positions servicing export companies, where the materials are going to be in English.

The reason for this lack of opportunity is a practical one: for, to market to an audience, especially one as picky as the Japanese consumer, you have to be able to convince, reason with, and coerce them in their own language and based on their value system. This is not to say that it is impossible - clearly there are foreigners in Tokyo successfully involved in design and marketing - but you will normally find that such people have either worked their way into their positions after a number of years in the company, or they own the company they work for...

This week I answer the enquiry of a reader with great design credentials, but just not the ones that are in demand in Tokyo. I hope I wasn't too negative with him...

TH: I'm from California but currently living in Chiba. I've lived in Japan in the past as an English teacher, now I have returned with my Japanese wife and child to spend a few years here. I am now a Senior Graphic Designer looking for work in a creative advertising, marketing, or publishing company, either Japanese, foreign, or multi-national. In my last position in the US, a job I held for 5 years, I created marketing brochures, sales presentation materials, in-store displays, packaging, advertising and corporate newsletters from concept to print-ready artwork. I also recruited, trained, supervised and inspired a team of freelance artists as well as managed a digital photography studio, created 3D renderings, large mock ups of products and displays, and digital illustration. I have been in the graphic design field for more than 10 years now, and can also do web design and Power Point presentations.
My Japanese language ability is intermediate ( I plan on passing level 3 of JLPT this year). I'm finding that language is my biggest hurdle, and I am not finding any positions for creative positions advertised, other than those for fluent Japanese speakers. What are my options?

Terrie: In your profession the objective is to influence and persuade the consumer. This requires a high awareness of the language and culture. Now, although I frequently encourage people to put their careers on hold and go learn Japanese as base one of a career plan - and of course I encourage you to do this as well - you may find that the level of language you're going to have to achieve to do a design or marketing job that reaches out to Japanese consumers may require a level of personal investment could be too long for the amount of time you seem to be planning to spend in Japan.

So, yes, start focusing on the language - for at least 6 months full-time, because without JLPT 2-kyu equivalency, you probably won't even get into a probationary position in a mainstream advertising or design company these days. (Continued next week)