"It's not what you know, it's who you know," is an old refrain that works well in Japan for job hunting. As I've written before, employers will often take on someone who is not ideally suited for a position but who appears to have the right temperament and basic skills - so long as they can get to know them first and feel comfortable about taking the extra risk. The problem for the job hunter then, is how do you meet these employers?
One of the best ways is to start hanging out at the same events and locations as those potential employers: business associations, chambers of commerce, sports clubs, sector-specific seminars, charities, personal development clubs, and lobbying groups.
The objective in doing this is to have senior managers in your target market getting used to seeing you around as a peer, and witnessing your language and/or professional skills. This of course means that you should be volunteering for a few different organizations and trying your best to get on the executive committees or board of governors of each as an organizer or leader.
If you're targeting foreign firms as potential employers, the place to start is an appropriate local branch of a foreign chamber of commerce. The biggest of these is the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ), which to my knowledge is the second largest American chamber, outside the one in the USA. The ACCJ has more than 3,000 members, representing over 1,400 companies, and has chapters in Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka. It conducts more than 400 events a year, and so there is plenty of room for you to get involved in one of the many subcommittees - one of which is surely serving the industry you're interested in. By virtual of its sheer size, the ACCJ has also become a lobbying force of some repute and puts out a tremendous number of influential opinion papers in Japanese to help the Japanese government see the non-Japanese point of view.
Where as the ACCJ is large enough to give you individual groups based on industry and sector, other foreign chambers of commerce tend to be more focused on nationality and/or interaction between their region and Japan. These chambers can give you more variety (because you are not pigeon-holed) and potentially better access to senior management in companies from those particular locales. The German Chamber for example gives you access to the foreign leaders of certain famous car and manufacturing companies, while the French and Italian ones can give you access to top people representing brands and fashion.
You can find a list of 14 foreign chambers of commerce in Japan, along with their contact details at http://www.fcc.or.jp/index-e.html, a page in the Finnish Chamber of Commerce website. This list is quite Western-centric however, so for a more extensive one, go to the JETRO search page http://www.jetro.go.jp/en/invest/directory/, and check the Foreign Governments and Organizations boxes. You will get a surprising 150+ list of groups that represent foreign interests in Japan, easily enough to provide you with some ideas and ambitions.
Another type of organization to look for is that of special interest groups. Starting with a business focus, we have the Entrepreneur's Association of Tokyo (EA), http://www.ea-tokyo.com/index.php; the Foreign Executive Women (FEW) organization, www.fewjapan.com; and the Association of Women in Finance (AWF), www.awftokyo.com/.
Then there are the work-specific groups, such as the International Computer Association (ICA), www.icajapan.jp; Society of Editors, Writers, and Translators (SWET), www.swet.jp; and the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan (FCCJ), www.fccj.or.jp. There of course many more organizations than this, and many outside Tokyo. Get on the Internet and start searching. You'll be surprised how many special interest groups are catered for in this country - and that's just among the foreign communities.
Next week, we look at Japanese organizations.