It would be interesting for some researcher to look at the reasons people come to Japan – especially those reasons which are not economically related but through some other cause. My personal guess is that the JET program and other English-teaching opportunities would be high on the list, as would general transfers of expats working for foreign companies. But at least one other high ranking would be of those people who are married to or partnered with a Japanese and are coming to Japan because their spouse/partner wants to move back. As I have mentioned in earlier articles, this event causes people from all walks of life and all types of backgrounds to suddenly be confronted with the reality of career choice limitations in Japan once they get here. Today's letter is from such a person.
Reader: My Japanese wife and I are considering moving from my home country to live in the Yokohama area as we are expecting our first child and believe raising our child with the extended family would be a great experience for everyone. My wife is a clinical nurse and will have no problems in finding permanent work. The real concern is with my job situation.
I am 40 years old and am at present working in client services for a life insurance company. I am studying a Graduate Diploma in Accounting and possibly considering doing my Masters in Professional Accounting. My bachelor degree was a Bachelor of Communication (Photo Media).
I will qualify for a Spouse Visa and so I don't see any problems in that department. However, given that there are probably few if any jobs in my given field, especially since I don't speak much Japanese, I understand my best employment opportunity would be in English teaching. My main concern is the lack of job security since the English teaching companies are only offering one-year employment contracts, and also my age, since I have heard that over-40’s have a tougher time finding work.
A number of English teaching companies claim on their websites there are opportunities to for career progression, would those roles be permanent?
Terrie: To be honest, unless you were to teach as an academic (e.g., as a professor) in a university, I don't think there is much career advancement opportunity in English teaching in Japan. It's a great way to make money when you first arrive, and it is true that some English schools do allow their better teachers to progress to staff positions. But the reality is that most of these staff positions are people-management related, and nothing to do with operating the business. So they are typically underpaid, overworked, and over-stressed. Lots of union negotiations, staff counseling, etc.
To become an academic teacher in a university, you typically need to have proper academic language teaching qualifications (e.g., a Masters or higher), and such vacancies seldom come up since most long-term foreign residents in these jobs try to hang on to them for as long as they can.
Instead, I'd stay focused on the accounting idea, and use English teaching as a stepping stone. If you had a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) qualification – the American version rather than the Australian one, as well as Japanese language under your belt (3 years dedicated part-time language learning), you'd be able to get a job with a foreign firm here.
Because you'd be new, you'd want to start with a small company first, and give them 2-3 years, then migrate your way up to a major firm or consulting firm. I realize that this is a lot of study and probably a 5-10 year program before you're looking at a good quality job and salary, but it sounds like you are already considering a career change, so continuing the study here in Japan is quite viable and in my opinion, a smart thing to do. Foreign companies in Japan always need bilingual accountants.