“Japan has changed me. I used to never be on time. I was always late for work back in India and I also never used to cook. But since my company sent me here last year as an IT engineer, my time management skills have greatly improved. Now I show up for work on time. I also started preparing my own meals at home. That’s a big achievement for someone like me. I’ve never left India. I didn’t have the money to travel abroad. So I consider myself lucky for landing in Japan on my first trip overseas. At first I thought it would be difficult to survive. I can’t speak the language and know nothing about the culture. My impression of Japanese food was that it’s too bland and not spicy enough. Plus I’m allergic to some seafood. But my worries and fears went away after meeting locals and trying their food. Japanese people are very friendly. A middle-aged man once helped me when I was lost while sightseeing in Hakone. We used Google translate on my phone to communicate and we connected over our common love for photography. Japan’s breathtaking nature is perfect for pictures. And my security concerns disappeared when I realized it’s so safe to take a stroll in my neighborhood even way past midnight. Now best of all, I’ve fallen in love with their cuisine, especially tamagoyaki (omelet). I’ve never tasted an omelet so sweet.”
“If you’re a foreigner in Japan and you’ve got qualifications then there’s an incredible amount of opportunities out there for you, especially in Tokyo. It’s easy to get jobs right now with any kind of IT skill.
“I came to Japan in 2005 and taught English for a few years till I realized I was doing it past my expiration date.
“Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed teaching English and several of my good friends are still active in that profession. They even have families, houses, and they’re productive members of society. That said, there’s also a large proportion of foreigners who come to teach English in Japan who do have other goals. And I’m one of them. Even before coming here, I already had a marketable skill: programming. But it could just as well have been graphic design, online marketing or writing and it would still have opened doors. Instead, I chose to be ‘stuck’ in English teaching because I was hesitant to change. I lacked confidence and just wasn’t enterprising enough. Maybe it was my Japanese skills. But I wasn’t at my highest earning potential and it sucked. So I focused on my Japanese and once I got that sorted out, I knew I could get professionally employed in Japan with the marketable skill I had, along with sufficient language skills. In hindsight, I didn’t need to be ultra- perfectly fluent in Japanese to have plenty of professional opportunities that will pay far more. It depends on what your thing is. Mine’s IT. Come to think of it, I could have gotten IT jobs even with zero Japanese.”
Play your cards right
“When applying for jobs in Japan, don’t play the Japanese new hire game. I don’t advise following that process because it’s so random. Instead, play the I’m-a-foreigner-I-should-be-hired-mid-career card. In IT it’s really easy. Japanese companies are not well adapted yet to the current modern reality of skilled workers. They don’t know how to hire them when they’re just out of college. They have no respect for the skills and capabilities of their youngest employees despite the fact that these newly graduates can make tremendous contributions just by the virtue of who they are and their immediate experience. It’s really sad. The vast majority of Japanese companies still live in that illusion world—that does not exist anymore—of lifetime employment, where it’s OK to sacrifice five years of the early career of new grads and let them do irrelevant work with no value just so they can seep in the culture and the values of the company and know everything there is to know about the company. And then they can start contributing.”
(Mathieu is an enterprise IT consultant from Montreal, Canada, on Big Data infrastructure and analytics applications. He writes technical blogs, gives talks, and is well-versed in machine learning, which he believes is a crucial invention that will enable people to do more and make things that were difficult accessible.)
“I don’t know if I’ll ever blend in,” says Thao, who was in for a rude awakening when she joined the sales force of an IT consulting firm in Tokyo. Straight out of college, her first few weeks on the job tested her mettle as an all-Japanese corporate environment proved too demanding.
“Everything was in Japanese. I found it somewhat hard to keep up at times,” she says while recounting their company’s employee onboarding program. “I’m usually the one leading group discussions. But my Japanese isn’t on par with native speakers so it was a bit debilitating,” says our newbie from Hanoi, Vietnam.
Good thing this interloper knows no retreat nor surrender. “I’m now more motivated than ever to study Japanese and show my boss and co-workers that I’m a `nandemo dekiru onna’（何でもできる女）,”–a badge of honor worn by women adept at everything, from crafting impressive e-mails to signing multimillion dollar deals. Basically high-flying achievers, the likes of Marissa Mayer.
We’re rooting for you, Thao. Soon you’ll be giving TED Talks-like presentations to big clients with aplomb. In English, Japanese, or Vietnamese for that matter.