5 Non–Teaching Jobs For Foreigners in Japan
When people from an English speaking country, like the US, Canada, or Australia, first come to Japan, their options for work might be limited. There are several ALT and Eikaiwa companies that will get you a visa into the country, but there's no real variety in the type of work. Maybe when you came to Japan you really wanted to teach English and felt excited about teaching. Other people wanted to work in Japan and English teacher was the only option. Maybe you’ve worked as an English teacher for a year or two now, and you like your job, but the pay is stagnant and there’s no chance for a promotion or benefits.
If you want to stay in Japan and have a chance for real career growth or maybe just try something different from teaching, then I have some job ideas for you. All the jobs I’m going to talk about are jobs I’ve done firsthand. I can’t say I know the industry or the job inside out, but I’ll give my impressions of each job as best as I can.
In the strictest sense, this wasn’t a job so much as helping out my girlfriend’s family. I was between jobs, waiting on interviews, and I didn’t have anything useful to do. That didn't sit well with me (and even more so my girlfriend), so after asking her grandparents, they agreed to let me help out in their home maguro (tuna) shop. I was glad to help the family out and also have something useful to do.
In the shop, I would sweep up any debris, take out garbage, and clean utensils throughout the day. Way more importantly, I bagged cuts of low (赤身), middle (中トロ), and high-grade (大トロ) tuna. At that shop in particular, customers just walked right into the 1 DK sized shop and ordered a cut. I’d greet customers, weigh the cut, tell them the price, take their money and put it into the register/box and give a farewell greeting as they left. Some days we’d need to ship cuts out, so I helped get them into the company truck and out to the local Kuroneko office. Some days we’d go into the freezer to get out blocks of tuna, some days we’d bone smaller fish, seal octopus in packs, make wasabi from powder, and sometimes deliver some extra fish to the local old-folks home.
The work was hard physically, but I learned a lot about interacting with customers and gained a new appreciation for the sashimi on my table. Also I got fat from eating all that tuna.
Somewhere in an office building in downtown Tokyo, I worked part-time for XYZ Video Game Company checking their latest game. If that sounds vague I apologize, but for confidentiality reasons I can’t say exactly where, what game, or what company I worked for. What I can say is that the game is in a popular franchise, but I’ve never played one of the games.
The job at the testing site went from 10 am to 5:30 pm. We’d arrive, enter in our security pin and ID, go to our specific game’s room, and work on laptops. On the laptops, we’d work in excel sheets that had lines of text from a section of the game. There’d be translations from each of the target languages (which could include English, Spanish, French, Chinese, etc.) and the source JP text. We’d check names of characters and events against a master list for errors or mistranslations. We’d flag anything we felt was off with the text, and we’d check the text in game too. If text looked weird, was missing, and/or was in the wrong place, we’d flag them.
This job was the most international of all the jobs in Japan I’ve had. At the Eikaiwa the teachers were almost all American, and in my engineering job everyone but me is Japanese. At the game testing site though, most of my co-workers were from Spain, France, Germany, and many other places, so I enjoyed the meshing of cultures.
Whenever you drink a glass of water, there’s an assumption that the water has no pollutants. Sometimes this isn’t the case, and things like Chromium and Silica can get in and cause lots of health problems. I briefly worked in a lab doing chemical tests for Lead and Silica and I would prepare samples. Once the samples were prepared, I’d analyze them in a spectrometer and record values for each sample. I’d then enter in values to a spreadsheet and do some analysis to make sure there was no large error values based on a standard date line using known amounts of each chemical. I also operated a sampler that took mini samples. I’d mix chemicals, acids, make solutions, clean equipment, toss out used vials, and confirm with my supervisor if there were any abnormal samples (like silica samples that turned black instead of blue or chromium samples turning red instead of purple).
There are two kinds of translating I’ve done in Japan: working as a freelancer and working within/for a company. With freelancing, I usually worked on menus for restaurants. For some of the restaurants, I’d also translate warnings about keep dogs on leash and to keep an eye on children playing. This was more of an on-off type of deal. Some weeks I’d be swamped and others I’d have nothing to do.
As for translating within a company, that’s half of my current job. Let me tell yah, I thought my Japanese was sufficient. Then, I got asked to translate a company contract from English to JP for the first time (head explodes). I worked with the main translator, whose been speaking and translating English for 20 years, going through several drafts until the legal-ese from English got expressed appropriately in Japanese. Saying that that translation was humbling is an understatement of massive proportions, but the process taught me a lot. Asides from contracts, I also work on slogans, websites, emails, and instructions for entering operations facilities.
This is the second half of my current job. I’m still in training for a lot of the aspects of it, but I’m, finally doing something connected to my major (Renewable Energy Engineering). Each day I work on building different types of circuits, like with relays, op-amps, and other fun components all for designing Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs). With physical circuit design (my favorite) comes using programs to design circuits (not as fun). I also do research sometimes for new parts the company wants to implement and into emerging technologies that might be worth investing in someday. I write daily reports too, usually in Japanese, but sometimes in English.
There are many different jobs outside of teaching English. Most of them require a higher level of Japanese comprehension, but if you study the language well and commit to finding a job in the field you want, it can happen. It's not easy, and it's not quick, but little bits of continued effort builds up and helps in the long run.