Branching Out: Careers in Japan Other Than English Teaching

Photo: Photo by GotCredit on Flickr

Branching Out: Careers in Japan Other Than English Teaching

Liam Carrigan

As regular readers here will know, I’ve been teaching English in Japan for a number of years now. 

Although I have periodically dabbled in other forms of work: Sales, Consulting, sports coaching, and of course my inane ramblings on Taiken Japan and other popular blogging sites, throughout the ten years since I first moved to Tokyo, English teaching has always been my primary income stream in Japan, my “bread and butter” as it were.

Photo by Tax Credits on Flickr.

However, I’ve always been a great believer in the old adage that one is never too old to try something new, and that in life we should always seek out new challenges and new experiences. 

To that end, I currently find myself at something of a crossroads. My current job will end soon, and I have found myself wondering, should I persevere with teaching, and perhaps try to move into a private school or the corporate sector, where the money is considerably better, or is it perhaps time that I began to consider other options?

And just what exactly are these “other options”? It is this question that brings me to today’s subject. If you are an English teacher of several years standing in Japan, like me, then what other options are open to you if you fancy a career change?

English teaching certainly isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of life in Japan, so what else is out there? Let’s find out.

Here are the top 5 alternatives to teaching for those already based in Japan. 

1. International Sales

Photo by mohamed mohamed mahmoud hassan on PublicDomainPictures.net.

This option is especially worth considering if you live in or near one of the larger urban hubs in Japan like Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka and so on. There are literally hundreds of trading, import and export companies in these and other “port” cities across Japan. In order to process orders between themselves and the US and Europe, these companies need English speaking sales staff. Of course it’s not just English, there are also roles for speakers of languages from emerging economies like China and India too. 

For these kinds of jobs you will need an excellent telephone manner, high level communication and reasoning skills, the ability to take the initiative and improvise, a natural flair and creativity and the ability to problem solve on the fly. 

Since you’ll most likely be working alongside Japanese support staff, conversational Japanese ability would also be helpful. 

2. Recruitment Consultant


Photo by Jakob Montrasio from Saarbrücken, Germany on Wikimedia Commons.

Again this is a job primarily suited to those who live in the larger cities in Japan. Perhaps better known colloquially as a “head-hunter”, the job of a recruitment consultant is, on the face of it at least, extremely simple: Convince people in good jobs to switch to even better ones.

In somewhere like the USA where it is often said that “money talks”, getting people to switch company allegiances is relatively easy. 

Not so in Japan however, where corporate loyalty remains an integral part of the societal work ethic. However, in an age of increasingly short-term contracts and declining permanent employment, one could be forgiven for thinking that the unspoken “social contract” in Japan between workers who dedicate their lives to employers in exchange for lifetime employment is becoming increasingly one-sided in favour of the companies. 

Nonetheless, Japanese societal norms are notoriously slow to change, meaning that workers are still highly resistant to change. So, as an entry level recruitment consultant you may find yourself up against it in those early stages. However, as in all sales-type roles, perseverance and persistence will eventually pay dividends and with top performing consultants earning in excess of 10 million yen per year, the rewards are there for those willing to take the risk. 

That being said however, it is not easy to succeed in this business. One needs to have a very thick skin as cold-calling and daily rejections are par for the course. You’ll also need to find your feet quickly as many of these positions are commission based, meaning that if you don’t make the sales you’ll have to face a serious drop in wages. Recruitment consulting is a high risk/high reward scenario that isn’t for everyone, but does offer a big prize for those who can rise to the top. 

3. Editing

Photo by Nic McPhee on Flickr.

All across Japan there are numerous opportunities for academic and scientific editors. In a country where the level of English remains relatively low even high-achieving academics and scientific experts need a little helping hand with their writing. 

Editing requires high levels of concentration and a knowledge of the English language that goes far beyond what is expected in most regular English teaching jobs in Japan. One can expect to have to process thousands of words every day, often with little or no guidance. Also, this kind of work tends to be freelance and paid on either a per hour or per project basis. So it may not necessarily be appropriate for you, depending on the type of working visa you have and the restrictions placed upon it by the immigration authorities. Also, in addition to a high-level command of the written English language, editors are also often expected to have at least a graduate degree in the scientific field for which they are editing. For example, if you are editing texts for a pharmaceutical firm then you will most likely be expected to have at least a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, biology or a similar life sciences field. So, whilst it isn’t by any means the easiest field to get into, for those appropriately qualified, full-time editing positions can pay in excess of 5 million yen per year as a starting salary, far above the 3 to 4 million starting point for most English teachers.

4. Writing and Blogging

Photo by Petr Sejba on Flickr.

Now this is something I know a thing or two about! With its hugely impressive culture, huge variety of sights and sounds, not to mention its overall quirkiness, there’s no shortage of interesting topics pertaining to Japan for a budding writer to write about. There’s also a huge range of sites available to write for regardless of your experience level. By all means get your name out there and write for as many sites as you can, especially in the early days, but don’t sell yourself short.

5. Translation and Interpreting

Zuckergloy on Wikimedia Commons

Although this may seem like one of the most obvious choices for foreigners already living in Japan, I have chosen to leave it to the end considering it is probably the most difficult to get into of all the choices I have outlined here today. 

To get into written translation jobs, you will need at the very least an N2 level Japanese certification, which is equivalent to business level reading and writing. However, these days more and more companies are insisting on the N1 exam, which is notoriously difficult to pass. Again, work in translation and interpreting can tend to be project based and inconsistent. Full-time positions are hard to come by, but again the salary is significantly better than that of an entry level English teacher if you are lucky enough to find such a position. 

Working in Japan can be rewarding in many ways and if you are smart, ready to challenge yourself in new ways, and just a little bit lucky, then there are always ways to progress in this country.