Changing Times, Changing Careers
As Bob Dylan once famously said in song “the times, they are a changing”.
There are few places on Earth where this is more immediately apparent than here in Japan, where even in just the mere 10 years since I first arrived, the country has undergone several deep, noticeable changes.
I recall, that I first settled in Tokyo in the autumn of 2006, just as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was settling into his new office. I returned again in 2013 just as Mr Abe was once again planting his feet under the desk at the Prime Minister’s office in Nagatacho.
The more things change, the more they stay the same it would seem. However, this was a very different Prime Minister Abe from the one I remember being sidelined by tummy trouble less than a year into his premiership. Emboldened by a far stronger majority than he enjoyed the first time around and inheriting a beleaguered economy looking for some real, genuine change, Abe set about his task in a far more assertive, some might say aggressive way than before.
Whilst most of the press coverage has focused on his own unique approach to kick-starting Japan’s foundering domestic economy, or Abenomics as the press has taken to calling it, his wish to see Japan assume a more prominent military role around the world has also garnered quite the backlash in what remains a staunchly pacifist modern Japan.
Amidst all the anti-war protests and the ongoing debate over the perceived successes and failures of Abenomics, there have been some pretty major political reforms which, as of yet, seem to have escaped major scrutiny in the press.
Among these have been a number of subtle changes to both employment regulations and immigration policy.
With any change in the government’s often static stance on immigration, however unperceivable it may be, comes new opportunities.
Back in 2006 when I first arrived here, it was pretty simple, if you couldn’t speak Japanese but came from a western country, and had a university degree, you could be an English teacher. Other areas of work required very specific qualifications both in terms of Japanese language and also in terms of professional certification.
These days however, the government is slowly but surely beginning to acknowledge Japan’s need for a more open and welcoming immigration policy, in the face of ongoing demographic discrepancies that show no sign of easing anytime soon.
With these changing times come a variety of new opportunities, and many people who had never even dreamed of coming to Japan to work before, can now give this serious consideration.
So, today, let us look at some of the new opportunities and areas of demand in Japan for now and the years ahead. We’ll also look at some of the necessary qualifications you will need and also some of the precautions you should take to ensure you get the most out of your time here. Here’s a few ideas.
It has already been almost universally acknowledged, even by the most hawkish of nationalists, that Japan needs foreign nurses. It needs lots of them and it needs them soon.
With a rapidly increasing elderly contingent amongst the population comes added complications, both in terms of health and also supervisory care. And let’s face it, nurses are some of the most patient, compassionate and tolerant people we will ever meet. It takes a very special kind of person to make a career in nursing, a job that is not only stressful and tiring, but also often thankless.
In short, not everyone is cut out to be a nurse, and as Japan is realizing now, we need more of them. A lot more.
Thankfully, there are a number of nations in nearby southeast Asia who are more than happy to step up to the plate. The likes of Malaysia, Indonesia and The Philippines continue to supply a seemingly endless conveyor belt of new, hard-working and dedicated nursing professionals.
Indeed if you hail from one of these countries then you will find that coming to Japan offers a salary and benefits package that is considerably better that what you may enjoy in a public hospital at home.
However, the pathway into nursing, although it is getting simpler, remains complicated.
Firstly, you will need to pass at least the level 2 (Ni Kyu) exam in Japanese Language. You may also be asked to take additional written tests prior to commencing employment. You will also, naturally, need to meet the minimum qualifications and requirement to work as a nurse in Japan. The compatibility and transferability of qualifications from your home country will vary by country, so it’s important to check thoroughly to ensure you meet the requisite criteria.
2) Domestic Helper/Housekeeper
Already very popular in more affluent Asian countries such as Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia, the recent softening in Japanese immigration policy has opened the door for many workers to come to Japan to work as home helps.
The exact nature of the job will vary considerably depending on the assignment, and as of yet the exact qualification criteria remains to be established. However, given the importance both of manners and etiquette in Japanese society, one would need to be thoroughly versed in the appropriate protocols prior to coming here.
Also, while the minimum wage law in Japan would still be respected, unlike notoriously abusive economic regimes like Hong Kong, the salary would still be somewhat “modest” compared to what one may expect from a more mainstream line of work, such as English teaching.
However, as I have said, one can certainly expect to be treated better and paid a fairer wage here than they would in some other countries where domestic helpers are commonplace.
Whilst gender equality continues to make slow, steady progress, it can’t be denied that the overwhelming majority of workers in the previous two roles will likely be female. With that in mind, what opportunities are available for the average man, who wants to come to Japan but lacks the necessary certificates to work in an office, or the endless patience to be an English teacher?
One of the tent poles of the “Abenomics” regime, has been massive and ongoing investment in infrastructure projects, the length and breadth of Japan. Some of these, like the Olympic Stadium, will be completed in the next year or two. Others, like the high-speed Maglev train link between Tokyo and Osaka, will take several decades to be fully realized.
Again, as in nursing, construction workers are in short supply. It was never the most popular job to begin with, and as Japan’s population ages, a number of construction roles remain unfulfilled. Again, it’s up to foreign labour to step up and fill the gap.
This is again a tricky one, with regulations yet to be fully established. However, if you are a certified tradesman, looking for a new challenge, it might be time to start learning Japanese and seeing what opportunities come up.