Photo: すしぱく on Pakutaso

New Job, New Start – Changing Jobs in Japan

Well, it finally happened. All good things, as they say, must come to an end and so it was that, in the end, I had to leave my job. As much as I loved being a teacher for the Osaka City Board of Education, it was time for me to move on to other opportunities.

Photo by すしぱく on Pakutaso.

As a foreigner living in Japan, changing jobs is not quite as straightforward as one may think. However, it is easier than in most other Asian countries.

Unlike the likes of South Korea, your working visa is not tied entirely to your job. From what I have heard anecdotally, in Korea, if you quit your job, you have no other option but to leave the country, unless you can get a completely new visa approved.

In Japan, the visa is valid for the duration of its validity, regardless of whether you quit your job or not. So, if you change your job, visas won’t be an issue until it comes time for renewal, which is usually after one or three years. The only exception to this is if you change jobs to an area of expertise that is different from that on your initial visa. This is where some English teachers can, from time to time, encounter difficulty.

The two main forms of employment for teachers in Japan, actually have totally different employment classifications. If you work in an Eikaiwa (English Conversation School) the visa issued to you will be a “specialist in humanities” visa. However, people who work in an actual school, college or university, such as myself, are usually working under the direction of an “instructor” visa. 

Yes, according to the Japanese government, Eikaiwas aren’t really schools, but rather commercial businesses, and must be treated as such.

Photo by Fredrik Rubensson on Flickr.

I can say though that, from a teaching perspective, actually teaching at these establishments is in many ways a far tougher test of one’s teaching competence than working as a public school ALT (Assistant Language Teacher).

Photo by すしぱく on Pakutaso.

If you do have to get your visa changed over, that will, ordinarily take 2 or 3 weeks from initial application to getting the final document. You should allow one month before starting your new job though, just to be on the safe side. Also, bear in mind, getting the necessary document will require two trips to the immigration office, so make sure you still have some paid leave left over from your previous job.

Once the visa is in place, you then need to prepare for the transition. Do your best to leave the previous job on good terms. However, also be aware of the legality of various obligations. Many companies (especially in the English teaching sector) will seek to flaunt regulations in this regard. I have seen contracts where teachers are asked to give 1 or sometimes even up to 3 months notice before quitting a job. This is not legally enforceable. Japanese labour law states that the minimum a worker is required to give as notice for ending employment is 2 weeks. Of course, it’s nice if you can give more notice, but remember that your only obligation is to give two weeks’ notice.

Likewise, some companies will try to garnish your final salary as a means of “compensation” for you breaking your contract. Again, this is totally illegal and unenforceable.

Photo by すしぱく on Pakutaso.

If you are worried that such an occurrence may happen to you, then a good idea is to sit down with your manager upon announcing your resignation and get in writing an approximation of your final salary. Once you have that in writing from him, it is highly unlikely the company would try to pay you any less.

Next, its onwards to the new job. In Japan, new companies often like to host “orientation” events for new employees prior to commencement of their new job. Whilst it may be something of a pain to report to work for an unpaid afternoon, especially when you might have to use the last of your annual leave from your previous job to do it, I recommend doing so if you can. This will not only help you “hit the ground running” once you get started, it also leaves a good impression on the management that you will be a diligent worker and not the lazy, surly stereotype of the ineffectual foreigner that is sadly all too prevalent in the English teaching industry these days. 

Photo by すしぱく on Pakutaso.

On day one, get there about 15 minutes early. Any later and you risk being late, but any earlier and you set the dangerous precedent of being pigeonholed as the one who always comes in early and goes home late. In Japan, that is not a pleasant place to be. 

You’ll probably find within the first month or so that you will be invited to some kind of dinner or welcoming event. You should do all you can to attend. Even if you aren’t really a drinker, just go and sit there with your iced tea. The important aspect of this event is not to get drunk or to consume too much rich food. It is all about building bonds, relationships and friendships with the people you will work alongside every day from here on out.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can offer is to be patient. It takes time to settle into a new workplace, especially when you are in a country that can be as weird and confusing as Japan can be at times. Just be flexible, take it easy and let your natural talent and exuberance shine through!

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