I see a lot of people coming to Japan trying to bask in all the anime, wacky game shows, and bondage. As HR/Recruiting director for a company in Japan, it’s my job to prepare potential candidates for their arrival in country.
It’s my hope that in writing some tips about coming here that I will a) make the process less difficult b) increase your survival chances and c) help your overall skills in landing a job here.
Let’s get on with some of the nuts and bolts of preparing to come on over:
No Contract = Fail
While there are a variety of ways to deal with the Visa situation, at the very least, you should always get a contract signed by both parties (yourself and your employer) in your hands before departing.
While you’re in your comfort zone, you still have a lot of power to negotiate, but once you come to Japan you’re usually out of your element.
Don’t let a company woo you on over and tell you that you can do all the Visa and contract talk upon arrival. In your jet-lagged, culture-shocked stupor, you may find a devious company suddenly taking more than they are giving.
Accept nothing until you’ve seen a contract.
These days, you can get the Visa all squared away before you come, or you can come in as a tourist and get it processed in country (No more trips to Korea!), but always get that damn contract in your hands!
No Research = Fail
When a company begins to show some interest in you, it’s a good idea to check the company out on the internet. Not only should you be checking out their site, you should be looking into the various message boards out there where people discuss Japanese companies.
You’re bound to find former or current employees of many companies to answer any of your questions, but you’ll also find threads full of red flags.
Now, when on the internet, do keep in mind that it’s usually the haters who are most vocal, writing intense diatribes against everything and anything. You’re bound to find hate on nearly every company out there, as some people just don’t mesh with some systems.
By and large though, if it’s a small mountain of hate, you’re probably ok. If it’s a thread full of 500 hate messages, it’s probably a place you’d do best to avoid.
In time, it’s pretty easy to tell who was grumpy and what place actually appears to have horrible business practices.
When I was looking for a job in Japan it helped steer me away from a place with a hellish owner that was prone to canceling contracts on the day before completion in order to avoid paying bonuses as well as splitting employees’ weekends up so that they could never really go anywhere.
No Research Part Deus = Fail
Buy books on Japan, read things on the internet, research, research, research!
I tell potential employees that we operate throughout Shikoku. I tell them it’s a rural island. I tell them that Osaka is about 3-4 hours away, but that the tolls can be a bitch and you’ll often find that this isn’t the place for being an Osaka cat.
I tell them that if placed in Niihama, they’ll be hanging out in a pretty small city with about 12 other foreign people total and they’ll be living the real Japan countryside experience.
I tell people all of this and they still get mad at me when they can’t easily go clubbing in Osaka and the Japanese girls aren’t opening their legs for them like in Roppongi because they’re shy and conservative here.
Do your research! Listen to the information you’re given and search for more information to confirm and add to that!
Don’t dive into pools unless you know there’s water in them!
No Money = Fail
I wrote an entire blog post on how it can be easy to save money in Japan and cheap to live here. Once you get settled into Japan-life, it IS in fact possible to save money and live well.
However, this is not the time for that. You’ve just landed in the plane and you’re a stranger in a strange land.
You’ll be shitting money on arrival and if you arrive here a pauper, you’re fucked.
While the economy has tanked and the costs of establishing oneself here have gone down a bit with it, there are still tons of hurdles to overcome.
First there’s the transportation cost of getting here. Most companies will NEVER pay for it, so don’t start complaining and throwing a fit when they don’t. You see, thousands of years ago, at the dawn of time, companies DID pay for people to come on over to Japan…
…then those people fucked off and had a free vacation to Japan.
This is why most companies now give you bonuses on the way out, to cover costs of tickets AFTER contract completion.
Beyond travel, when setting up an apartment you’ve got to deal with dreaded key money, security deposits, high rents in the big cities, furniture buying and so on.
Beyond being a JET, you’re going to find that most companies in Japan don’t pay for all that. I’ve had plenty of people that come from elsewhere that say their company in Dubai, Korea or Narnia paid for everything and served them caviar on tiny silver spoons every night, but this isn’t the way Japan works.
I’m sorry, but if you’re looking for that kind of treatment, you may want to look at another country.
Don’t fret though. Most good companies will be more than happy to help you with every little detail in finding a place, learning how to pay your bills, connecting to the community, etc, etc…
You can network with teachers in your company, steal an outgoing teacher’s furniture, and take advantage of some of the more modern apartment options (Like Leo Palace, no key money, yay!)
When I made the jump, I did it with about 3000 USD in hand. That was plenty to get established, but I wouldn’t even ponder trying with less than 2000 USD.
Also keep in mind that most companies pay somewhere around the 20th-25th of the NEXT MONTH. If you worked the month of May, you’re getting that cash around the 20-25th of June. Be prepared for that wait.
Bringing Over an Entire Shipping Container = Fail
Japan’s a pretty modern country. There are toilets here that basically give you blow jobs.
They make everything and anything you can imagine.
As such, don’t pack like you’re going into some Congolese jungle. In Tokyo you can find nearly anything your heart desires.
Even on my little rural island, I still find most of what I need. You can pack light and worry about most things when you get here.
I recommend bringing comfortable clothes that are functional for the environment you’re visiting (Japan is a long country, so there are extreme differences). If you have a job here, you’re not going to have to worry so much about having epic tons of social hour clothes.
Make sure you have your work related clothes planned out well and bring enough stuff to be comfortable on weekends.
Yes, Japan is a nation of suit zombies. Many of the jobs you can land here will find you in a jacket and tie. Even without that job, there may be events that require you to dress as such. If you haven’t invested in the suit-life yet, I recommend doing so and bringing over a few. You’re moving to a country where people aren’t so sure how to live WITHOUT wearing suits or uniforms.
And please don’t dress in some kind of Patchy McGee mix of 5 different suits. People match here and will secretly laugh at you.
Also, if you go Khaki, you’ll be the only one. You might even feel weird in brown. Go with something black and you won’t fail.
For clothes sizes, I find that if you’re a medium/large in the US, you’ll probably want to find Japanese XLs, although there are still a lot of American brands that might work on you. If your pants sizes are above 36 or so, you’ll have to go to a big and tall shop. This also goes for if you feet are bigger than a size 10.
I find I can buy clothes here without problem, even have custom suits and shirts made, but I buy my shoes abroad.
As for what else I have shipped in:
I prefer my American toothpaste and deodorant, although when I’ve ran out I’ve found perfectly suitable alternatives here. I can still get the cologne I like here, although most Japanese people will feel you ruin their entire sushi eating experience when they smell you in the restaurant, which I actually enjoy doing.
I DO recommend bringing a laptop, as if you buy one here, the OS is generally in Japanese and you’re going to find that they cut out a bit of the space bar on the right to make room for a key that switches from English to the various Japanese scripts. You will constantly hit it while writing English and find you’ve typed half your emails in random Japanese symbols.
It’s endlessly frustrating, so I recommend your good old home keyboard until you dive into the world of Japanese Language.
Other than that, bring a few of your favorite books, movies, and music, and pictures of stuff from back home to help you when you’re down and to show nosey people.
Also bring a good attitude, because if you’re one of those foreign people sitting around the bar moping about Japan all the time, Japan has enough of you already!
(I may have a few more bits to cover in a part 6 next week, or I may just call it at 5…we shall see)