Exploring Work Outside English Education for Expats

Tired of the chalkface?  Need some extra income?  Is your pigeon-hole getting too crowded?  There are a number of reasons long-term residents pursue other types of work instead of or in addition to the traditional English teaching racket in Japan.  I am one of these.  I have been working in other fields in addition to teaching since 2010.   It can be refreshing and often exposes one to previous unknown knowledge of how Japan really communicates and runs their ship.

Hello Work ハローワーク  is the name of the Japanese employment security office. There are Hello Work offices nationwide including even smaller cities  If you become unemployed and meet the eligibility requirements, these offices also take care of unemployment insurance benefits for Japanese as well as foreigners.  Job skills and openings can be viewed by computer after you sign up and get a password number and card.  

I never thought of visiting an office for myself until several years ago.  I decided to return to Fukuoka after a year away working on a temporary project in Nagasaki.  The timing and the needs of my family made it impractical if not nearly impossible to immediately resume a full load of teaching as I done for most of my years in Japan.  I was seeking a position away from teaching in a production, warehousing or livestock farming environment that I could do between the hours of 10 PM to 7 AM.  However, as English education provides more generous wages it will likely always remain a significant source of income while I am in Japan.   Working at night and carefully managing my sleep schedule would permit me to be available or accessible during every possible time a language school client might need to contact me.

I had to do some thinking how to navigate and coordinate my time before I set out to find an extra job.  There were many specific requirements I needed to satisfy in my search.  They included:

1) Working in close proximity to my home because we were caring for a very ill family member.

2) Being able to pick up my youngest daughter at her preschool in the late afternoons.

3)Being available to handle any customer inquiries or step in as a teacher in my family’s language school, O’Leary Gaigo Systems.  Using call forwarding to my cell phone, I can take calls from 9 AM to 9 PM 7 days a week unless I am actually teaching.

4)Not work at a time when I could be earning more as a teacher or other professional.  That means not working the supplemental job between the hours of 9 AM to 9 PM.

5)Be accepted for work almost immediately in October which pretty much eliminates most of the teaching jobs that start in April in Japan.

I first visited Hello work in Kurume, a fairly large city in my area.   It was a disappointment as I was not really finding anything or somehow not communicating my needs well to the counselor.  Fortunately, I did not give up.  I had responsibilities and had to “git er done”  one way or another.  

One of problems we face coming from English-speaking countries and with our past experience only as teachers is that Japanese people seem to look at us as only teachers of English.  Consequently, out of hundreds or thousands of positions posted, a typical job counselor will hand us some obscure posting related to teaching English for 1000 yen per hour or maybe even an otherwise excellent posting for an associate professor at a university.  That is all fine and well, but we already have those networks in place outside of Hello Work to find a teaching position.  It is necessary to state once again, you are not looking for teaching positions necessarily.  Certainly, I would jump on an opportunity to teach if someone wanted to wake up at 2 AM in the morning to be graced by my motivating English instruction.  But, the fact is, those are not education hours.

Later,  I visited Hello Work in Asakura (formerly known as Amagi), a smaller city just to the north of me with pretty low expectations.  I did the same routine, signed up again, got a password card and waited to speak with a counselor.  When my name was called, I sat down with Mr. Kitajima. He was excellent and very keen to find a match for me.  I had about five possible night-time jobs to choose from after my first sit-down meeting with a job counselor.   I may have visited Hello Work at an advantageous time in August without thinking about it.  It is likely there were more opportunities opening as many university students were returning to their 2nd semester classes in September.  

The advice I would give to job-seekers looking for work outside of the classroom is make sure you can speak the language.  I would say at least at the Japanese business level.  Granted, you are going into entry-level jobs but you have to clearly state to your counselor what skills you can contribute effectively.  If your Japanese skills are not up to speed, it is not going to be easy to look for much less be taken seriously as an applicant and land a job.  I have spent a long time in Japan, so enough of the language has stuck to me that I can get around pretty smoothly with my level.  Reading and writing will always be difficult for me, but I have to do it regardless.  The matched job openings will be printed out in Japanese so you have to know what you are looking at.

The representatives at Hello Work have some influence with the employers so maintaining good rapport with your Hello Work rep is a good idea.  When you find a job you would like to pursue, it is a good idea for you to ask the rep to check with the company to make sure foreigners are okay with them.  Reality here is although you may have permanent residency or legitimate legal permission to work, some places just do not want to deal with non-Japanese applicants.  Sure, it does not match our cultural norms, but you ain’t in Kansas anymore, either.  If they are not comfortable with non-Japanese, fine.  Just leave it.  There is another posting matching your skills coming off the printer.  I got picked up right away working in a food processing plant for a large internationally known brand.  Only a few of us out of about dozen who showed up with our introduction letters from Hello Work got in.   My job counselor told me to make sure I showed the interviewer at the company that I had a food hygiene certification from a Japanese government agency.  It is kind of a thrill knowing my gaijin ass actually beat some of the natives out.  Part of it was that some of the younger women had restrictions on when they could work because they probably had small kids and the guy was not in the mood for that.  He has a production schedule to fill.

One month later since it was still a few months until April when teaching was opening up, I went back for a 2nd supplemental job to do from  6 AM until noon or so.   I was full of confidence since I already cracked the bamboo ceiling with my first job landed.  I was introduced to a bakery and ended up working there for just over a year.  The store hours changed and I had no interest in coming in a 9 AM and messing up my sleep cycle, so I had to give it up.  But after almost two and a half years, I am still going strong at the food processing plant.

My decisions were the right ones.  I matched my family needs, my income needs and have a sense of satisfaction.  In a production environment, I see concrete results of my efforts.  This is much different from teaching, where our success is in such abstract form we do not know in a timely fashion whether we are making progress.  I have job satisfaction and with that I feel like a lucky man.

Today, in early 2014, I divide my time between working the graveyard shift at the food processing plant, sleeping in two sets of 3 or 4 hours each and taking care of my responsibilities as EVP at the O’Leary Gaigo Systems language school.  I am good with it all.