Should I Get to Japan First Or Get the Job I Want First?

Hi Gaijinhan! 

I started reading your blog about 3 months ago, and I found your content really interesting! 

Actually, I have some difficult career choices to make (I plan to work in JP in the future), and since you’ve lived there for several years now, I was hoping you could give me some advice. 

Just a bit about me: I passed JLPT N1 this year, and am pretty good at reading/writing but quite bad at speaking. I graduated from NUS in <discretionary censorship>.

I got accepted by a well-known Japanese MNC (let’s call it Co X) to work in their Tokyo head office under a 1-year contract, starting <discretionary censorship>.  

At the same time I’m applying for other companies, but the interviews may drag till early next year so even if I get accepted the work will probably start in <discretionary censorship>.

I’m in a dilemma as to whether I should accept Co X’s offer. There are 2 main reason: 
1) Co X has many foreigners and thus the language of communication is English, so I’m afraid that without constant use of Japanese, my mastery of it will decline, making it harder for me to switch companies in the future. 
2) I also heard that in Japan it’s difficult for fresh grads who quit after 1 year to change jobs as companies view you as being disloyal. As the contract is only for 1 year, I’m afraid that my short employment time at my 1st job will be viewed poorly by employers in Japan.

I would definitely prefer to work in the companies other than Co X that I applied for, but I’m also afraid that I may not get accepted by those companies. In which case, I would be jobless for another year (no job opportunities due to the seasonal hiring cycle). 

Do you have any advice on how I should proceed? 

I’m sorry this turned out to be so long, but I have no other people I can consult and I have to reply Co X by end-Nov. 

Thank you!

Hello J,

Thank you for reading. It’s been some time since I posted somebody’s mail to me and I find it a joy to be able to share some information I think may help others reading this.

Given that the new format JLPT N1 is largely real-life conversation based, I would assume when you say you are “quite bad” at speaking, you mean that you can’t speak it fluently rather than you can’t really speak it, because passing the test obviously means you are good at listening and know how to reply. In any case, fluency can be trained by constant use, and in that sense, I see where your worry about Co X lies.

Let me put things in a different perspective and hopefully it can help you in making a decision.

In my mind, I’m trying to guess which company Co X might be, and if I’m right, its mascot is probably largely black and white. If so, I’m not so sure you have to worry about the lack of use of Japanese language in the company because I know a few people who came from that company and they told me it’s just marketing to say they use English in the company. Most daily conversations are still conducted in Japanese. Some of the people I met there can’t even speak English.

Regardless of whether I guessed it right or not, even during my time at Google, despite having the most number of foreigners and returnees (Japanese people raised overseas) in my team, a lot of our conversation were still done in Japanese. The reason being, we’re in Japan and there are Japanese people on our team, unless your team composes entirely of non-Japanese people who don’t speak Japanese at all (which is highly unlikely). Disregarding tourists, while I’ve met my share of foreigners who don’t speak Japanese at all, they are very few and far between. Those who live here almost 100% speak some Japanese, and I don’t mean just the konnichiwa and arigatou level.

Assuming that you will only be using English at Co X, attending a Japanese language school could be an option perhaps. I have a friend who after passing JLPT 1 (under the old format), continued to attend Japanese language classes in Singapore and took the JLPT year after year to make sure she doesn’t lose any knowledge of the language even though there’s nothing much else to obtain from the language schools. But I do think you’re at an advantage because you’ll be in Tokyo. Outside work, you can use Japanese language all you want everywhere. Or should I say, you have to use Japanese to get around.

Like I’ve written before, it’s a lot easier to get a job here when you already have a work visa as opposed to someone without one. What more, you already said you’ll be working at a well-known Japanese MNC. Surely that’s a good enough reason for other companies to at least bring you to the interview table.

Regarding your second question, I would have to agree that many companies still have that archaic thinking. The common belief is that your first job should last you at least 3 years, but I believe the problem lies more in the reason for leaving a company, and not just how long you stay at one. If you intend to do up a Japanese format resume, there’s this practice of writing when you join and leave a company. And in the field where you write your departure, you always have to write a reason. For your case, it should look something like the example below:

2010年1月 Co X 入社
2011年1月 Co X 契約満了につき退社

What the second line above literally means is “Left the company upon completion of contract” and that is not that frowned upon so I don’t think it would be a big issue. But if you’re still worried, since your career is still short, it is easy to slip into your cover letter the reason for departure. But of course, I wouldn’t suggest just mentioning it for the sake of mentioning. It might be good to write something to the extent of, “After completing my 1 year contract at Co X, I’ve learned <x> and <y>, which I believe can help me excel at the next company.”

All in all, if I were in your shoes, I think one thing I would do is to find out if the contract can be extended or if I can be converted to full-time positions before making a decision.

My desire to be in Japan was strong back when I just came, so I took an English teaching position first even though I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do in the long run. And I definitely think the 1 year in Japan at a different company did put me in a better stead as it gave me time to brush up my spoken Japanese before taking on interviews and use of Japanese language at the workplace.

I wouldn’t say this is an advice to you, since I can’t bear responsibility for someone else’s life, but if it were me, I would take the Co X position while continuing to search for other jobs. The most ideal situation is that I find another job I like before starting with Co X so I can turn them down. Otherwise, the stint with Co X will still be a good experience to open more doors for my next move.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *