Thinking about working in Japan? Continue with my experiences
Part 2: What you might want to know about work in Japan
If you're reading this, I hope it means that you've read Part 1 on what to prepare before applying.
But wait: What is work in Japan really like? We're now going to go through three types of jobs that I held in Japan: working as a waiter, a contracted English teacher, and a hotel staffer.
I'm going to focus on three things:
- What the pay is like
- What the job conditions are
- What you need to do the job
Job 1: The restaurant
I worked for a resort hotel in Okinawa as a waiter in a buffet-style restaurant. It paid about 100,000 yen a month, and I worked there on a part-time basis for about 6 months. There were no job bonuses or options to earn extra money by adding shifts.
Since I wasn't from the area, the hotel offered lodging at a dormitory for hotel staff, free of charge, and meal tickets were issued for two meals whenever we were on shift, which we could redeem at the hotel staff cafeteria. The perk of having free or highly subsidized food available for staff is common with many companies in Japan.
I worked about 7-8 hours a day for 3 to 4 days a week. In Japan, "part-time" work is usually either 7-8 hours of work for less than 5 days a week, or 4-5 hours of work a day, for the usual 5-6 days a week.
At the time that I interviewed for the position, I spoke almost no Japanese, but I think most restaurant positions now will want to hire someone who has at least a conversational level of Japanese, from what I've heard from friends who have applied to similar positions more recently.
In my case, when speaking to the manager, it seemed like he wanted to bring someone on that was interested in working in Japan and was willing to learn, rather than someone who was fluent in Japanese.
Job 2: The English school
After a few years, I moved to Hyogo for a job as a contracted English teacher. Unlike the flat-rate salary system at the hotel, being a contracted teacher means that you're paid for every worked hour.
At my school, instructors started out at roughly 2,000 yen an hour (you can expect to be paid roughly 1,500 to 2,000 yen an hour as a contracted teacher). My salary went from about 100,000 yen in the first month to about 270,000 yen in my first year, and I ended up averaging around 350,000 yen a month by the time I left the job.
As a contracted teacher, I was able to set my own work schedule and provide the school with a schedule of times you were willing to work. Just to give you an idea of what that converted into, over the period that I made about 270,000 yen, between my first and second year at the company, I went from averaging about 10 hours a day, 6 days a week to 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
I think my experience teaching and language ability really helped secure working hours, as well as balancing my "freedom" to decide schedule with being flexible with the management and when students wanted to study.
Since my main responsibility was teaching English, Japanese ability was never asked about during the interview process. Personally, I think it's a nice bonus to be able to speak Japanese as an English teacher in Japan since it gives you the option to provide support for beginner students. The interview process really focused on being a good cultural fit for Japan and basic teaching ability.
Job 3: The hotel
I worked at a hotel in Osaka at the front desk. This was a full-time position that paid roughly 270,000 yen a month. Like the hotel in Okinawa, it also offered free food at the staff cafeteria, and in addition, the company also helped with my national insurance premiums, which can be quite expensive in Japan.
The pay was considered pretty reasonable for a position in hospitality in Japan, for someone with my experience.
My responsibilities were pretty typical for a hotel: handling the reception desk, dealing with problems, and greeting guests in general. The work schedule at the hotel was decided by a senior manager. I was allowed to request days off but these had to be approved.
Hotels are busiest during holiday seasons, so it's best to keep that in mind if spending time with family and friends is important. Since the work was very service-centered, there was a lot of overtime work, despite HR's attempts to get employees to clock-out on time.
It was important to have a good command of Japanese at the job - I had to be able to deal with guest complaints or questions in Japanese!
Although it was a plus that I was also fluent in English, it wasn't really that useful in Osaka, since most of our guests were Japanese. You also need to know how to work on a Japanese team, which is a culturally different dynamic from other countries and workplaces.
For this job, I think the more important consideration was how you deal with pressure and conflict situations, and there were a number of roleplays at the interview stage related to how I would deal with certain problematic situations.
They also asked for detailed information regarding my physical fitness, and this is understandable as there are elements to being a front-desk receptionist that require a bit of physical ability, such as being able to assist with guest's luggage (and not break anything!), particularly when I was working with the concierge team.
Through all the ups and downs, I enjoyed working in all of these positions in Japan.
There were a lot of adjustments; for example, it was nice to have insurance paid for by the hotel, but I preferred having the freedom to spend with family that teaching allowed. The restaurant position was the most relaxed in terms of responsibility, and it was a great starter position to life in Japan, but offered the least in terms of financial stability and career upside.
Hopefully, this breakdown gives you a better idea of what to expect when applying for jobs in Japan!
Kevin is a professional writer with experience in music, education, news media and entertainment. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in English before moving to Japan for work. He's lived all over Japan, spending time in Kanto, Chubu, Kinki and Okinawa.
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