Jan 25, 2016

How I Became a Salaryman in Japan (And How You Can, Too!)

How I Became a Salaryman in Japan (And How You Can, Too!) photo

Unlike my Japanese salaryman counterparts, I'm going to hit the ground running on this.  I came to Japan as an English teacher.  I did my stint of aerobics in front of the little’uns. Moved on from that into the ALT dispatch racket, and then strapped on a suit ... to teach reluctant salarypersons how to, in English, close deals (he tries to suppress a laugh), answer the phone, and distinguish between the global pronunciations of the word 'can't'.  

Get the Skillz to Pay the Billz

During this time I studied Japanese under the misguided illusion that once I cracked that, I'd be like gold dust, and walk into whatever job I wanted. (I should have studied Chinese instead).

When I say 'cracked it', I mean passing JLPT N2 (or whatever it's called now).  What I actually found was, JLPT 2 just about gets you through the door at GaijinPot-job-listing-upgrade Daijob. I discovered though, that most of the jobs I sort of 'qualified' for, involved working on manuals for air conditioners or some such excitement. Oh, and that JLPT N1 is really where it's at!

Of equal (or perhaps even more) importance than the lingo bit, was pursuing academic/skill-based interests outside of my teaching gig.  Bit and bobs online, freelance projects outside of teaching hours (on the quiet you understand!),... whatever scraps I could get from Craigslist and other such sources.

Networking & Connections

I always used to think of the term networking as one of those empty things that business types said because they heard it from another business type, and so on down the chain, until you get to the business type who decided to put it in a textbook.  

Basically, the word carried for me all the personality of the color .. light grey?  Anyway, turns out it's an important word, as it's the final piece of the puzzle that got me the salaryman gig.  We hooked up (that's me and my current Japanese boss) through another ‘side gig’, and I freelanced over the course of a few months on a project he was working on.

It’s worth noting that my present employer rarely looks for new staff through job ads e.t.c.  I’ve no idea if this is common practice.  I have heard a lot though, that in Japan, networking and making connections are very important.  Perhaps especially so for job seekers from overseas, who, rightly or wrongly, might be harder for locals to place their trust in.

How I Became a Salaryman in Japan (And How You Can, Too!) photo

The interview

Well this is easy - there wasn't one!  What happened instead was a protracted series of clandestine meetings in smoky izakaya, each of us sussing the other out over smoky grills of yakiniku to see if we were the genuine article.  I was brought into the office in phases, the odd quick visit here and there just to test the water and make sure nobody’s dicky ticker gave up at the sight of a foreigner.

Eventually there was a brief meet with the CEO.  Very brief.  A few greetings were exchanged, I blurted out my qualifications in a brief (very brief) sentence and that was about it.  

Well That Didn't Sound Too Bad

Avoiding an interview sounds great, but instead of an hour's discomfort I spent a fair few months treading water.  Another key point; when I started, I wasn't brought in as a 正社員/seishain/regular employee.  I was put on some other contract.  I say this reluctantly as it might undermine my salaryman credentials. But it also meant I was easier to hire, and even easier to discard (like a cheap suit).

Any Other Business

First of all, teaching English.  It might at times seem like I’m disparaging this.  I’m not.  If ever I am, I’m aiming it at certain ‘players’ in the industry in Japan, and not at the profession itself. That said, I didn’t come to Japan because I wanted to teach (but I didn’t NOT enjoy it either).

On not being seishain.  I left a teaching job that was, not seishain (I think) but did have me on shakai hoken.  I was nervous about taking up a position that meant going kokumin hoken.  I’ll be honest, it was a bit of a ball ache making the switch, and it remained a bit of a ball ache having to remember to physically go and pay the bills (rather than them being deducted from wages).

Becoming a salaryman meant a higher, well, salary.  Being on kokumin hoken felt more expensive than shakai hoken.  Anyway, thinking about the pointless bureaucracy of it all makes my head hurt.  So I’ll stop!

Next on the agenda - How to ‘adjust’ an English teaching resume into something more .. salaryman.

My first post - Salaryman (in Japan): The Blog

The photo of the guy on the phone is nobody associated with me.  I got the image from flickr, and added the text myself. I didn't go to Tokyo Daigaku (University).

Author: _Kripptic / CreativeCommons License



A foreign salaryman in Japan, documenting life from somewhere near 'salaryman town' Shimbashi, Tokyo. Way out of my depth!


  • Saitama

    on Jan 26

    I am really enjoying all your posts. Just wanted to let you know! I almost became a salary(wo)man too... and same deal for me, networking was key, the employer knew me through a side gig, we'd common peeps and stuff like that. I decided to go another route in the end, but even in what I do now, networking plays a vital role.

  • SalarymanJim

    on Jan 26

    @Saitama Very kind of you to say. Networking seems to be important, doesn't it. I was cynical about it at first. I was a bit isolated in my ALT days, but when I started teaching business English, in that environment I met so many new people, students and colleagues, which opened up a lot of new options and avenues to pursue.

  • Lisagoestotokyo

    on Jun 26

    Yes I am loving these articles too! I’m an English teacher on a super relaxed contract. I can work my own hours, can legitimately watch Disney songs on YouTube, and also plan lessons when I’m not jumping around pretending to be Mario and Luigi. It’s amazing, but comes with the correspondingly awful pay packet. Back at home I was a lawyer (haha.. worst, don’t judge me) so this has been a total breath of fresh air to feel genuinely relaxed when I get home. However, I feel like I will get bored of this within a couple of years and will foray back into the corporate world, possibly in japan. Anyway, that was a long way of me saying that I’m loving these articles and can’t wait for more!

  • SalarymanJim

    on Jun 27

    @Lisagoestotokyo - Hey, thanks for having a read. YouTube between classes! I remember those days, with mixed emotions to be honest. I have few regrets about teaching English, except maybe that I did it for too long, but am glad that I was able to get into something else, and I think the main reason for me (aside from salary and all that) is that now I feel like I'm doing something that might have a bit more clout with potential employers back home. I love being in Japan but I don't like the idea that I can't move back home and I had felt, rightly or wrongly, that having spent a fair few years just teaching English, it would be really hard for me to do that.