How I Became a Salaryman in Japan

By SalarymanJim, 23 March, 2016

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.


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!

For more on working in corporate Japan see my blog at the link below ...