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  • Writer's pictureKady Potter

How to work in marketing - or a job that's not teaching English - as a foreigner in Japan

I found a 'how to work in marketing in Japan as a foreigner' blog post linked by someone on Twitter, liked and RT'd by several friends. It'd been written by another non-Japanese person, so I gave it a look.

Without ranting here, it isn't helpful. It's clickbait at best. I won't even link to it.

The author doesn't live or work in Japan right now. They don't have the actual experience of looking for work or being a marketer here. Their findings were based mainly on googling stuff, and anyone can do that.

I've been living here for a few years now, and working in online marketing and promo at Japanese companies. So I'll try to give some better advice... if nothing else, this info is based on personal experience and not just ganking bits and pieces from other people's stories.

You can probably apply some of this to other situations too, like if you're trying to find work in Japan in some (any) other field than 'teaching English'. YMMV, and ESID. But there's no tl;dr, so please keep reading.

Living in Japan vs. applying from outside Japan

Assuming you're starting from scratch here (not a spouse/PR etc.), you need a work visa to work for a Japanese company.

Looking for jobs, applying, and interviewing from outside the country are all okay. Some companies accept applications from outside Japan, if they're looking in that direction (e.g. English language schools looking for new teachers).

If the job description's written in English, that's encouraging. But if the company's put out their search globally, the standard's going to be high. Maybe higher than you'd expect for the same job in other countries. See further down on that point.

Always check the job details for 'visa sponsorship offered/available'. If the company won't help with your visa status - which does happen sometimes, but is a massive red flag - then you're out of luck.

Coming over to Japan to look for jobs, interviewing, and working on a tourist visa are all illegal. Tourists aren't allowed to apply to companies or do work. Any company that's aware of all that but willing to interview/hire you isn't one you want to work for.

2020 update: Ever since the Immigration office changed their systems in 2019, switching from a tourist visa to a working visa in Japan is pretty much impossible. Some people have boasted about managing to do it in the past, but don't count on it being a viable option now.

Being in Japan already, on a valid visa that allows you to interview and work, is a huge advantage. No way around that. A Working Holiday Visa's a good start, if you can get one. With that, you can start a job straight away and switch to the appropriate work visa later.

Japanese ability level vs. native language

When you apply for a work visa, immigration will ask your company to explain why they hired you. You've rocked up and taken a perfectly good job that could've been offered to a Japanese person. Your employer's got to show why you, a foreigner (gasp), should be doing that work instead.

I wish I was kidding, but this approach ("why didn't you hire a Japanese person to do this job?") is all too common.

In marketing, the same as teaching, your advantages are: (partly) previous work experience abroad and/or work aimed at international audiences, and (mostly) your ability to speak another language fluently. Whether that's English, or German, or Spanish, or Russian, or Thai.

As a result, job descriptions aimed at international applicants can get long. They ask for some very specific things sometimes (down to what you studied at degree level - did I mention having a degree is a massive advantage?), and most of those are 'required' not 'beneficial'. If you don't have stand-out skills or experience, there's no reason not to hire a Japanese candidate over you.

Let's assume you pass the screening and ace the interview. Do you need to know Japanese to work at a Japanese company?

It may or may not be asked for up front, but being able to speak/write/understand Japanese will help you so much. Even if your team works in your native language, your coworkers may have no idea what you're talking about sometimes.

The accepted 'business Japanese' level's been 'JLPT N2 or higher' - which really means N1 - for a long time. Many companies put that as a required skill on their job listings. But it's not universal.

On paper, I was at N3 level when I interviewed with my first company. That should've ruled me out for every job going. It'd already been a problem for other companies I'd spoken to. I still got hired.

That was down to a combination of things, including my marketing career to date. The job also demanded a native-level English speaker, and I am definitely that.

Immigration was happy with those reasons, issuing my visa nice and quickly.

My English level trumped my Japanese level, by a long way. I've built on my Japanese ability since I started working, too. The company appreciates the effort, and it makes the job easier.

Marketing in Japan vs. marketing in your home country

Can you get a marketing job in Japan with no real marketing experience?

Would you be able to do that back home? No? Well then... no. Simple as that. If you do have experience, read on.

The 'marketing' bit of the job is almost universal. Work on strategy, monitor analytics, manage social media, create and send reports...

In that sense, working in Japan isn't that different. It's the same job you did at home. But you're not there for the office coffee. (Unless you're me.) You're there for the chance to live in Japan and do cool stuff on the weekends. The daily grind's a given, wherever you end up.

The upside is, just as you can use career history to get a Japanese job, you can take work experience you get in Japan elsewhere. Transferrable skills, people.

Japan has a reputation for long working hours. That's down to the company culture you end up in, so it's not something I can give solid advice on. You might leave on time every day, or put in 40+ extra hours a month.

But be prepared for it. "We typically do X hours of overtime each month, how do you feel about that?" is a very common interview question. And don't be scared to ask the question yourself! I had an interview where the manager played down the idea of overtime - then someone who worked for him sheepishly admitted they'd been in the office until 10pm the night before. I withdrew my application.

Time at work doesn't equal productivity. But Japan doesn't often see it that way. It's all about appearances - he/she who spends longest at their desk is clearly working hardest. Or they're playing online games to pass the time. Be ready to put in at least a small amount of face time.

Marketing salary in Japan vs. marketing salary back home

The article I read did prove one thing - the potential salary range for marketing jobs is so wide, it's basically useless information. You could be earning 3 million yen a year, or 12, or even more. You might get fun office perks and company benefits, or diddly squat. There are no guarantees.

It's wise to compare example figures to your home currency, to a certain extent. For some countries, the yen exchange rate sucks right now. Looking at a Japanese salary in another currency, you may well find you earn less here - a lot less.

Whether that's important depends on 2 things: if your pay in Japan will affect what the next job somewhere else pays, and your lifestyle.

Let's say you're planning to work in Japan for 3-4 years, then go home and get another job. Recruiters and interviewers love asking what your previous job paid, right? In the local currency, your yen salary could be way out of line with their expectations.

That said, earning 'less' won't mean you live a poor or unhappy life here. The bare minimum salary you need to live on in Japan is not 4 million yen a year, as some research suggested. It varies by region, and by your spending habits.

It's less likely you'll find a marketing job outside of a major city, like Tokyo or Osaka. Other areas do have English-language tourism and PR, but those are slim pickings. So you're likely to be a city dweller. And cities are more expensive to live in, that's true anywhere.

I live in Osaka. And I have a way better standard of living than I did when I was earning a similar amount in London. I'm not a total cheapskate, but I've found ways to save money. It's not as costly to dine out or go for drinks here, either.

Life now vs. life advice from internet strangers

There you have it, the not-so-brief guide to working in marketing in Japan.

If you have questions after reading a 1,000+-word blog post,you can find me on Twitter.


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