How to work in marketing - or a job that's not teaching English - as a foreigner in Japan
This month, I found a 'how to work in marketing in Japan as a foreigner' blog post on Twitter. It'd been written by another non-Japanese person, so I gave it a look.
Without ranting here, it isn't helpful. I won't even link to it. The author doesn't live or work in Japan. They don't have the actual experience of being a marketer here. Their findings were based mainly on googling stuff, and anyone can do that.
I've been living here for 2 years, and working in marketing for over a year. So I'll try to give some better advice.
This can apply to other situations, like when you're trying to work in some (any) other field than 'teaching English'. YMMV, and ESID. But there's no tl;dr, so get reading.
Living in Japan vs. applying from outside Japan
You need a work visa to work for a Japanese company.
Looking for jobs, interviewing, and working on a tourist visa's illegal. Don't do that. You'd get away with 'meeting for coffee', but that's about it. And a company that'll hire you anyway isn't one you want to work for.
Being in Japan already, on a valid visa, is an advantage. No way around that. A working holiday visa's good, if you can get one. With that, you can start a job straight away and switch to the appropriate work visa later.
Companies do accept applications from outside Japan - if they're looking in that direction. If the job description's written in English, that's encouraging.
But if the company's searching for global candidates, the standard's going to be high. Maybe higher than you'd expect for that job in other countries. See further down on that point.
Always check the details for 'visa sponsorship offered/available'. If the company won't help with your visa status - which is a crappy standpoint, by the way - you're out of luck.
Japanese ability level vs. native language
When you apply for a work visa, immigration will want your company to explain why they hired you. You've rocked up and taken a perfectly good job from a Japanese person. Your employer's got to show why you, a foreigner (gasp), should be doing that work instead.
In marketing, same as teaching, your advantages are: (partly) previous work experience, 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 get long. They ask for a lot, and most of it's '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, 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.
The accepted 'business Japanese' level's been JLPT N2 or higher - which 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 current place. That should've ruled me out for every job going. It'd already been a problem for other companies. I still got hired.
That was down to a combination of things, including my marketing career to date. But the job needed a native-level English speaker, and I am definitely that. Immigration was happy with that reason, 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 marketing experience?
Would you be able to do that back home? No? Well then... no. Simple as that. If you 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.
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 face time.
Marketing salary in Japan vs. marketing salary back home
The article I read did prove one thing - the potential salary range is so wide, it's basically useless information. You could be earning 3 million yen, or 12. You might get fun office perks, or diddly squat. There are no guarantees. You're not assured any salary level.
It's wise to compare example figures to your home currency. 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 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 can tell you now I earn less than 4 mil.
I live in Osaka. And I have a way better standard of living than I did earning a similar amount in London. I'm not a 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.