Finding Work in Japan without Japanese: Sunshine and Rain

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Despite living in England for the best part of 28 years, I have only met two people in the UK  (both at the same time) who couldn’t speak English. I have also never worked with anyone – even in Germany – who couldn’t speak English.


I’ve visited around 20 countries where English wasn’t the national language and I have still managed to navigate my cumbersome self.  It actually never even crossed my mind that I wouldn’t find work in Japan without Japanese. Whilst some of that is based upon me being stupidly optimistic (especially about important things that I should probably think about), it was also pretty arrogant too.


I don’t know much about much, but I do know one thing for sure, life isn’t linear. In fact, life mainly does whatever the shitting hell it wants to do, when it wants to do it. Our interests change, and so do we…


work in Japan without japanese
Life doesn’t flow downstream in Kagurazaka, or anywhere else


It was almost ten years ago that I started a Maths degree. And also ten years ago,  I had only left the UK three times – Jamaica twice and the US once. I had never considered travel, languages or writing. If I had, I may have continued with my Chinese lessons, at least then, I would have known some kanji… Nevertheless, here I am in Japan, understanding less Japanese than a Japanese dog.



Well, I Almost Got a Job…

Last year, I applied for several full-time positions, both in English Teaching, and Recruiting. Not because I particularly wanted to work full-time again, I didn’t. Quite frankly, I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to sustain myself otherwise and I wanted the money. After several referrals and interviews at different consultancies, I had a second interview with a Japanese company. In the interview the Training Manager informed me that he expected me to “work 60 hours per week for the first 1-2 years”, but the “money would be worth it”.


Sooo… It was at that point that I decided I would leave the interview.


work in Japan without japanese
Commuter Trains in Tokyo… Avoid, avoid, avoid.


And I Almost Got Another Job…

In February 2017 I verbally accepted a position teaching English with an American company – this time only 37 hours a week. Almost heavenly in comparison to the recruitment gig. Yet again, I convinced myself that a full-time job would be the wagon to adulthood that I clearly needed.


Before I could start my new haphazardly-crafted adult life, I had to endure enjoy one week of training. The company expressed in no uncertain terms that I didn’t have a confirmed position with them until I had successfully completed the training week. I do in fact recall the HR Manager specifically saying “You’re probably thinking ‘do I have a job here?’ Well, NO, no you don’t.” Yes… Good, very good.


During the second day of training, my manager-to-be emailed me, asking me to specify my start date. After telling him that “two weeks from today” would be fine . He pinged back a rather irate mail, suggesting that I should start next week. Eh, what now?


work japan without japanese
Errrr… What just happened here?? (Those nostrils though)


That evening, I called manager-to-be and explained that I couldn’t start work any earlier because I was going to Vegas for a wedding (not mine). As it turned out, manager-to-be was pretty annoyed about this. He informed me that I “should have asked for his permission” before booking my holiday and that it was “probably too late to cancel it now”. I apologised about the confusion and we agreed a new date together.




Wait. Just. One. Minute. What on earth is going on here? My new adult life still isn’t confirmed. I mean, the HR manager had practically spat in my face when he told me so himself. We had never discussed start dates before. I hadn’t signed a contract.  What company assumes someone is available to work immediatelyToo. Much. Corporate.


The next morning, I called my manager-to-be and he become my manager-not-to-be.



So, it is Possible to Work in Japan without Japanese?

Yis, yis it definitely is. Clearly, I can’t speak for everyone, because as I said, I don’t know much about much, and I would probably get a very dry mouth. However, the difficulty of finding a job/paid work in Japan is going to vary based upon which languages you can speak. I mean, if you only speak Goron, then you may need to stay in Goron Village with your Goron friends. But, if you speak Chinese, English, Korean, or French then I reckon that you may be able to move away from your Goron Village existance.


work in japan without japanese
I’m not getting very far with these…



Which Kinds of Jobs are Available?

I think a lot of it depends upon who you know. With the right ‘international’ company, and a recommendation, you may be able to find a job in your chosen profession. I’m by no means an expert here but 7/10 jobs I’ve had in my life – including the job working in a club at 16 –  have come from referral. If you are self-employed then you may well find a great niche here with your language skills. All of that being said, if you are an English speaker then the easiest pickings seem to be:

  • English Teaching
  • Recruiting or Headhunting
  • IT (mainly programming)
  • Acting/Modelling (you don’t even need to have leggy legs)
  • Writing/Editorial
  • Hospitality


work in Japan without Japanese,
Corporate Life with Flowers, Shinjuku (新宿)


Sometimes I Want a Job, Sometimes I Don’t


I am grateful that I walked away from both of the positions. There was nothing wrong with them, but I was trying to force myself to be someone else. Now, I’m going to allow myself to focus on the things I really want to do. And if they don’t work out – that’s fine, at least I tried.


Being an employee certainly has its perks, but at the moment I can’t be bothered it doesn’t fit me. If the time comes that I need to get a full-time job then I will. In the mean time, if bread with salt is my only option for sustenance – as long as I can continue playing Theme Hospital for three hours a day – then so be it.



If you have ever worked in a country where you didn’t speak the national language, what was your experience?

2 thoughts on “Finding Work in Japan without Japanese: Sunshine and Rain

  1. Really enjoyed reading this, I really admire your drive to get shit done son! But what I really want to know, is how you are able to play Theme Hospital because I have been trying to get this back in my life since I left it. xxx

    1. Rae. Thank you so much! That means a lot to me, especially from you, someone I admire a great deal! Many days are filled with fantastic amounts of laziness too, it’s great, hah! Ahh, the “Theme Hospital Dilemma”. Many have indeed asked the same question, but only few have found the solution. Well, let’s just say that if one happened to search online for an emulator, one may find one. And if one decided to download Theme Hospital, or another Theme-related game, then one could most certainly continue playing until the end of time :’).

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