How I got 6 jobs in Japan

How I got 6 Jobs in Japan

How i got (kinda cool) jobs in japan without perfect japanese


I worked 6 different jobs in Japan over the course of 1 year, and they were not 6 different English teaching jobs. Definitely not special fancy corporate jobs, but they were jobs with other Japanese workers. アルバイト。Part time - something I was proud of because I could hardly hold Japanese conversation when I first moved there. My first bar job started with working with the owner in 85% English 15% Japanese, and my last bar job was running the place myself in 100% Japanese. Two English teaching jobs and four food/beverage service jobs, all split between Osaka and Tokyo. 

When I lived in Osaka, I was busy with school every morning and worked x3/4 times a week depending on my workload. Two days at a bar, and two days at a restaurant. When I lived in Tokyo, I quit school and worked mornings x3/4 times a week, and nights x4/5 times a week. I also lived in a shitty sharehouse and had to keep a boyfriend I scored in Osaka. Woo.


How I Got my first job

The answer is Craigslist. Yes, Craigslist. Hounded the website for 2 weeks straight, found a job I liked, submitted my super-aesthetic American resume with no relevant experience and a weird photo of myself, and hoped for the best. Not a lick of Japanese written (except for my 1 study abroad experience). I landed an interview two weeks later with the owner of the bar (nice Japanese guy who spoke English really well), and three weeks later I was learning the differences between liquor and liqueur. Fancy stuff. Also - honestly this job ended up being one of the, if not the, best jobs I've ever had.

Here are some of the interview questions I was asked - 

  1. Experience at a bar? "No, but I knew how to pour from a keg from parties." White lie.

  2. Speak Japanese? "Yeah a little." Not a total lie.

  3. Know how to cook? "Very simple stuff like bread and eggs." No way getting around that. Yes, cook bread.

  4. Restaurant experience? "Yeah, at my friend's coffee shop." White lie.

I swear I'm not a liar, but I needed the first job and couldn't risk improving my Japanese before working. It was a do or die. Lie or die! But this ended up biting me in the ass on my first day - I dropped an entire plate of scones on the table in front of the first customers I served. Oops. :-D

Anyway - I ended up loving this job. I had a great time and loved all the customers, enjoyed the food, learned how to make drinks, and got along with my boss. I was also accustomed to standard "restaurant speak" Japanese, so knew I could pick up something else and build my food/service/Japanese resume. From there, I moved on to the next. 


How I got my second job

The second job was much easier than the first. I just went into the store and asked if they were hiring.

I passed a cute yakitori-bar style store that had foreign flare. Saw a white guy setting up the tap (ayo Charlie!), knocked on the door, and asked if 1) he spoke English and 2) if they were hiring. He was gracious enough to not think I was a fucking weirdo and told me to swing by the next day with my resume and we'd talk. Apparently they were "always hiring new people."

I interviewed with Charlie, the Australian, and the boss, Tamaki. I did most of the interview in broken Japanese, but was infinitely better than my level prior to working my first job. 


The third job was by far the easiest of the three, and will probably be easiest for you. Especially if you don't like the cold-calling-with-no-experience thing. 

The third job was an English tutor, where I met students every other week for about $20/hour. Easy, quick, and enjoyable. I had a couple of on-and-offs, and had one consistent who was your typical salary man learning how to raise his first son. We always met the next train station over from me and were on the same page about our schedule: say 11:00am, arrive 11:15. I got this job from applying to English-tutoring spots online. I don't even think I submitted a resume - just a couple of convincing sentences I was from America and spoke "American English."


How I got the rest of my jobs

The rest of my jobs were in Tokyo. Same deal. 2 bar/restaurant jobs, 1 English teaching job. Even though I had 6 months of solid part-time experience in Japan, finding a new part-time job in Tokyo still left a giant pit in my stomach. More competition. Better foreign Japanese speakers. Cooler personalities. Jumping form Osaka to Tokyo took a slight readjustment.

Right off the bat I was offered English-conversation-er and tutoring positions, but was over that. Took a scheduled position at a small language school that made up 30% my schedule. The second job was at a Spanish-style restaurant that neighbored one of my favorite bars in Shibuya. That made up 50% my schedule. Shitty decision. Do not recommend finding a job across the street a bar you like. The third job was at a Japanese whiskey and sake bar also in Shibuya. A couple of blocks away from the restaurant job. That was 15% of my schedule. The two food and beverage jobs were, surprisingly enough, cold walk ins! :-) 


My advice

My advice to those who are interested in a similar journey - especially to those who can't speak Japanese - is leave a lasting impression. Make eye contact. Smile. Say thank you. Try speaking Japanese. Try Japanese customs and mannerisms. Try a job you could never picture yourself doing. You'll be remembered much more if you disrupt the silence rather than add to it. You actually, honestly miss 100% the shots you don't take (lol I can't believe I just wrote that and left that there). 

It's okay to embarrass yourself, and it's okay to get rejected. 

Walk into restaurants you are 95% sure you'll never eat at. Apply to bars that play music you like. Look for places that have handwritten "HELP WANTED / スタフ募集中" signs instead of cold corporate signs. Work at a place with a bar - it's the easiest way to talk to people and get forced Japanese practice. 

By the end of my 6 crazy jobs, I was speaking Japanese comfortably and effectively. I even got into slight Japanese drama (wow)! If you're a foreigner living in Japan, hopefully you consider some of these possibilities. 

- Emilia Liu, Champloo