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Freelancing in Tokyo

I’ve often wondered what life would have been like had I stayed in Japan for a third year, teaching students privately and making my own schedule. Here’s a possible window into that life by ToLokyo (kudos to Matador for posting this first).

Lessons learned: in Korea, NEVER discuss Dokdo Island, the “Sea of Japan”, or Yasukuni Shrine.

When I came to Japan, there were quite a few options: teach with a private language school like AEON, NOVA, GEOS, or ECC, become an assistant language teacher (ALT) with the Jet Programme, or be employed directly by the school via a dispatch company…

Now NOVA is out for the count, and GEOS will be soon to follow; the language school giant recently declared bankruptcy, and many foreign instructors once again find themselves out of work. Salary payments are sketchy at best, and it’s anyone’s guess as to when the company will begin shutting down schools to limit expenses.

Based on the currency market, the cost of living, and the absence of a plethora of jobs, I would say it’s not really a good time to teach English in Japan. Granted, there were plenty of warning signs with NOVA and GEOS, and we’re not really seeing them with AEON or ECC, but when half of the big four are gone, I think it’s time to consider other options. Not dispatch companies, that’s for sure, but consider coming in on a tourist visa and arranging private students.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must sleep.

I was interviewing with one of the many Japanese English schools not too long ago. This particular one was in Nagano-ken, in a rather small town well outside the shinkansen lines. The usual questions followed regarding teaching experience, previous time in Japan, etc, when the director mentioned that he would like to have me come to Japan on a tourist visa and work in the school.

Had I not already lived over there for two years, this might have held some appeal for me. However, let me explain to you Japan newbies why working on a tourist visa is a terrible idea:

1. You have no contract. No recourse if the school decides to set you adrift. You may land in Tokyo and find no one waiting for you, no assistance with anything essential: cell phone, housing, bank account.

2. It’s illegal. You can be deported if caught.

3. It’s next to impossible to work for a reputable company without a gaijin card. That card gets you a bank account, without which you cannot get paid; nearly all companies pay with electronic transfers. Without that card, you’re really, really limited for places to live (no apts, only a few gaijin houses, hotels, hostels, etc). You can’t join a gym. It’s a terrible inconvenience and an impossibility outside of the big cities.

I mean, I was amazed the employer even suggested working illegally: he must have understood the problems I would face. That is until he mentioned there had been a change in the law, and foreigners could have their visa status changed from tourist to working without making the standard run to South Korea.

WHAT??? All that trouble I could have faced for nothing? Could this be true, that Japan changed a major immigration law in an attempt to bring more foreigners onto the workforce?

Apparently so. Such a change in policy benefits Japan, by allowing foreigners to come into the country without a job lined up to search for jobs, and start work rather quickly.

You’re not allowed to work in Japan without a working visa. But if you find a job and a company willing to sponsor your work visa, you can apply for the work visa and have it issued without leaving the country. A few years ago, this wasn’t possible; you’d have to apply in Japan, get some sort of form issued, and then leave the country and go to a Japanese embassy overseas to get the visa issued. Now it can all be done without leaving Japan…

So saddle up, job seekers. Take the first flight into Narita, enjoy a relaxing soak, then get started with the job search. Incidentally, if there is anyone doing this and keeping a blog on the experience, I’d love to read it. Also, does anyone know anything about the history of this new policy? Is it anything like the experience of non-citizens applying for US work visas (visum usa)?