Just the job

Features - February 20th, 2005

Elissa Campbell finds out if being relocating partner is career saviour or suicide

TOKYO is the capital of a major economic powerhouse, workers are taxed at comparatively reasonable rates and the city is remarkably liveable. For these reasons and more, people from all over relocate as expatriates to Tokyo.

Many women will arrive in tow with their job-relocating partner and a grand total of three Japanese words: “sake,” “sumo” and “karaoke.” Despite the envy of friends back home, the reality of being a lady of leisure is not what it’s cracked up to be. You’ll slowly go stark raving mad staying at home day after day. Add to that the pressure of suddenly not contributing financially to the household and your self-esteem is in rapid descent.

In order to save your sanity (and your marriage) there is only one solution: Continue your career…or at least get a job!

Continuing a career in Tokyo can be tricky for a variety of reasons. Catherine, in her late 30s and from England, has lived and worked in numerous countries with jobs in Non-Government Organizations (NGOs). Working on aid projects in South Africa, Catherine was sceptical about relocating to Tokyo three months ago. Catherine says, “I didn’t think I would be able to work here in my industry.”

Philanthropic organizations in Japan aren’t as prevalent as in most Western nations and the concept of “corporate citizenship” is not a driving factor for most Japanese organizations. Catherine’s hopes were low.

“I thought maybe I could get some basic volunteer work and stuff envelopes or something, but that really was not appealing,” Catherine says.

Amanda, in her late 20s, left behind a job as marketing manager with Westfield, the largest chain of shopping centres in Australia. Amanda’s expectations about finding work in Tokyo were similarly pessimistic. “I knew I couldn’t get into my industry because marketing is all about communication and I can’t speak Japanese.”

Faced with seemingly insurmountable cultural and language barriers there are two choices: continue on your established career path or consider changing industries. Catherine chose the former, searching the internet for NGOs located in Japan.

“I literally bombarded people with emails and hoped that something panned out. In the end I got offered three jobs!” Catherine says.

Now she works for an international NGO as the overseas programmes officer and regularly travels aboard to oversee aid projects in less developed countries. She says, “My job is marvelous, in all honesty I don’t think I would have gotten this opportunity anywhere else.”

Amanda chose to use the relocation to Japan as a chance to try something new. After trawling employment websites, Amanda attended several interviews but was unsuccessful. She explains, “I was telling some friends about the job interviews and afterwards one of the girls emailed me with a job offer in the finance industry.”

Despite Amanda having no experience in finance, she was able to diversify her employment experience by networking with women who were already working in Tokyo. While she admits she was “really lucky,” her employer has renewed her contract several times and is now discussing permanent employment.

Hayley, in her early 30s and from England, relocated to Tokyo from Australia five months ago. Despite having worked in the recruitment industry in both England and Australia, Hayley was concerned about finding a job. “I thought the language would be a barrier,” Hayley says.

Although simply having experience is no guarantee of securing a job, it does help to at least get a foot in the door in a competitive market place.

“At the moment I’m interviewing for work and using all my contacts. I’m picking up the phone and speaking to people rather than just emailing.”

Hayley says it is this sort of perseverance that has led to her being considered by a number of multinational recruitment firms. (She recently gained employment with a recruiting company in Tokyo.)

Job hunting can be difficult and stressful in any country. Leaving a fulfilling job to embark upon life in a foreign country, especially as an “accessory” to a partner who is on the up and up, can certainly feel like career suicide. With cultural nuances and communication difficulties, job hunting in Tokyo is definitely a daunting task.

However, by researching organizations and networking with as many people as possible, career suicide can become career saviour. While the career may not be in the industry you initially had in mind, the opportunities that exist could lead you on a new and exciting path.