A sei sha’in (regular employment) position is either damned easy to get, or impossible. Which is it?

I want to share with you two, diametrically opposed views of how easy or hard it is for a foreigner to get regular employment in Japan.

The first comes from comments on the Tepido blog, which, as you know, I have been monitoring since I was a topic there some time ago. One of the previous posters there is involved in the silly “Japan Blog Review”, and so that is one more reason.

A few of the regular Tepido posters seem to think that regular employment is routinely offered to foreigners in Japan–one or two suggest that they have such employment themselves. They also feel that it’s very easy to secure your employment rights in Japan, when you are sei sha’in, by “simply” going down to a local labor administrative office or lawyer’s bar association.

Taking the 180 degrees opposite view is the Osaka General Union: “The foreign teacher as disposable commodity”.

Here, we discover that employers in Japan do every trick in the book to prevent a foreigner from obtaining stable employment with a career track. Administrative agencies look the other way, and if you really want what the law says you are entitled to, be prepared to litigate and have it go on for years.

So my question is very simple: which is it? It sounds like the Osaka union knows what they are talking about, and yet others insist that, no no, it isn’t that way at all. They say, you “just” have to do this or that, and then the Japanese employer does what they are supposed to do.

I will of course have more to add on this throughout 2012, as the unremedied situation I left in Japan slowly works its way through the federal system. I simply wonder where some people get off saying that the Japanese honor the regular employment scheme when it comes to foreigners, when the preponderance of stories that have come to light over the years–and the simple fact that the foreign population keeps leaving Japan–shows that regular employment is something that the Japanese keep for themselves. They expect foreign companies with a base in Japan to honor it, for Japanese employees, but foreigners are virtually always considered to be under some other scheme.

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28 comments

  1. Durf · December 19, 2011

    I’ve been a 正社員 since a half-year after I was hired at my current place of work in the mid-1990s. I think this is likely something that differs hugely from industry to industry; you don’t have much chance of getting the status in the English teaching field, but in other sectors it may be much closer to automatic once you’re hired on a trial basis for three or six months.

    • hoofin · December 19, 2011

      Durf, thanks for your comment. When I’ve spoken to people about the particulars, overwhelmingly the people who said they got in as sei sha’in (正社員) did so sometime late in the last century. And it’s not like Japan eliminated regular employment.

      I wonder what the “other sectors” are in Japan, once you eliminate English teaching, entertainment, certain investment banking positions where everyone is term-limit contracted (both Japanese and foreign). I know one big American computer services company with a highrise on the Sumidagawa has regular employment for its Japanese employees . . .

      • Durf · December 19, 2011

        Well, I certainly don’t mean to speak for all industries. This is in publishing, though, and all the in-house translators we’ve hired for years (including quite recent years) have been offered 正社員 status after their trial periods. Japanese hires are much more likely to get stuck with contract positions, by way of comparison. We might be an outlier, of course . . .

        • hoofin · December 19, 2011

          I think that’s interesting and would want to know some more stats. How long do the foreign translators stay, and what proportion of the whole company is Japanese?

          • Durf · December 20, 2011

            I’ve stayed the longest (I’ve been here since 1996 and am now a foundation director, of all things). The two other guys here now have been here for about three years and a year, respectively; the longest-working translator colleague of mine was here for about a decade, and on average I’d say people stay in the position for 3–5 years. So the seishain status certainly isn’t anchoring them to the place.

            In all we’ve got about 25 people in house, and everyone is Japanese except for three J-E translators (two Americans and one Brit) and two Chinese native speakers who do our J-C work.

      • factchecker · December 19, 2011

        Basing a judgement of the employment scene in Japan vis-a-vis qualified foreign workers on what the Osaka General Union of Eikaiwa teachers says is like basing a judgement of the employment scene in the USA or Canada on the General Association of McDonald’s Grill Workers. It is nonsensical.

        As Durf correctly pointed out, English teachers generally do not get to become regular employees. Some blame that situation on the fact that, historically at least, the vast majority of eikaiwa and esl “teachers” have had no qualification beyond the fact that they “won the lucky sperm lottery” and were born and raised in an English-speaking country. Many if not most have no formal training in language theory, or education, nor in my experience were very many even English majors in college.

        In short, their skill set begins and ends with “can speak English like a native speaker because they are one.” Like a McDonald’s grill worker, they are interchangeable. Average “career” in Japan for an English speaker, at least as it was several years ago when there was seemingly an eikaiwa on every corner, was often reported as 3 years. The teachers didn’t regard their position as “permanent”, and neither did the schools.

        That said, it is also true that any number of eikaiwa schools bend the laws or deliberately ignore them. They don’t enroll employees in insurance or pension plans. They don’t count time spent preparing for a class as “work time”, thereby keeping “actual hours per week worked” below the level at which even a part-time employee would be required to be enrolled in those programs. They refuse to renew one-year contracts more than twice – employees on one-year contracts that have worked for the same company more than three years are legally allowed to demand “regular employee” status, and the labor laws as written are on the side of the employee so as to prevent a company from being asked and then deciding to shuffle the employee out the door rather than grant the request.

        And there are a whole lot more sectors out there besides teaching, “entertainment” and banking. Publishing companies, sellers and distributors of goods, product manufacturers, software developers – these are just a few of the sectors where I personally know non-Japanese individuals who are regular, permanent employees. Most of them are fluent in Japanese and all of them have skill sets that are important to their employer. And so, they are treated appropriately.

        One may well argue that a lot of English teachers are not treated appropriately, but one should be very careful about extrapolating from that that somehow the entire Japanese employment system is broken. Especially when the “preponderance of stories” seems to come from one troubled sector.

        By the way, the foreign population in Japan has decreased slightly the last couple of years. You got that right – but the foreign population of Japan is still almost 130% of what it was in 2000, and it was growing every year up through 2008. For some segments of the foreign population, the numbers are still growing. Don’t believe everything the disgruntled “burger flippers” tell you.

        • hoofin · December 19, 2011

          I’m really not sure where to start. So let me just respond to the gist of what you are saying:

          1) You refer to the Osaka union body as being compared to a “General Association of McDonald’s Grill Workers.” I take it that you mean that people who work in the restaurant industry have no skills? Or that they are not entitled to union representation? Or they shouldn’t have basic civil and labor rights respected if they are working in a country that isn’t their own? Or, all three. I let your comment speak for itself.

          2) You say, “employees on one-year contracts that have worked for the same company more than three years are legally allowed to demand ‘regular employee’ status, and the labor laws as written are on the side of the employee . . .” And yet, you see two posters right on these comments whose testimony belies that statement. Frankly, I don’t think foreigners in Japan get to legally demand very much. (Certainly, not their abducted children.) So why should anyone believe that employers are honoring these made-up labor rules that are often cited as fact on the internet?

          3) You say about other industries where you know foreigners to be employed. Then, you say of those people, “[m]ost of them are fluent in Japanese and all of them have skill sets that are important to their employer. And so, they are treated appropriately.” This has nothing to do with what the law says a regular employee should be–which, basically, is someone on a contract without a fixed end date. You seem to be suggesting that if a foreigner’s skills are “valuable”, then they get to negotiate regular employment (the sei sha’in employment). But that’s not anywhere in the law. It just sounds like more made-up internet stuff.

          4) You put forth the notion that Eikaiwa workers are just a small segment of (Western) foreigners in Japan, and suggest I don’t have facts right. However, you aren’t able to tell me what the breakout of foreigners is for each industry. If there are, say, 2,500 Americans at any given time working in EFL (including JET), this would be 5% of the estimated 50,000 American civilians in Japan. (Let’s not lose sight of the fact that a number of the 50,000 Americans are spouses and family of the 50,000 service members stationed in Japan, and a large number are the spouses and children of executives seconded in to Japan, and diplomats and their families.) So it seems your anecdotal evidence might be going to a handful of lucky high-tech workers where the Japanese-based employer doesn’t want to screw around with the labor laws because of temporary market conditions—not because these workers somehow otherwise merit having the law honored in their situations . . .

          • factchecker · December 20, 2011

            “1) You refer to the Osaka union body as being compared to a “General Association of McDonald’s Grill Workers.” I take it that you mean that people who work in the restaurant industry have no skills?”

            I mean that McDonald’s grill workers have a very basic skill set that pretty much anyone with basic eye-hand coordination can master in about 5 minutes. Many eikaiwa/EFL teachers in Japan in the same position. They are not trained educators, nor trained linguists, nor trained in much of anything related to their job. They are working in an entry-level, minimum-wage job field. They are a disposable cog as far as the company is concerned, not a valued asset. Looking almost exclusively at their situation and inferring, as you obviously are, that skilled, highly trained workers or those in managerial positions who have earned regular employee status are lying and that the labor situation in Japan is highly prejudicial against foreigners is bull-hockey. To make that connection is no different from saying that high-school kids working at McDonald’s are treated like crap, therefore engineers at Apple are treated like crap, because they are all working in the US labor market. I would hope that you can see that you are talking about apples and oranges, however I suspect your views on Japan in general are distorting your ability to see things as they actually are.

            “Or that they are not entitled to union representation?”
            Sure, they can have union representation. The law allows it. It does not change the fact that they are not bringing much to the table in a labor negotiation. “We’ll strike!” “Yeah, well, there are a whole lot of other warm bodies out there that want to work, and are every bit as qualified as you lot. Knock yourselves out.”

            “Or they shouldn’t have basic civil and labor rights respected if they are working in a country that isn’t their own?” Of course they should. What all too many eikaiwa do is illegal and unscrupulous. It is an area that needs attention.

            My point was solely that your argument (foreigners do not get the same labor protections as Japanese) was based on one small segment of the labor market, and a segment that is rife with abuses. You cannot extrapolate from that and deduce the state of the labor market and/or labor law enforcement as a whole any more than you can deduce the state of the entire US labor market or US labor law enforcement based solely on examples of unskilled, minimum-wage labor or seasonal migrant agricultural workers.

            “2) You say, “employees on one-year contracts that have worked for the same company more than three years are legally allowed to demand ‘regular employee’ status, and the labor laws as written are on the side of the employee . . .” And yet, you see two posters right on these comments whose testimony belies that statement.”
            Yes, and a question to both of them: how many of the employees being made to go through the renewal song-and-dance are foreign, and how many are Japanese?

            There are abuses of the system. No question. I have seen and read of quite a few examples on the news or in the Japanese press. When there have been abuses, they have affected all employees, not just the foreign ones. Also when there have been abuses, in my experience, they have been exceptions to the rule. You cannot, as you are, cherry-pick examples that seem to support your bias and expect that everyone will suddenly say “Gee, Hoofin, you’re right!”

            You’re not.

            “3) You seem to be suggesting that if a foreigner’s skills are “valuable”, then they get to negotiate regular employment (the sei sha’in employment).”
            No, I am saying that if an employee, regardless of nationality, has a valuable skill set then an employer will, in general, offer regular employment status. Or used to – the economy being what it is today (everywhere) with increased outsourcing, offshoring, and contract employment means that companies are increasingly trying to cut costs and are not taking on as many new full-time, permanent employees as they used to. That is a fact of life for everyone, Japanese and foreign alike.

            “It just sounds like more made-up internet stuff.”
            I defer to the master….

            “4) You put forth the notion that Eikaiwa workers are just a small segment of (Western) foreigners in Japan, and suggest I don’t have facts right. However, you aren’t able to tell me what the breakout of foreigners is for each industry.”
            Well, considering about 1/4 of the foreigners in Japan are Chinese and another 1/4 are Korean, and that only 4% of the foreign population in Japan comes from English-speaking countries (and surely not all of them are EFL teachers), I think it is safe to say that EFL teachers are a small segment of Western foreigners, and a ridiculously tiny percentage of foreigners in Japan overall.

            Or we could look at the fact that only 3.2% of all foreigners in Japan are on 人文知識・国際業務 visas, which is the standard visa for EFL teachers (3.2% would be about 68,000 people), and that of that 50% of the holders are Chinese, 13% Korean and 9.8% American (or about 6,700 Americans) and realize that even if every single one of those 6,700 Americans were EFL teachers (they likely are not) we’re still talking all of 0.03% of the foreign population of Japan.

            “Let’s not lose sight of the fact that a number of the 50,000 Americans are spouses and family of the 50,000 service members stationed in Japan, and a large number are the spouses and children of executives seconded in to Japan, and diplomats and their families.”

            Wrongo! Spouses and family members of US forces in Japan are not counted in the Justice Ministry figures for foreigners in Japan (which are the numbers I am using, and I believe you are too as the numbers match). Spouses and family members are covered under the US-Japan Status Of Forces Agreement, and are not issued visas by the Japanese government. Since they do not get visas, they are not counted by the Justice Ministry and therefore do not appear in the numbers put out by the MoJ.

            I do not know the actual numbers of military dependents in Japan, however as former military I know the ratio was 3:1 stateside and I have seen references to 2:1 on Okinawa and at Yokota. Assuming 2:1 is the correct value, that would give about 100,000 military dependents. Plus there are civilian contractors on all bases, these people also are covered under SOFA and therefore are not in the MoJ’s calculations.

            Oh, and diplomat’s wives and kids? Surely not a very large number, but they would not be in the MoJ numbers either.

            That leaves “the spouses and children of executives seconded in to Japan”. And if you think that is a “large number”, you’ve obviously been doing all your shopping at National Azabu and have no clue what life is like for most expats in Japan.

            But we knew that…

            • hoofin · December 20, 2011

              OH, THERE IS SO MUCH! Here are the points I want to answer, though:

              You say:

              Looking almost exclusively at their situation and inferring, as you obviously are, that skilled, highly trained workers or those in managerial positions who have earned regular employee status are lying and that the labor situation in Japan is highly prejudicial against foreigners is bull-hockey.

              This makes no sense. There is no “earning regular employee status”. It is by operation of the law (Labor Standards Act, with the regular employment codified in a section of the Labor Contract Act), which is generally ignored when it comes to foreigners. Unless it’s convenient NOT to ignore it.

              My point was solely that your argument (foreigners do not get the same labor protections as Japanese) was based on one small segment of the labor market, and a segment that is rife with abuses. You cannot extrapolate from that and deduce the state of the labor market and/or labor law enforcement as a whole any more than you can deduce the state of the entire US labor market or US labor law enforcement based solely on examples of unskilled, minimum-wage labor or seasonal migrant agricultural workers.

              I think the segment is larger than what you say, and I think it sets the tone for how foreigners are treated in other occupations in Japan. I think it affects a sizable amount of the foreign labor force—if we are talking about Western foreigners and not people from the neighboring Asian countries.

              There are abuses of the system. No question. I have seen and read of quite a few examples on the news or in the Japanese press. When there have been abuses, they have affected all employees, not just the foreign ones.

              [How do you know this?]

              Also when there have been abuses, in my experience, they have been exceptions to the rule. You cannot, as you are, cherry-pick examples that seem to support your bias and expect that everyone will suddenly say “Gee, Hoofin, you’re right!”

              You’re not.

              Yes, but then, you want to trump anecdote with anecdote, while delivering some “three-year rule” that no one among those who communicate in English has ever claimed to have been able to enforce against an employer there . . .

              [I said:]

              “3) You [i.e. Hoofin] seem[s] to be suggesting that if a foreigner’s skills are “valuable”, then they get to negotiate regular employment (the sei sha’in employment).”

              No, I am saying that if an employee, regardless of nationality, has a valuable skill set then an employer will, in general, offer regular employment status. Or used to – the economy being what it is today (everywhere) with increased outsourcing, offshoring, and contract employment means that companies are increasingly trying to cut costs and are not taking on as many new full-time, permanent employees as they used to. That is a fact of life for everyone, Japanese and foreign alike.

              But it looks like it is more a “fact of life” the less Japanese you are . . .

              “It just sounds like more made-up internet stuff.”
              I defer to the master….

              Thank you, Pot.

              “4) You put forth the notion that Eikaiwa workers are just a small segment of (Western) foreigners in Japan, and suggest I don’t have facts right. However, you aren’t able to tell me what the breakout of foreigners is for each industry.”

              Well, considering about 1/4 of the foreigners in Japan are Chinese and another 1/4 are Korean, and that only 4% of the foreign population in Japan comes from English-speaking countries (and surely not all of them are EFL teachers), I think it is safe to say that EFL teachers are a small segment of Western foreigners, and a ridiculously tiny percentage of foreigners in Japan overall.

              Or we could look at the fact that only 3.2% of all foreigners in Japan are on 人文知識・国際業務 visas, which is the standard visa for EFL teachers (3.2% would be about 68,000 people), and that of that 50% of the holders are Chinese, 13% Korean and 9.8% American (or about 6,700 Americans) and realize that even if every single one of those 6,700 Americans were EFL teachers (they likely are not) we’re still talking all of 0.03% of the foreign population of Japan.

              You mean 0.3% (6700/2.125 million), not 0.03%, but I see your point that you want the number to feel very small.

              But if you look at the statistics the Ministry of Justice kept on entrances to Japan by North Americans in 2009, the plurality of identified occupations are humanities and international relations visa holders, instructors, entertainers–with a sizable contingent of spouses and dependents. Just the very sort of people who you say are an insignificant number. Granted, we don’t know what the permanent residents work at, but when you read down the list of differing types of visa categories, you’d have to assume that the PRs are distributed similarly to what you see there. Do any of these categories have a propensity to fly in and out of Japan a lot within one year? I suggest they all make a similar amount of trips. If anything, the professional classes make more of them . . .

              2009 北アメリカ non temp non temp
              America, North percent cumulative
              総数 Total 910,760
              永住者 Permanent residents 18,976 14.5% 14.5%
              人文知識・国際業務 humanities visa 17,733 13.6% 28.1%
              日本人の配偶者等 spouse of a Japanese 14,827 11.3% 39.4%
              家族滞在 Dependents 12,573 9.6% 49.0%
              教育 Instructors 11,011 8.4% 57.5%
              興行 Entertainers 8,618 6.6% 64.0%
              企業内転勤 Intra-company transferees 8,284 6.3% 70.4%
              投資・経営 Investors and business managers 7,408 5.7% 76.0%
              留学 College students 6,423 4.9% 81.0%
              公用 Officials 4,722 3.6% 84.6%
              教授 Professors 3,582 2.7% 87.3%
              技術 Engineers 3,355 2.6% 89.9%
              外交 Diplomats 3,150 2.4% 92.3%
              宗教 Religious activities 1,919 1.5% 93.8%
              定住者 Long term residents 1,528 1.2% 94.9%
              研修 Trainees 1,012 0.8% 95.7%
              特定活動 Designated activities 985 0.8% 96.4%
              技能 Skilled labourers 881 0.7% 97.1%
              文化活動 Cultural activities 684 0.5% 97.6%
              就学 Pre-college students 673 0.5% 98.2%
              特別永住者 Exceptional permanent residents 630 0.5% 98.6%
              法律・会計業務 Legal and accounting services 531 0.4% 99.0%
              研究 Researchers 428 0.3% 99.4%
              永住者の配偶者等 314 0.2% 99.6%
              芸術 Artists 255 0.2% 99.8%
              報道 Journalists 241 0.2% 100.0%
              医療 Medical services 8 0.0% 100.0%
              短期滞在 Temporary visitors 780,009
              一時庇護 Temporary protection –
              non temporary vistors 130,751

              [I said:]

              “Let’s not lose sight of the fact that a number of the 50,000 Americans are spouses and family of the 50,000 service members stationed in Japan, and a large number are the spouses and children of executives seconded in to Japan, and diplomats and their families.”

              Wrongo! Spouses and family members of US forces in Japan are not counted in the Justice Ministry figures for foreigners in Japan (which are the numbers I am using, and I believe you are too as the numbers match). Spouses and family members are covered under the US-Japan Status Of Forces Agreement, and are not issued visas by the Japanese government. Since they do not get visas, they are not counted by the Justice Ministry and therefore do not appear in the numbers put out by the MoJ.

              Actually, only partly wrongo! You are right, that if a spouse has SOFA status, that spouse will not be in the number. Also, dependents if they have SOFA status. But not every DoD connected American in Japan has SOFA. You do not automatically get this if you work on a base and are American. Do you think the Japanese government wants more SOFA covered people, or less?

              I do not know the actual numbers of military dependents in Japan, however as former military I know the ratio was 3:1 stateside and I have seen references to 2:1 on Okinawa and at Yokota. Assuming 2:1 is the correct value, that would give about 100,000 military dependents. Plus there are civilian contractors on all bases, these people also are covered under SOFA and therefore are not in the MoJ’s calculations.

              The guess is that there are between 87,000 and 105,000 service members and SOFA-related family and support people in Japan. Civilian contractors are not necessarily SOFA, and therefore would have to have a gaijin card.
              Oh, and diplomat’s wives and kids? Surely not a very large number, but they would not be in the MoJ numbers either.
              If you notice from my list above (which comes from MOJ), diplomats very much are counted as visa holders—why do you think there is a line called “Diplomats” on there. Hey, “Factchecker”, where do you get your facts?

              That leaves “the spouses and children of executives seconded in to Japan”. And if you think that is a “large number”, you’ve obviously been doing all your shopping at National Azabu and have no clue what life is like for most expats in Japan.

              But we knew that…

              The data suggest that it’s a sizable number, doesn’t it? Especially if the employees are on the humanities/international services visa.

              I wonder how much it is you really do know, and how much is what you would like others to think . . .

  2. Ben · December 19, 2011

    In my 10+ years in Japan, I have only ever had seishain jobs. The recession is tough, but it was never particularly difficult to get. It is usually 2-3 interviews and a test or two. I have done tenshoku twice to move to higher paid jobs. That is the only reason I left my previous seishain positions. They are of course no contractual limits on the work work period for seishain jobs.

    You mentioned “foreign teacher”. I wonder if that is source of the problem. I work in software development and am fluent in Japanese, working side-by-side with my Japanese coworkers. All of the foreigners that I know who work in Japan are also seishain, and they too work side-by-side with Japanese doing work in technical fields. I don’t think I know any language teachers or assistants.

    Especially for Japanese, I can tell you from experience that young, new shakaijin often have difficulty obtaining permanent positions. Often they will do keiyaku work for a few years to build up their resume. This is often later followed by tenshoku to seishain position. Since the recession, I have seen more and more of this.

  3. El-guapo · December 19, 2011

    I think you are confusing the folks over at Tepido for teachers or teaching (admittedly what the majority of non-asian foreigners in Japan do, but that’s a small percentage of the foreigners in Japan, I’m surprised you’d make that mistake).

    The majority of the Torpedoes seem to have full time permanent employment (for what it’s worth).

    • hoofin · December 19, 2011

      No, I think somewhere you must have been confused by what General Union does. They represent many different occupations where foreigners are present. It just happens that they focus on the Eikaiwa/EFL representation, because that’s where the most egregious violations tend to be.

      I can remember when I associated with NAMBU-FWC, which is mostly something called “Tozen” now. They represented a group of people, from Africa, who were working with industrial chemicals. Not Eikaiwa.

  4. Eido INOUE · December 19, 2011

    There’s no reason to pit these two opinions against each other, because they’re both right. It’s “[almost] impossible” to get for English/EFL in Japan. And it’s “damned easy” to get for high skill jobs. The Osaka General Union is talking about the EFL & the Eikaiwa industry. And the commenter on Tepido was implicitly referring to everything except the EFL/Eikaiwa industry.

    The EFL industry inside Japan has been commoditized so that the majority of it resembles the Eikaiwa industry… which is only a few degrees away from the “Entertainment / Service” industry (in that the business is designed around a pleasant and fun experience for the customer/student). No matter what country you’re in, there are very few people that can make “careers” (and obtain the privileges that come with a “career”: job stability, advancement, regular employee status, etc) out of entertainment / service / sports / low-skill jobs. Eikaiwa is a “low-skill service” industry not because the foreigners in it have no skills, but because of the job requirements for Eikaiwa fall in the “low skill” arena:

    #1. Can you converse/read/write in English as a native language?
    #2. Are you a mature adult (the de facto evidence of this usually being four years of college)?
    #3. Are you pleasant to be around (iow, will the customers/students enjoy engaging and listening to you)?

    The fact that one’s uni, major of study, & previous job experience is usually considered to be irrelevant (even if it’s connected to English/EFL/Eikaiwa) should be the tip-off that it’s considered to be a low skill job.

    Rightly or wrongly, much of the EFL industry in Japan has gravitated towards the Eikaiwa business model even if they don’t call themselves Eikaiwa but call themselves EFL (more brand caché with the word “EFL” over “Eikaiwa”), because that’s what consumers in Japan really want: a low-cost, native English speaking experience that they can call “education” instead of “entertainment” or “service” because it makes them feel better about how they spend their discretionary income. Those who are truly hard-core about EFL acquisition go to the U.K. or the States etc. if they can afford it.

    In its present form, both EFL and Eikaiwa are good “get your foot in the door” (of the country) jobs in Japan. I did it. So did a lot of other people (usually the JET Programme) I know that are now in good 正社員 jobs in Japan. But as neither Eikaiwa nor EFL should be considered career paths, you should have skills relevant to Japan (excellent fluent Japanese plus ideally a professional “hard” skill: preferably in S.T.E.M. or a professional license or certification that an employer in Japan considers valuable) and get out of English-in-Japan as quickly as possible. The longer you have EFL/Eikaiwa on your CV the more of a liability it is, as your time in it is essentially counted as “being out of the professional work force” because you are not considered to be developing anything except for hopefully Japanese language ability. If you haven’t spent your time while earning money from EFL/Eikaiwa mastering professional business level (not “bar” or “television/manga” or “girlfriend/boyfriend”) Japanese, your time spent in it is just one notch above “unemployed” from a recruiter’s point of view. Eikaiwa/EFL is to professional Japan as waiting tables is to Hollywood.

    Now, there are people that do manage to make careers in the EFL industry in Japan in the post-eikaiwa-bubble. But these are the best, as it requires excellent entrepreneurial (often they are self-employed) and networking skills, a go-getter positive attitude and bright optimistic personality, and yes, a bit of luck, to make it work. And good for them. If they managed to make it work it’s usually because they are the best at what they do.

    Regarding i-bankers: I know many non-Japanese who are or were sei sha’in [sic] in Japan (all tech though, because that’s the field I’m in). I believe the people you met who were not regular employees were probably either outsourced contractors (usually low to mid level sysadmins) or on overseas assignments (which the financial industry does use a lot of). Because of the nature of that industry, most people want to be on overseas assignment status with the ex-pat perks and the tax and income packages rather than the local-hire package.

    There are not many of them (local foreign hires) because hiring for that industry is extremely competitive, and the availability of qualified elite level non-Japanese that want to live and work in Japan full time is very small, and competition for these people is fierce amongst the top companies.

    Durf is right in that there’s usually a “probation” clause in most full-time permanent employee contracts for a few months (usually three to six) which give the employer an “out” if you turn out to be a bad fit despite the interview and selection process. I’ve had this in all of my seishain contracts (both 20th and 21st century) in Japan.

    Also, there’s no reason to be embarrassed about reading Tepido (your excuse reminds me of the men who say they buy Playboy for the articles). I read it (Tepido, not Playboy). If you’re that ashamed, you can set up auto-alerts that tell you when your or other people’s names or email addresses are used on the web so you’ll never need to read all the posts and comments unless you or your internet nemeses are mentioned.

    • hoofin · December 20, 2011

      Eido,

      Yeah, I see what you are saying about Eikaiwa, and will just let those comments stand unremarked. I think it goes to whether Japan takes labor law seriously when it involves certain industries, and so much has already been said on that.

      Two investment banks I had assignments in had everyone on fixed-term contracts. They weren’t outsiders. The talk was that, in order to be fair to everyone in the mixed nationality environment, they couldn’t offer Japanese anything other than fixed-term, because this is what the Americans, Australians, English, et al. got. It had nothing to do with the skill set being brought in. One of those i-banks is long gone, and the other one is still there in Roppongi.

      Probation is a tricky thing, because, as you know, there is no “probation” in the Japanese labor law except the two-week period. People who bring up the probation internet meme can’t reconcile it to the fact that under the Labor Contract Act, if an employer turns around the next week and wants to dismiss the worker, the employer can’t, and is on the hook for the length of the contract. I think it is a topic where–like so much else when it comes to foreigners–people play around a lot with the definitions.

      I don’t think the Tepido blog is like Playboy. Playboy is interesting and not so much of a Johnny-One-Note online pissing match. There is usually a lot of content on Playboy. With the Tepido site, you usually have to yawn and scroll for a length of time before an interesting topic or opinion appears. It is hard to get off on Tepido.org.

      I hope you all track down your man, if that is the current project, by the way.

      • Durf · December 20, 2011

        Investment banking is a strange industry and shouldn’t be brought into a discussion as an example of the way things should/could be. The entire industry is premised on making money, and if you don’t produce you’re booted out unceremoniously—so they need everyone on contracts that allow for this. My friends in finance have tremendously fluid career records, jumping diagonally up the salary scales to different companies in good times and getting tossed out of work for months at a time in bad.

        • Eido Inoue · December 20, 2011

          Are we talking about people who’s compensation is primarily metric performance based? If so, then yes, your employment (either in Japan or the United States) is often as stable as your last set of numbers vs your quota. As a compensation for having this “what have you done for me lately?” lack of job security, they have an opportunity to make ungodly large sums of money during their short stay.

          On the other hand, I can assure you that outside of this, the engineering staff in charge of building, designing and improving the financial compute clusters full of proprietary analysis algorithms do have very stable careers (the people in charge of menial tasks surrounding that infrastructure, such as routine backing up and maintenance, do not). I should know because I use[d] to be a dispa[tch]ed consultant for Wall Street and a few Japanese banks, and my current employer likes to hire these types of engineers due to their niche experience with huge compute[r] cluster architectures. [Hoofin’s note: actually, a reader points out to me that that one actually was “compute cluster”. Faked out by the “use to be”, which I’m certain is wrong.]

          I hope you’re enjoying all the attention and traffic you’re getting from your intentional solicitation (via the deliberate link traceback) for attention from Tepido. You may put it down in your words, but your actions, excuses aside, show that you’re both reading it and will fully engaging in communication (albeit indirectly) with its participants. If your blog’s name & link is placed in the comments of tepido by you, that makes _you_ one of the so-called (a term you coined) “tepido twelve”.

          • hoofin · December 20, 2011

            I’m not certain how another site’s pingback feature, which is programmed to make that pingback prominently displayed in a “recent comments” section, makes me an “intentional solicitor” on Tepido. I don’t really feel “fully engaged”, because 80-90% of the comments [there] are crap. But I do read through it nowadays.

            Eido, if it makes you more comfortable to think of me as the Thirteenth Tepidoista, I don’t know what to say. I don’t sign on to the agenda there. The Black Swan is all the rage in statistics, so I guess it gets carried over into internet bickering, too.

  5. Sublight · December 19, 2011

    Adding my anecdote to the list, I’ve worked in Japan for about 17 years now, as an eikaiwa teacher (no certifications or qualifications other than the ‘lucky sperm’ factchecker mentioned), tech writer, brand consultant and ad writer (that last one for the past 10+ years).

    The eikaiwa job was non-seishain, and in that case, the employers fit the stereotypical ‘screw over everyone you can because they’re not sticking around anyway’ mold. Talking with other teachers in the area, while schools may have varied in degree of unethical-ness, treating employees as fungible temps was pretty much the norm for that industry.

    The tech writing job was also on a contract. Unlike the eikaiwa job, the non-seishain aspects were clearly spelled out:I’d applied through a contracting agency, and their name was on my paycheck rather than the company where I was working. In that case, they were using contract employees mainly as a tax dodge, but also because the project we were working on was unstable (the client did in fact end up going bankrupt, necessitating the whole thing being scrapped and everyone laid off). Being foreign was irrelevant in that case, as the 100+ people in that division were all on contract through the same agency, and only 3 of us were non-Japanese.

    At all other jobs I’ve held or applied for, being a seishain was a standard part of the employment. In those cases, the companies were looking for someone with non-trivial levels of education, experience and skill to meet long-term needs, so making employees permanent was the rational choice. For jobs that did not require any special skills (such as eikaiwa), or did not see the need being long-term, it was not.

  6. Joseph Hart · December 19, 2011

    As I’ve mentioned before ……..
    I worked at a very high profile research institute in the Kansai region (at the time, in the top four in the world according to a survey by a widely read business publication). Out of all the many researchers and scientists that worked there, many quite famous, I knew of only one (not myself) in the last thirty years who was said to have received sei-shain status. He also briefly held a departmental management position. He was forced out against his will after spending twenty years at the institute after some sort of management “reforms”. All others (and they were numerous) were all on yearly contracts. Many of these had been repeatedly renewed yearly for many years. When the management changes occurred, many were similarly forced out. I know of none who received even so much as a bonus, severance, or unused vacation pay. There were accounts of departments offering to consider hiring some of them back at entry level status and wages if they signed a statement of voluntary departure. I was there for thirteen years and was renewed every year, and was far from unique in that respect. I still have copies of each contract. I was forced out with the others, similarly with nothing but a nice certificate of thanks in gold letters.

    • hoofin · December 19, 2011

      Joseph, I remember your story very well. Thirteen years, thirteen renewals. Then, and nonrenewal. I wonder about this in light of the 2008 Labor Contract Act, Article 17.2, which says:

      (2) With regard to a fixed-term labor contract, an employer shall give consideration to not renewing such labor contract repeatedly as a result of prescribing a term that is shorter than necessary in light of the purpose of employing the worker based on such labor contract.

      It sounds like this is more dead letter when it applies to foreigners in Japan, which is met with a “boo hoo our sovereignty!” defense if—if—the State Department ever brings these items up.

      2008 Labor Contract translation from Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training.

  7. James Annan · December 19, 2011

    My story is similar to Joseph Hart above, though I’ve not been sacked yet. The institute has invented some bizarre contract employment scheme, the sole purpose of which seems to be to undermine the Japanese constitution and labour laws. I’m just about to go through the farce of re-applying for my own job, which is a kabuki performance set up purely for the satisfaction of some bureaucrats. It’s difficult to see how this can be legal, but I’m hardly going to challenge it. There were previously some seishain employees, who seem to have lost this status by diktat of the company.

    • hoofin · December 19, 2011

      James, thanks for your comment. I remember your name from my days in Japan. You’re long term, right?

      Same as my comment to Joe, that actual Japanese labor law in this situation–which would be the 2008 Labor Contract Act that I cited in my response to his post—suggests that there should be no “reapplying” for a position that has been held under multiple fixed-term contracts. The fact that the employer has invented some procedure is particularly brow raising.

      • Durf · December 20, 2011

        This may be tied to government funding. In recent years the .go.jp has been increasingly pushing for everything to go up for bidding each year, and this might be trickling down to the individual paperwork level—it gives the publicly funded institute a way to say “look, we’re reviewing our expenses each year and we don’t have any amakudari guys or nonproductive dead wood lying around in the personnel.” Just a guess, though. I only know of the bidding pressure through various jobs that we used to do for MOFA et al. and that we no longer bother even seeking since the bidding process is so onerous.

      • James Annan · December 20, 2011

        10 years so far, and it seems I have a “high probability” of another 5. In my case, the job is tied to a particular grant/project, but the employment system also applies to people funded on a more core budget. This system was set up at the birth of the institute, I believe expressly to deal with the “problem” of lots of foreigners who obviously could not be offered seishain positions. However, it has since spread to other institutes under the same parent body. The company is v close to the govt ministry that oversees and funds it (it’s effectively a national research lab) so however dodgy this might look from the POV of labour law, I doubt there is a practical possibility of a legal challenge.

  8. beneaththewheel · December 20, 2011

    I’m a grad student studying Political Science (not directly relavant to most jobs) who taught English for a little too long (see what Eido said about what not to do), so my main option to get a job is to get one as a “shinsotsu” (new graduate). In this regard, the only thing going against me is not that I’m a foreigner, but my Japanese ability (native Japanese are better at Japanese than me, as well as a good chunk of foreigners). All companies I’ve talked to treat new recruits the same regardless of their nationality. The pay is initially lower than your average eikaiwa job (not including bonus, housing allowance, etc.), but it’s not a job catered to short stay Westerners, but to “anyone” wanting to work in Japan long term. (The embarrassing part is going to interviews with a bunch of 21 year old Japanese kids).

    I see “discrimination” depending on jobs (which.. makes sense as each job is different), not people’s race.

    • hoofin · December 20, 2011

      How I have been describing it, is that it’s something that, of course, happens to Japanese, but is much more likely to happen to foreigners. (This is the term-limit offer in place of the regular employment.)

      Japanese language ability is going to be something that appears for many jobs; but I also was around Japan long enough to see that language ability is sometimes a shorthand/weeder for “we really want a Japanese person”. How do I know this? Because I met any number of Westerners with great Japanese, and they said they’ve experienced that. Even situations where it was a Western woman who married a Japanese (and so they had the last name). The jaw would drop when (so-and-so Emi Watanabe) shows up, and they ain’t Japanese . . .

      I appreciate that everyone’s circumstance is different, and there are a lot of perspectives on the topic.

      • beneaththewheel · December 20, 2011

        Okay, we’re talking about slightly different things.

        Shinsotsu would getting hired by a company, not to do a specific job. If the company likes you, then you can work there as something to be decided later. For this process, all companies I talked to have zero problem hiring foreigners, and have stats regarding how many foreigners they hire (it’s a low number, and usually Asians, because mainly Japanese people are applying).

        I think what you’re talking about is a person mid-career coming into a company applying for a specific job, and people with good Japanese (a suspicious self-proclamation, but regardless) do not get the job they think they were qualified for, and were given the reason that they wanted a Japanese for the job. Not that the foreigner would be offered a contract job instead, but that some companies in some situations (frequency unknown) prefer Japanese to foreigners. I would say that you are right, and it was an issue different to the one I walk talking about. As I’m mid-career only if I were to look for an ESL job, all my experience is from starting at the bottom of the totem pole, and not in the middle applying for specific jobs. I’m still under the impression that the majority of people in Japan don’t quit their jobs, so the mid-career experience is less common.

        As an aside, if I was getting ready to interview an Emi Watanabe, and they were white, my jaw would drop too. Unexpected rare occurrences surprise people, and understandably so.

  9. Inflames · December 20, 2011

    Someone else pointed out that a lot of young people have to work for a few years, then find a job as a seishain. This is exactly my experience – your first job probably isn’t going to be as a seishain. If you’re older, then most places won’t even want to hire you. I have a (foreign) friend who worked as a seishain for a company for 10 years or so – most companies won’t touch him because of his age (late 40s). A friend in her mid-30s worked as a temp for 2 years then got told she could become a keiyaku shain (which she is now).

    Ironically enough, something I had to translate today was an internal document for a client that clearly stated firing restrictions prevented them from having more people working in Japan.

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