Friday, December 6, 2013

First Interview for a Position in Japan

On Friday, I had my first interview for a position in Japan. I applied via JREC to this position, but I was also recommended to apply by a foreigner who is friend and gainfully employed (tenured) at the institution presently (though she will be changing to a different university with tenure. Here, I want to briefly explain how the process went.

A week and a half prior to the interview I was called by the 委員長 who suggested three changes to my documents that I had sent. First, he had me move a book chapter that I had put as a 学術論文 to the category of 著書 and then include the authors of the text in the list. Second, he had me add some numbering to the document. Third, he had me move presentations from one place to the list of publications under the category その他 (which did not agree with the directions but who am I to argue with the paperwork expectations of the interview committee chair?) At the time, he asked whether I would be available for an interview the next week if hypothetically such an interview were to be requested. I indicated I could do either of the days he suggested but indicated which I preferred.

Later that week, he called me to ask me to come into an interview for this week, indicating that I should arrive 15 minutes early and where to go on campus. One difference between the American system and the Japanese system is that the e-mail with the details arrived the night before the interview. He also provided some instructions for how to get to the campus.

The interview was conducted by the 委員会. This was five Japanese professors in the English education faculty at the university. The interview was conducted primarily in Japanese though I was told I could answer questions in either Japanese or English. I primarily conducted myself in Japanese doing my best to use 敬語. The questions I received were roughly as follows.

First, the 委員長 asked me questions about the documents I submitted. Here, they confirmed receipt of  the PhD, my current age (32), the fact that I received the PhD in question earlier this year, my current employment, and the status of my publications. Regarding one of my publications, which was published in a relatively minor journal and whether it could be consider national or international (to which I answered I did not think it merited that level of consideration). Compared to a US interview, the emphasis on rating my publications was different than what I expected. I think this matters because it determines ranking and salary in the Japanese system. They count the PhD thesis as a refereed journal article for these purposes, giving me two national-level refereed items and a book publication. Clearly, this is somewhat different from how an American university would assess things.

There were also several questions about which classes would be of interest to me to teach. This position involves me teaching as many as 8 courses in a semester which is no small feat. Moreover, I would be expected to proofread 10 or so 20-page senior theses. This sounds like a lot of work. But there are several mitigating considerations. The expectations for a college course in Japan are somewhat different than for courses in America. First, each course meets only 1x/week for 90 minutes. Second, many of the courses are such that I can work from a textbook and stick to that (or at least I expect to do so to reduce the preparation load). Second, the courses are more practical than some of what I might teach in America. Nevertheless, its hard to imagine how I will be able to get much research done at the same time.

This can also be thought of in a very different light: compare this with other work available in Japan. For foreigners, the primary types of work that are available are English teaching and translation (the latter only if you are good enough at Japanese). Some English teaching requires preparation and other English-teaching does not. Looking at the preparation kind, it pays maybe 3000 to 4000 Yen for one hour of face-time. University teaching pays significantly more (approximately 10000) for 90 minutes of face-time. So if I taught 8 lessons of this kind a week, I would be working almost as much as the college-level job (assuming 8 preps) for much less money. Adjusting for the preps and the time, I'd probably be working as much as 4 college classes for 8 lessons of English working out to a salary of 32000 Yen / week. All things considered teaching English at the university-level is a significantly better deal.

Since my major is not ESL. One question was how I could work together with faculty. I didn't initially understand the question since the way it was formulated was a little hard for me to follow. Here, I shared several of my interests in teaching about culture, but also the questions I have about bilingualism, whether specialists in English education (among foreigners) do lead to better learning outcomes, and about differences between Japanese students and others. I think I answered their question successfully by integrating some of my experiences here teaching English.

This particular university also has a requirement to live nearby, and I was asked whether I understood this. I think they were greatly relieved that the interview could be mostly in Japanese, so it was beneficial to be able to speak. There were no questions about my research content per se, just a comment at one point listing Kant, Hegel, and Kierkegaard.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Success Tip #3: Ask Sympathetic [and Employed!] People to Look at your Resume

I have met with basically no success in my recent applications. I have yet to hear no from every school, but I have certainly heard several nos. I am not sure if the system is any different elsewhere, but they do not announce who they hired so much as s end an empty e-mail or letter explaining that you did not get the job.

What I have succeeded in doing is expanding the amount of university work that I have. In addition to teaching one English communication course at a nearby university, I was able to help teach part of an Environmental Ethics course at the University closest to me. This position also was one that became possible due to connections.

Here's how: I asked my now current boss to look at my resume, and he noted that my title was part of the problem. A little while later he suggested that he could bring me on for a few hours a week to upgrade my title. It's work and a resume improvement all at the same time. It is not full time, but it's a start and could grow into a full course or more in the upcoming semesters.

I still have one or two good shots on the job market, and I will post any useful information I learn through this process.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Bogus 公募 Sign #1: Impossibly Difficult Application Criteria

While sorting through the jobs that I could apply for in Japan this year, I ran across this gem. First, here is the posting information. Please pay careful attention to the publication date:

Data item number
Date of publication
Date of update

Then consider that the deadline listed is a follows:

Deadline for applications
Dealine for applications is Friday, November 15, 2013 (12:00 noon) (late applications will not be accepted)

So you are supposed to complete in less than 5 days. Now, if you read the PDF for this Nagoya University Young Leaders program, it seems like a pretty great job. But there's a few further details that make it impossible to apply for in such a narrow timeframe.

2. Two letters of recommendation, one from the prospective host faculty at Nagoya University and the other from the Dean (Head) of the graduate school to which the appointee will belong (Forms 2 and 3) [original and six copies]
3. Three scientific papers authored by the applicant that represent significant achievement [seven copies]

Mind you that this is a early career job. How could one possibly obtain a letter of recommendation from someone at the university without already having connections Moreover, how will they rate "significant achievement"? To make matters better, the job application is not available on their website or at least not in any way that I could find it.

Moreover, the scientific achievements claim is dubious considering that many of the scholars they have hired are not in the sciences. Looking at the list of recipients, this is clearly a way to postdoc many of the people that graduate from Nagoya University until they find a tenured position elsewhere...

The moral of the story: making connections is far more important to your job search than monitoring JREC.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Failure Tip #2: Uninformative and Informative Rejection Letters and Next Steps

The last week of September was a peak time for receiving responses from colleges (all rejections). These letters differ pretty strongly in terms of how they sound and how much English they involve (and how correctly they use it). One university helpfully indicated how many applicants they considered in total: 11. So that means I failed in a one for eleven application process -- not terrible considering I did not perfectly match what they were seeking to hire. Another college wrote in the actual letter "you did not make the short list." A third college said I failed "among other qualified applicants" -- clearly an attempt to copy the Western rejection letter (but one that may have missed that their statement did not imply that I was qualified).

My prediction is that this year will be a total bust on the Japanese job front -- but that's fine. I learned a great deal about the process and will be much better positioned for next year. In terms of positioning for next year, I am teaching a course at a university about an hour away as the instructor of record and I will teach part of a course at the nearest university on logic and normative thinking.  Moreover, I will be taking the JLPT N1. I think I still have a ways to go in studying for it, but I'll do what I can.

Japanese universities only value teaching experience in Japan. I cannot fully blame them for that sort of bias. It is not as if American universities would accept teaching anywhere but America, England, Australia, and New Zealand as having equal merit. (At the same time, I greatly question the quality of Japanese university teaching on average since faculty start with tenure and have no incentive to teach well).

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

申込 Challenge #4: 書留 and Price

Nearly all applications have a common set of requests regarding how you send them to the university. 1) They ask you to write application-specific information about the contents 朱書 (in red). Almost all (but not all) end this with 在中. With only one exception they either ended with 書類在中 or 書類. For kicks, I always threw on the 在中 . I think there are two purposes for this: (1) it helps the post office know what you are sending. (2) It probably helps the administrative staff at the university know what to do with these packages.

Now onto the more annoying (and expensive) feature common to applications. In Japan, you are not allowed to walk over an application. On the one hand, I get that -- you shouldn't be trying to schmooze up the faculty and waste their time. On the other hand, the Japanese solution I don't quite get. This is that you need to send applications by registered mail (書留). The problem is that this makes applications expensive. The price to mail one approaches 800 yen for me.

In the States, registered mail is relatively cheap -- but it's also something rarely used. Instead, you would probably just mail your documents or fedex them. There is a cheaper solution -- one I had mistakenly been using, but which may hurt my chances for jobs where they care greatly for procedure -- Letterpacks. A Letterpack lets you mail something for a fixed 350 yen or 500 yen fee. But it doesn't qualify as 書留 to the schools -- even though it lets you track your package.

I'm not sure what the obsession is with 書留 for job applications (it's not like I'm sending cash or something), but there are two variants of this: 簡易書留 and 書留 where the latter has more features and I believe additional cost. I will be sending out several applications this week and next and will use 簡易書留 where asked by schools -- otherwise I will use up the remaining letterpacks that I bought!

Failure Tip #1: Deciphering Rejection Letters

The same basic rule applies in Japan as elsewhere: a thin envelope after you've applied somewhere means rejection. So if you get a think envelope, you might as well not bother opening and cross that place off your list. In the even that you do open it, expect a letter like this:

[hand-written my name]
[university position]第1次審査結果
  We are very thankful that you responded to the post for applications about ○○.
  We made our first round of decisions based on the documents we received from you, but we are sorry to inform you that you application did not pass.
  Finally, we want to inform you that we are praying for the health and success of your activities.


For the record, (1) these letters are generally typed. (2) This one is actually clearer than many which don't necessarily state clearly that you were rejected -- rather you need to decipher it from a 残念 that is nowhere near any verb. (3) They don't come on letterhead -- as is the case with this letter, it's often just unspectacular cheap paper. The better ones put a seal or two on for effect. But basically understand that letterhead is not used in Japan.

Rejection in this process should not be surprising. 公募 (public announcement of positions) is sometimes a mere formality in Japan [and for some job postings in much of the world for that matter]. I was reading at one point an estimate that half of all posted positions are bogus -- as in they already have their winning candidate picked. One thing that amplifies this is that Japan uses an "or equivalent qualification system" that enables universities to hire MAs ahead of PhDs if they like them better for other reasons.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

申込 Challenge #3: 研究概要と研究計画

In one recent application, there was a rather challenging pair of terms "研究概要" and "研究計画". Making sense of what these terms by themselves mean was a bit of a challenge. They seem practically the same to me by generic meaning. The former means "Research Outline" and the latter "Research Plan." What then distinguishes the two on an application form (made by merging some cells so that the formatting looks odd in excel mind you)?

I left this to the side for a bit and then went back to it after starting another application -- and there was the hint.

これまでの研究・教育の概要 (2000字程度)
着任後の研究・教育の計画 (2000字程度)

Thus, we learn that the 研究概要 refers to what you have already done -- an outline of previously completed work and the 研究計画 refers to what you intend to do.

Hope this helps future applicants!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

New Phrase of the Day: 職務の状況

I am presently filling out a 履歴書 by hand as this preferred in Japan. They imagine it shows that you are serious. At a minimum, it shows that you don't mind spending a lot of time doing something and facing the frustration of mis-writing a single character and then having to start over twice. But I digress.

At the end of said 履歴書, there's a request for 職務の状況. This is a first. To make matters worse, the instructions are wrong beneath it. They refer to a 教育の状況. It's hard to fathom how the two are the same except insofar as most academics work as teachers. Still, the question for me is what to enter. Right now, I expect from October to teach one course due to connections at a university nearby. Other than that, everything is flexible -- who takes full-time employment conditioned on the ability to keep working part-time?

A little googling finds the same term with better instructions at another university's website (

  • 記入日現在における職務の状況について記入してください。
  • 「毎週担当授業時間数」については,下記の算出方法による授業科目の1週1人当たり時間数を記入してください。
  • (注釈)算出方法:本学の例を下線で示してありますが,授業を実施している大学の単位数の計算の基準に基づき算出してください。
  • 授業科目の単位数×時間数(講義・演習 1単位15時間,実験・実習・実技 1単位30時間)
  • =授業科目の年間時間数
  • 授業科目の年間時間数÷年間週数30週(前期又は後期のみの場合は15週)
  • =授業科目の1週当たり時間数
  • (前期又は後期のみの場合は,備考欄に「前期」又は「後期」と記入してください。)
  • 授業科目の1週当たり時間数÷担当者数
  • =授業科目の1週1人当たり時間数(小数点以下第3位切捨)
  • 2年以上にわたる授業科目の場合は,総単位数を年数で除し,1年間当たりの単位数で時間数を算出してください。
  • 集中講義の場合は総時間数を記入し,備考欄に「集中」と記入してください。
  • なお,同一大学の専任学部(又は所属)以外の学部の授業を担当している場合は兼担の欄に,専任大学以外の大学の授業を担当している場合は兼任の欄に記入してください。
  • 大学以外の学校,研究所等に勤務しているときは,様式に準じ職務内容の概要がわかるように記入してください。

Translated for your ease:

Concerning "職務の状況" (work conditions)
* Please enter your present working conditions
* Concerning the amount of time spend running classes, use the following rules to calculate for a course that you are the sole instructor for.
  Calculation method: An example for our university is presented below, but calculate according the rules established for the school at which you are teaching.
  [number of classes] * [number of hours of classes] (for lectures and seminars, 1 credit is 15 hours; for labs practicums, and skill courses 1 credit is 30 hours)  = this is your yearly course workload
[yearly course workload] / [30 weeks in the academic year] (if only for one semester 15 weeks) =  this is your weekly teaching load (if only teaching for the first or second semester please enter this).

 [weekly course load] / [number of instructors] = your personal teaching load for one week (cut things off after the second decimal place)

If you are teaching a course that lasts longer than two years, look at the single year portion to make your calculation. In the case of an intensive seminar, enter the total time but indicate it is an intensive. In the case that you have responsibilities for courses in other departments or are co-teaching, please enter this in the co-teaching column. If you are doing other things, like research groups, please write this information as well.

Needless to say, this sort of question does not appear in Western application processes.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Working with Japanese Collaborators: Pitfalls and Success Stories

So far, I have had fewer opportunities to work with Japanese collaborators than one would hope. There are  several reasons for this. First, this is not a front door process per se so much as you get the word out and meet people and things happen behind the scenes. Second, much of the Japanese academic process is different. For instance, many PhDs -- even in the humanities -- are contingent on publishing. That's right -- if you don't publish 3 articles you don't get your PhD. There are further rules complicating when and how you can publish these concerning "national" and "regional" journals. But odds on as a foreigner, you have not heard of any of these.

Much of the faculty publishing also depends on a similar Japan-internal ranking system that seems like it was designed to copy impact factors. But then it was turned inward to make it so that national level publications in Japan are seen as equivalent to say Nature and Science for promotion purposes. Moreover, submitting to these journals and getting accepted is more an invitation-process than a peer-review process here. As a junior faculty member or graduate student, you get told when you can submit something. Often the inroad is a presentation. In fact, the Japanese faculty I have met by and large believe that this is the standard route of publication -- you present, you are asked to submit this for "peer review," and you turn that in.Thus, people are defensive about letting foreigners in -- because they see you as competition.

All of this serves as background for my experience. My experience so far is that faculty members are great and easy to work with. So are MA students. PhD students have been another story. I've made one presentation at a Japanese conference in Japanese. I was recently asked to be involved in an important translation project by a faculty member here. I asked him if he had a suggestion for a Japanese collaborator... So far so good.

Earlier last week I met with this collaborator. He has supreme confidence in his English ability -- unfortunately not matched by his ability. Our task is to translate an upcoming paper so that it can appear in a prestigious journal. I understand that I cannot produce such high quality work on my own, but he seems to imagine he could translate it to English that well on his own. I've seen his outline -- it's not that good. Meeting with him was probably the rudest experience I've undergone in Japan since I arrived. So as basic rule, avoid working with PhD students.

申込 Challenge #2: 教育計画

Another key challenge for foreign applicants is going to be writing the 教育計画. While on the US market, the standard is to provide a teaching portfolio that contains student evaluation information, taught course syllabuses, statement of teaching philosophy, and syllabuses for courses you hope to teach, I only see this for some applications in Japanese. Other applications in Japanese ask just for a 教育計画 or worse -- nothing.

It won't work just to translate the one you've got in English for a very simple reason -- much of the courses you will teach are already decided. Consider this recent listing from JREC under 仕事内容:


It is not uncommon to see what looks like a kitchen sink list of courses foisted onto one person.  Note, it is listing the courses you will be responsible for and not merely the courses you *might* end up teaching. So in this case, you will teach introductory French or German, Thought and Humanity, Humanity and Culture, contribute to the cooperative general education lectures, and guide graduation theses in Europe research and other courses in Europe research.

When applying for such a position, it is important to mention that you can will teach these courses. I haven't mastered this task as of yet.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

申込 Challenge #1: 研究計画

Over the next couple of months, I will be applying to about 30 jobs. Two-thirds of the jobs have applications in English. The downside for that is that this means most of them are just for teaching English. The big upside is that I can write and edit all of the documents by myself. For the applications in Japanese, the following type of document request is pretty typical:

(4) これまでの教育・研究及び社会貢献の概要をふまえて、今後の教育・研究及び社会貢献への抱負を述べた文書(任意の様式で3000字程度)
(7) 研究の抱負(1,500字以内、A4判縦)

[The numbering is as they are enumerated in the requirements on JREC].

The great part is that this feature is not that different from an application in America. One minor difference is that they seem to emphasize the research you have already done more in some of the possibilities. Also, some of them seem to want you to mix the research and teaching statements together (???). The frustrating part as a non-native Japanese speaker is that it's quite difficult to edit all of this together. Note that one says A4-length, another says within 3000 characters in their form for both teaching and research. Another says 1500 / A4. Another says to use the provided form. Still another is 2000 characters.

I am approaching this in the same way that I would a Western university when applying for positions that closely fit my abilities. I made documents outlining my teaching philosophy and my research program last year as part of the pre-application phase for jobs over the  summer. But this time it helps that I've spent several months actually working on these projects -- in two cases successfully (1 for 4 in Western journals / 1 for 1 in Japanese conferences) and in one case very unsuccessfully (I have restarted that project after doing significantly more reading -- including trying to do some of it in Japanese).

For jobs outside of my field, I am modifying what I write somewhat. Instead of "哲学者として", I write "思想学者として." And I emphasize my flexibility for 教養科目(general requirement courses). I am not sure what voice this should be written in, but I have been writing my materials in である instead of です体 and received assistance from a tutor at my school until the semester wound down at the beginning of August.
As a consequence, I have a basic version of the research statement. In it, I outline (a) what I have already written [primarily in terms of the dissertation] and (b) what I am looking to write as two new projects. I will probably have another Japanese friend or friend look it over and see what they think.

A slightly less common feature in Western applications that is pretty common here is to ask what contributions you've made to society. I've seen that as a section on the school-provided 履歴書(CV) documents and as a separate required document. For one university, their English application asks you what your "Social Contract" with the neighborhood would be.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Success Tip #2:Making Connections in Japan: Joining Academic Societies

In the Japanese employment system, a key task is to build connections. While this can be said to be  valuable in all contexts, it is  invaluable in the Japanese context. You will not (unless you are already well-renowned and hired by a fan) find a good job in Japan without first developing connections. The good news is that , in my experience, most of the academics in Japan are quite good sports.

Over the weekend, I participated in two conferences. In the former, I presented a paper in my specialization in Japanese. In the latter, I merely attended as a member. Through both, I was able to talk to several professors at the 総宴会 and 二次会. Basically, if you want to connect with Japanese professors, you need to go out drinking with them. The academic world in Japan is still largely a playground for old men who enjoy drinking (and possibly smoking). But really without doing so, you will not succeed in building connections.

Moreover, you should join academic societies and let your face be seen around and about the town.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Where to Look for Jobs #1: JREC-IN

The main place to look for higher-education jobs in Japan is in its English and Japanese forms. Alternately, there are job postings lying around in various faculties of my university (for schools all across Japan) -- which have little to no information. JREC-IN leaves much to be demanded as a website.

First, the English version contains only jobs explicitly posted in English and vice-versa. In other words, you may be missing out on job opportunities if you only search in English (or Japanese). At the same time, maybe you won't benefit from doing both. While I've been applying to jobs on both sides and looking at several. Even for English-teaching jobs, it may be better to just stick to English references as a foreigner.

Second, job postings disappear completely after being filled, so you cannot compile information about what sort of jobs were posted historically or refer back to a job posting. Making matters worse, if a job is modified, then you can no longer find it by url.

Third, if you register your e-mail address and set criterion, the same e-mail address cannot get postings in both Japanese and English -- moreover, it will lock your e-mail address into the initial language you select.
In other words, it is a typical-for-Japan poorly-designed website.

In terms of applying, I've found that many jobs including some for English-teaching (!) are posted only on the Japanese version (see my first enumerated remark above). Conversely, almost all of the jobs posted in English also have a Japanese version. For me, I've been using the two in tandem when both exist to figure out what is meant by sometimes ambiguous English.

Standard fare as to what the job postings contain:
1) request for CV with photo and nationality
2) request for list of academic publications - This is often asked for in a distributed format that splits out categories based on "book", "referred article", and "other". Some schools ask for summaries of articles in English; others in Japanese; others none.

Beyond that, I have also seen:
3) request for a list of teaching experiences
4) request for 1 A4-page teaching philosophy
5) request for references (1 to 3) -- which does not include letters
6) request for a letter of reference which is, unlike in the United States, to be openly included (that really seemed impossible to the graduate placement guy at my PhD-granting institution)
7) request for 1 A4-page research plan

Also, every job posting expects you to mail your application to them by a certain date with the topic labelled in red letters on the outside.

In the vast majority of cases, no e-mail address is provided for questions.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

履歴書 Challenge #5: 志望の動機

One of the largest differences between a Japanese 履歴書 and an academic CV in America is the inclusion of a section called 志望の動機(しぼうのどうき). As always, the internet is not the best informed about how this works. Madtokyo recommends "営業経験を活かして" where the 営業 would be substituted in our case to 大学で言語講師経験を活かして. But is there something better we can write here? Franchir Japan suggests a more direct but also brief example.

Japanese resources online and friends strongly disagree.Native Japanese-language resources prefer a paragraph-length answer and one that highlights why you are a fit (See and Among the different examples are prior business experience, life-long ambition, taking advantage of prior experience [non-business],  part-time work experience, determination [to get a job], valuable experience in a different field, to improve skills, etc. This gives a feel for the common styles available.

One site even has an entire set of samples across the range for educators ( ranging from "I like little children" to "I've done something similar before (but left for reasons that don't sound bad)" to "This is my life-long ambition."

In my case, I want to convey the following:
(1) Prior experience teaching university courses in America at two universities.
(2) Interest in a future in university teaching in Japan.

My first shot at it was:


I had a friend take a look and he changed it to the following:

But right now, it remains incomplete. My friend has made several helpful suggestions for how to make it better (on top of fixing the Japanese) that I will work on in the coming day or so. The most important point is to explain why you personally are a fit, and this current explanation does not make that plainly clear. A second feature that differs -- and was even more strong in his own 履歴書 (he is Japanese, presently earning a MS in Computer Engineering, and found gainful employment) -- is to express how this contributes to Japan. For a Japanese guy, this means using 私たち but for a foreigner this means using 日本 and for an academic specifically 日本の学生.

Note: It is also important to consider hand-writing applications as this shows a high degree of interest in Japan. Is it required of a foreigner? No, it basically is not, but it's good to remember that it shows a certain amount of effort has been put in. And in Japan, attendance (and high-effort low-value things) are seen as demonstrating just the sort of personality they want.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Success Tip #1: The Value of コネ

In looking for work anywhere, connections matter. When I was younger, I worked a summer for a company called Indy Office Solutions -- now Sharp mainly due to connections my parents had with the owners through church. This job paid pretty well for the times and was far better in terms of the type of labor.

At the same time, I probably would have been able to find something on my own. This is largely because the US job market for both academic positions and regular jobs is largely open. Real jobs are posted every day on Monster, craigslist, the CHE, and disciplinary websites like the apa-online and philjobs. And while I connections can give a boost, many people are hired entirely without connections involved.

Japan does have such a system -- for its own college graduates. While I hope to write more on this later, the Japanese system for higher education has only a passing resemblance to the American system from which I came. Based on the ranking of a student's university, they can find work and get interviews for open positions. The interview portions itself largely tests personality and the written 履歴書 evaluates the credentials and acts as a filter. Potential employees will be asked personal questions about whether they are married, how old they are, how long they plan on working for the company, and whether they have children. Also, the date of birth will appear and a picture (no matter the job type).

But I digress. As a foreigner trying to work in academia in Japan, you have zero access to this completely open employment system. The academic job market in Japan is ... rife with cronyism, jingoism, and little fiefdoms. Foreigners are shielded from some of this, but the job market still greatly depends on connections. Thus, a key task is to tell everyone you know that you are looking for work and put out the impression that you would be a pleasant (and competent) co-worker.

In my own case, I told my adviser and a friend who both teach here that I was looking. I did so by asking them for advice for the job search, but beyond mere advice, I was also asking so that they would know I want to find a job and provide me with connections if possible. Through this, I may have one opportunity to teach next semester on Mondays not too far away.  While that's just one opportunity, every job that I currently do here has involved some initial hiring for one thing followed by expansion to other things.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

履歴書 Challenge #4: 資格 Understanding Japanese Ideas of Achievements and Expectation

Probably one of the most confusing areas for me at least is what to enter into the section for 資格 qualifications. The clearest piece of advice is to include your driver's license. In my case, as an American, I need to mention which state it is from (or I am choosing to do so on the off-chance that the interviewer or reviewer understands that this is a state by state matter in the United States:

アメリカのインディアナ州普通自動車第一種免許 取得

It does seem odd from an American perspective, but in Japan, earning a driver's license is part of a complex system of licensing. Many students fail the test multiple times and for some of them, it is the only experience they have of being scolded by others. To get a rough idea of what counts, look at this wikipedia entry on licenss: which gives all the licenses and this one which lists all of the different types of qualifications offered by organizations and their corresponding tests. To get a vague impression of how vast and encyclopedic the Japanese qualification system is, look at which has everything imaginable under the sun, the pass rates, the price, and all sorts of other details.

What else to include? I am not entirely sure, and I will update this entry as I get feedback. I've won several minor prizes at conferences and a major scholarship from the Japanese government. I also have exceptionally high test scores. On an American CV, it would be odd to list my GRE scores or my LSAT score as a holder of a PhD.  In Japan, however, it seems that many 履歴書 include things like TOEIC scores or 英検 qualifications. Consequently, I am tentatively including some exceptional test scores in my CV to prove that I am not merely a native English speaker but (at a minimum) a highly effective test-taker.

Like the TOEIC and 英検, you should include the 日本語能力検定 if you have it. Before writing a 履歴書 and researching the process, I never could understand the point of the JLPT tests beneath 2 (or for that matter 2). The only thing that really seems to have great impact is the JLPT 1. But now, I can see why it may be worthwhile to take the lesser (and more easily passable) tests -- this provides at least some proven qualification of limited Japanese competency. Alas, it is too late to pursue the JLPT 2 for July. Instead, I hope to take the JLPT 1 in December.

Right now, I am planning on the following section:

平成10 10 アメリカの○○○州普通自動車第一種免許 取得
平成14 10 LSAT 162点 取得
平成18 8 GRE Verbal 760点 Quantitative 800点 Writing 6点 取得
平成17 12 ○○○大学 教育失格
平成23 5 ハワイイ大学の上広学会のベスト ペーパー賞品
平成24 10 日本政府(文部科学省)奨学金留学生 研究生 取得

The 教育資格 is a certificate I received from my MA institution for taking a teaching course. While I would not say I greatly valued the class, I would say I learned things in it and it is precisely the sort of thing that seems to make sense when comparing with Japanese example 履歴書.

履歴書 Challenge #3: 職歴 What to include?

The next challenge you will face in  constructing a Japanese resume is learning what to include. Here, the basic rule is that you include only full-time employment. But I will ask if I am able to violate that rule to show that I have been teaching English in Japan. This will prove valuable for my employment here.

Other than that, the employment section is not especially challenging to fill out. For the line where you enter a job, you generally write 入社 (entered society -- as reaching employment means you have become a 社会人). When you leave work, you can explain this in a number of different ways:

(1) You can indicate that you "一身上の都合により退社" (i.e. have departed from the above organization [company] due to personal circumstances --> left for personal reasons).
(2) If you don't want to say why you left, then you can just say simply 退社
(3) If you want to explain that it was a downsizing,etc., the following phrases can be useful:
リストラ (restructuring)
解雇 (layoff)

If you  go back to the same employer, add a line that says 再入社
For your current place of employ place a line beneath it that says: 現在に至る.

[HT: and
for helpful information on this part of the CV]

Friday, May 31, 2013

履歴書 Challenge #2: 学歴 Graduate School Entrance and Graduation are Written Differently

In my previous post, I explained that the way to enter an undergraduate degree can be confusing for those of us with an American educational background. Further problems can occur when entering your graduate degrees. Turns out that you don't 入学 or 卒業 from your graduate degrees.  Instead, you 修士課程入学 into a master's degree and 修士課程終了 when you graduate. Similarly, you 博士課程入学 into a PhD and 博士課程終了 out of it. But in the case of a PhD, you enter it in the following format:

平成18 1 大学大学院文学研究科哲学専門 修士課程入学 
平成19 5 大学大学院文学研究科哲学専門 修士課程修了
平成19 9 大学大学院文学学研究科哲学学専攻 博士課程入学 
平成25 5 大学大学院文学学研究科哲学学専攻博士 課程修了(博士(哲学)) 

Note carefully that you write しゅうりょう using the right characters as there are two with slightly different meanings: 終了 which means completed as in done and 修了 which means finished (as in graduated).

Thus, you express your field after stating that you have 修了した from your program. In my case, that means  哲学. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

履歴書 Challenge #1: 学歴 American Undergraduate Information

One of the first challenges I am facing now is writing a Japanese 履歴書. From what I gather, this matters a great deal. Unlike the free-flowing format of American CVs, the 履歴書 has a strict formula from which deviation is unwise. In fact, it has its own JIS standard template (meaning it has an ISO-like rigidity in the format). Thus, there are thousands of copies of similar files online. Many of the first few I tried did funking things with kerning and what not. Document formatting is broadly a lost art for the Japanese. Here's one:

But the challenge I want to write about is entering American academic information in your 履歴書. Here, the problem is that American universities and Japanese universities are structured quite differently. A Japanese undergraduate student has a 大学, a 学部, a 専攻, and a 学科 all of which have a particular meaning. While my Japanese friends translate these as their university, faculty, major, and specialization, it may be better to think of the 学部 as a college in the sense of the "college of arts and sciences" in American-style university. Alas, those of you who can count will recognize there are four things there.

In writing a U.S. CV, we generally specify only two university and major, i.e. just two things. Perhaps in rare cases, people will state the name of their college within the university, but this is broadly not done and comes across strangely. Further complicated things, I did a dual major as an undergraduate student. This is not possible in a normally structured Japanese university. The reason is that you join a faculty (学部) as a 二年生 or upon entry into university. You then pick a 専攻 within that faculty. And as a third year student you join a lab (研究室) or [professor's] seminar (ゼミ) and the research focus of that will be your 学科. Consequently, it makes no sense in a Japanese university to have two majors since your central work will be from one professor in a particular specialization of a particular major.

Thus, I face two problems: (1) I have only two things to write in four spaces and (2) I need to write two things in one space all at once. I have an undergraduate degree in Chemistry and Philosophy -- not a hybridization but two legitimate full majors as these are understood in American university. I spoke with a friend earlier today who suggested that I do the following to explain this:

平成11 9 ○○○ 文学部哲学学科 入学 
平成15 5 ○○○ 文学部哲学学科 卒業
平成15 5 同上 科学部化学学科 卒業

I will update if that is not correct. But the solution he suggested worded simply is this, write each major on a separate line for graduation. And this is accurate. In my case, I first selected philosophy and then added chemistry (even though that was my plan all along).

Failure #1: You Must have Your PhD in Hand

Initially, I won't be supplying the names or enough details to identify the applications. In large part, this is because the world of English-speaking academics in Japan is small, and my goal is not to alienate them or blame them for their hiring choices. But I do want to chronicle what I think went wrong in each application. To that end, I change some of the details but still convey the lesson that I learned from that failure.

I first applied for an amazingly good posting, tenure-track or tenured hires at a 国立 university. They were making several hires as part of a big push to expand their programs directed at international students (and as I later learned their programs directed at Japanese students). I was told there were approximately 40 applicants for two positions. These odds are not terrible considering several of the applicants may be unqualified or underqualified or incompetent as English speakers.

Moreover, the process was managed by a non-Japanese who had control (as far as I am aware) over the hiring decisions. I corresponded briefly with her about the positions and felt that while I was not  a perfect match for the field they were hiring for that my background and experience might give me a shot -- especially since they expressed a desire to have several faculty with different skills that were complementary -- and with a PhD in philosophy how wouldn't it be complementary to their more likely choices?

But alas, my applications was not even considered. As a first measure to cull the amount of applications to consider, they skipped over everyone who was not PhD in hand. I myself was not at the time -- though I a now and took that as a lesson to move up my defense date. Unlike America where you can hold off and a letter is sufficient to explain to the committee that you will graduate, Japanese universities and hiring committees expect a PhD in hand at the time of application.

About this Blog

My goal for this blog is to chronicle the process of finding an academic job in Japan. In the process, I hope to make this task easier for future non-Japanese approaching the job market. Apart from a from a few gaijin pot forum postings and other blogs, I have not seen any resources for the process.

I am going to make few assumptions. First, I am going to assume that you have a doctorate like I do. If you do not, there may still be a route through which you can get an academic job in Japan, but it might look quite different from what I describe here. Second, I am going to assume that you have at least some grasp of the Japanese language. If not, then your approach will need to be somewhat different. Third, I am going to assume that you are already in Japan. As with the language barrier, this may not make it impossible to find academic employment in Japan, but it will make it very hard.

As of right now, I am receiving a scholarship from the Japanese government, taking Japanese classes, and looking for a full-time academic position. From what my connections tell me, the process is complicated and time-consuming, specifically because of the role of コネ, which all of my advisers have told me are absolutely necessary for achieving academic employment here. There are several reasons for that, but at this point this feature is somewhat bizarre to me.

Thus, there's two sides to work on in finding work here: (1) connection building and (2) learning how to properly fill out the gauntlets of paperwork involved. In terms of connection-building, the key is getting admitted to Japanese academic societies (which requires the sponsorship of a current member and the possession of a PhD or proper departmental affiliation). After that, it just takes time and the awareness of people in these groups with which one drinks and socializes to build connections.

On the paperwork side, you are going to need a thorough grasp of Japanese -- but not just the language. The problem is that everything about the Japanese paperwork system is culturally ingrained and a little nuts. There are very specific things that I have failed at on the paper side in my first two applications -- but none of that really matters, because the applications were probably not even considered.  The reason is (or so I have heard) that many positions for foreigners (especially tenure-track) are decided before they are offered.