The greater “Keihin” area describes the landmass from where the buildings of Kanagawa merge into Tokyo, that spreads out over 4 surrounding cities to the North and East. The Keihin area is one of the developed world’s largest metropolises, with over 30 million people living within 2 hours train ride of Ginza, Shibuya, or Shinjuku. So, as a foreigner, you might be forgiven for thinking that Tokyo is an easy place to submerge into and go about your life unnoticed.

While it is true that you can submerge into anonymity, the actual number of foreigners in Japan, especially Westerners is remarkably small, numbering not much more than 80,000 people. This is basically not much bigger than a regional town in the USA, so being a foreigner is still a noticeable trait when walking down the street.

Some people say that Japan is internationalizing, however, I feel that it has been slipping back as of recent, what with the increasing problems in the economy and a rising number of local people being unemployed. Therefore, while you may try to find a job with one of Japan’s 2.4 million companies, actually, the number of firms confident enough to hire and manage a foreign employee is very small. And even if you do get a job, you still have to have the mental fortitude necessary to deal with what is often a feudal office environment.

It’s no wonder, then, that most foreigners coming to Japan soon want to work for a foreign corporation. Problem is, that there are less than 1,000 truly foreign firms in Japan and between them they hire less than 800,000 people, 2-3% of whom would be foreigners. Thus, competition for open positions is quite intense and you’ll want to make sure that you have done all the preparation possible to get one of them.

When it comes to working within the foreign community in Tokyo, think small town politics and dynamics and you’re pretty well defining the situation. Jobs are more accessible to those who’ve been here for a while and who are connected. Indeed, one of the frustrations we have as recruiters is that the small town community almost always favors the long-term resident over someone who arrived recently. Now, this doesn’t mean that opportunities aren’t open for new arrivals, just that you have to try harder to get these positions and prove yourself to get the same speed of promotion.

Of course, small towns have their advantages too. For example, if you’re a go-getter who is willing to approach companies directly for work, then you won’t have to contact all that many companies before finding out whether you are marketable or not! Furthermore, meeting key senior people of these potential employers is relatively easy – just join your country’s chamber of commerce, and you have a good chance of meeting someone from your target company within the first couple of meetings. Given the fact that the number of foreigners working in most companies is small, people you’re going to meet at business functions are more likely to know who is coming and going, what the firm’s hiring policies are, who to contact in HR (hey, they will probably even introduce you to the HR Director if you’re nice enough), and good stuff like that.

The idea is to do this networking in a sparing and polite way, so as not to irritate the people you have targeted. This is important, because the other less desirable feature of a small town is that if you have a bad experience with an employer or potential employer, you will quickly find that no one wants to talk to you thereafter. I’ve seen a number of cases where overly ambitious players (especially if they were fired after a confrontation with senior management) have been black-balled by companies in the same industry after their CEO’s have got together over a wine or beer and told war stories. It’s not fair, but that’s how long-time residents in a small town think – and that’s life… Use the knowledge to your benefit.As always, my contact details are simply: Looking forward to getting some enquiries…