Freelancing in Tokyo: You're unique. Work it!

Posted by David Chester on 8 January 2017

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This is my first blog post since August 2016. Long story short: I was very involved in my first love, screenwriting, and didn't have a spare minute to update this beloved site. Screenwriting continues to be my main focus, but I will do my best to return to FIT when I think there is something of value to share. 

I can tell you this: Although the first version of FIT was published in 2009, and the revised version was released in 2016, here we are, January 2017, and almost nothing has changed. Meaning: Everything I write about in the book (except for the price of taxis and a few other odds and ends) is almost exactly the same. 

Specifically: salaries for English teachers, actors, musicians, editors, voiceover actors... they are almost exactly the same as they were when I first arrived in 1993! This is all detailed in FIT, as are the job duties expected of you. 

What does this mean in the larger picture? The "freelance" jobs I discuss in FIT are great for people who have come here and want to get their feet wet, learn about Japan, its culture, language, food, etc. These jobs will give you unique insights into what makes Japan tick. And I would say, until recently, that you could make a good living from these jobs, and maybe even support a family by doing them.

What feels different now, is: if the Japanese can do what they thought only the foreigner could do before, they will do it themselves. And I don't blame them. Foreigners were often given jobs for their perceived specialness or just their ability to speak native English. That's not enough anymore, not by a long shot. It might be... on rare occasions, but generally speaking, it's not anymore. 

How does this affect you and your desire to work here? Or how does this affect you if you are already here, entrenched in one of the many jobs I write about in FIT? Basically: move on. Branch out. Establish yourself in the world you specifically want to be in. Go further. Do not accept the limitations of the freelance jobs offered here. As I discuss in FIT, the freelance jobs you can obtain here should only be used as launching pads to take you to higher heights. I, like many people, got comfortable doing some of my freelance positions and often did not see the writing on the wall. 2016 was about "waking up" and realizing that I must do my best to call the shots in my career and not rely on those who I thought had my best interest at heart. They might have, at the moment I worked for them, but, again, as I point out in FIT, they will not hesitate to pull the rug out from under your feet at a moment's notice. 

Take full advantage of what Tokyo might offer you in the way of freelance positions, but do not get too comfortable. I am amazed at the number of people I have met here who have arrived, sussed out the possibilities, and gone on to create their own companies and pursue their own unique dreams. Did they start as English teachers or proofreaders? Maybe. But then... they managed to figure out how to open the door to make their lives more exciting and wonderful. You can do that, too. Don't underestimate your own unique talents.