Japan has been a top destination for teachers of English for a long time. But university work in Japan remains something of an undiscovered quantity. Certainly, there are researchers and academics from Europe, America, Africa and India working in Japan. But information on this topic online is scarce. This useful article will provide an overview of working in Japanese universities.
Structure of Higher Education in Japan
Although the Higher Education scene in Japan is said to be one of the largest in the world, it has relatively few world-class universities. The University of Tokyo is recognised as being a major academic player, but it is normally only joined by a handful of other institutions (such as Osaka University and Tohoku University) in world rankings. Despite this, the number of students in Japan's hundreds of universities was a massive 2.8 million (as of 2009), dwarfing the HE scene in the UK.
Employment of foreigners
Despite the size and importance of the academic scene in Japan, jobs for foreigners are actually quite rare. Even rarer are advertisements for those jobs. Indeed, when it comes to job hunting for academic jobs in Japan, networking is very important. Unlike England, equality laws are not particularly strict in the land of the rising sun. It is common for the successful candidate to have been decided upon before the vacancy is even advertised (if it reaches the advertising stage at all). You might be lucky enough to find academic job ads on university websites, or Japan-specific job sites such as GaijinPot or Daijob.
In general, you will need a good referral from someone within the university (preferably within the department) to state your interest in working for a Japanese university. Therefore, it is essential that you build up a network of contacts in Japanese academic institutions. Fortunately, conferences and academic events in the UK and Europe are frequently attended by Japanese representatives, and it is not uncommon for professors to visit universities in the UK for research purposes. This provides you with a perfect opportunity for networking.
The student route
Another route into working for Japanese universities is to study there. There are over 100,000 international students in Japan, and a qualification from one of Japan's better universities will be a boon for your academic record. Postgraduate courses in business or language may well prove to be an ideal first step into Japanese academic life. The experience you get from living in the country, not to mention the creation of an academic network and the opportunity to learn Japanese, will put you in the right place for a move into working for a Japanese university.
Although Japan has strict standards for obtaining work visas, skilled and highly qualified academics with a guaranteed job placement are unlikely to meet with any problems. The Japanese Embassy in your country will be able to provide information tailored to your situation, and your employer should be willing to play an integral role in the procurement of the appropriate paperwork.
Japan is a country with a rich educational legacy, and it is still has a lot of potential for overseas academics. For further information on universities in Japan and day to day life in Japan, please refer to websites such as Japan Higher Education Outlook, or Education in Japan.