My First Job After College: Freelancing in Tokyo

my life as a freelancer
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It’s been a few months since you graduated. Every morning you wake up and feel a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach because you remember that you still haven’t found a job. You’ve been applying like crazy and been invited in for a few interviews, but nothing has worked out so far.

But that’s not the worst of it—not only are you unemployed, but you’re living with your husband… and his parents. Yep, spending the first few months after graduation tip-toeing around the house so you don’t disturb your in-laws has to be pretty awful, right?

Oh, and did I mention that all this is taking place in JAPAN?

It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it wasn’t for Grace Buchele Mineta, who graduated from Ursinus College with a double major in International Relations and East Asian Studies (with minors in Politics and Japanese) and promptly got married and moved to Japan.

Grace talks about her work (freelancing in Tokyo), her blog Texan in Tokyo, and how she’s coped with living abroad after college.

When did you move to Japan and where do you currently live?

This time, I moved to Japan in February with my husband, Ryosuke. I had lived in Hokkaido for a year, Hyogo for three months, and Tokyo for a year before this move, though.

How and when did you decide to move to Japan after college?

It’s a long story, I guess. I met my husband the first day of my sophomore year of college. He was studying abroad at my university (Ursinus College) and we lived in the same dorm. We started dating… and when his study abroad finished, I followed him to Japan for a 15-month study abroad program in Tokyo. Even though we lived about ten hours away (by bus), on the opposite side of Japan, we still had a wonderful relationship.

At around the halfway point, I told him that by the time my study abroad finished, we either needed to be engaged, or we would have to break up. I was serious, he was serious, and he proposed a week later. I turned in some forms, went back to Ursinus College for one semester, and walked out in December with a diploma in tow.

We got married in January, honeymooned all throughout February (in Peru), and moved to Japan in March. He started working full-time in April and by early May, my freelancing career had taken off.

Looking back, it wasn’t one “big” decision to move to Tokyo, rather a set of small decisions. I haven’t once regretted moving back to Japan. For more about “us” and our move to Japan, I wrote the whole story on my About the Author page.

What is a typical working day like for you?

I currently work as a freelancer in Tokyo, and I do a little bit of everything. Most of my income comes from freelance writing (for magazines and blogs about Tokyo), but I also “freelance” in other fields, such as teaching English, consulting for start-up companies, running my own blog Texan in Tokyo, and drawing comics.

Freelancing means I don’t have a typical day. Right now, I’m juggling all sorts of things, from a kickstarter.com campaign to self-publish my autobiographical comic book My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy, to blogging, to appearing as a “talent” (foreign host) on Japanese television.

For the most part, I wake up every morning at 7am, eat breakfast with my husband, and “walk” him to the nearby train station so he can catch his train at 7:30am. I go back home, check email for an hour, blog a bit, email news sites begging them to cover my upcoming comic book (hey, it’s a really interesting comic book!), teach English in the afternoon, run a mile, do more email, and pick my husband up at the station around 7:30pm. On days that I have filming, I will be gone all day, checking emails in the car between locations.

How do you think living in Japan compares to going there as a student or tourist?

Honestly, it’s completely different. I have no idea why. Okay, I actually have a little bit of an idea.

When I lived in Japan as a student (or visited short-term as a tourist), there were some things that bothered me, of course, but I didn’t take it so personally.

When I was studying abroad here, Ryosuke helped me get an apartment off campus. We had to look at several different places, though, because a lot of them didn’t want to rent to a foreigner—and told us that to our face. For whatever reason, it didn’t really bother me. We eventually found a place and all was well.

This time around, while apartment hunting, I was bothered. All of the landlords (and even the workers at the housing office) kept asking if we were doing a “room-share” program. And we specifically had to look for a place that had a history of renting to foreigners.

I love my current land-lady to death, but when we were moving in and she found out we were married, she was so shocked and kept saying things like “Oh wow… I didn’t know American women liked Japanese men…” It was weird.

It’s a lot of little things like this that can get to you. When you’re a tourist or student, it’s annoying, but it’s not the end of the world. When you actually live here, though, it can become a pretty big deal.

How did you handle logistics like visas, housing, and transportation?

When we first moved to Tokyo, we lived with my husband’s parents in Ibaraki (the prefecture next to Tokyo) for the first three months. I was mortified. I love his parents… but we were grown (married) adults, living in his family home. I thought it was weird.

Of course, living with parents after college (and sometimes, even after marriage) is very normal in most Asian cultures. None of my Japanese friends thought it was weird at all that we chose to live with them for the first three months, to save money.

I got a “Spouse Visa,” which allows me to work in any industry in Japan. Once we had enough saved up, we moved into a nice apartment in central Tokyo, only a three-minute walk from the train station.

We have two bikes, but don’t own a car (and have no plans to buy one). When we need something “big,” like when I bought all our furniture on craigslist, we’ll rent a truck for the day from a rental place down the street.

It’s so convenient. I love it.

What are your favorite aspects of living in Japan? What are some challenges you face?

I love how convenient everything is. I can pay my bills, withdraw cash, grab a fresh dinner, and pick up art supplies from the convenience store across the street. Or I can walk three minutes to the train station, and get to anywhere in Tokyo relatively easily. And, of course, the trains and buses are always exactly on time, down to the minutes (how can buses do that in Tokyo traffic? I have no idea).

The downside, of course, is that Tokyo is horribly crowded. I like my personal space—but I often don’t get the luxury, when I’m being shoved by a station attendant (wearing clean, white gloves) onto a packed train.

What advice would you give to students who are thinking about moving to Japan after graduation?

Keep an open mind and low expectations. I can’t even count the number of people I’ve seen arrive in Japan, fresh out of college, and ready to teach English at a local middle school or eikaiwa… who have grown up watching Japanese anime, J-dramas, and listening to J-pop. They have all these ideas and expectations of what Japan is supposed to look like, and get horribly frustrated and depressed when the country turns out to be completely different.

Japan is nothing like J-dramas or manga.

You will feel isolated (because of your foreignness) and might have trouble connecting to locals (because people don’t do small talk and rarely have heart-to-hearts with friends). However, as long as you keep an open mind, you can easily adapt and thrive in Japan.

Also, keep in mind that living in Japan can make you self-conscious about really weird things.

What has your job search experience been like so far?

I tried applying to jobs in Japan… for about two months. If you don’t want to teach English, it is difficult to get a semi-entry level job as a foreigner in Japan.

The final straw for me was when I applied to a larger Japanese company and they informed me that because I had internships/previous job experience (I worked all throughout college in America and interned at a start-up company in Shibuya while I was in Tokyo), that I was no longer a “fresh” employee, and I had been “corrupted” by a different company’s practices.

A lot of traditional Japanese companies want a “blank slate” employee who can be molded to fit their company.

I transitioned into freelancing full-time shortly after that (failed) interview. I love freelancing in Tokyo.

Which resources would you recommend to help people cope with living and working in Japan?

I recommend GaijinPot for a real look into Japanese daily life as well as job hunting opportunities. I’ve also used craigslist Tokyo to get some sweet part-time gigs (and they do have plenty of postings for full-time English teaching jobs, with visa sponsorship).

Tokyo Cheapo is a great website for figuring out how to live, eat, and thrive “cheaply” in Tokyo.

Lastly, my own blog Texan in Tokyo offers a great, authentic window into life as a foreign woman in Tokyo. I post stories, comics, and “how to” guides for surviving in Japan.

Homework time! Grace took her unique experiences and turned them into a way of expressing herself with her blog and comics. She has also been able to experiment with different industries and types of jobs as a freelancer. If the freelancing lifestyle appeals to you, you’ll definitely want to create a portfolio and potentially blog about relevant topics to establish yourself as an expert. If you want to learn more, check out our post on career options for commitment-phobes.

P.S. Grace’s Kickstarter campaign is running until August 29. Go check it out to learn more about her comic book project!

Grace Buchele Mineta is a native Texan, founder of the hit blog Texan in Tokyo, and author of the autobiographical comic book, My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy. She lives in Tokyo with her husband, Ryosuke, where she blogs and draws comics about their daily life as broke newlyweds, navigating silly cultural misunderstandings as an interracial and intercultural couple, and dealing with the loneliness and frustrations of being a freelancer in a foreign country.

Photos courtesy of Grace Buchele Mineta.

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3 Responses to “My First Job After College: Freelancing in Tokyo”

  1. Cindy Chambers

    I visited Japan 3 years ago. You are so right that Japan is not only Manga. This trip was my best trip ever. It is really important to have cash not only cards. Best regards!

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