So you want to work in Japan
Don't even think about it,
unless you really really want to be here.
I can't stress this enough.
Japan is a great place to visit and study in, but as the saying goes, you might not want to live here. The Japanese way of thinking and doing things can be very irritating, especially after your initial love affair with the country cools down. If you think you are capable of putting up with overcrowding, horribly convoluted bureaucracy, subtle racism then go for it. That is not say that Japan is a horribly place to live. On the contrary, it can be a wonderful place to call home if your interest in living hear is not superficial and you can look beyond it's bad points.
You love Japan
Well then it might be worth a shot. If you don't speak the language at all though, you may have a problem. You can still have a blast, but your long term survival and quality of life here will be determined by your language ability.
Also know that Japan, just like everywhere else right now is struggling. Indeed japan has never even really recovered from the past couple of economic meltdowns.
What kind of jobs are available?
You can do just about anything in Japan if you have the language ability to back it up. If not, then you really only have one option. English teaching.
English teaching used to be wonderful. The salary used to be great for college students who were just starting out. Schools would pay generously and provide housing and help teachers with getting setup. Not anymore. The English teaching system here has been collapsing steadily for
almost 2 years now. To date, two giant English teaching schools have gone belly up. The most recent being Geos, which announced its bankruptcy just yesterday. Nova, its predecessor announced bankruptcy just 2 years ago. Some are even speculating that other big chain schools are close behind. All this means that there are a lot of English teachers with lots of experience looking for work. The market is flooded.
The only options these days seem to be teaching in smaller schools and contracting with school boards to teach English to kids.
Where should I start?
The best place to start, is to check out some websites that cater to foreigners working and looking for work in Japan.
gaijinpot.com is a good start. There are forums there where you can post and ask about working conditions and general living questions related to japan. Plus its got a job posting system.
daijob.com is another good place to begin a search. This site is a little more geared towards people who already speak Japanese and features a large variety of job opportunities beyond English teaching.
I would recommend finding a job before you actually leave for Japan. It is of course better if you come here and search for work, because you can do interviews with smaller schools and companies, but the risk is that you won't find work right away. This really is something to worry about, so be ready and make sure you have a return ticket to your home country, as well as a wad of cash to hold you over.
My personal experience
I studied Japanese and can speak it decently. I also studied abroad in Kyoto for a year, so I knew what Japan was all about and was ready to take the plunge. My timing however, was awful. I moved here right when the economic downturn really picked up. It took me over 4 months to finally find work. And even now its not exactly full time, and the wage isn't excellent. But, I'm happy. In the time i've been here my girlfriend of 4 years and I decided to get married. We love each other and we decided we needed to hurry up our plans and join forces to ride out the world wide economic down turn.
That's my story.