№ 8: Some Talk of Numbers

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Some things help keep me focused and happy: tea and film cameras are major players
Tea and film: regular parts of my day as I  construct a better life for myself. 

Let’s talk about some numbers. Specifically, the income numbers and other related numbers that are critical to my getting out of teaching at Company X. The fact is, getting out of my currents company, making more money, and keeping my visa status is all a numbers game. Embedded in these numbers is the code to unlock the door to better work and a better life in Japan. These numbers have become even more important since my last post, too, as I have informed my manager that I will be quitting no later than December 31. Why then? Because I’m beyond sick of this situation and need a hard deadline for getting out.

As I’ve discussed before, a big part of the difficulty comes down to keeping my legal status. It’s tricky getting out of my existing job, because I either need to keep my existing visa or qualify for a different visa. In some countries, you can more or less sponsor your own visa if you’ve got the money, and while you can’t exactly self-sponsor in Japan, it is possible for me to maintain my visa status if can demonstrate that I can make a certain amount of money through contracts with Japanese companies.

The work itself needs to fall into the category outlined by my visa, and I need to demonstrate that you can make at least ¥3,000,000 per year. My visa category is Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services, which covers a lot of things, but I’m still limited within that category to things that fall in the International Services part. Though I also have legal permission to do photography work, this can only be supplemental income, and does not count toward to that minimum income. It could eventually qualify me for the artist visa, but that’s too far off right now. For the time being, I need to focus my efforts on making the most of my existing work category, which basically covers corporate services, language instruction, and things like that.

Exploring options in terms of work that falls into my existing work permission
Considering my existing visa and work that fits into my existing work permission.

At the time of writing, ¥3,000,000 converts to USD $26,834.49 (¥111.792/dollar). The minimum income requirement is sensible, in that the immigration authority’s primary concern is making sure that you don’t become a burden on the state as an immigrant. That number is too big to be useful to my brain, though. If I think of it in terms of Where am I going to find ¥3 million?, part of my brain begins to panic. It’s not a lot of money to make over the course of a year, so it’s manageable, but the numbers can be made more practical. If you break it down into more reasonably-sized units, it quickly gets a lot easier to work with.

Let’s look at it in a couple of ways. First, if we break it down by month, that works out to ¥250,000 (USD $2,236) per month. That’s already a much more useful number for making a plan. But if we take ¥3,000,000 and break it down by week, we get an even more useful number for goal setting in freelancing. ¥3,000,000/48, is ¥62,500 (USD $559) per week. Yes, there are 52 weeks per year, not 48, but I like the idea of taking a vacation from time to time, and eventually, we all get sick and have to take time off work, even if we don’t want to. So 48 weeks it is.

If we go by Company X’s pay, it works out to 28.5 hours teaching per week to meet that minimum income requirement. In comparison, the freelance work that I do for a couple of companies is billed at a rate of ¥6,000 per hour, which takes only 10.4 hours per week to meet the same income requirement. My private work currently brings in about five or six hours a week on average. This means that if I can bring in contacts for just another six hours per week on average, I don’t need Company X in order to maintain my visa anymore.

From an excel spreadsheet illustrating what I can make working a certain number of hours per week freelancing in the Tokyo area
(Click to see full size if you want to inspect it more carefully)

Six hours isn’t much. I can find that much fairly easily. In a metropolitan area this size, I can likely find a lot more than 6 hours of additional work per week. This is now my main focus. Goal one is getting out of Company X, which is now much more clearly within reach. Goal two will be to continue to raise my income and improving my overall financial standing as much as I can without killing myself in the process.

Even continuing with just English teaching, working independently at the higher rate that I can charge for corporate work gives me the potential to double my income while still working fewer hours overall than working full time at Company X, or at any other English school for that matter.

There are a lot of details to take care of, a lot of work to do to find additional clients, trips to make to the immigration office, planning to time the transition to maintain adequate cash flow (not go broke) between things, etc. It’s all clear, though, and it’s all doable. I wish this had all occurred to me a couple years earlier, but oh well. I finally have a clear, actionable, exit strategy and can actually be out of Company X by year’s end. This pleases and motivates me.

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