One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during this global pandemic is that nothing is as stable as it seems. I had a great job working for a small mom-and-pop eikaiwa (English conversation classes) in Tokyo, was halfway through my coveted three-year work visa, and had recently moved into a dream apartment. There was no reason for me to believe that life wouldn’t continue down that path.
And then COVID-19 happened. Along with many other economic casualties, the Tokyo branch of my company had to close, suddenly leaving me without a job. How would I find another one so quickly? Who was hiring in these crazy, uncertain times?
Lucky for me, my company had enrolled me in the insurance system, and it was time to put that system to use: it was time for me to file for unemployment in Japan.
Unemployment insurance is one of those things that everyone hopes they never have to use. But, like me, in case you find yourself needing it, read on!
The unemployment benefit scheme in Japan, koyou hoken (雇用保険), exists for people who have paid into the system and need support while looking for their next job. Anyone who has worked in Japan for six months and made insurance payments is eligible for benefits. It is run by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, but to access it you must apply through an organization called Hello Work.
For your first visit to Hello Work, make sure you bring the following items:
- Rishoku-hyo, the official “letter of separation” from your previous job
- Residence card
- Bank book
- Two passport-sized photos, 3 cm x 2.5 cm
Some Hello Work offices offer translation services, but not all. As I was applying from my company’s home base in Kanazawa rather than Tokyo (a situation that would confuse multiple Hello Work staffers), I brought a Japanese colleague along. Even if your Japanese is good, I recommend bringing a fluent friend, as the language of bureaucratic procedures is dense, and Japan loves its procedures.
Coincidentally, the day we went to Hello Work was also the day the state of emergency was lifted in Kanazawa, so it was a bit crowded.
I was the only foreigner present, so we went right to the front of the line for the tiny desk shoved in the back reserved for foreigners working in Japan. My glee at our good fortune quickly dissipated, however, as this desk was not for us to actually register, but for us to register to register.
The skinny, nervous-looking young man took my rishoku-hyo and residence card, got confused by my Tokyo address, and gave me a special barcode. He explained that I was to bring this barcode with me, and I could use it at one of the provided PCs to look for jobs. But the PCs, he finished, were only in Japanese. I was off to a running start in my unemployment journey.
We were then given a number and told to wait. I looked around.
Despite the cramped rows of aging PCs and fliers I couldn’t read, the Hello Work office wasn’t actually so bad. It was decently lit and had some color. It would have been fine, if it weren’t for the music. The Hello Work soundtrack is classical music, but classical music that has the tinkly sound of a music box for the purpose of lulling babies to sleep. To make matters worse, the music is on a very short loop — about 30 minutes. I distinctly heard “Pomp and Circumstance,” a song I find dull at the best of times, come around again and again during my wait.
Finally, my number, 981, was called, and we were ushered to another desk with another skinny young man. Thankfully, this one had an air of confidence about him.
We had made it to the goal of the afternoon, the act of registering for unemployment insurance. This required many procedures, many forms, and many photocopies. I admit I got lucky both with my translator friend and the helpful Hello Work staffer assisting us. Over the course of the next hour, I turned over to him the rest of my documents and signed and stamped countless forms before he announced that I was now in the unemployment insurance system. He then went down an incredibly detailed checklist to explain to me what would happen next, referencing several points in a thick booklet (in Japanese), which he gave me to keep.
The average time to receive unemployment benefits is three months, but because of my age and the amount of time I’ve been in Japan, I qualified for four months. I don’t yet know how much money I will be receiving, as it takes seven days from the time you register to start seeing payments in your bank account, but it can be anywhere between 50% and 80% of your previous salary.
While receiving benefits, you will need to visit Hello Work monthly in order to show them that you are looking for a job. You must go in person, and the second appointment will be exactly 28 days after your first appointment. For example, my first appointment was on Friday, May 15, so my second appointment will be Friday, June 12. I know this seems rather fussy, but the appointment is almost impossible to move, so it’s wise to pick the day of your initial visit to be a day of the week when you know you can go again the following month.
After about two and a half hours at Hello Work, I stepped out blinking into the sunlight, trying to shake “Pomp and Circumstance” out of my head. I felt reassured that I had found some support during this difficult time, and relieved that I wouldn’t have to go back for another 28 days. Now I just needed to start looking for a job…
Author: Mo Stone