First stop Nova, to get it out of the way quickly:
A little “Aurrrgh” goes through my head whenever I think about Nova. Nova is the best-known English school in Mainland Japan. If you are a teacher then by all means sell your soul to the devil but if not I would suggest that Nova or any similar teaching school should be looked at as a last resort. The main reason I say this is because Nova’s teachers are not allowed to ad lib in their lessons. They are to go exactly by the book and helpful conversations are not allowed with the students. This quickly/highly frustrates those who really love to teach. More often than not Nova teachers leave their experience aggravated at the system.
So where else can an American get work in Japan? I’m going to focus on Okinawa, not just because I lived there but because the US military’s huge presence means Japanese corporations have had to grow a little to accommodate for the thousands of English speakers living on island, and therefore there is a wider range of jobs available on Okinawa.
A great Okinawan resource is http://japanupdate.com/classifieds/english/ . There is a drop-down box at the top and you can search under help wanted or business ads. This is where Japanese businesses will post their openings. Many are looking for at least a small amount of Japanese comprehension but if you are already in Japan I would suggest dropping by because you never know. Japanese are huge on looks so if you are pretty, thin and well dressed you will score big. Yes, thin helps. To be blunt, the majority of Okinawans are tired of seeing obese Americans, especially women. Many military spouses are overweight and I often hear Japanese people making fun of big Americans that walk by. I can’t understand all of it but I catch the important words. Anyway ya, it sucks I’m sure but if you want to work in Japan you need to keep this in mind. If a Japanese male is doing the interview and you are a pretty girl wearing a tasteful but short skirt you are probably in….hate to say it but its true. A degree can help but it is not necessary if you have good, relevant work history on a resume.
Your best bet is trying to get a job with the United States Government. The Marine Corps, Air Force and Army hire continuously over here because of the Permanent Change of Station rate. In other words, families are always coming and going so there is always work. Aviation-related? fugetaboutit. But there are tons of administrative jobs that need to be filled. Nursing is in huge demand. Just go to the civilian website at http://www.usajobs.opm.gov/ or to each military branch’s civilian employment website, enter your resume info and start searching. Look for bids that are looking for people outside of the US. SOFA status is what allows military civilian personnel to live and work in Japan so look for jobs offering SOFA status. For the admin positions, degrees are preferred but not necessary if you have experience. Civilian resumes have to look a certain way and contain specific information so be prepared to re-write everything.
Production companies are always looking for actors and actresses to be extras in movies or commercials. I did this and went with a now seemingly defunct Imagine If Productions. I landed a Japanese bank (Ryugin) commercial in 2004. I was paid 20,000 yen for a half-day’s work. It’s not a day job but it might land you some extra play money.