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Finding EmploymentBack to top Back to main Skip to menu
Japan - Finding Employment
You need a visa to legally work in Japan. There’s no way around this - you definitely need state permission to work in the country, no matter where you come from.
If you work illegally while visiting as a tourist or awaiting the results of your asylum claim, you risk being arrested, imprisoned without trial and deported. There are allegations that some international detainees are held in squalid conditions and even die in custody as they await deportation. It is therefore essential that you obtain this paperwork before you go to work in Japan.
Most expats heading out to the country have already been offered work, so their employer sponsors their application for a work visa.
Students are allowed to work while studying in Japan. However, they must have written permission to do so, and must adhere to the limited number of hours they are permitted to work each week.
The spouse of a Japanese national or permanent resident can obtain a visa allowing part-time work. Again, the maximum number of working hours permitted each week will be specified.
If you want to find out more about visas in Japan, read the relevant section of this country guide.
Does Japan Need Expat Workers?
Japan has the longest average lifespan in the world, as we discussed in the Healthcare section of this country guide. However, with rates of marriage and birth declining as the elderly population increases, there is an increasing demand for workers.
This is a problem made worse by the poor treatment of women in the Japanese workplace, as explored in the article Japan Is Seeking More Expats: Could You Be One Of Them? The glass ceiling is more intact in Japan than most Western people would find acceptable.
In addition, the percentage of the Japanese population who were born elsewhere is less than two percent, and the authorities are not keen to change this number quickly as this would prove unpopular with the electorate.
Highly-skilled professionals have the greatest chance of receiving a work visa. Your qualifications, experience and skills will all be taken into account.
Foreign nationals are now allowed to stay in Japan even after their fixed-term visas expire if they are working in managerial positions. Academic researchers, technical experts, entrepreneurs and some other professionals can be fast-tracked for permanent residency, with some achieving the status in just three years and others in five. Everyone else must be in the country for 10 years before they can apply for permanent residency.
Essentially, Japanese companies and businesses of all sizes will recruit from overseas where the skills gap demands it. Their first preference, however, will be an appropriately skilled Japanese person.
There is a certain irony that alongside this increasing skills gap, the security of a job for life with opportunities for promotion and good pay that older generations of Japanese people enjoyed has eroded in recent times. Life for those without highly sought skills and experience is increasingly insecure and uncertain.
How To Get A Job In Japan Without Speaking Japanese
The Japanese language can be difficult to learn, as we outlined in the Language section of this country guide. The written characters, grammar and sounds of each word are outside the experience of most Westerners. This means the language can definitely be a barrier to international jobseekers.
Moving to Japan under the sponsorship of an international employer is often the best route to securing work there. This usually includes an invaluable support network too, meaning your visa applications will be overseen and accommodation will be arranged for your arrival. Your new employers may also offer orientation events with other expats.
A popular path into the Japanese workplace is teaching English as a foreign language, usually at a language school or through the Japan Exchange and Training (JET) programme. If you have an interview for one of these positions, make sure you dress well, prepare thoroughly and gather facts about your own country. For example, questions about your democratic system are not unusual.
If you want to teach English as a foreign language in Japan, you will need a degree as a bare minimum. You have very little chance of being interviewed without one.
Teaching should not be seen as an easy route to employment. The hours are long and standards are monitored. Japan is not an environment where teaching staff are encouraged to become friendly with pupils. You can learn more about the school culture in the Education And Schools section of this country guide.
US teacher Jerrmarco Rhodes works in the Japanese city of Hekinan-shi. He suggests using gaijinpot.com and jobsinjapan.com to find employment in the country. However, he also advises people do their research on the English teaching companies, since: “some of them are good and some of them are bad”.
Jerrmarco recommends that you have enough savings to support yourself through the first couple of months in Japan, as you won’t get the first paycheck until you have completed your first month of work.
What Is The Japanese Workplace Like?
In our country guide section Climate And Weather, we outlined the clothing that is suitable for both the Japanese climate and culture. Of particular note, workwear for the professional office or customer-focused business must always be conservative and formal. That’s not always easy in the muggy heat of August. However, if you don’t conform to the dress code required, you may find yourself being quietly passed over for promotion or even without a job. This is just one of many unwritten rules of business etiquette you must quickly absorb and comply with in the conservative environment of Japan.
Expat Annabelle, originally from New Zealand, talked to ExpatFocus about her experience working in Tochigi under the JET programme. She found that in addition to the long working hours Japan is well known for, workplace hierarchy, which “seems to be almost entirely based on age,” was very much in evidence.
Jonathan, who moved to Tokyo from the UK, advises expats to be aware that a different culture exists in the Japanese workplace. “Japanese people work as a team rather than individuals, [so] everyone stays late in the office rather than leave when their work is over.”
He also explains that when it comes to decision making: “Westerners are comfortable with grey, Japanese are comfortable with black and white”. He admits this can be frustrating at first, but says it can become a highly rewarding learning experience.
Starting A Business In Japan
One way to support yourself in Japan may be to run your own business.
If you are going to provide goods or services to the local population, understanding both the language and the culture of Japan is paramount. The world is littered with stories of international companies taking over an enterprise in a new country and then seeing it fail. Business success comes as a result of giving your customers what they want, when they want it, to a consistent high standard. You cannot assume that what works in your home country will work in Japan.
Many expats living in Japan work online, some of whom you can find on our list of Recommended Social Media Accounts. However, be aware that blogging and Youtube commercial ventures sit in a competitive field, and only a lucky few earn enough to pay their bills this way.
Regardless of the type of business you intend to run, it is a good idea to hire the services of professionals to guide you through the maze of Japanese regulations, requirements, procedures and documents that are essential to getting your enterprise legally registered and taxed. As the article Starting A Business In Japan: Four Things You Should Know explains, hiring both a shiho-shoshi (judicial scribe) and a gyosei-shoshi (administrative scribe) will save you a lot of time pouring over unintelligible paperwork, while a zeirishi (certified public tax accountant) will keep your taxes in order.
Any business takes a while to take off, and some never do. Make sure you have adequate resources to sustain both your household and the enterprise for the foreseeable future, and be level headed about when you may need to seek paid employment instead.
More Advice From Expats In Japan
If you have decided to look for work in Japan, why not reach out to the expat community there for help? The ExpatFocus Forum and Facebook group are good places to ask questions about the reputation of potential employers or any elements of the recruitment process about which you feel worried.
Read more about this country
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