Working in Japan is a dream for many of us – but it’s one that can very much come to fruition with a bit of research and preparation.
There are a number of different roads you can take towards working in Japan – more than ever with recent government efforts to increase the foreign workforce. It is worth taking some time to research and consider the various options available to you as a potential foreign worker in Japan – including visa options and opportunities across popular sectors.
I have put together this article to give you some basic information that might make it clearer on where to begin your job search. This is only the starting point on the research that you will need to do to make this dream a reality – but what a fun process it will be.
Japan’s Employment Opportunities
In this article, I will go into detail on the nitty-gritty of employment opportunities in Japan, including how to get your visa, how to search for a job, and what the pay is like in the different sectors. First, though, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions to help you know where to start on your journey towards working in Japan.
We all have different motivations for wanting to work in Japan. For some, it’s simply to make money – Japanese salaries may be higher than your home country, and you might be hoping to get some serious savings done while there. In that case, you’ll want to be looking at what sectors are paying well, and what areas you can live relatively cheaply.
Maybe your priority is learning about the language and the culture of Japan. In this case, you might want to look at a program like JET, which incorporates cultural exchange events into the experience.
Maybe you’re just determined to see a different part of the world, and working is just a way for you to fund that. A job that gives you a decent amount of time off to explore will be important in this case. If this is you, then you might be leaning towards the working holiday visa.
Maybe you see yourself in Japan on a long-term basis, in which case you might want to take a more considered approach to your job search – building up your skills in the Japanese language and approaching companies where you could have long-term role progression.
While the question “why Japan” might seem a silly one at first, your motivation for taking the leap into working in Japan really does dictate the whole experience.
Where will you stay?
In some cases, you might not have the luxury of choosing the location that you move to – but it helps to have a think about what sort of lifestyle you’re aiming for. When you dream about moving to Japan, is it the bright lights of Tokyo that you see, or do you visualize rice fields and traditional living?
It’s true that most of the job opportunities in Japan are in bustling urban centers, but there are a number of rural areas that have big regeneration schemes underway and could be very open to the prospect of foreign workers coming in and breathing new life into the area – for a much cheaper cost of living.
What will you do?
This question is very linked to your “why”. Maybe you want to work in the field you studied, and pursue opportunities that add to your resume after you leave Japan. You might want to skip down to the final section of this article for details on the different sectors in this case.
Maybe it’s more of a gap year, in which case the “what” doesn’t matter so much – you might be happy to get a job wherever is hiring. If this is you, it’s important to be cognisant of Japanese work culture – in corporate environments, you will be expected to work long hours and likely do a lot of overtime. A more casual working environment might be a better fit for your vision.
How long should you stay?
Are you planning on experiencing Japan for a year or two and then moving back home to “settle down” (what a horrible phrase) or are you in this for the long haul? Perhaps you’re undecided.
Regardless, your intentions for the length of stay should factor into your choice of job – most work visas will be issued for one to three years at first, but if you want to stay longer you should enquire about whether the company is open to extend the sponsorship.
Japan Work Visa
Standard Work Visa
Workers in certain sectors can apply for a Japanese work visa. The following are the approved sectors:
- Investor/Business Manager
- Legal/Accounting Services
- Medical Services
- Skilled Laborer (chef, sommelier etc)
- Specialist in Humanities/International Services
- Intra-Company Transferee
The actual process of getting a work visa is relatively straightforward. The hard part is finding a sponsor – in other words, a company willing to employ you in advance of you moving to Japan. Once you have sourced a company, they will likely guide you through the steps of your visa application. On the off chance that they don’t, here’s a step by step guide to what will be asked of you.
You’ll need a recent passport-sized photograph of yourself, an up to date resume, and copies of any relevant college transcripts. From your employer, you’ll need a letter stating their intent to employ you and your expected salary.
You’ll also need a completed Certificate of Eligibility, and the employer will usually sort this out for you. It is obtained through the immigration office and takes approximately 1-3 months to be finalized.
Once all this is gathered, you can finally apply for your work visa. The visa will be granted for a period ranging from 1-3 years. In the case of entertainers traveling to Japan to do set pieces of work (such as a concert tour) the visa will be granted for a shorter period of time.
Working Holiday Visa
Citizens of approved nations can apply for working holiday visas to Japan. The following are the approved nations:
- United Kingdom
- South Korea
- Hong Kong
- New Zealand
These visas are specifically for young people between the ages of 18 and 25. Under the working holiday visa, you can stay in Japan for one year while working part-time. Certain jobs are banned under the working holiday visa regulations – including anywhere that could potentially have “adult entertainment”, such as pubs and bars.
If you’re married to a Japanese resident, you are eligible to apply for a spouse visa to Japan. Under the conditions of the spouse visa, you are able to work any amount of hours in any industry. In other words, if you’ve moved to Japan as somebody’s spouse and were intending to apply for permission to work, there’s no need – you’re already covered. Happy days!
Specified Skill Visas
In order to meet increasing labor demands with an aging population, Japan began offering a new route of entry for foreign workers in April 2019. Foreigners from fourteen different industries are eligible to apply for this visa. Below are the specific industries:
- Care worker
- Building Cleaning Management
- Machine Parts & Tooling Industry
- Industrial Machinery Manufacturing Industry
- Electric, Electronic and Information Industries
- Construction Industry
- Shipbuilding and Ship Machinery Industry
- Automobile Repair and Maintenance
- Aviation Industry
- Accommodation Industry
- Fishery and Aquaculture
- Food and Beverage production
- Others occupations
This visa does not require applicants to have a college degree – something that workplaces in Japan have required up until now. However, it does require that applicants pass the Japanese Proficiency Test at an N4 level (I’ll explain this in more detail in the next section). There is also a skills test in your selected industry, so you will need a solid background in the sector before applying.
This visa comes with a few different perks to incentivize skilled workers to come to Japan. For example, you will have support in sourcing accommodation and language classes upon arrival. It’s still a very new scheme so there is not a huge amount of feedback on it yet, but it sounds very positive and offers skilled people without a college degree the chance to live and work in Japan.
Working in Japan Without Speaking Japanese
Perhaps the easiest way to work in Japan if you don’t speak the language is to find employment as an English teacher. You can choose to apply to schools individually (check out the Gaijin Pot jobs board to begin your search) or you can go through a programme like JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) to secure a position.
JET is a Japanese government initiative that is very efficiently run but notoriously competitive to get into. If you do secure a place on JET, the advantages are numerous – you will be set up with subsidized accommodation, which takes the headache out of house hunting as a foreigner. You will also be part of a community that organizes cultural events and mixers with locals – perfect for those who are nervous about moving to a new nation solo. For more information on the JET program, you can check out their website here.
Requirements will vary according to school, but most will require that you have a four-year college degree in any subject – it doesn’t have to be related to teaching. Some will require that you complete TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Foreign Languages) certification, which can be done quickly and economically via online platforms.
Don’t worry if teaching isn’t your long term career goal – many foreigners use this as a way to source a work visa and initially try out working in Japan. It’s much easier to network and job hunt in Japan when you’re physically there, so many foreigners secure an English teaching job first as a stepping stone to something in a different field. You can also utilize your time outside of teaching to improve your Japanese language skills, making you a more attractive candidate for Japanese employers in other industries. Maybe don’t mention at the interview that this is your intention though!
Japan is home to an ever-growing number of large multinational companies, such as Google and Amazon. Many of these view English speaking as a huge benefit, as they need staff who are able to comfortably communicate with branches in other countries. It can be difficult to get through the interview process without any level of Japanese, but sometimes there are ways around this. For example, if you work in a multinational in your home country which has a branch in Japan, you could inquire about the possibility of a transfer.
There is some level of demand for English speaking tour guides in Japan – and there is likely to be a surge in seasonal work in this area approaching the Tokyo Olympics as more and more English speaking tourists travel to Japan.
A quick search of tour companies confirms that most of them do prefer tour guides to speak both English and Japanese – but it could be an avenue worth exploring coming up to Olympics season next year.
Although recruitment agencies can get a little bit annoying (they are the kings of spam emails) it can be handy to be linked in with one if you’re job searching in Japan without Japanese language skills. Essentially, they act as a go-between for you and Japanese employers. You furnish them with your CV and other relevant documents, tell them a bit about what sort of opportunity you’re looking for, and they take it from there.
The only recruitment agency I’m familiar with in Japan is Recruit (here’s their website) – I haven’t personally used them but I have friends who have and report good things. Just a word to the wise about recruitment agencies, sometimes recruiters can be so eager to fill roles that the process suddenly starts happening very quickly – it’s okay to take a step back and do your own independent research before making a commitment to an opportunity a recruiter has matched you up with.
Japanese Proficiency Test
You might see language requirements on job listings described using a score such as N2. If you see this, it’s referring to the standardized Japanese Proficiency Test (JPT).
Some companies will require that you take the JPT and will require that you reach a particular level on this. The JPT scores are divided into five levels, from N1 (indicating near fluency) to N5 (indicating a basic grasp of Japanese). This is a computerized test that is held in Japan and other Asian countries numerous times each year.
The language requirement for Japanese companies is generally at an N2 level. To pass at this level, you will need to know approximately 1,000 kanji and 6,000 vocabulary words. For context, this is about the same level of language proficiency as a native Japanese person entering middle school.
To get to this level, you would most likely need to be taking intensive Japanese language classes or living there for a considerable amount of time – learning vocab on an app in your spare time before moving to Japan is not going to be sufficient for getting you to this grade on the JPT.
How to Work in Japan as a US Citizen
Unfortunately, US citizens are not eligible to apply for working holiday visas. This means that a lot of US citizens have to wait until after college to work in Japan, as a college degree is required for most employment opportunities that would lead to securing a standard work visa.
For those who work remotely, you could technically enter Japan on a tourist visa and stay for the standard 90 days while doing your work in shared spaces. The challenge of this is accommodation – securing a lease in Japan as a foreigner without some sort of long-stay agreement is nigh on impossible.
Waiting until after college and securing a work visa to work as an English teacher is probably the most straightforward way for a US citizen to work in Japan.
Highest Paid Jobs in Japan for Foreigners
If you want a lucrative career in Japan, it’s important to do your research on industry trends. Here are the highest-earning industries in Japan, along with some information on how populated these sectors are by foreign workers. These are based on 2019 statistics on salary gathered from a doda survey– data for 2020 has not yet been widely released at the time of writing. All figures quoted are before tax.
The average salary in IT and Communications in Japan in 2019 was reported as being $42,892.13, to be exact. You could stand to earn between $2893.78 and $5843.38 per month in an IT position in Japan, depending on seniority. In 2019, just under 3% of the workforce in this industry in Japan were foreigners.
The average salary in the Japanese Internet/Advertising/Media sector in 2019 was reported as $38,337.35. Monthly earnings ranged from $2707.96 to $4913.41 depending on seniority. Again, just under 3% of the workforce in this sector were foreigners in 2019.
Service industry workers earn an average of $35,000 per year in Japan. This is a popular industry for foreigners, with over 5% of the workforce being foreign. Monthly salary typically ranges from $2513.33 to $4086.50 dependent on seniority.
The manufacturing industry boasts an average salary of $42,447.43 in Japan. Monthly salaries range between $2839.43 and $5818.50 depending on seniority. Over 4% of the workforce were foreign in 2019. The manufacturing of technology products has long been a booming industry in Japan – but in 2019 toiletries made a huge leap in lucrativeness. Manufacturing can be a fluctuating industry in Japan depending on product trends and demand.
The average wage in the medical profession in Japan came in at $41,856.52 in 2019. Monthly wages varied from $2715.76 to $5980.76 depending on seniority. Not a lot of foreigners are employed in the medical sector in Japan – only .31% in 2019.
You would need a very high level of Japanese language proficiency to work as a healthcare provider in Japan – but it promises a secure career path and consistently high earnings. With Japan’s ever-aging population, this industry will not be crashing any time soon.
The average wage in the Japanese finance industry came in at $41,466.63 in 2019. The starting salary in this field is high – even those who join at the lowest end of the scale can expect to earn approximately $2855.84 per month.
However, the higher end of the scale is not as lucrative as other industries – a senior staff can expect to earn approximately $5562.87, which is also not to be sniffed at. This is another industry with relatively few foreigners in employment – just .62% of the workforce were foreign in 2019.
The construction industry is having a serious moment in Japan at present in the preparation for the (now postponed) Olympics in Tokyo. The dramatic increase in demand for construction workers was part of the reason a new visa was introduced in 2019 (details on that in the Work Visa section).
The average wage in this industry comes in at $38,879.22. Monthly wages range from $2790.62 to $4353.37 depending on seniority. 1.37% of workers in this sector were foreign in 2019 – with this number likely to rise due to new visa options.
The retail and food industries boast relatively high numbers of foreign workers (3.13% to be exact) but the wages are known to be towards the lower end of the scale. The average wage in this industry is $33,013.76, with monthly pay packets ranging between $2371.63 and $4203.83 depending on seniority.
Salaries for English teaching positions can vary wildly. The employees in this sector are virtually all foreigners, for obvious reasons. You can expect to earn between $26-33 thousand per year approximately as a teacher.
You can also opt to provide private tuition at a discretionary rate – the average is about $25 per hour. This could supplement your wage nicely. Bear in mind that many teaching positions come with perks such as discounted accommodation and airfare, which you should factor into your earnings also.
Once in a Lifetime
Regardless of what your work experience in Japan looks like, it will be different from anything you ever experience for the remainder of your career. This is a country with a unique work and social culture that will challenge you, surprise you, and above all stick with you. The very best of luck on your Japanese odyssey!