If you are from a Western country, and it comes to getting your first working experience, doing an internship might be one of the first things that come to mind. In some cases, certain fields can be so competitive during the hiring process (requiring multiple years of working experience etc.) that people will spend the first year or so of their careers just doing internships until they can finally land that full-time job. Even when they are not necessarily required, we tend to think of internships as great opportunities to get our first working experiences, while companies get cheap workers that do the jobs that no one else will do in return. Especially when thinking about working in a foreign country, one would think that doing an internship or something similar first would be very beneficial, as it lets you not only experience the working environment but also the living conditions before committing to working full-time.
Internships are not very common in Japan
Unfortunately, in the case of Japan, internships are not widely available. This is not only the case for non-Japanese, even Japanese will rarely do internships before they start working full-time. They are just not a part of the Japanese job market and hiring process. The Japanese ideal is to get hired right out of university, usually, students start hunting for jobs during their third year in university here. The aim is to secure a job offer from a company, who will then hire them as soon as they graduate university, with virtually no time in between to do something like an internship first (the student will be enrolled in university till the end of March, and usually start working by the start of April). That is not to say that internships are non-existent, some companies require their prospective new hires to go through training before they graduate university. But this training will take place after they have already received their job offers. Other companies provide 1-day internships, that are actually more akin to a seminar, where a bigger group of applicants will learn about company culture and workflow. Another form of internships in Japan is paid internships (as in YOU have to pay for it, not you will be paid).
Some opportunities are available for non-Japanese though
From a non-Japanese perspective, if you are receiving money for any kind of work you do while in Japan, you need a visa with a working permit. If you are lucky enough to find a company willing to hire you as an intern, you still need to get a visa first. One possibility would be a Working Holiday visa, as it allows you to engage in any kind of work with only very few restrictions. But there is also a visa reserved specifically for “Internships”. The problem with the “Internship” visa is, that it requires you to be currently enrolled in University, and for the internship to give you credit towards earning your degree. Also, you cannot apply for this visa on your own, it has to be done through your university, who will then most likely search for agencies in Japan, that will look for trustworthy employment opportunities on behalf of their students. Oftentimes, these end up being hotels or Japanese inn (ryokan), which often provide rooms and food for their interns. Knowing that any potential intern will have a place to sleep and food makes the process a lot easier for the universities, as well as the parents of the potential interns. Another short term visa is the so-called “Summer Job” visa, which allows you to stay and work in Japan for 3 months, but this one is also again only available through your university.
If you are interested in doing an internship or summer job in Japan, please feel free to inquire with Astmil Corp. through this Facebook page. Disclaimer: This is the company that I currently work for, so you would most likely be talking to me. I did not write this article to promote our internship program, however. I simply wrote it based on my experiences when I was an exchange student in Japan, thinking that an internship during the spring holidays would be a good idea, only to find out that Japan really does not provide a lot of those. I think I have been fair and objective, but if you think my article is disingenuous or misleading, feel free to point it out to me.