The different forms of employment in Japan – What are you getting into?

So, you got yourself an interview, passed it and now your future employer wants you to sign your first employment contract in Japan. Congratulations on making it this far! But what is this, your contract says you will be employed as a seishain? What is that? A yuuki keiyakushain? Never heard of one of those…

As with many other facets of life, Japanese employment systems and contracts might be slightly (or very) different than what you are used to from back home. Understanding your contract – before you sign it – is vital, especially when it comes to working abroad. Do you really want to uproot your life, go and work abroad, only to find out that the work that you signed up for is completely different from what you had originally imagined?

Breaking down a standard Japanese employment contract would go far beyond the usual scope of my blog articles, so for now I thought it might be helpful if I describe the different forms of employment that are most commonly offered in Japan. With this, you will – hopefully – be better able to decide whether a position is suited for you or not.

The most common forms of employment in Japan

Seishain (正社員) – most often translated as “permanent employee”. Becoming a seishain for a reputable company is the aim of every Japanese university student. As a seishain, you are – in principle at least – hired for life (that is until you reach retirement age), which gives the necessary financial and emotional stability for providing for a typical nuclear family. You get your monthly paycheck, a hefty bonus once or twice a year, full social benefits and your employer might even pay part of your rent for you. This image has cracked somewhat in recent times, many seishain found themselves out of a job during the 2008 financial crisis for example, but a seishain position remains perhaps the most desirable form of employment in Japan. According to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, about 60% of the Japanese workforce are employed as seishain (source in Japanese).

Keiyaku shain (契約社員) – most often translated as “contract employee”. A weird one, since a contract is the basis for any form of employment, even part-time. The distinguishing difference to a seishain is that a keiyaku shain often has a fixed term contract. One to four year contracts are normal here. Some companies offer a so-called touyou (登用) system, where a keiyaku shain has the chance to become a seishain. In some companies, you can become a seishain simply by working for one year as a keiyaku shain, others might make it more difficult by requiring you to pass certain exams first. In principle, if you have worked as a keiyaku shain for a company for five years, the company is then required to offer you unlimited employment, even if they do not offer touyou. The idea is good, giving you incentive to “work your way up”, in practice many companies simply let their employees go after four years of employment.

Apart from contract length, a keiyaku shain will also often have less benefits than a seishain. No housing allowance or access to company-sponsored retirement plans, smaller (or non-existant) boni, and the fixed contract term all mean that being a keiyaku shain is generally viewed as being less desirable.

Haken shain (派遣社員) – most often translated as “dispatch/temporary employee”. Among the full-time employment positions, haken shain is generally viewed as being the least desirable. When you are a haken shain, you are employed by a haken gaisha (派遣会社), who will handle contract talks and pay your salary. The haken gaisha will then dispatch you to another company in need of employees where you are then expected to work. Since you are an outsider at your place of work, it can be quite difficult to find your way around, contracts as short as three months are also not uncommon. In the most extreme cases, you could end up switching work every couple of months, giving you almost no stability. While the haken gaisha pays your salary, this is only true as long as you are dispatched to and working at an actual company. If the haken gaisha has nowhere to dispatch you, you could suddenly find yourself without a paycheck. You will also only get the most basic benefits. If you are easily bored, this revolving-door-style of employment might be for you, most people only turn to employment as a haken shain if there is absolutely nothing else available. Especially for foreigners, there are many seedy haken gaisha looking to exploit vulnerable people that have no idea about Japanese labor laws, so be careful.

Arubaito/paato (アルバイト・パート) – the best catch-all translation here is “part-time work”. Arubaito comes from the German word Arbeit (work), while paato is literally just the English word “part” pronounced in Japanese. Legally speaking, there is no difference between arubaito and paato, both are part-time (up to 28 hours/week) forms of employment with fixed contract lengths. Culturally, there is a big difference between these two however. The word arubaito is used and understood as “someone doing work in addition to their principal occuption”. If a student works at a bar, while being enrolled in and studying at a University, that is arubaito. If a full-time employee works part-time at the convenience store on the weekend to make ends meet, that is arubaito. Paato on the other hand often refers to “someone doing part-time work while they have no other significant form of income”. If a stay-at home mom starts working part-time after the kids are in school, that is paato. In general, paato is mostly aimed at mothers and housewives, who often have difficulties finding full-time employment after childbirth. These definitions are by no means set in stone, but if you are a student and apply for a position advertised as paato, you might still get turned down and if a housewife in her 40s applied for a arubaito position, she might get turned down as well.

I hope that this has helped someone to better understand the different forms of employment that are common in Japan. Make sure you read every employment contract before you sign anything!

Can you Work Part-time in Japan?

Working part-time jobs is a big deal in Japanese society. While in the west, younger people might mow the neighbors lawn or wash your uncles car for a few bucks, in Japan it is customary to work part-time jobs at convenience stores and other locations. Especially university students, who have a lot of free time, or housewives, after the kids have reached a certain age, often engage in one or more part-time jobs to increase their own spending power or help out with the families finances. But what about us non-Japanese?

The Visa Problem

What kind of work you can engage in as a foreigner in Japan is entirely dependent on what kind of visa you have. If you are a student, you are supposed to focus on studying, not working and in principle should not engage in any activities that may impede your studies. However, you can obtain an exemption to engage in activities outside of your original visa’s scope from the immigration office that allows you to engage in part-time work for up to 28 hours a week. Typical jobs are often found at restaurants, as stores staff or other low-skilled labour.

If you are on a working visa, things are a bit different however. If you have a visa for teaching English, and want to tutor kids in English after-hours, then you are technically allowed to do that. But if you want to work as a waiter or driver for Uber Eats, then you need to apply for an exemption from the immigration office as well. While obtaining the exemption on a student visa is almost a given, on a working visa you might face a lot more scrutiny and applications might take up to two months to complete. If you start working part-time before then, it is obviously illegal. One thing of note is that this only applies for paying work. If you are a volunteer, working for free, then you do not need to obtain any kind of exemption.

The problem with your employer

When on a working visa, your current “main” employer might also have something to say about your working part-time in addition. In fact, about half of all Japanese companies outright forbid their employees from engaging in part-time work. I am not a lawyer, so I can not tell you what the ramifications might be if you get caught working part-time but please be aware of this and consult with your employer before engaging in part-time work. You need to pay taxes if you earn more than 200.000 Japanese Yen a year with your part-time job and your “main” employer will have access your tax returns, so it is hard to hide the fact that you have a side business.

Even if your employer technically allows for you to engage in part-time work, they are going to expect you to always put your job with them first. Going home without properly finishing up because you have part-time work is not going to fly. Similarly, if you always show up tired because you are pulling night-shifts for another company, your bosses are going to start asking questions. Also, do not get a part-time job at a rival or direct competitor to your “main” company. It might be considered disrespectful and if you are found to be leaking company secrets there could be serious legal repercussions for you.

So in conclusion, if you absolutely cannot live with your current wages (or lack thereof if you are a student), then you can always consider engaging in part-time work. Just remember that you will have to get permission from immigration AND your employer in most cases. Personally, I could not see myself working a part-time job in addition to my full-time job, but if you absolutely want to then why not give it a shot!

Jobs in Japan – About the Job-Hunting Process

When looking for jobs in Japan, first it is important to understand the job-hunting process and the entire culture that surrounds it. Finding your first job is always a challenge, but the job-hunting culture in Japan is very unique, as far as I am aware there are not many countries that have a similarly standardized approach to the idea of finding employment. In Japan, this process is called “Shukatsu” (from jap. 就職活動, shuushoku katsudou, roughly translates to job-hunting or job-searching) and is still the means by which a majority of Japanese find their first employment. I should point out, that this is something that mainly University students engage in. For non-Japanese, it is therefore often not very relevant, but still, an important aspect of the job market, that you should be familiar with if you want to work in Japan.

A uniform process

Jobs in Japan, Shukatsu
Uniformity is king during Shukatsu

Shukatsu has been around as a means to find jobs in Japan for a long time. It is one among many leftovers of the “old” Japanese business culture, that made Japan famous in the 70s of the last century. Many people attributed the success of Japanese businesses at that time to this culture. It is firmly based on the idea of lifetime employment, something that used to be very common in Japan, where people would enter a company after graduating from university, and then stay with that company until retirement. While this is changing, with younger generations being more open to the idea of changing jobs or even careers at a later point in life, the job-hunting process for newly graduated students has stayed roughly the same.

So what is Shukatsu exactly? In Japan, the idea that you can only find a decent job if you have a bachelor’s degree is pretty common. In fact, for non-Japanese, this is even more true, with many common working-visa being only available to those that have graduated University. If you look at job-searching websites, you will find that almost every job that’s listed requires you to have a bachelor’s degree. Accordingly, a very high proportion of Japanese high-school graduates will go on to enter a university to continue their education (over 70%, according to this data I found from 2018). The third year of university is usually when most are going to start Shukatsu. Rather than sticking out, uniformity is what’s important here. Students will all don the same non-descript black suits, Humphrey Bogart-style trench coats, start attending job seminars, company briefings (so-called 説明会, setsumeikai), group discussions, and other mandatory events in the hopes of securing an invitation to a job interview.

Jobs in Japan, Shukatsu
A Japanese student going to a job interview, circa 2020

Finding jobs in Japan – not an easy task

It does not stop there, however. For those that secure an invitation to a job interview, there are many more hurdles to climb. First, they might have to take what’s called an SPI test (or Web Aptitude test, there are different names around), a sort of test that supposedly assesses your personality, character, and general knowledge. Via these standardized tests, companies presume that they can weed out those candidates that do not fit into their hiring profile. If you pass, you have usually at least three job interviews to attend, starting with an HR member in the first interview and by the last, you will often end up sitting down with the company president. And all of that is just for one company, on average, a Japanese student will apply to 14 (!!!) companies during his/her Shukatsu (Japanese data here from 2014, by now that number is most likely higher). And even if they manage to pass the gauntlet and get hired, starting salaries are usually very low and hours are long. Salaries will then slowly start rising as the years go by. In the olden days, this system might have made sense when the expectation was that any potential new hire would be working for a company for close to 40 years. Now though, there is a growing trend towards younger people quitting their jobs and changing careers, so this overly thorough approach to hiring appears to be highly outdated. In some industries, almost half of new hires quit within the first three years (data on this in English was very hard to find, here’s an article from 2013 though).

All of this while also attending university

Traveling is another highlight of student life

Balancing studies and job-hunting can be pretty challenging, so most do not bother. Japanese university is usually pretty laid back (some call their time in university the “summer vacation of life), only getting in is difficult, graduating is often considered a given so many students do not actually study much in the first place. Club activities and earning money by doing part-time work are oftentimes more important than actually studying. But during the third year, everything else is put to the side and Shukatsu takes full precedent. Students will regularly skip classes in order to attend the aforementioned gauntlet of seminars and interviews. Many prestigious universities take high tuition fees from their students, with the students hoping to better their chances on the job market. Every university has a counseling office that is tasked with preparing their students for Shukatsu, by organizing events and holding 1-on-1 counseling sessions among other things. Some universities will even have agreements with some companies, where the company promises to hire a certain number of students every year. This leads to students and their families having certain expectations, which the university will then be pressed to fulfill. Since university is often just considered a stepping stone for a later career, nothing could be more damaging for a university’s reputation than their students being unable to find employment. While hardly a problem that is exclusive to Japan, universities being run as a business, rather than an educational institution is certainly something that might warrant it’s own article in the future.

But what about foreigners?

There certainly are foreigners that find jobs in Japan by doing Shukatsu. Most of them are exchange students or full-time students at a Japanese university. But generally, this is not the norm and I would even go so far as to advise against it. The first problem is language. As you can imagine, going through this grueling process can be difficult enough if Japanese is your native tongue, but doing it as a non-native speaker can prove next to impossible. There is also another problem. By following the process of Shukatsu to find jobs in Japan, you end up setting yourself up to compete directly with Japanese for open positions, which is often a losing battle from the start. You have to act like a Japanese but will in turn never be treated as such. If the deck is stacked against you from the start, my advice would be to avoid playing in the first place. There are many other ways by which you can find employment in Japan, following an outdated, almost arcane ritual like Shukatsu is probably not going to be your best bet.

My intention with this article was not to explain Shukatsu in detail (since I don’t think it’s something you should be actively pursuing anyway). Rather, I hope to have provided you with some background information on the whole culture and stigma surrounding it. If by the end of this article you still feel like doing Shukatsu, feel free to consult one of the many guides on how to give the perfectly standard answer to standard job-interview questions, and on how many inches you should bow when entering and leaving the room.

If you are interested in reading other articles about finding jobs in Japan, here is a selection to get you started. Also feel free to contact me with any questions you might have.

An article on working visa
An article on learning Japanese
An article on job-hunting websites

Working Hours in Japan

Are you interested in working hours in Japan? You want to work here, but are worried about overtime? Read on for my take on the issue.

One of the first things that many people associate with working in Japan is excessively long working hours. When Japan made its name as one of the worlds leading economies during the 1970s and 80s, recovering blisteringly fast from the aftermath of World War II, Japanese working culture became a broadly discussed topic. While some people were praising the collectivism and devotion to a single company, others also pointed out that Japanese workers were working exceedingly long hours.

Japanese working culture is known for being exceedingly strict

Until now, this stereotype still endures. Many people still believe that working for a Japanese company means that you will have to work until 10 p.m. every day. If we have a look at the Wikipedia article on the Japanese work environment, we can get a rough idea of the average working hours in Japan over the years. While this is certainly an awful article, even by Wikipedia standards, it serves to illustrate a point: the fact that people are perpetuating a stereotype, and like almost every other stereotypes there might be a morsel of truth to it, but it is blown so far out of proportion that any truth has long since been swept away.

The trend in Japan is also towards less working hours

In developed countries, there is a trend to shorten working hours. Automation, relative security, thanks to welfare and benefits, and the growing awareness of the negative effects that working long hours can have on one’s body, have led to people and companies placing greater emphasis on a good work/life balance. The same also holds true for Japan, with average working hours becoming much shorter since the 1980s. I am not writing a scientific article here, but let us have a look at two graphs. The first one shows us that monthly working hours have been going down consistently over the last decade. Another graph, provided by OECD data, shows us that that the average working hours per worker in Japan for 2019 are actually lower than those in the United States and other countries, and also below the OECD average.

If you are interested in a proper scientific article on the current state of working hours and overwork in Japan, read the following article by Mr Tomohiro Takami “Current State of Working Hours and Overwork in Japan Part I: How Has It Changed Over the Years? “. You can find the whole series of articles HERE.

Still, the stereotypes endure

Now, it is certainly true that the Japanese still tend to work long hours. But so do people in the US, Italy and other countries. One thing that is often brought up when talking about long-working hours is the term 過労死 (karoushi), which means death (usually suicide) due to excessive overwork. People will argue, that the existence of a specific term must mean that this is a real problem. But as the graphs in the above paragraph have shown us, overwork is no more or less an issue in Japan, than it is in other countries. The existence of a term certainly does not indicate anything, as in Japanese it is pretty easy to create new words by just sticking Kanji characters together. In the case of 過労死, you simply have the character 死, meaning death, stuck to the end of the word 過労 meaning overwork, which then results in the term “Overwork-Death” or the more broadly used “death due to overwork“. Overwork at so-called “Black Companies“, companies that are known for treating their employees poorly, is certainly a big problem. But the same is true for IT companies in Californias Silicon Valley, where the term “Crunch Time” is used to describe excessive overtime before the launch of a new product. But somehow it is still Japan, that seems to get a bad reputation.

“Black” companies are famous for their long working hours

This enduring of stereotypes is a phenomenon that seems to occur often concerning Japan. Another very common one is that suicide is a big issue in Japan, when in truth Japans average suicide numbers are again equal to or lower than those in many other countries. Japan is an intriguing but foreign country. But due to its foreignness, there exist many half-truths that people simply accept as gospel because it can be difficult to properly fact-check. There is a language barrier and an “understanding” or “cultural” barrier at play, that seems to make it hard for these stereotypes to be accepted as such. Do not get me wrong, overwork and suicide are big societal issues that need to be tackled by Japan, but the same goes for many other countries. However, giving up on your dream of working in Japan or “hating on” Japan because “the working hours are too long” is ignoring reality.

Read my article about working in Japan and prevailing stereotypes here. If you have questions regarding working in Japan, please feel free to contact me through the “Contact me” form, leave a comment below the article or contact me on Facebook.

Jobs Exclusive to Japan and do They Even Exist?

Recently, I came upon a query from someone asking for jobs that are “exclusive to Japan”, so I thought I would write a bit about this topic. When people from “the West” or a “more developed Nation” are wanting to move to Japan, the motivation for that rarely stems exclusively from wanting to work here. Rather, people have something that they like about Japan, maybe they like Anime, Japanese history, or simply enjoy being in the country due to the atmosphere, the people and so on. There might be the rare case of a person looking to work in a scientific field in Japan, maybe linguists or other researchers that want to work on-site, so to speak. But for the most part, people want to live in Japan and having to work here is a byproduct of that. 

More people come to Japan for the delights of Akihabara than for the working culture

On the other hand, some people might feel the exact opposite. South-east Asian countries, while slowly making progress and developing their economies still often look to Japan as their opportunity to earn a lot of money. Due to the Japanese Yen being a pretty strong and stable currency, going to Japan and working in – for Japanese standards – low-pay or even minimum-wage jobs and then sending that money back to their own country to feed their families continues to be a viable option for people from some Asian countries. In stark contrast to the group mentioned in the first paragraph, this groups primary motivation is to work and make money here and they have to live here to be able to do that. 

The Japanese farming Industry relies pretty heavily on workers from south-east Asia

Are There Jobs Exclusive to Japan?

Now, I wanted to look at a few jobs that are exclusive to Japan, though be warned that I am from “the West”, so my perspective will be biased of course. Exclusivity can have multiple meanings here, so I will talk about a few different categories of jobs. Further, it should also be mentioned that the global society that we live in today has eroded the concept of exclusivity pretty thoroughly, an office job is an office job, a factory job is a factory job, and while there are of course differences from country to country, they are not enough to make most jobs “exclusive”. There might be some almost exclusive jobs, like maybe Sake brewing or other traditional Japanese arts and crafts, but again, with how connected everything is today, you could probably attend an online class and then start a business in your home country. Another form of exclusivity would be jobs almost exclusively done by foreigners in Japan. Language teaching and interpretation or Translation come to mind here, you will rarely find an English conversation teacher that is native Japanese, more often than not it will be people from the UK or America. 

If you want to be lead designer on Nintendos next console, I would say that is pretty exclusive

If we are thinking about exclusivity from another angle, there are of course brands and companies that exist exclusively in Japan. If you want to work at Nintendo Headquarters, that would be pretty exclusive to Japan, same for Toyota or other Japanese conglomerates. These big companies obviously have branches in other countries as well, but company culture in Japan is different enough that I would say that working at Nintendo Japan is pretty different to working at Nintendo America, making both a pretty exclusive experience.

Real Talk

But let us be real for a minute here, after I had some fun in the earlier paragraphs, I do not think any jobs are “exclusively” available only in Japan. It is of course entirely possible that I misunderstood or misinterpreted the query. But I believe that rather than asking yourself what jobs are exclusively available in Japan, ask yourself if there is something that you exclusively can bring to a company in Japan. Too many people believe that just by them being foreigners and being able to speak basic Japanese, companies should line up trying to hire them. This might sound harsh to some, but unless you have a very good command of the Japanese language (AT LEAST Japanese Language Proficiency Test N2 Level and being able to have a normal conversation in Japanese), companies outside the aforementioned teaching and translation industries are probably not going to be too ecstatic about hiring you. Learn the language, learn to use the language, and then think about what you can bring to a potential employer in addition to that. If your only relevant skill is “being able to speak decent Japanese”, they might as well hire a Japanese person.

Japan and the Myth about “Just Working in IT”

Let me preface this by saying that I have not and will probably never work in the Japanese IT industry. But I have been in Japan for quite a while now and researched all kinds of ways which would me allow to work and live here. I have also spoken with many people, be it those working in IT themselves, job councillors for foreigners and so on. I feel like this gives me a good basis for writing this article, but as always, don’t take my words as gospel and do your research if you are truly interested in working in IT in Japan.

Whenever somebody with little to no Japanese language skills asks online for job recommendations in Japan, there will usually be two answers posted immediately: English teacher (which comes with its own set of problems, see my article here) or IT. Generally speaking, the common language of the IT world is English, and in many countries, companies will be willing to hire IT staff, even if they do not speak the local language. The industry has an image as being very global, also thanks to the interconnectedness of the World Wide Web.

You will occasionally still encounter monsters like these

Unfortunately, this generally does not hold true for Japan. There may be a few big companies in Tokyo, which are willing to hire staff even if they do not speak Japanese, but these openings are few and far between. Other English-affine companies will be young startups that will not have the capital to take the risk of hiring somebody from overseas. The vast majority of companies that can offer long-term gainful employment will be companies that conduct all of their business in Japanese, and often only for the Japanese market. Think about it, if you look around the programs installed on your computer, apps on your phone, websites that you bookmarked on your browser, how many of them are Japanese in origin? I’m willing to bet the answer is close to zero. Have you heard of services called Kintone, a cloud-based file sharing service, or U-Next, a Japanese streaming platform? Again, for most people, the answer is probably no.

People have this image of Japan being a high-tech and advanced country, and thus they assume that the same holds for the Japanese IT industry. Japan may make the best and most advanced toilets in the world, Sony and Nintendo may be exporting their gaming systems to the whole world, but the IT industry is still very self-contained, developing Japanese programs for a Japanese audience. If you are very highly qualified, you might be able to land a job at Google or Rakuten in Japan, but you will have to accept that your wages will be probably lower than if you just got a job in your home country. And if you are not able to speak Japanese, then living in this country is probably not going to be much fun for you anyways. 

So, there you have it. If you are deadest on working and living in Japan and you like the idea of working in IT, or already have some experience in it, then by all means try and go for it. Just don’t believe what some online commenters will tell you and accept that getting into the industry will probably require some determination and good Japanese skills. But I guess that is the case for almost any kind of job in Japan. There are no shortcuts (maybe only the English teacher niche, but then you are at risk of getting stuck there), if you want to live and work in Japan you have to be realistic and accept that fact.

Internships (and Summer Jobs) in Japan

Not really, as we are about to find out

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.

Job Prospects: (English) Language Teacher

“Job prospects” is a new miniseries of articles, where I will have a look at various types of professions that are available to foreigners in Japan, try and look at whether the field is easy to get into or not, and subsequently discuss whether it is feasible to pursue a career in Japan in that given field.

What better way to start this off than with the (in)famous profession of Language Teaching? Many times, if people first arrive in Japan and start looking for work, this will be one of the first jobs that will come up if you start googling available work in Japan. If you look around English job-search websites for Japan, it often feels like about 70% of the available positions are for Language teachers, specifically English teachers. Due to the sheer volume of people in this field, you are also bound to hear many success stories of people starting careers in Japan while working in language teaching. But for most people, once you are in the language teaching niche, it will be difficult to escape from it. Which is fine if you enjoy that kind of work, but it’s best treated as an end and not a means to another, different end.

English language teaching jobs are widely available

But why is Language teaching so popular? The most obvious part of it is, that for the most part, Japanese is not required to be a Language teacher. Also, many entry-level positions are available, at least for English teaching, making it easy for you if you just came to Japan and need a job. In some cases, you can even apply from abroad, with companies hosting seminars for prospective ALTs (Assistant Language Teacher). If you sign up with a company, they will most likely also help you secure accommodation in Japan beforehand, and assist you while you are still getting used to life. Sounds relatively promising, right?

Stepping out of the teaching world can be difficult

Well, it depends. If you are looking to only spend a few years at most in Japan, before returning to your home country and pursuing a career there, then Language teaching might be a good fit for you. If you are looking to build a life and a career in Japan itself, I would not recommend it, however. The teaching world is pretty self-contained, with little room for advancement. Once you’ve worked as an ALT or conversation teacher for a few years, you might begin to want a higher salary, more responsibilities, freedom to curate your curriculum and so on. Unfortunately, all of those things are going to be hard to come by. Advancing your career is going to be pretty difficult. Once you are a Language teacher, that is kind of it. Finding employment at a University or opening your own school is going to be your only ways to significantly further your career. The former is going to be difficult to get into, and the latter carries a lot of risks that you might not be willing to take while in a foreign country. The aforementioned lack of Japanese language requirement will also often become a disadvantage if you are looking to change jobs. Many teachers might neglect their Japanese language studies due to this, and once they are looking to change jobs, all they have to their name is experience in an unrelated field and no Japanese skills. 

Better be a native speaker (an actual one, not fluent like one)

But I haven’t talked about the biggest caveat, the elephant in the room, yet, which is your mother tongue. If you are from a non-English speaking country, you are going to find it exceedingly difficult to get yourself a visa which allows you to work in Japan long-term. There seems to be this myth that anyone can become an English teacher in Japan. If you come to Japan looking for work, people will be quick to suggest English teaching. But you can only be issued a visa for English teaching if you are from a country where English is the official language (the UK, Australia, Amerika etc.), or you can prove that you went through 12 consecutive years of education in English. No matter how fluent you are in English, this means that it is very hard for non-natives to find employment as an English teacher. As for other languages, if you are a native speaker of German, French, Spanish or any other popular European language, there might be openings for you available but do not count on it. But if your mother tongue is something more obscure, then better don’t count on finding employment as a Language teacher in Japan.

So to sum it up, if you are an English native-speaker (read from a country where English is the official language, not a native-level speaker) then your job prospects as a Language teacher are decent, though you are going to find it difficult to transition into any other field of work. If your native language is anything else, it is going to be much harder to get your feet on the ground, unfortunately. Another thing to consider for the future is that in-person Language training might not be around too much longer, with people transitioning to using YouTube and applications for their Language learning more and more. 

I am going to leave it here. Again, if your dream is to teach your native language in Japan, then by all means go for it. But if you are only looking to use it as a stepping stone to get into something different, maybe think twice before committing to a long-term position.

What to avoid when looking for a job in Japan

When looking for a job, there are many different aspects to consider. Few of us, especially when we are younger, have the luxury of really choosing where we want to work, especially in a foreign country. When one has fallen in love with another countries culture and people, securing a job in that country is a good way – and often the only way – to spend more time there. When you are looking for a job in Japan, there are often lots and lots of job postings available. We all know, that Japanese working culture, while being far from the dystopian hellscape that some online commenters would have you believe, could definitely use some modernization, especially when it comes to work/life balance. While many companies have started modernizing, cutting back on overtime and mandatory company events, there are still many a “black” company where unnecessary overtime and abuse from the bosses is the norm.

Black sheep among decent companies

But how do you know, whether the company you are applying for is a decent one or one of the black sheep? First, you could try looking up the company’s reputation on one of the review websites like glassdoor.com or careerconnection.jp. These websites allow employees of a company to leave a review of their company, giving star ratings for working hours, salary and so on. As with every online review, these are best taken with multiple grains of salt, but they are a good place to see what people are saying about a specific company. But looking up every company that you plan to apply for individually could take ages. But there are other hints as to what kind of company you are applying for, that you can glean directly from the job posting itself. If you avoid job postings including the following three phrases, I believe your chances of accidentally joining a black company will hopefully go down. 

1. A job posting promising everybody an interview, regardless of their application documents (面接確約, mensetsu kakuyaku, and variations thereof). If the company has allocated the manpower to meet EVERY. SINGLE applicant, then it probably means that they have an incredibly high job turnover rate. Chances are very high that this will be a black company with all that entails, including unpaid overtime, mandatory quotas and all that.

2. A job posting where the academic record does not matter (学歴不問, gakureki fumon). While – or maybe because – Japanese companies usually tend not to place a huge emphasis on an applicant’s major, as long as they graduated university, this one should still be a red flag in most cases. A listing like this will usually be for a low paid job where you are going to be entirely replaceable by the next candidate and turnover will be high.

3. Finally, we have urgent hiring’s (急募, kyuubo). Sometimes, these come due to someone leaving suddenly for reasons not related to a company’s “blackness”, e.g. due to becoming pregnant or something similar, in which case these might actually be a good way to find a decent position. But in most cases, it is a good idea to ask yourself why there is a need to urgently hire someone in the first place. In most cases, it will probably be a company with a high job turnover rate, looking for their next victim. 

Navigating the job market in a foreign country can be extremely challenging. But avoiding the above three phrases should help you weed out a good portion of the bad apples that can be found on the Japanese job market. I hope that this has been helpful to you. Until next time and take care!

Another Look at Job-Searching Websites in Japan

Today I thought we would take another look at job searching websites. I had an article about looking for jobs in Japan on here before, where I introduced a few websites. Today I thought we would take a closer look at a few select websites. The effectiveness of such websites will vary from person to person, so please don’t take these as my definite recommendations. If you are looking to get hired in a specific field (IT for example), then you might want to look for a website that specifically caters to the IT industry. But if you are looking for general job offers or simply have not decided which industry you would like to work in, then the following websites are definitely a good place to start. 

1.           Indeed (インディード) → https://jp.indeed.com/?r=us

First and foremost, yes, Indeed is a Japanese website (or rather, you need to use the Japanese version). If you are looking for jobs in Japan, Japanese Language skills will almost certainly be required, so expect available job offers to be in Japanese too. Indeed is a useful website, more of a search engine, really, that allows you to search with keywords, by salary and much more. It will then search other websites for available positions matching what you put in and will display them in a fashion akin to search engines that we know and love. While you can register and upload your CV and other documents to Indeed, it is almost not worth it because the job that you are interested in is most likely not offered by Indeed, but by a different website. Instead, think of Indeed more like a website akin to Google’s search engine, just limited to job offers.

2.           Daijob (ダイジョブ)→ https://www.daijob.com/en/

If you are looking for English-speaking jobs, or at least want the searching and application process to be in English, you are most likely going to come across Daijob. As mentioned in my earlier article, Jobs that do not require any Japanese language skills are most likely going to involve English teaching, so if that is not up your alley than you are going to struggle to find work if you cannot speak Japanese at all. If you can speak Japanese but are just not confident enough yet to search and apply for work in Japanese, then Daijob might be the right place for you. Having said that, even though the website is in English, many jobs still require you to have Japanese Language Proficiency (JLPT) of at least N2, often N1. Some jobs are even targeted at English-speaking Japanese, rather than Japanese-speaking foreigners for some reason. But in general, you will be able to find many companies looking for foreign talent on Daijob.

3.           Everything else

There are numerous websites offerings jobs, companies post jobs on their own websites, advertise them at job fairs and so on and so forth. Do not think that nothing is available for you, just because nothing comes up on Indeed or Daijob. Networking is important, if you know the right people at the right time, getting a job might be a breeze for some people. Be flexible, keep an open mind and most importantly: do not give up. If you can’t find a job in Tokyo or Osaka, maybe try searching for a job in the countryside. If you can’t land an IT job, maybe think about starting with normal office work. Wanting to work in Japan and then expecting conditions to be the same as in one’s home country is a dangerous path that leads to drinking strong zeroes and posting snarky comments about Japan on social media.