The Working Holiday Visa

Chances are, you have already heard of the Working Holiday visa. Working Holiday has become a catch-all term for a temporary visa (usually one year, though it depends), that allows visa holders to work in a foreign country. As the name implies, the idea is that you only work to finance your holiday, and not use the visa for work as the main purpose. But after you’ve received the visa, there are usually no checks on whether this is actually and if you are free to pursue working or holidaying in any capacity that you see fit. To be able to obtain a Working Holiday visa, there has to be a mutual agreement in place between your home country and the country that you wish to go to. At the time of writing, 26 countries are holding a Working Holiday agreement with Japan. 

I do not know about other parts of the world, but if you are from a European country (I am from Germany), then Working Holiday, Work & Travel, Au pair and many other similar offerings exist, allowing for a temporary stay in a foreign country. As more and more people take gap years between high school and university, the popularity of these offerings is also rising. Getting some experience in a foreign country will always look good on your CV (regardless of whether you actually work or not), and it may also give you a new perspective on life. Where I am from, many people go to Australia, America, New Zealand or the UK for their Working Holiday/Au pair experience to improve their English skills. If your English is already good enough, or you are simply not interested in any of those countries, then I can not recommend Japan as a Working Holiday destination enough. 

Japan is a highly developed nation that is similar enough to other “Western” (whatever that means) cultures that you will not feel completely lost, but still unique enough that you can experience living in a different culture firsthand. If you are fresh out of school and know nothing about Japan apart from Anime, it might be sometimes hard to adapt, so this is definitely a destination that will require some preparation beforehand. First, you need to check whether you are from a country that is eligible for application (as stated earlier, at the moment there are 26 countries from where you can apply). You can check here -> Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan: Working Holiday

If you are from an eligible country, there are a few more restrictions that apply if you want to obtain a Working Holiday visa. These include but are not limited to the following:

1.           You must be between 18 to 30 years old.

2.           You must be a citizen AND resident of the country that you are applying in.

3.        Your primary goal should be the holiday part of the visa, not the working part (though again, this is not      checked or enforced past the application process).

4.           You must hold a valid passport and possess sufficient funds to purchase a round-trip ticket to Japan, as well as enough money to finance your first few months in the country (usually around 300.000 Yen).

5.           You cannot be accompanied by your spouse/children/other dependents.

6.           You must be in good health.

7.          And finally, it must be your first time applying for a Working Holiday to Japan (it’s a once per lifetime deal)

Depending on where you are from there might be other restrictions that apply, so please make sure to check with your closest Japanese Embassy to verify what conditions you have to fulfil. In some countries you might be required to submit a doctor’s statement, stating that you are in good health, while in other countries you might not even be asked about your health when applying. Some countries only permit a limited number of people to apply each year (as low as 30 and as high as 10000), while other countries have no limit at all. If you are from a country that limits applicants, remember that the Japanese fiscal year is from April 1st to March 31st, so applying in early April might be your best bet. In general, the application process is not too hard and should not be too competitive, as Japan is still a niche destination after all. As long as you make sure to give the impression that you have no intention of using the visa as a steppingstone to aim for a career in Japan (regardless of whether this is your true aim or not), you should be good. The only real deal-breaker that I have heard of is having a criminal record. Depending on the severity of the crime, it may still be possible to obtain a Working Holiday visa, but if you have a criminal record it might be best to be prepared for being rejected. Again, confirm with your nearest Japanese Embassy regarding the details. 

A working holiday is a good opportunity to take your first steps in Japan and get to know the country. If you are considering moving to Japan in the future, I highly recommend doing a Working Holiday first and figure out whether you actually like the country or not. Moving here on a full-fledged working visa, without knowing the country and being thrown into the Japanese corporate world right away is a good way to lose motivation quickly and become one among the many disgruntled ex-pats, drinking and complaining at HUB on a Tuesday night.

I have done a Working Holiday to Japan myself, so expect more to come on the Working Holiday visa in the future.

Working in Japan – Is it really that bad?

So, you are interested in working in Japan. With the world being what it is, if we are even remotely interested in something, chances are we are going to “google” it. And if you search for articles, posts, and comments about working in Japan, there is a high likelihood that most of them will paint a fairly negative picture. But why is that?

Working in Japan CAN be stressful

The common stereotypes about working in Japan

As with everything on the internet, people are quick to jump to stereotypes. Japan has garnered attention in the past for poor working conditions like forced, unpaid overtime, little to no holidays, mandatory drinking parties after work, and so forth. Salaries, especially if you are just starting out, are usually on the lower end of the spectrum. Dynamics in the workplace can be confusing due to hierarchies that are mostly based on seniority, rather than ability. Unflexible and rigid structures make change almost impossible and are even harder for non-Japanese to adapt to.

The truth about working in Japan

As with many stereotypes, while there may be a morsel of truth to them, mostly they are a gross exaggeration of reality. Workplaces that actually have poor working conditions often get called out and receive the moniker of being “black”. Forced, unpaid overtime may have been common practice 30 years ago, but now there are laws mandating that overtime must be paid at a premium. Japan has many public holidays, and while it is still uncommon to take longer than a week off from work, many people enjoy long weekends by using paid vacation days on Fridays or Mondays. Salaries might be low, but so is the cost of living and there is a decent social safety net of health insurance and pension, which means you do not have to worry about getting sick or having no money for retirement. Especially smaller companies appoint increasingly younger, well-educated staff instead of relying on seniority. And getting used to structures in a foreign environment is one of the foremost skills that anyone looking to work abroad should hope to master.

What does it mean

It means you should take everything you read on the internet (this article included) with a massive grain of salt. Yes, working in Japan can be pretty challenging and it is certainly not for everyone. But the same can be said for every country, even if it is your home country. There may be some truth to the stereotypes listed above, and some of them may be encountered even today. But even then it is exceedingly rare that a single workplace will combine ALL of the listed stereotypes. You may find yourself in a place that pays a lower salary, but the higher-ups are appointed due to ability, rather than seniority. But in the end, these are simply stereotypes and everybody will find themselves in their own, unique situation. Do not let people on the internet tell you how to think. If you are interested in working in Japan, there is only one way to find out if it suits you – just do it.

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 in Japan: Working for a Hotel

“Job prospects” is a new miniseries of articles, where I will have a look at various types of professions that are commonly 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.

After looking at Language Teaching in my first article, and Translation and Interpretation in the second one, I thought it was time to move away from the heavy focus on language. But when considering Jobs that are viable and available for foreigners in Japan, the language will usually play a big part. So, in the end, today’s topic is not so different. 

Bilingual reception staff is highly sought after

The Japanese hospitality industry is world-famous for its politeness, attention to detail and sense of “omotenashi”. Highly philosophical and the guiding paradigm of the Japanese service industry, this is a concept you ought to understand if you want to work in a Japanese hotel, as it is fundamental to the kind of service that is provided in Japan. Japanese Wikipedia tells us that “omotenashi” encompasses the following:

おもてなしとは、心のこもった待遇のこと。顧客に対して心をこめて歓待や接待やサービスをすることを言う。

https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/おもてなし

That roughly translates to: “omotenashi” is heartfelt treatment. It is to provide customers with wholehearted hospitality, entertainment and service. Apart from the philosophical debate on what 心をこもる・こめる or the wholehearted, heartfelt treatment actually means, this concept defines a pretty strict hierarchical relationship between the service provider and the customer, putting the customer squarely on top. And while a “the customer is king” attitude is common in many parts of the world, Japans hospitality industry has truly taken this concept to heart. No matter how small or unreasonable, if the customer has a demand or complaint, your first instinct should be to apologize and then go about solving their issue as quickly as possible. 

Putting in the effort? Or just appearing to be?

Now it can be said about Japan, that often, actually making an effort, and just appearing to make an effort can be regarded as the same thing. If a customer were to ask you to get him something that is physically impossible to obtain for you, instead of telling him that outright it would be considered more polite to give the appearance of trying and failing to get him what he wants. Reading this, it sounds a lot harsher than it actually is. Most customers will be perfectly friendly ones, and a few bad eggs that abuse their perceived position of power can be found anywhere in the world. But if you have ambitions of working in a Japanese hotel, best be sure to brush up on your “omotenashi” philosophy skills.

Unlikely to hire you: the famous Japanese capsule hotels

I feel like I went somewhat off-topic there, so let’s get to looking at your prospects if you are wanting to work in a Japanese hotel. To be upfront, I think they are actually pretty good, provided you speak decent Japanese. Japanese people love travelling their own country, so any given hotel is going to have Japanese customers and you are going to be expected to be able to communicate with them in the formal manner that is required of hotel staff. In other words, Japanese Language Proficiency Test Level N2 and a good command of the spoken language, especially polite language, is going to be the bare minimum for you to get hired in many cases. If you have ambitions of working in a luxury resort or for an upscale hotel somewhere in Tokyo, you will probably not be hired unless you are truly fluent in Japanese (and English most likely too). 

Other issues at play

There are some other issues to consider as well. If you choose to work for a hotel in the countryside, the locations will often be very isolated, so if you are a city-person it might be rough for you when it takes 15 minutes by car just to reach the nearest convenience store. Salaries are usually also not very good, as a new hire, you can expect to receive around 200.000 JPY a month, which will only rise very slowly over the period that you work. Hotels often provide cheap accommodation for their staff, for example, a staff-dormitory, but this is less than ideal if you have family or value your privacy. You also need to be able to work in a shift-system with irregular holidays and varying working times. Some hotels even might have shifts where they expect you to work four hours (let’s say 6:00 to 10:00) in the morning and four hours in the evening (18:00 to 22:00), which can be hard to adjust to. 

On the other hand, tourism in Japan is booming with visitor numbers quadrupling over the last ten years (let’s just forget about this year). The industry is highly valued and rapidly growing in Japan and staff that can provide service in different languages is highly sought after. In the end, if you want to work in a hotel, can stomach the issued outlined above and wrap your head around the concept of “omotenashi”, which probably is not as big of a deal as I have made it out to be then I would say that your prospect for finding work are: pretty good!

Job Prospects in Japan: Translation and Interpretation

“Job prospects” is a new miniseries of articles, where I will have a look at various types of professions that are commonly 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.

Maybe a rare picture of the fabled Babel fish

Last time we had a look at language teaching, the profession of choice for people who want to work in Japan but do not speak any Japanese. But what if you do speak some Japanese? What opportunities suddenly become available to you? Even for someone that speaks good Japanese, finding employment is not a given. Japanese is a hard language to learn and master, spending significant time to study the language in University, for example, will often lead to potential hires only having their Japanese language skills to market themselves to Japanese employees. They end up competing with Japanese candidates for the same job openings, which more often than not leads to the Japanese candidate getting hired instead of someone from overseas, who has not even proven that they can adapt to the Japanese working atmosphere.

Being a foreigner can be an advantage

Of course, there are also plenty of jobs available, where your being a foreigner is an advantage. Invariably, these often tend to be jobs related to Languages. What makes Japanese such a hard language to grasp for many, is that it is so different from other languages. But this also works in the reverse, making many languages exceedingly difficult to pick-up for native Japanese-speakers. Add the fact, that the Japanese language education system can be pretty outdated, often memorizing grammar and single words are prioritized above actually speaking the language, and you end up with a country that has a great many people who can only really speak one language, Japanese. But we live in a global world, business and media cannot afford to be available in a single language anymore, or they risk getting left behind by the competition. Thus, there is a great need for translators and interpreters in Japan. 

Translation by humans is still favored at the moment, but for how long?

If companies are sufficiently big, they might hire foreigners to handle overseas clients directly. But in many cases, what ends up happening is that dispatch translators or interpreters are used instead, especially when it comes to less widely spoken languages. If you speak sufficient Japanese (at least Japanese Language Proficiency Level N2), you can often quite easily get hired as a translator or interpreter. Especially the videogame industry appears to be looking for translators and localizers quite a bit. Unfortunately, these jobs are often not very well paid and offer little incentive to people for staying on for long periods. If you end up working for a dispatch company, you will most likely have to work the weekend, public holidays or even night-shifts. As alluded to earlier, you will also most likely not make any significant career advancement as a translator, if you want a higher salary or more responsibility, you will most likely have to change jobs instead of waiting for a promotion. Similar to language teaching, I would also say that the profession of translation and interpretation is also significantly threatened by digitalization, with services like Google Translate becoming more and more reliable. 

Still better than language teaching, probably

On the other hand, you will most likely be using Japanese in a Japanese working environment. If you are hoping to work in Japan for the long-term, then there are worse choices that you could make for a first job. In the language teaching article, I said that it can be difficult to transition from being a teacher to another job. And while Japan is still a society that does not look too favourably to people who change their jobs often, getting started in translation to ultimately do something different is not the worst choice that you can make. If you have no other certifiable skills besides Japanese, then getting started as a translator will offer you the opportunity to acquaint yourself with Japan and the working environment and atmosphere, which is often way more important than whether you can code or have sales experience or similar. 

And there you have it. Being a translator or interpreter, while maybe not the best long-term career choice, is something that you can make work over the short-term while transitioning to something else. Job prospects may vary a bit, depending on your native language, but as long as you can speak English and Japanese (and have certificates backing you up), then you should be able to find a decent job quite easily. Just keep in mind that you probably do not want to stay there for too long.

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.

An introduction to Job-Hunting websites in Japan

Living in Japan can be pretty expensive. If you want to stay in Japan for an extended period, living off your savings can become pretty expensive pretty quick. Also, for most long-term visa, getting a job is a prerequisite before you can even apply. Even if you are just a student you may want to look into ways of doing part-time work, among students eating out and partying are pretty common and both of these can become costly, especially if you are in a city like Tokyo. 

But how to look for a job in Japan? Part-time work is usually easy to get if you want to be a waiter you just bring your resume, have a short interview and often will be hired on the spot. Being a waiter might not be terribly exciting and the hours can be off-putting. Other part-time work can be found through internet websites or magazines, though expect this information to be mostly in Japanese. In this article, however, I am not going to be talking about part-time work, this article is about how to find full-time positions. In most countries, if you are looking for a job, you will most likely do so via the internet and that is no different in Japan. Many websites exist, that offer job information and other services. Often these websites are hired by what are called “Staffing Agencies”, an article on these can be found HERE. First, let’s have a look at some of the English offerings (by no means am I going to provide extensive lists here, just a quick overview of what kind of website you can expect).

English Websites

Examples: GaijinPotJobs, Daijob, JobsInJapan

If you are not yet comfortable enough with the Japanese language to search for a job with it, then there are options available to you in English. But, and this might be a big but, if you are looking for a job in Japan in English, chances are that you are going to be offered mainly English teaching positions. Teaching English in Japan is a can of worms that I am not going to open, just hop onto YouTube, Reddit or other social media and form your own opinion on whether teaching English is for you or not. The trouble with English teaching positions is that, unless you are from a country were English is the official language (e.g. the UK, Australia, the USA etc.), you are not going to be eligible to apply for an “Instructor” visa that allows you to teach English in Japan. Even if you are from an English-speaking country, be aware that the teacher market is pretty saturated. In any case, it might be best to not rely on English teaching as your sole ticket into Japan.

If you speak Japanese (Japanese Language Proficiency Test N2 and upwards), another position that will often be available on these websites is that of translator/interpreter. If you are interested in Japanese pop-culture (Manga, Games etc.), then this might be for you, as companies such as Square Enix or CyGames are often searching through these websites. Positions like this are often contract-based (with 1-year contracts being the norm) and being a translator is not the greatest long-term career perspective, but it might be a good first step on the Japanese job market.

Obviously, other positions are available, but English teaching and Translation will be the two most common on these English sites targeting foreigners. 

Japanese Websites

Examples: Indeed, MyNavi, RecruitNow

If you read Japanese, there are many, many more websites and services available to you. Of course, there are also job ads for the aforementioned translation or teaching positions (just the ad itself might be in Japanese). Also, everything that you can think of from sales and marketing to IT or manual labour, everything will be available. However, even though the number of available jobs in much higher, of course, you are competing against Japanese people now, so the number of applicants for a position will be much higher. Also, language requirements will usually be at least N2 (or simply say that they expect you to be “fluent”). Although none will outright state this, many job ads will be limited to Japanese people only so even if you apply you will never hear back from them. Some few ads will contain lines like “foreigners welcome” or require that somebody be a native speaker of English, but they will be far and few between. Just get used to the reality that you are probably going to have to take a “carpet-bombing” approach and apply to as many jobs, that looks halfway decent, as possible and then wait and see who gets back to you. Cherry-picking is probably not going to get you very far unless you have especially sought-after skills or experience (usually Language skill alone is not enough). 

If you sign up for a job-hunting website, chances are you are going to get “scouted”. Usually, this means that someone sent you a copy-paste message, introducing their job ad and inviting you to apply. While I am not 100% sure how exactly they determine who to send these messages to, if it is even a person who decides or some algorithm, this usually does not mean anything. You will get a template message stating “that they had a look at your profile and think that you are perfect for the job”. But I have received these messages even on websites where I registered with a blank profile, so most likely they have never actually looked at your profile and are just sending you this message to fulfil a quota. Another one to be careful of are companies that promise everybody, that sends them an application, an interview (look for this word: interview guaranteed, mensetsu kakujitsu, 面接確実, or something similar). Usually, these are so-called “black” companies (a term used to describe companies with a reputation for bad working conditions) which have a low job-retention rate, e.g. people quitting or getting fired all the time, looking for their next victim.

Facebook, Magazines, Direct

Last, but not least, there are some alternative options available online as well. Many companies operate Facebook pages where they share job information and receive applications. Most of the time, these are smaller companies with a very specific audience, for example, companies looking to hire workers from south-east Asia for farming work. If you are a University-graduate who speaks fluent Japanese, you might not need to search for Jobs on Facebook, but if you are a student looking for part-time or holiday work, if you are on a Working Holiday and looking for work, or if you are simply looking for something a bit different (such as being an extra in Japanese movie production in Hong Kong, just one example I found on Facebook), then Facebook might be for you.

Though old-fashioned, magazine ads are still a thing when looking for a Job in Japan. In Japanese, the Magazine “Town Work” is still available at almost every major train station and usually has information on available part-time jobs in a given area (a website by the same name is also available. Other than that, magazines such as the Japan Times or the Yomiuri Shinbun (English version) also carry job ads, so it might be worth looking into these.

Finally, if you already have a good idea of what kind of work you want to do, it might be easiest to skip all the trouble with the above job-hunting websites and simply apply directly through the website of a company. If you go to a company’s website, they will usually have a dedicated page with information on recruitment (saiyou, 採用) where you can apply directly. Just note, that companies tend to not list all their available positions here, and information here is more often than not only aimed at 新卒 (shinsotsu, newly graduated university students), with the company looking to fill their other positions through the aforementioned job-hunting sites.

I am going to stop it here. Looking for a Job in Japan can be a very tough and sometimes very frustrating affair. Unless you hold a very specific skillset expect to be ignored and rejected often. And while that is the reality, if your dream is to work in Japan then do not let the above discourage you! If you want to do it, then it’s definitely possible. 頑張りましょう。

An Introduction to the Different Types of Visa for Japan

If you want to go to Japan, the first and most important thing that you are going to need is a valid visa. There are many different types of visa, all with varying validity periods, terms and conditions etc., so I thought a short introduction would be in order. See below in no particular order.

The short-term stay

The short-term stay visa, sometimes also called a visitor or tourist visa is the most basic visa available. As the name implies it allows you to stay in Japan for a short time (15 to 90 days, though citizens of some countries have the option to extend for another 90 days) and pursue activities such as tourism, visiting friends and business, as long as they do not include remunerative activities. Depending on which country you are a citizen off, you may not even need to apply for this visa, it will simply be issued to you once you arrive at the airport in Japan with your valid passport, but for some Nationalities (Chinese, Russian among others) an application in advance is necessary. 

Working Visa

Working in Japan under a short-term visa is illegal, so if you want to work in Japan you have to get a proper Working Visa. There are many different kinds of working visa, with every visa having strict conditions on what kind of work you are allowed to do. Usually, these are valid for 6 months to up to five years. Included are types such as the Highly Skilled Professional (based on a pretty unrealistic points system), Professor, Artist, Religious Activities, Journalist, Business Manager, Legal/Accounting Services, Medical Services, Skilled Labor, Entertainer, Researcher, Nursing Care and Intra-Company Transferee visa among others. These are all highly specific and restricted in who can apply for them and what activities they are allowed to pursue, so the number of people holding these types of visa is comparatively low. However, there are a few more visa that allows for a broader range of activities.

The Engineer/Specialist in humanities/International services visa

A very common visa among people working in an office in Japan. While the Engineer part can mean a person working at a car factory, it also applies to people working in the IT industry for example. The Specialist in humanities/International services part is equally vague, with people working at the reception of a hotel, airport workers and even translators/interpreters holding the same visa. If you apply for a job at a Japanese company, chances are very high that this is the working visa that you will receive. Just be aware that you cannot work “blue-collar” jobs, for example, manufacturing and similar jobs. The visa is usually valid for 1, 3 or 5 years.

The Specified Skilled Worker visa

The Specified Skilled Worker is for “blue-collar” jobs what the Engineer/Specialist in humanities/International services is for “white-collar” jobs. Due to Japans ageing population manpower is severely lacking, especially in industries such as farming, nursing and manufacturing. Thus, in 2019 the Japanese government created the Specified Skilled Worker visa. Japanese governments seem to hold a perpetual fear of “low-skilled immigrants”, swamping Japan and disturbing the 和 (Harmony), and therefor rules and restrictions apply. If you want to apply for the Specified Skilled Worker, you need to first pass a test that shows that you have general knowledge about the industry that you wish to work in, as well as a Japanese Language Test (JLPT N4). Then, when you are in Japan and working at your new company you have to take and pass more tests, otherwise, you will not be able to renew your visa. The visa is relatively new and unknown, but the many hoops that have to be jumped through to get it are most likely not helping its cause. 

As a side note, there is also the so-called Technical intern training visa, which is somewhat of a precursor to the Specified Skilled Worker visa. The original intent was to enable people from lesser developed countries to get training in Japan, so they might help the development of their home country once they return. In reality, due to the aforementioned lack in manpower, these trainees were (and still are) often used as cheap labourers, with tales of mistreatment and exploitation not being unheard of. All in all, a visa that’s probably best avoided.

There are other visa types as well, such as the Student visa, cultural activities visa, Spouse of a Japanese National Visa or the unholy amalgamation that is the “Designated Activities” visa status, but for now, I am going to leave you with these, more common kinds of visa.

What are employment/staffing agencies/人材紹介会社

Disclaimer: I currently work for an employment agency called “Astmil Corp”, located in Shinagawa Tokyo. However, I have tried to be as impartial as possible and not to embellish anything. Still, I felt it prudent to mention this. Read on.

Depending on where you are from in the world, this might be common knowledge for you, but I am from Germany and I was not very familiar with the idea of private companies searching for suitable employees/staff on behalf of other companies. While such companies exist in Germany, they seem to largely engage in what is called “head-hunting”, which is not as badass as it sounds, unfortunately. They search for people to fill managerial positions and other high-ranking staff or staff with very highly sought after/rare qualifications only. Most normal people in Germany will most likely neither use this service nor do they really know what it actually is and provides.

In Japan, however, these companies are a normal part of the job-hunting process. They exist in many different forms, from one-man entrepreneurs, searching for staff on behalf of their friends, up to major companies such as the Recruit Group. If you are using an internet website, searching for jobs in Japan then chances are good that this website is operated by an employment agency. While this has become the preferred way of sharing information about available jobs with jobseekers, this is of course not the only service such an agency provides. They also provide agent and training services, for individuals and companies alike among other things. 

The most common service, apart from the job search websites, will most likely be the agent service. In many cases, if you apply for a job on one of the websites, your application will not go directly to the company that is searching for an employee. Instead, your application will be screened by an agent beforehand. If they think that you are suitable, they will contact you via phone/email and set up a short meeting with you. This meeting will usually be over the phone and take around 30 minutes. They will share more information about the job in question and ask you a few questions, clarify information in your CV and so on. They then send this information, together with the CV and any other documents that you submitted, to the company where you originally applied. The company will only correspond with the agent, not directly with you, and you will learn only through the agent whether you passed the selection process or not. They will also handle the setting up of interviews, questions that might arise during the process etc. will give you hints on what the company is looking for in potential applicants and how to make a good impression during your interview. Some agents, especially those that specialize in hiring non-Japanese staff, might even provide continuous service after you are hired, helping you with visa application and relocation to Japan, translating and interpreting between you and your future employer if communication in Japanese is still difficult and so on.

A service that is free of charge for potential candidates

An integral part of this system is, that the introduction/紹介, e.g. the sending of your CV and other information that you might have provided throughout the interview, to the company is FREE OF CHARGE. Any costs incurred regarding the introduction will be borne by the potential employer. If you are being charged money by the employment agency, it is most likely a scam (unless you also took advantage of other services that they provide, such as education etc.). The fees that employers have to pay to employment vary, depending on the type of job and contract. But a common fee for successfully introducing a full-time employee (正社員) to a company is usually 30% of that employees first annual income. So, if you are earning 3 million yen during your first year at a company, the company will also pay 900.000 yen to the employment agency for introducing you to them. This means that there is an incentive for the employment agencies and their agents to ensure that they introduce you to a company that matches your profile, but on the other hand, it also means that they might push you to continue pursuing a particular job, even though you might be inclined to withdraw your application, for example, due to bad impressions during the first interview. When dealing with agents, it is usually best to treat them akin to staff in a clothing store I find. Listen to their advice and appreciate their services, but always remember that they are trying to sell you something. Make the decision that is right for you, not the decision that the agent wants you to make.

That’s it for now. In the future, I might also look at temporary staffing agencies (派遣会社) and other forms of employment in Japan, as well as a guide to the most common websites where you can find information on companies looking to hire non-Japanese staff. For now, this introduction to employment agencies is all. Use them. I have used them in the past and I currently work for one. I know, some people really hate being mailed or called by agents and prefer dealing with the companies directly, but employment agencies are an integral part of job searching in Japan, so ignoring them will reduce your access to a lot of companies searching for people like you and me.

So You Want to Work in Japan

In the current digital age, it is easy to glance all kind of news and information about a foreign country simply by visiting the internet and websites such as this one. But, as in most other cases, the real thing is a lot different from what you can see on a computer or smartphone screen. If you are studying the Japanese language or simply have an interest in Japan, you might start thinking about visiting Japan, to experience the country that has piqued your interest for real. For some people, visiting for a couple of weeks on a tourist visa might be sufficient, but especially if you are trying to learn the language and understand Japanese culture, you will soon find that just a couple of weeks are simply not enough to get a good grasp of either. There are several options available that allow for a longer stay. You could apply to a Language school in, or student exchange to Japan. If your country has a Working Holiday agreement with Japan (at the time of writing 26 countries have such an agreement with Japan), you might be able to get your hands on a Working Holiday visa. Both of these usually grant you a one-year stay. But, I hear you say, that is not enough! If you want to stay longer consider the following: living in Japan is not cheap and if you want to stay long-term you will need to find work.

A working culture that is certainly plagued by many issues – but stereotypes is one of them

The internet is full of people that have very strong opinions on working in Japan. Be it on websites like Reddit or Twitter, even the comment sections on news articles (reading those is a bad habit of mine), if Japan is mentioned you can almost guarantee that someone will bring up the working culture. Inevitably, a grizzled veteran will chime in, claiming that he has worked in Japan or a Japanese company for five years and that he hated every minute of it, how the working culture is abysmal, working hours are unreasonably long and that the Japanese even have a specific word for people killing themselves due to work-related stress (過労死, karoushi, lit. death from overwork). Other commenters will react with surprise and point to suicide as a big issue in Japan and that Japan ought to do something about their working culture to stem the tide of suicides and to attract foreigners to work in Japan.

There are several things wrong with the above statements. While it must be said that Japanese working culture can indeed be very overbearing, it is usually not the slave-driving hellscape that people on social media like to paint it to be. More often than not, the reason people work long hours is due to simple inefficiency. From my own experience, workers seem reluctant to make decisions by themselves and will instead consult their direct supervisor. If they are working in a more modern company, they might get an answer at this step (or simply be told to figure it out by themselves), but in one of the bigger and traditional companies, the supervisor might, in turn, defer the decision to the person above him. This process will then repeat itself until it reaches someone high enough in the chain of command to make a decision. By this point, a lot of time may have passed and the worker that is waiting for the decision may have simply been sitting on his thumbs the whole time, doing nothing. Another issue is excessive record keeping. Let’s say you work in a call centre and it is a busy day. You are expected to make a record of EVERY call that you take, but you are also expected to answer the phone as quickly as possible. So, what ends up happening is that you constantly answer the phone until your shift is over, and then write your call reports after your shift is over. Yet another pattern (especially observed in older people) is that people simply do not want to go home or are specifically looking to stay longer to collect overtime pay. 

Do not get me wrong, overtime and related stress are big issues in Japan, but just as there is a word for death from overwork, there is also a word for companies with these abysmal working conditions with people calling them “black” companies (ブラック, burakku). Awareness is slowly but surely rising. Due to an ageing population (though this is another problem that is blown out of proportion by the internet at large, Japans population is ageing at a similar rate as many other first world countries’), there are 108 job offers for every 100 people seeking work, and companies have taken to lure potential candidates with promises of little overtime, maternal/paternal leave among other things. Change is slow but happening.

Another issue that gets raised is the so-called karoushi, death from overwork, and suicides in Japan in general. First, the existence of the word itself seems to surprise many people, but that simply shows that they most likely do not have an understanding of the Japanese language. If you are familiar with the language you will know about Kanji (characters that were imported from Chinese script). If you want to create a new word in Japanese, you simply pick the appropriate Kanji, stick them together and you have a new word. New words and phrases are coined all the time in any language, but few make it as easy as Japanese (or by association most likely Chinese, though I cannot speak to that), so there being a specific word for a specific issue or phenomenon does not necessarily speak to the severity of said issues or phenomena. Further, let me say that every suicide no matter the issues that led to it, is a serious and sad issue and should be treated as such. I do not mean to downplay the stress that some people have to endure and the mental issues that might lead one to end one’s own life. But looking at the bigger picture ( figures on suicide rates per country, released by the WHO in 2016), we see that Japan is lower on the list than countries such as Russia, South Korea and Belgium, and only marginally higher than for example the United States. Especially so-called “Westerners” (as a German I would count myself under this label, whatever it’s worth) often think suicides are only a problem in the eastern hemisphere, but looking at the numbers, rising suicide rates are a global problem that every country needs to address and are not isolated to Asia or Japan.

If you made it until this point in the article, お疲れ様です(otsukaresamadesu). All that is to say, that many people with strong opinions about working in Japan might not be fully informed about the bigger picture or are basing their opinion on outdated or incorrect information. There is a lot of that out there so do not rely on information from the internet to make your decision about whether you want to work in Japan or not (I appreciate the irony of telling you not to listen to me, but hopefully you know what I mean). My recommendation to anyone looking to work in Japan would be: do a language exchange and maybe try to do an internship, though those are far and few between, get a Working Holiday visa if your country allows for it and get some work experience, or maybe even come on a tourist visa to do some volunteer work (as long as you are not paid for it, you are allowed to work on a tourist visa). Of course, do your research as well, but do not let your opinion be swayed too far, be that either by promises of anime delights that await in Akihabara or by the threat of death from overwork that might kill you as soon as you set foot in a Japanese company building. Experiencing the real thing for yourself will give you a much clearer picture and will let you make an informed decision on if you want to work in Japan or not.