Civil Engineering Jobs in Japan
Jobs in Civil Engineering may not be what one first associates with Japan, but the country offers many interesting projects and challenges. This article introduces the required skills and where you can work as civil engineer in Japan.
Civil Engineering in Japan
Civil engineering deals with the planning, construction and maintenance of structures like buildings, bridges, and roads. While an architect mainly concentrates on the look and functionality of the design, it’s the civil engineer’s job to make the design possible by focusing on its structural elements (structural integrity, suitable materials, etc).
Civil engineering is one of the oldest engineering disciplines. What comes to mind first in connection with Japan are the country’s temples and shrines. Over the long course of its history, especially after the introduction of Buddhism, Japans early engineers created many intricate and complex structures.
One example for such a project is the Toudaiji in Nara, which holds the record of being the world’s largest pre-modern wooden structure. By the way, that record applies to the newest version of the temple, (re-)built in 1709 – it was even bigger in its original 8th-century state. In order to make buildings like it last in a country plagued by earthquakes, engineering prowess was a must.
In modern Japan, earthquakes continue to be a major concern for engineers, in addition to “regular” construction problems. Its location between not two or three, but four tectonic plates makes it necessary to design resilient and flexible structures which are able to withstand tremors. In this respect, Japan offers interesting challenges for civil engineers.
Necessary Skills for Civil Engineers
At the entry level, most companies take in new graduates without any other requirements than a relevant degree (ideally civil engineering or architecture). Mid-career positions often either require or strongly prefer some form of official certificate in addition to experience in the field.
When checking company websites, keep an eye open for keywords related to what you majored in in university. “Civil Engineering” in Japanese is 土木工学 (doboku kougaku) or just 土木 (doboku, literally “earth and wood”). Another keyword worth looking out for is 建設 (kensetsu, construction).
While architecture and civil engineering are separate disciplines, there is some overlap, and sometimes architectural firms also hire civil engineers. So you could also look for 建築 (kenchiku, architecture) or 設計 (sekkei, design).
The most commonly requested Japanese certificate is the one designating the holder as a proved Civil Construction Management Engineer (土木施工管理技士, doboku shikou kanri gishi). The certificate comes in two tiers (1級 and 2級) and can be acquired by passing a test organized by the Japan Construction Training Center (JCTC).
Some companies also accept foreign certificates, such as the American PE license and comparable qualifications.
Huge structures like buildings and bridges obviously can’t be created by a single person, no matter the level of technical knowledge and skills. As “non-optimal” construction stories like the one of Tokyo’s new wholesale fish market demonstrate, a lack of communication can easily lead to drawn-out schedules and huge sums of money being lost.
In this light, planning and scheduling, a strong focus on efficiency, result-oriented thinking and the ability to effectively communicate with co-workers are absolutely necessary.
Most big construction companies are mainly active in Japan, and in most cases the whole application process for a job will be in Japanese. This means that Japanese skills will have to be good enough to communicate on a professional level.
Some companies (like Nikken Sekkei) have recruitment sites in English. However, even then Japanese language ability is considered a huge plus. This means that you should at least aim for “general fluency” by passing the JLPT at the N2 or N1 level.
Where can you work as a Mechanical Engineer in Japan?
Now that we’ve talked about the general requirements, let’s look at some examples of Japanese companies you could aim for.
The companies most associated with civil engineering in Japan are the big general construction contractors (ゼネコン, zene-kon). The top five are Kajima, Shimizu, Taisei, Obayashi, and Takenaka. In the list below, you can also find some additional options.
Nikken Sekkei Ltd.
Nikken Sekkei, or just Nikken (日建設計株式会社) is a comprehensive architectural and engineering firm, uniting different aspects of the industry like urban design, research, planning and consulting under its roof. Notable projects include Tokyo Tower and the Tokyo Sky Tree.
Industry: Construction, Architecture, Urban Planning
Products: Department Stores, Museums, Stadiums, Towers, etc.
Shimizu Corporation (清水建設株式会社) is one of Japan’s general construction contractors. The company is also active in other parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Well-known constructions in Japan include the University of Tokyo’s Yasuda Auditorium and the Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Harajuku.
Products: Buildings, roads, bridges, tunnels, etc.
Taisei (大成建設株式会社) is another one of Japan’s top 5 general contractors. Notable constructions in Japan include the Akashi Kaikyou Bridge (still the world’s longest suspension bridge as of 2019) and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku.
Products: Buildings, tunnels, roads, dams, bridges, etc.
Nippon Koei Co., Ltd.
Nippon Koei (日本工営株式会社) currently is Japan’s biggest construction consultant company, dealing with tasks that are necessary before and after construction (such as carrying out preliminary examinations). In addition to Japan, their international consulting activities are mostly concentrated in Southeast Asia.
Products: Construction plans, environmental/maintenance reports, etc.
Sekisui House (積水ハウス) is one of Japan’s largest constructors of residential homes. Internationally, the company has expanded to the USA, China, Australia, and Russia.
Products: Residential homes