Engineering Internships in Japan
Are you an engineering major and interested in Japan? How about doing an internship here? The requirements are not as high as you might think – this article gives you an overview.
Japan – An Engineering Country
Japan has long been (and still is) known as a high-tech country. Technological innovation was what mainly propelled the country forward in the period of rapid economic growth starting in 1960. Famous technology from that time includes the bullet train (shinkansen), CD players, pocket calculators, video cameras and tape recorders.
Until the late 80s, many thought that Japan would overtake America as the world’s next economic superpower. Those days may be over but the country is still one of the world’s leaders in manufacturing and technology. As the home of companies like Toyota (the biggest automotive manufacturer in 2017!), Mitsubishi, Sony, Denso and Toshiba, the country is an interesting place for engineers.
Types of Internships
Broadly, engineering internships in Japan can be divided into “classic” engineering internships and IT internships, where the focus tends to be on programming and software engineering/development. Especially the demand for the latter has been rising in the last few years.
Engineering Internships in Japan
Internship types cover a wide range from mechanical and material engineering over electrical/electronic and chemical engineering to environmental and civil engineering.
Common tasks for interns include
- ■ testing processes and materials
- ■ running quality and safety tests and analyzing the results
- ■ creating reference material and reporting/presenting it to internal departments
- ■ sample management
- ■ design/drawing support
- ■ research with the goal of improving existing technology or creating new business ideas
IT internships in Japan
Common types of IT internships include software/system engineering, security engineering, data analysis, and machine learning.
Common tasks include
- ■ helping with the development of new software, hardware, or other systems
- ■ running server updates and backup systems
- ■ testing and verification for ongoing development projects
- ■ supporting research tasks
- ■ evaluating technological requirements
- ■ building and maintaining automation tools
What skills do you need?
Hard skills for Engineering Internships
As engineering is a wide field, what specific engineering skills are required varies depending on the position, company, and industry you choose. Generally, the more skilled you are in a certain area, the easier it should be to find an internship spot.
A lot of tech internships require experience in at least one programming language (C++, Python, etc). Even if the internships aren’t explicitly in IT, having some programming experience can only increase your odds. So, if you were thinking about learning to program anyway, now might be a good time to start.
When searching for offers online, you may find that you don’t fulfill the requirements yet. But even then, the offers will give you an idea of what kind of skills you have to work toward. Starting to look around early (even if you’re just doing it “for fun” or to kill time) can lead to important insights.
Do you need to know Japanese?
For language skills its similar to all the other skills. What will be required of you strongly depends on the company and position you end up at.
When I did my internship at the Japanese branch office of a major German engineering company, there were usually two types of international interns around the office: Those who could communicate in Japanese but knew next to nothing of the technical stuff (i.e. people like me), and those with a solid technical background, but almost no Japanese knowledge.
In my experience (and when looking at internship offers upon researching for this article), intern positions where Japanese proficiency is considered to be “just a bonus” are not as rare as one might think. In fact, I would say the number of internship positions at international companies requiring more than elementary Japanese skills is quite small.
In some cases though, conversational Japanese or even advanced Japanese skills (N2+) will be required. This is especially true when you’re expected to communicate with Japanese people over the phone or via e-mail or large parts of the documentation relevant for your work is available only in Japanese.
How to find an Internship
Even today, there’s a big gap between the interpretation of the word “internship” in Japan and the rest of the world. “Traditional”, long-term internships lasting for a few months to up to a year are still the exception, and instead “internship” usually means “one- or two-day unpaid workplace tour”.
If you’re searching from abroad, the number of internship offers you’ll be able to choose from will be smaller than when searching from within Japan. On the other hand, a good percentage of offers you CAN find will be for long-term, paid internships in Japan.
Internships usually require you to be enrolled in a university either outside of or inside Japan for the whole duration of the program. If you’re not in Japan right now, check out our visa guide.
Use an internship agency
Searching through agencies makes the whole process very convenient. You contact them, they search for a position that matches your profile, and voila, there’s your internship.
Most of the time, their sites will be in English and the staff will be English-speaking as well, so you’ll have no communication troubles. The agency might also offer you some support to get you settled in, for example when it comes to finding your first place to live or getting a Japanese phone/SIM card.
The downside is, of course, the price. First, there’s the application fee and then the fee for the program itself. It might still be worth it if the position they offer you is a good fit for the career you have in mind, but especially when you consider that the majority of internships are unpaid, the price tag can put a damper on the overall excitement.
Search by yourself
The cheaper option is to search for yourself. That, of course, means doing a lot of research, writing lots of cover letters, and not having a 100% guarantee of getting an internship at all. That being said, especially if you have a very clear picture of the thing you want to do, it can be easier than you think.
Services for Foreigners
First, try sites that list internship offers like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, GoAbroad, Lightened, and (for anyone in Europe) KOPRA. They make applying relatively easy – just send the specified documents to the address in the description or fill in a pre-set application form.
Sites for New Graduates
When searching from inside Japan, you can also use standard (fresh graduate) recruiting sites like Rikunabi and MyNavi. Just be aware that internships listed there will often be part of an actual recruitment process.
The final method you can try is to just apply directly, even if there is no offer at all. Of course, the rate of success will vary – probably greatly so. But if you present yourself well and display genuine interest, your chances don’t have to be low. After all, a lot of companies can use a temporary helper to move things along.
You don’t need a lot of Japanese skills to be able to do an engineering/science internship in Japan. Not only will an internship give you valuable insights in work processes, it is also bound to widen your horizon as Japan has a distinct (business) culture. How about giving it a shot?