English Writing Jobs in Japan for Foreigners
If you’re living in Japan and want a job that utilizes your English abilities there’s an alternative to teaching English – writing. Read on to find out how to work comfortably from your home.
Jobs for English speakers in Japan
Teaching English has long been one of the most common ways for English-speaking foreigners to pay their bills. Understandably so – English teaching jobs are abundant and easy to get. This combination of factors makes them a very attractive option for newcomers.
However, if you don’t like teaching and still want to use your English skills to your advantage, writing might just be the choice for you.
Well, simply put, because the demand is there. Many Japanese companies still use their Japanese writers to produce content in English. This often leads to awkward, unnatural and sometimes downright confusing English texts.
More and more foreign tourists have been coming to Japan, and the numbers are only rising. But a lot of the time, information still is either available only in Japanese, or the English version is noticeably lacking in volume and/or quality (the English pages of the Japanese government websites are a popular example).
That’s the point where foreign writers come in. In addition to raw English skills, they are often able to better envision what visitors from abroad want and what kind of information they’re looking for.
In the end, appealing to foreign visitors helps with sales. So naturally, a lot of businesses are interested in quality English content.
English Writing Jobs in Japan
Japanese companies (or foreign companies based in Japan) need English writers for a variety of tasks: Creation or translation of instruction manuals, website or game translation, SEO writing, article or blog entry writing, writing for social media and many others.
All of these jobs have slightly different requirements but can be broadly divided into the following three job types.
1. Technical Writer
Technical writers break down complex information and explain it to the users in an easily digestible way. They provide instructions or reference material related to the use of technology, be it home appliances or content management systems.
The main goal is to make the users understand. Even if they know nothing about the technology beforehand, they should be able to use it flawlessly after reading the instructions. This leads to a need for clear, concise and easy-to-understand texts.
Typical examples for technical writing include user manuals, operating instructions and reference guides. Of course, having a background in the fields corresponding to your task (i.e. IT or engineering) helps you explain things better, so a certain amount of experience or prior knowledge is often required.
2. Content Writer
In comparison to technical writing, content writing offers more freedom. Briefly put, your job is to create “engaging content”. What exactly that means depends on the context.
Visitors coming to any given website have a reason for going there in the first place, so they all share a common interest. However, their backgrounds are different. A website’s content, together with its design, decides how effectively each user’s specific interests can be captured (and held).
For example, imagine a website about a new DSLR camera.
Here “engaging content” could include articles introducing and detailing the camera’s capabilities, explanations on how to take certain kinds of shots, interviews with users, etc.
Among all users visiting the site, user A could be a person looking for a camera to take to hiking trips, user B a person interested in the latest DSLR technology and person C a person who just wants to take some high-quality snapshots on weekends.
If the camera website provides only sparse technological information, user B may leave the site after reading the first few paragraphs. On the other hand, if it’s filled with content explaining and detailing the appeal of nature photography, user A may read almost all of it – and consider buying the camera.
Most of the time the target group or theme that should be appealed to most will already be decided on. The task of the content writer, then, is to write text optimized for that group or theme to capture as much attention and interest as possible.
3. English-Japanese Translator
Another option for writing jobs is doing translation work. As you will be translating existing texts, your tasks may fall in both the “technical” and “content” category.
When it comes to translating, similarly to technical writing, making the user able to understand is key.
Using the magic of services like Google Translate, everyone can get a simple word-for-word translation nowadays, for free. However, human translators are far from becoming obsolete.
Professional translators not only make sure that all information from the original text is included. They also interpret and – if necessary – change the text’s structure and content to “make it work” and properly get the message across in their target language.
Naturally, translation work requires solid grip on whatever language you end up translating to. Most of the time, this will be English or another language you have (near) native-level proficiency in. Japanese skills are also important, of course.
Freelance Writing Jobs in Japan
Many ads for writing jobs that you can find online are for full-time positions. But only very few foreigners come to Japan with the goal of doing writing work and thus often have other responsibilities.
This section introduces some options for finding jobs on a case-by-case basis. Be aware that in order to be able to take freelance writing jobs, you are usually required to be able to stay in Japan for at least a year (with a corresponding visa) and have a Japanese bank account.
1. Freelance Websites
The first option are crowd-sourcing websites that list freelance writing job offers. This is probably the place most people look when just starting out.
Some of these sites are specialized in writing, but most of them are not. You’ll have to sift through the job offers yourself and find something that matches your skills and interests. Examples include Lancers, Crowdworks, and Upwork.
Depending on what portal or platform you end up using, some Japanese communication skills may be required. When searching in Japanese, try keywords like 英文 ライター (English writer), 英文 ライティング (English writing) or 英訳 (English translation), and add フリーランス (freelance) if you think it’s necessary.
The benefit of websites like these is that there’s a wide variety of offers to choose from. On the other hand, the requirements vary, and the tasks are often time-intensive for relatively low pay. Continually having to search for the next job on these sites also takes up a lot of additional time.
2. English Language Publications
Because they’re completely focused on Japan, chances that they’re willing to accept content from a wide variety of topics are relatively high. As long as the content you offer is compelling enough, it’s also possible to get your texts published without any (or just a little) prior experience.
However, depending on the publication, the quality of the editing/support will vary. Also, most of the publishers listed here operate on relatively low budgets, so the pay usually isn’t the best either.
3. Publications Abroad
Listing examples here would be pointless since there are thousands upon thousands of English language publications outside of Japan. And: A lot of them at least aren’t opposed to well-written content about Japan. So even if they aren’t actively searching, you may land a gig upon contacting them anyway, ideally with a sample of your skills.
Writing for overseas publications often comes with the benefit of higher pay. However, unless you’re writing for a publication with an explicit Japan focus, they will be publishing content on other topics as well or have a different overarching theme.
Because of this, you may find yourself often being asked to write about the same or similar topics. Essentially, you will have to write for an audience who knows very little about Japan. Typical topics are famous tourist spots, Japanese food, traditions and sports, nightlife, transportation in Tokyo, etc.
4. Japanese Outlets
There are some platforms connecting Japanese companies and foreign writers in order to make Japan more accessible. One example of such a service for writing jobs in Japan is Writer Station.
Platforms like Writer Station are similar to the Freelance websites in that they give their users access to writing job offers covering a wide variety of topics. The main difference is in how the writers interact with the offers.
On Freelance websites, users have to search for and apply to every job separately. On the other hand, when contacting publishers directly, writers usually have to pitch ideas or supply sample content “on spec” for each application. Basically, users/writers have to be continuously proactive.
Now being proactive is never a bad thing, especially when it comes to freelance work. But ideally, when you’re a writer, you want to spend more time writing (i.e. working) than time searching and applying.
This is where the writing platforms come in: They rely on a stock of registered writers and distribute the available tasks between them.
As long as you’re a registered member, you’ll be able to get a constant stream of possible assignments without having to “start over” along the way. The pay for each task may be lower than, say, when writing for an overseas publication, but in return, you get stability.
Be aware though that platforms like this – although they are searching for English writers – often communicate in Japanese internally, so at least intermediate Japanese skills might be required.
Of course, there’s no reason to focus on just one of these options. In fact, it’s probably a smart choice to try out different types of writing jobs and find out what works for you.
In the end, one of the biggest draws of writing is that it’s a job you can do from the comfort of your home. This also makes it very easy to do on the side, even it’s just for one weekend or two. So definitely give it a try sometime – it might be your thing!