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.
Japan needs English writers
One of the most well-known ways jobs for English-speaking foreigners in Japan has been English teaching. Understandably so – jobs are abundant and usually don’t require any formal education in English or Japanese. As such, they’re an easy way to get into (and live in) Japan. However, they also have their downsides, and not everyone likes teaching. While there are many paths that you can take, in this article I want to focus on writing.
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. In the past, quality content in English in addition to Japanese was thought of as something that was “nice to have”, but ultimately not all that necessary – island mentality at work. However, as Japan’s population is decreasing, more and more companies and communities are realizing that they need better communication in English to stay competitive internationally.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, tourism in Japan is on the backburner for now – as everywhere else in the world. However, before the start of the pandemic, the industry was booming. The number of foreign visitors to Japan reached new record heights every year. Once Covid-19 eventually subsides and it becomes safe to travel internationally again, the demand that’s currently on the ground is likely to skyrocket. This will be another chance for English writers.
Types of Writing Jobs
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. Below, we’ve broken them down into three main 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. Another very important aspect is consistency in word use and terminology (whereas you can usually be a bit looser with your choice of words in other areas of writing.)
Typical examples for technical writing include user manuals, operating instructions, and reference guides. For advanced topics in fields like IT, engineering, and medicine, a certain amount of experience or prior knowledge may be required.
2. Content Writer
As a content writer, your job is to create “engaging content”. What exactly that means depends on the context.
Visitors arriving on a website have a reason for going there in the first place – they all share a broad, common interest. However, the specifics differ. A website’s content, together with its design, decides how effectively the user’s interest can be captured and held. Most of the time, the target group will already be decided on. The task of the content writer is to write an optimized text for that group.
For example, imagine a website about a new DSLR camera. In this case, articles introducing and detailing the camera’s capabilities, explanations on how to take certain kinds of shots, and interviews with users could all be “engaging content.” Rattling off technical details and providing in-detail explanations of the inner workings of the camera may be a good approach to market it to professionals, but a hobbyist would probably get lost and leave the site before long.
3. Japanese-English Translator
In an age where Google Translate is always just a few clicks away, everyone can get a simple machine translation, 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.
“Being a good translator” is often associated with “being really good in speaking the language you’re translating from.” Of course, if you’re translating from Japanese, you need to understand the texts you’re working with. But translation work also requires more than a solid grasp of your target language. It doesn’t matter how good you are at reading, speaking, or writing Japanese if you can’t turn it into natural-sounding English. This skill is often overlooked because many native speakers consider themselves to be “fully trained” in their language. But in practice, it’s often harder than you might think!
Freelance Writing Jobs in Japan
This section introduces some options for finding jobs on a case-by-case basis. Be aware that to be able to take freelance writing jobs, you need a Japanese bank account, and a visa that allows you to work.
If you’re a student or already have another job in Japan, you need to get a 資格外活動許可 from immigration first. In case you’re not a full-time freelancer (i.e. with a sole proprietorship) and already work for another company, you should check with your company if they allow side jobs (副業) before starting to write. You can find out more about freelance work in Japan in our article over here.
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.
The job offers on Japanese portals are usually written in Japanese. Try keywords like 英文 ライター (English writer), 英文 ライティング (English writing), 英訳 (English translation) or ローカライズ (localization).
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, there is the chance 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. You should also brace for rejection – a lot of it. After all, to these publications, you’re a complete nobody. Things get easier once you have something to show. Maybe you have a personal blog that you’ve maintained for a long time, or some earlier writing work from freelance websites. Even one article is better than nothing, so try to build a small portfolio before establishing contact.
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. Just like with English language publications in Japan, it’s best to have a portfolio ready upon establishing first contact.
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. Specialized Writer Platforms
In addition to the options above, here are specialized platforms connecting Japanese companies and foreign writers. 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.
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 relatively constant stream of possible assignments without having to constantly search for new work. In exchange for this, pay is usually lower than what you get for jobs that require more initiative. But as a freelancer, you can always combine both options to increase the overall stability of your income. Platforms are also a good place to get your first bit of experience.
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 – it might be your thing!