First steps to working in Japan

First steps to working in Japan

The first steps are always the hardest, especially when you’re thinking about working in a foreign country. Where do you start? In this article, we introduce two short- to mid-term options that put you “on track” for a job hunt in Japan.

What do you need to work in Japan?

So you’re thinking about working in Japan. Let’s cover the essentials first: What are the basic requirements?

A degree. The most basic requirement, even before Japanese skills or work experience. While there are ways of acquiring a working visa without a degree, having one will make things a lot easier. What kind of studies you did doesn’t matter – any major will do. Also, it’s OK if you don’t have a degree yet when you start your job search as long as you’ll have it by the time you start working.

READ ONHow to get a job in Japan without a university degree

Japanese. Surprise, surprise – when working in Japan, it’s important that you can speak the local language. Most Japanese companies use Japanese as their main language and being able to communicate with your co-workers is essential. Generally speaking, N2 is considered to be the minimum requirement. Exceptions to this rule can be found among foreign-owned companies in Japan (外資系, がいしけい) as well as startups and the tech/IT sector.

Higher proficiency in Japanese will increase your chances of getting jobs that don’t match your profile perfectly. Just being able to speak Japanese is not enough, but to a certain extent, you can compensate for missing practical skills with communication abilities. This is especially true if you’re still a student or a recent graduate without much work experience.

Practical skills and work experience. All the things you can do to get actual work done. Programming, software development, project management, sales, design, CAD, video editing, animation, data analysis… you name it.

Just as you can compensate for missing skills with Japanese ability, the opposite is also possible: Relying on your skills to lower the bar on Japanese requirements. For example, some companies are fine with hiring experienced web developers even if they speak little Japanese (sometimes even none at all).

It’s not the same for every job type though. For jobs that require frequent communication with coworkers or clients (sales, project management, marketing, etc), finding work below N2 level will be challenging (even if you have years worth of experience in your home country).

Job-hunting know-how. The third requirement that many forget about until the game is already on. Where do you search for a job? When is the best time to start searching? How do you apply? What is the application process like? How long does it take? How do you prepare for the interview?

The better informed you are about these things, the easier it will be to search for a job that matches your preferences – and get it. Of course, you can search for the answers to these questions on the internet. In fact, here at KiMi we do our best job to clear them up for you! But it can be hard to remember all the details if you have no clear context to place your knowledge in.

A compass.

Job search in Japan: Mid- and short-term options

The “classic” way is coming here on a student or working holiday visa and start searching for a job while in Japan. You can also just apply straight from home. English teaching jobs at conversation schools (英会話, えいかいわ) are relatively easy to get even from abroad. You could work there for a while and then switch to a different job down the line.

These are what I’d call long-term options. They’re costly and require rather big investments, both in terms of money as well as time (usually one year or longer). Understandably, this is a bit too much of a commitment for some. For those that want to “scout out” the environment first, a one- to six-month time frame is usually better suited.

If you’re lucky, you might have access to a one-semester study program in Japan trough your university. But those are often limited to students with certain majors like Asian or Japanese Studies. However, there are also mid- to long term options available to a wider variety of people. Below, you can find two of them.

Option 1: Internship in Japan

An internship is another classic option. It comes with some decent positives – for starters, you get to directly experience how it is to work in Japan (how “typically Japanese” your experience is will depend on your company though). Also, if you manage to find a paid internship, you don’t have to worry about your savings.

READ ONHow to find paid internships in Japan

On the other hand, your main responsibility during your stay will be your work tasks. In most cases, that means no Japanese training and no job search support – you’ll have to manage that on your own after work or during the weekends. There are internships that require no Japanese, but unless you want to also exclusively search for jobs that also don’t require it, extra self-study effort is necessary.

Additionally, for people applying from abroad, a paid internship requires the Designated Activities Visa (特定活動ビザ, とくていかつどうビザ). To obtain this visa, you need to be a student at an overseas university.

READ ONVisa Guide for Internships in Japan

Due to the above, an internship is most effective if you’re still a student but about to graduate soon, are completely set on working in Japan and just need the time for the actual job hunt. About 6 months in Japan will give you more than enough time to search for and secure a job.

Internship: Pros

  • ■ Direct work experience in Japan
  • ■ You can get paid (*depending on your internship)
  • ■ Mid-length stays (4 to 6 months) allow for longer job search

Internship: Cons

  • ■ No Japanese training
  • ■ No support for post-internship job search
  • ■ Getting the right visa requires student status and time

Option 2: Short Course at a Japanese Language School

If your university doesn’t offer a pre-made program, you can always search for one on your own. One of the most attractive features of short-term courses is that they often require no visa application at all, as long as your country has a bilateral visa waiver agreement with Japan that allows you to stay here as a temporal visitor for 90 days.

Of course, attending a school will cost money, and being in Japan as a temporary visitor means that you’ll not be able to work during your stay. On the flip side, you’ll be trained in Japanese by experienced professionals. If you choose the right course, training in business manners and other types of in-depth job hunt preparation will also be included. As a result, you can fully focus on improving your Japanese and preparing for your job hunt.

I’d say this option is more for people who want to take a “sneak peak” first before fully committing to a job hunt in Japan. But if you time your stay right, it is possible to find a job within three months. For example, you could attend walk-in interviews at job fairs. At foreign-owned companies and startups, the screening processes are often on the shorter side. However, 90 days will probably be too short for big and traditional Japanese companies like Mitsubishi and Toyota.

READ ONGuide to Walk-In Interviews in Japan

To summarize: a short-term course is a good choice if you’re interested in working in Japan but…

  • ➡ Want to test the waters first
  • ➡ Have just started learning Japanese
  • ➡ Are not confident in your formal Japanese or business etiquette
  • ➡ Are on a relatively tight schedule at uni or work
  • ➡ Are still a few years away from graduation
  • ➡ Are not a student anymore

Short-Term Language Course: Pros

  • ■ Japanese language training
  • ■ Japanese job hunt and business manners training
  • ■ No visa application needed (*certain countries only)

Short-Term Language Course: Cons

  • ■ Costs for tuition, enrollment, registration, etc.
  • ■ Three months max (limited job search opportunities)

A person studying.

Linguage Japanese Language School’s Short-Term Course

If you’re looking for a short-term Japanese course, we recommend a program from our partner here at KiMi – Linguage Japanese School. The school building is right in the middle of Shinjuku, just about five minutes from the JR station. In contrast to other Japanese schools, Linguage puts a big emphasis on job hunt training and preparation. So if you’re thinking of pairing a Japan trip with some serious preparation for your future, it might be for you!

Below, you can find basic information about the course. To find out more, check out the school’s homepage by clicking the link below!

Minimum Japanese Level

Course contents

  • ■ Basic Japanese classes (N4 ~ N3 level. Advanced students can attend N2 level classes instead)
  • ■ Essentials for job hunting in Japan, e.g.
    • ・ Planning your job hunt
    • ・ How and where to look for jobs
    • ・ Writing a Japanese resume
    • ・ Preparing for Japanese job interviews
  • ■ Business etiquette and communication, e.g.
    • ・ Talking to people around the office: Coworkers, higher-ups, etc.
    • ・ Writing business e-mails
    • ・ Answering the phone in an office setting
    • ・ Exchanging business cards
  • ■ Company visit (one-time)

During your stay, you’ll attend 4 classes each day. One class lasts 45 minutes and the class size is around 10 to 15 students (20 students max).

Enrollment period
1 to 3 months
Extensions are possible as long as the total attendance period doesn’t exceed three months. For example, you can choose to attend classes for two months instead of one after coming here.

Enrollment timing/months
April and October
Other enrollment timings are negotiable – contact the school staff if your schedule doesn’t allow you to start the course in April or October!

62,370 JPY per month
There are no extra registration or enrollment fees.

Other costs
※These aren’t school fees but general estimates for reference. How much additional money you’ll need depends on your personal needs and lifestyle. Ask the school staff if you need help with finding a place to stay!

  • ■ Accommodation (room share): 50,000+ JPY / month
  • ■ Food: 30,000+ JPY / month
  • ■ Transportation: 10,000+ JPY / month
  • ■ Other costs: 10,000+ JPY / month

Linguage Japanese Language School Courses

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My love for ninjas and interest in Chinese characters (kanji) were what first made me come to Japan, as a high school student. Over ten years and many visits later, I’ve found a job here and have chosen it as my new home.