Internships in Japan for Foreigners and How to Find them
Finding an internship in Japan as a foreigner is difficult? To make things easier we introduce where and how to find internships that match your needs.
The easiest way to get an internship in Japan is searching for one while you’re already there. But unless you are an exchange student, the hurdle of going to Japan just for the mere chance of getting an internship can be quite high.
Fortunately, you don’t have to do that! There are plenty of ways to search for internships from the comfort of your home country and this article explains how.
ALREADY IN JAPAN? How to search for Internships while in Japan
The Japanese Internship Experience
What you can gain
Of course, the first question is: Why do an internship in Japan in the first place? Well, everyone has their own reasons, but there are a number of experiences you can get only out of an internship, and not, say, a year abroad in university.
The first and most obvious point is getting a sneak peek inside a Japanese company. How do they do business over here? How many of those myths about Japanese work culture are actually true?
If you already speak some Japanese, you’ll be able to improve your professional language skills through working and talking with your supervisors and higher-ups, writing formal, business-style e-mails, etc. You may also be exposed to industry-specific information, topics and vocabulary you may have never encountered otherwise!
If you don’t have clear career plans yet, the new insights you acquire during your internship could become a valuable reference.
Another benefit of doing an internship in Japan is that the probability of landing a job after doing one can be quite high. More on that later on.
What to prepare
In the end, you’ll have to apply for and choose your internship depending on your motivations for coming to Japan. Do you just want to live here for a while? Do you want international work experience for a job elsewhere?
Or do you want to get a job in Japan? All three options are valid – but it’s important to first decide on one of them and then go from there.
Another big factor is your Japanese ability. Typically, foreigners coming to Japan for internships or work can be divided into two groups: Those who’ve already studied Japanese extensively but lack ‘hard skills’ and those who have an educational background in other fields but don’t know any Japanese or are just beginning to learn. For tasks involving the use of Japanese, N3/N2 level is usually required as a minimum (with N2/N1 level being preferred). But if your background is solid enough, you can also get internships that don’t require any Japanese knowledge at all, especially in tech and IT related fields.
Understanding Japan’s Internship System
To secure an internship in Japan it also helps to be aware of the specifics of the Japanese system. So, let’s take a moment to get familiar with the different types of internships Japanese companies usually provide.
The first thing that people looking for internships here usually notice is that there are lots of short-term internships. These can range from a few days to a few weeks. You may ask yourself: Is there any good reason for doing those? After all, what can you really learn in that short period of time?
The key difference here is the intended goal of the company offering the internship.
Internships with a duration from anywhere between 4 months and a year are of the experience (体験, taiken) type. These are the ones you are probably already familiar with. They are designed to give you a first-hand idea of how the company works as well as some general and/or specific work experience in the field or industry, but don’t necessarily result in a job. You are expected to do your intern work and then leave again after the internship period ends.
On the other hand, there are recruitment (内定, naitei) internships. Most of them are shorter than the experience type internships and are often used as a part of the regular Japanese recruitment process (in addition to interviews, tests, etc.). Here, the company is not looking for a short-time worker, but a potential future employee.
The internship is seen as an opportunity for the company to get familiar with you (and vice versa) for evaluation and an easier start upon eventual recruitment. As a result, they offer a higher chance of landing you a job if you do well.
Finding Internships in Japan
Okay, that’s all fine, but where can you actually find internships? In general, there are three ways in which you can approach companies in Japan: Through an internship placement agency, through internship platforms and job boards, and through directly applying to the company you’re interested in.
1. Internship Placement Agencies
Placement Agencies offer the most “comfortable” route to an internship: All information is readily available in English, there are many internship options, and the only thing you have to do is send them your information, which they will then use to hand-pick a suitable internship for you. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Well, there is one downside: They’re expensive. Usually, you’ll have to pay an application or registration fee and the actual program fee, once you are accepted. This one is going to differ depending on the length of your stay and can cost as much as attending a language school in Japan.
The overwhelming majority of the internships offered through these agencies is unpaid. So, you’ll also have to pay for your living expenses, which are not included in your program fee or the internship program of your company.
Accommodation is usually a big point here. Placement agencies may offer accommodation support, meaning they’ll help you search for options that might be suitable for you. But most of the time, you’ll have to pay the actual preliminary fees and rent out of your own pocket.
2. Internship Platforms and Job Boards
If you want to save money, you can always take things into your own hands and search for yourself.
Internship platforms and job boards list offers from various companies and may also provide the function for you to place inquiries. The benefit of this method is that it costs you basically nothing until you land your internship. If you’re not willing to do an unpaid internship, you can filter them out right from the beginning.
Companies posting on these platforms and boards are actively searching for interns, so your chances of getting one are pretty high if you have the right skill set and are careful with your application documents (for example, don’t write the wrong company address in your cover letter – like I once did).
If you want to aim for an internship with a high probability of leading to a job offer (内定, naitei), be careful about the time of your application. Companies start their recruitment process for the next year in the summer of the current year, so the number of internship opportunities shoots up significantly during August. Of course, you’ll want to apply earlier, ideally 2-3 months in advance.
Don’t limit your search for internship positions. If your goal is to work in Japan in the future also look for regular job entries that include internships as part of the recruitment process. Admittedly, this is probably the hardest out of all the options if you’re searching from outside of Japan. I’d recommend searching for these opportunities while you’re here on another internship or a working holiday, using international job fairs.
As Japan’s recruitment market has been changing and internationalizing in recent years, some Japanese companies are creating their own international hiring channels. Since it is likely that opportunities like this are going to increase in the future, it may be a good idea to keep your eyes open for those kinds of services.
Examples of English-language Internship Platforms and Job Boards:
■ Go Abroad
■ METI Government of Japan Internship Program
■ The website of the chamber of commerce of your home country (in Japan)
3. Multinational Companies and NGOs
A lot of international companies and organizations – for example, IT giants like Rakuten – are (also) based in Japan. These multinationals can provide an English-speaking work environment and a truly global experience. Even when there are not explicitly searching for interns at the moment, you can still send them a speculative application.
This way, you show a lot of motivation right from the start. After all, you went through all the trouble of researching on your own and chose their company or organization. If your reasons are laid out well, the people there might show an interest in you even though they weren’t searching.
Getting one of these internships is very competitive and you need a very clear idea of what your goals are. Also, despite all they have to offer, you might miss out on some “Japanese” experiences.
4. Professional Networks
Finally, there are websites like LinkedIn and Wantedly. Their basic function is providing professional networking opportunities. As a result, their service also includes some job and internship offers. You may want to check them out too – and creating a resume there can’t be harmful.
Ready to get started?
Now you know your options. Below we put together some recommendations on where to start looking depending on what you want to get out of the internship.
If you want to live in Japan for a while and acquire some general work experience, search on internship platforms and job boards, looking for positions that interest you. If you’ve got the money to spare and don’t get any good results on your own, you can also contact a placement agency like Zentern.
If you want to work in Japan, actively look for English-supporting companies that are doing internships as part of their recruitment process. Job fairs aimed at international students are a good way to find these.
If you want specific work experiences for a job outside of Japan, multinationals are often a good choice. Research specific companies and use internship platforms like Go Abroad to find companies and internships that meet your goals.
Not all that long ago, coming to Japan long-term for something else than a year abroad at university used to be a pretty daunting task. But with Japan and the world changing, the opportunities have been increasing. So, give it a shot, it may be easier than you think!