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Working in Japan
Your Guide on Jobs and Finding Work in Japan
As recently as the early 2000s, working in Japan seemed like an impossibility to most foreign workers. Japanese language requirements were high, visas limited, and there was national sense to prioritize local workers over foreign ones. Nowadays, due to a declining population and a rise in international companies, expats are finding more opportunities to work in the island nation with less stringent requirements.
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In the past, the Japanese job market was not known as being welcoming to foreigners. However, in recent years that has changed, as Japan has seen an increase in not only international companies opening up in its major cities, but also an influx of expats moving to the small island nation. Because of this, Japan has even made obtaining a social security number easier for expats. When you apply for your residency card, you will be assigned a social security number immediately, even if you do not ask for one.
Expats wanting to know how to find a job in Japan should look for jobs in early spring and late summer as these are prime hiring months. Working in Japan provides many benefits such as a high average salary (nearly 4 million JPY (37,800 USD) per year) and a communal business culture. However, Japan is also a very work-centric nation. Working days are Monday to Friday, but work hours are long. In Japan, one’s workplace is often seen as extended family and thus Japanese employers expect employees to dedicated much of their time and effort to their careers.
Working as a self-employed person in Japan is possible, but it will be difficult. Because Japanese culture views the workplace like family, those who work for themselves are not held in as high of a regard. The freelance culture is slowly gaining traction in the Asian country, but self-employed expats should expect to have to prove themselves as serious, committed workers.
How to Get a Job in Japan
If you want to know how to get a job in Japan as a foreigner, you should know that the process is more difficult in comparison to other Asian countries. Although Japan has lessened its language requirements, it will still behoove expats to know some Japanese and make their intention known to continue studying it while living in Japan.
How to Apply for a Job in Japan
One of the best ways to start applying for jobs in Japan is to already be in the country. Getting a job in Japan from overseas is difficult, as overseas hires are expensive for Japanese companies and therefore a financial risk. The company will need to help with your relocation and spend time training you. By already being in Japan, companies are more willing to consider you as a candidate because they do not have to pay to move you and you are most likely already acquainted (or becoming acquainted) with Japanese culture.
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Requirements and Eligibility to Work in Japan
One of the biggest requirements for being eligible to work in Japan is to have either a university degree or ten years’ experience in your career field. Japan is not as easy to immigrate to as other countries, so these requirements are not easy to get around unless you move to Japan as a student or are on a temporary visit visa only. Either way, to work in Japan, you will need a university degree or at least ten years of work experience.
The other requirement is the language. Back in the day, foreigners needed a high proficiency in Japanese to land a job in Japan. These expectations have loosened somewhat in recent years, but basic knowledge of the language is still important as an employee’s integration into Japanese social and work culture is very important to Japanese companies. Employers in Japan may require you to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) in order to gauge your language proficiency. There are five levels, with Level 1 being the highest. Most companies may require you to pass Level 2 at a minimum.
In addition to the language requirement, you will also be required to present references and a list of qualifications proving why you are the best candidate for the position. Be sure to give your references notice that Japanese employers may contact them. As both a formal society and a highly sought-after job market, Japanese employers evaluate every aspect of potential employees, including contacting their references.
How to Write a Japanese CV
No matter whether the job you are applying for requires a high level of Japanese or not, you should have a Japanese version of your CV. Japan’s requirements for CVs are quite stringent, and most companies prefer them to be handwritten in kanji (Japanese script). If you do not feel confident in your kanji skills, there are websites that will create the text for you.
Your General Information
The format of a Japanese resume is called rirekisho (履歴書). It is best to search for this term on the internet and download a general template to fill in. The template will walk you through what to write. You must write your name in two of the three script options below:
- how your name sounds in hiragana
- katakana characters
- standard Japanese characters
The template will have two lines where both versions of your name should appear. The standard practice for foreigners is to use standard Japanese and katakana.
Your date of birth will also need to be given in terms of Japanese imperial eras:
- Showa (昭和): 1926–1988
- Heisei (平成): 1989–2019
To write your birth year, you will circle the Japanese characters corresponding to your era and then write a number signifying the year. For example, if you were born in 1992, you would circle the characters representing Heisei and then the number 4.
Education and Work History
Once you have finished delicately filling out your general information, you will need to list your educational and work history. Both are listed in chronological order with the most recent experience being listed first. Unlike in western resumes, your work history does not need to include a summary of your responsibilities and duties.
Like many resumes, a Japanese CV should include a list of your achievements, professional awards, and licenses and certificates. This includes listing your driver’s license.
Why You Want the Job
At the end of the rirekisho template, there will be a section to write about why you are the perfect candidate for the position to which you are applying. This is where you are able to get creative with your CV, but bear in mind Japanese culture’s professional and reserved standards. Do not stray too far from those values.
In addition to your general contact information and education and work history, Japanese companies expect to learn some personal information about you such as your marital status, number of dependents, and even your commute time should you be offered the position.
Say What You Want
The last section of the Japanese resume is for you to express what you hope to get out of the position you are applying for. This can include career growth or new skills, and should also include your salary expectations.
Do Not Forget a Photograph
Last but not least, your Japanese resume should include a professional photograph in the top right corner on the first page. This headshot should be similar to a passport picture taken on a plain white background. It is also preferable for men and women to wear a dark business suit for the snapshot. Men should add a tie.
Cover Letter Tips
Unlike a Japanese CV, a cover letter in Japan is fairly standard to cover letters in western countries. Your cover letter should expand upon your work experience listed in your CV, but only as it pertains to the specific job for which you are applying. It should be short and succinct, and no more than a page. It should be creative enough to help you stand out, but still written professionally.
Like your resume, your cover letter should also be translated into Japanese.
Japan is a very formal culture and appearance matters a great deal. As a foreigner, you are already at a slight disadvantage and thus will need to prove yourself immensely during the interview. This means you should dress in professional business attire, even if the company you are applying to is more casual (which, in Japan, is not common). Avoid slouching, drinking, or chewing gum. Know that in Japan, your personality is being evaluated just as much as your CV.
Be sure to show up no more than 5–10 minutes early. Being late is considered incredibly rude, but also being too early is frowned upon.
Other interview protocols that are specific to Japanese culture include knocking on the door three times before entering and do not sit until you are invited to. Be aware that the interview could last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. You will most likely be interviewed by a panel of people.
Japanese people typically stay with the same company for many years, and most work in one position for the duration of their careers. Therefore, the Japanese work culture views employees and colleagues almost as extended family members. You will want to keep this in mind during the interview process because it means you are not only being judged on how well you will work within the company, but also how well you will integrate into the company “family.”
One of the best ways to get a job in Japan as a foreigner is through networking. The country has a big culture of after-work drinks. Therefore, finding the bars and restaurants where most professionals go will be a great help to getting you connected in Japan. For expats intent on living and working in Japan, but have yet to secure a position, a viable option is to move to Japan as an English teacher. Then you can network until you find something more aligned with your job sector.
Job Opportunities in Japan for Foreigners
While you can get a job in nearly every job sector in Japan, there are a few career opportunities where expats will find the greatest amount of opportunities:
- military (typically foreign)
- sales staff
- service staff
Likewise, expats with experience or an interest in robotics or offshore manufacturing can find jobs more easily than expats in other career fields. Research and development are also popular fields to work as a foreigner in Japan. The island country ranks 3rd in the world for the amount of money spent in this field (nearly 16 trillion JPY/144 billion USD per year).
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Minimum Wage and Average Salary
The average salary in Japan is just over 4 million JPY (37,800 USD) per year. The minimum wage is 874 JPY (8 USD) per hour, although 2019 saw talks of increasing this to 1,000 JPY (9 USD) to encourage personal spending.
As one of the most expensive cities in the world, Tokyo has one of the highest average annual salaries in the world: 325,000 JPY per month (3,000 USD). Its minimum hourly wage is also the highest in Japan, followed closely by Osaka and Okinawa.
|City||Minimum Wage||Minimum Wage|
|Tokyo||958 JPY||8.85 USD|
|Osaka||909 JPY||8.40 USD|
|Kyoto||856 JPY||7.90 USD|
Okinawa has the lowest minimum in the country at 737 JPY (6.80 USD) per hour.
What is a Good Salary in Japan?
Because the entire island of Japan has a high cost of living, a good salary to earn to have a comfortable living is the average annual salary: 4 million JPY (36,700 USD). Families will want to aim for 6 million (55,000 USD). Recent graduates moving to Japan to teach with the popular JET program can expect to make a starting salary of 250,000 JPY (2,200 USD) per month. It is possible to live in Japan on this salary (about 3 million JPY per year (27,700 USD)), but you will need to watch your spending habits and you will not be able to save much money.
The Most In-Demand Jobs and How Much They Pay
The jobs with the best salaries in Japan are in IT or the communications industry. According to surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019, the IT industry in Japan is the fifth highest-paid field for men and the top-earning sector for women. The absolute top average earner is an IT consultant, who makes about 6 million JPY (55,000 USD) per year. The second and third highest earners are web service engineers and web designers, who make salaries 3.5–4 million JPY (32–37,000 USD) annually.
Other Popular Job and Their Average Annual Salaries
Japan is a country of staunch employee loyalty to one job. It is a cultural norm that Japanese citizens enter the workforce with a company and remain with that company for the rest of their careers. Only recently has self-employment in Japan begun to grow in popularity. This is partially due to Japan’s shifting societal expectations as they become more open to foreigners. It is also a result of the country’s high cost of living. Nowadays, many people moving to Japan, and especially to Tokyo, are forced to take on a second job in order to afford a decent lifestyle.
How to be Self-Employed in Japan
While freelancing is becoming more accepted in Japan, keep in mind that the culture still places great importance on the workplace and people who work with companies. Self-employed people will have to combat a reputation of not being as serious or professional as people who are employed in the traditional manner.
Self-employment in Japan is difficult, but not impossible. The greatest difficulty is that there is no self-employment visa in Japan, but it is possible to sponsor yourself. You can read more about this in our section on Visas and Work Permits in Japan.
One of the easiest ways to be self-employed in Japan is by first coming into the country and listing a part-time employer as your main employer in order to obtain a work visa. Once you have this, you can start working on your freelance business until it is secure enough for you to sponsor yourself.
How to Freelance Without Speaking Japanese
As this guide has stated many times, a crucial step to living in Japan is learning and speaking Japanese. As a self-employed person, this is even more important as it is one of the best ways to gain new Japanese clients.
If you do not yet know Japanese or are not confident in it, there are a few job sectors where it is possible to work in Japan without knowing the language:
This may seem like a no-brainer, but in a country renowned for its natural beauty, vibrant architecture, and eccentric fashion, Japan is a great place for photographers to call home. Tokyo is a particularly lucrative city for freelancers looking to build up their portfolio and client base.
Traditional Japanese websites have simple designs and are text-heavy. While this may work with Japanese business aesthetic, western and international companies based in Japan will want websites with a more universal appeal and are therefore more likely to hire self-employed foreigners to create their webpages.
You do not have to speak Japanese in order to become a translator. Translation services can refer to any language. As Japan has a growing international community, those with bilingual translation skills (especially if one of those languages is English) are sure to find steady work.
Japan has a lot of opportunities for freelance software engineers, especially in gaming technology. A lot of freelancers in this field can find one tech company in Japan to sponsor their visa, and then continue to freelance for other Japanese clients.
In addition to translations, copywriting and editing is a great way to find work in Japan. Often, companies will have documents translated into Japanese, but require extra edits on top of that for the sake of clarity, flow, and style. Likewise, many companies will need fluent, professional writers to help with marketing copy, website text, and more.
Top Self-Employed Jobs in Japan
If you do speak some Japanese, finding freelance work and networking will be much easier for you. In addition to the jobs listed above, other top self-employed jobs in Japan include private tutoring, IT, consulting, and development.
Self-Employed Benefits Japan
As a self-employed person in Japan, you will still be required to pay into the National Pension system: kokumin nenkin (国民年金). Paying into this will provide you with old-age benefits, should you choose to stay in Japan long-term. If you are only in Japan for three years or less, when you leave you can opt for a lump sum payout. In addition to old-age benefits, you are also eligible to receive benefits due to sickness or injury.
Like most of Japanese social culture, business culture in Japan is very formal. Traditional customs and expectations should be strictly adhered to lest you offend your Japanese business partners and colleagues. As Japan becomes more and more open to foreign influence, the Japanese are forgiving to expats who make an etiquette mistake from time to time as long as they are still respectful and show interest in learning how to adapt to the Japanese way of life.
Japan Working Culture
To perfectly fit into Japanese business culture there are a few key etiquette rules to be aware of.
Privacy is Valued
Privacy is important in Japan. At the beginning of a professional or personal relationship, avoid asking anything too personal. This includes questions about family, work history, etc. Asking questions such as these at the beginning of a relationship may be seen as pushy and over-bearing.
When meeting a business partner or colleague for the first time it is customary to bow and wait for the other person to shake your hand. Use formal titles only.
Japanese society is quiet and introverted, and this pervades into the meeting space. Do not interrupt anyone and be sure to remain as quiet and unobtrusive as possible. Often, if tensions in a meeting start to run high, everyone will go silent and let the moment pass. If this happens, do not try to talk to fill up the silence.
Status and Hierarchy
The Japanese people believe strongly in status and hierarchy. Old age is highly revered and respected. There is even a national holiday dedicated to honoring the elders. It is rare to see someone in a management position below 40 years of age. This emphasis on one’s status is even shown in the meeting space with seating arrangements. When you arrive at a meeting, take care to not just sit wherever you want. Depending on the layout of the room, managers and higher-ranking employees will either be at the top of the table or all together on one side of the table. You should wait until someone invites you to sit.
Often, as a foreign business partner, you may feel the need to bring a gift to your new Japanese business partner. If you do, be sure to research that you are not presenting anything that may offend. Certain flowers and colors represent death and should be avoided at all costs. For example, lotus blossoms, camellias, and lilies are reserved for funerals as are any white-colored flowers.
Groups Over Individuals
Japan is a group-oriented culture. Achievements are celebrated by what a collective has done rather than an individual. In the workplace, this means you should avoid self-congratulations and bragging at all costs. Likewise, it is not proper to single out someone in a team even if it is for congratulations.
Workplace Culture Dress Code
Japan’s fashion out on the streets may be viewed globally as bright, eccentric, and full of anime and Hello Kitty accents, but in the workplace, conservative wear is key. Men wear business suits in dark colors. Women also wear dark black or blue skirt-suits or modest clothing that covers their shoulders and knees. Women should also shy away from elaborate, showy jewelry.
If invited to a business social event, still err on the side of conservative, business-casual dress until you get a good feel of your colleagues and workplace culture. The Japanese do not value those who stand out too much and this includes your wardrobe style in the workplace.
Social Security and Benefits
What is a social security number in Japan? To answer this question, you must first learn two different terms. The first is an Individual Number, kojin bangō (個人番号), which is also called My Number, mai nambā (マイナンバー ). Established in 2016, an Individual Number / My Number is a twelve-digit number that is issued to all Japanese citizens and residents who have registered with their local governments and lived in Japan for at least three months.
My Number is your Japanese social security and tax number. The number links users’ personal information across several social and government platforms.
The other term you will hear is shakai hoken (社会保険), which is the social insurance: a combination of Employees’ Health Insurance (kenkou hoken 健康保険) and Employees’ Pension Insurance (kosei nenkin 厚生年金).
Can a Foreigner Get a Social Security Number in Japan?
So, how do you get a social security number Japan? You will apply for your Japanese social security number at the same time that you apply for your residence card / zairyu card. You will do this by registering at your local municipality office. The process will be automatic and you can ask to be told the twelve-digit number right there, but you will not receive your official social security card right away.
Instead, a notification about the social security card will be mailed to your address in Japan within two weeks of your registration. You will fill out this notification card, including a passport-sized photo, and send it back to the correct return address. Once you have done this, you will later receive another notification card telling you that your physical card is ready to be picked up at your local municipal office. Your card will contain your personal information, microchip, photograph, and twelve-digit number.
It is a good idea to keep this card on you at all times as it can be used for a number of instances:
- an official identification card
- a seal registration card
- a library card
- a health insurance card
- for obtaining various certificates at convenience stores, etc.
Social Security Benefits in Japan
Broadly, Japanese social security contributes to the following areas:
- social insurance: health insurance, unemployment insurance, and accidents while working
- public assistance
- old-age benefits such as a retirement pension
- personal social and health insurance for the elderly and disabled
- general public health services
- pensions for surviving family members of fallen soldiers
- maternity leave and child allowances
- pensions for former public servants
- public housing and aid for low-income families
Foreign employees who do not stay in Japan long-term can receive their social security payment in a lump sum when they leave the country. If you stay in Japan for a minimum of 25 years, you can collect the amount as a retirement pension.
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Maternity and Paternity Leave
When it comes to having a baby in Japan, the island country has leave options for both men and women. The options and when a parent can take this leave differ for men and women, and in recent years Japan has been making headlines for the unfair treatment of men who take advantage of their paternity leave.
Maternity leave is a legal right in Japan, but the amount may vary dependent on your company. How long is maternity leave in Japan? By law, maternity leave in Japan covers six weeks before a child is born and eight weeks after the birth date. Employers are also obligated to reduce work hours if it is mandated by the woman’s healthcare provider.
One maternity leave benefit in Japan includes the possibility of late deliveries. If a woman delivers later than expected, her leave will be covered by the government up to 105 days. Women who are expecting twins are also allotted extra leave weeks.
Women who end their maternity leave early may do so, but they must submit a written approval by their doctor.
In addition to maternity leave, Japan also has parental leave. Parental leave starts the day after maternity leave ends and lasts until the child turns one year old. Parental leave is typically paid for by the government, not the employer, but this varies from company to company. Typically, social insurance will cover at least 2/3 of the new parent’s base salary and the other third will be covered by labor insurance.
Like mothers, fathers are legally allowed to take up to one year of paternity leave upon the birth of their child. However, due to Japan’s traditional views and patriarchal leaning, as a society, it is frowned upon for fathers to indulge in this legal right. In recent years, Japan has made national news of Japanese fathers claiming they were forced out of their job after taking their full paternity leave and benefits.
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