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Employment in Tokyo

Expats working in Tokyo participate in one of the largest metropolitan economies across the globe. According to a study by the Brookings Institution, the city created an annual domestic product of over 1.6 trillion USD in 2015. Despite the preceding worldwide financial crisis, the earthquake of 2011, and the recession Japan was recently facing, Tokyo’s economy largely remains the powerhouse of the country.

Beyond the city limits of Metropolitan Tokyo, the Kantō Region around Tokyo is Japan’s most urbanized and industrialized area. The people working in Tokyo and other cities of Kantō-chihō make a sizable contribution to Japan’s economic power. In 2016, the Cabinet Office published a list comparing the 2013 GDP of various OECD and ASEAN member states, as well as BRICS countries, to that of Japan’s prefectures and regions — the Kantō Region had a higher gross domestic product than India, Canada, or Australia.

The Current Economic Situation

It’s nothing new to note that the Japanese economy is not as strong as it once was. After the boom years of the 1980s, Japan’s economy slumped, resulting in a lack of growth and a so-called “lost decade”. As the first decade of the new millennium drew to a close, Japan’s economy was gaining in strength, but both the 2007/08 Financial Crisis and the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster in 2011 hindered its progress. Japan’s nuclear industry has collapsed since the disaster and out of the 50 nuclear plants that once operated on the island, only two have reopened.

Following his reelection, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe introduced his revolutionary economic program, popularly d믭 “Abenomics”. Focusing on extensive quantitative easing, by printing more money and buying bonds from financial institutions in an attempt to stimulate growth, such an approach has never been used to this extent before. It is yet to be seen whether it will be able to successfully restart Japan’s economy.

At the moment, the policy seems to be moderately successful: the GDP grew by 0.9% in 2016, and the OECD expects another estimated 1.0% growth for 2017. It’s hoped that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games will also revitalize Japan’s economic state, with construction projects and the tourism industry benefitting in particular from the games.

Important Sectors

Expatriates interested in working in Tokyo have a huge advantage if they are employed in one of Japan’s growth sectors. Reflecting both the challenges of Japan’s aging population and the nation’s vanguard position with regard to sophisticated technology, certain fields are relevant for foreign employees. Medical technology and the healthcare sector, industrial design and brand marketing catering to “silver” consumers, and the life sciences offer employment opportunities for highly qualified staff.

Finding a Job in the Kantō Region

Anyone keen on working in Tokyo or its neighboring cities might also find a job if they bring professional experience in more traditional industries. Yokohama, Tokyo’s neighbor to the south, is especially strong in the international shipping business — small wonder for a busy port city. Quite a few expats thus found themselves moving to Yokohama instead, about a 25-minute commute from Tokyo’s central wards.

Apart from Yokohama, working in Tokyo could mean relocating to places such as Kawasaki or Saitama, too. Squeezed between Tokyo and Yokohama, the former is not only home to several well-known brand names from the field of high-tech (e.g. Fujitsu or Toshiba), but also a regional center for Tokyo’s heavy industry. For example, JFE Holdings, one of the country’s largest steel production companies, still owns the regional Keihin Works in Kawasaki and runs a local research lab there as well.

Or if you don’t mind working in Tokyo’s northern environs, you could settle in Saitama as well. It is an important regional hub for food production, the manufacturing of car parts and optical goods, environmental engineering, and the pharmaceutical industry.

Finding Employment in Tokyo

Finding a Job in Tokyo City

There are plenty of jobs for people who’d rather spend their expat life working in Tokyo itself. In addition to high-tech ventures such as ICT (especially the Internet of Things, cloud-based services, and cyber security), Tokyo is the national center of various service industries — and this in a country whose entire economy focuses on the service sector. So, if you have professional experience in international finance, transportation, or tourism, you might be working in Tokyo soon.

Tokyo’s financial heart beats in the area of Ōtemachi, Marunouchi, and Yūrakuchō (which also houses the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan). Some financial services can be found in the Roppongi neighborhood as well. However, Roppongi is also of great importance to the software industry and the global information and communication technologies. For example, Google Japan has established its main office there.

ICT and electronics play a big part in the district economy of Tokyo’s Akihabara, too, while R&D facilities and start-up incubators tend to be located in the newly developed Waterfront City. Last but not least, there are also areas with a huge concentration of more traditional manufacturing, for example machinery, metals, or apparel.

Regardless of the respective industry, Tokyo does offer a vast pool of talent to HR recruiters: the attendees of its over 200 trade fairs, the graduates from its more than 100 universities, and the expats who would like to work there for a while. However, you should be aware that even Japanese graduates are currently struggling to find employment. Until the Japanese economy is firmly on the road to recovery, the Tokyo labor market will be difficult to break into outside a foreign assignment.

Finding a Suitable Position

If you should have coveted hard skills in any of the fields mentioned above, you can even go about looking for a job in Tokyo or the Kantō Region outside the framework of a conventional expat assignment. This is particularly true for jobs in engineering, green technology, energy management, the life sciences, or medical technology.

Job vacancies in Tokyo are often advertised on commercial websites like the following:

Furthermore, your home country’s chamber of commerce in Tokyo, as well the Japanese chamber of commerce in your country of origin, may both host online job listings. They also regularly announce vacant positions in their own print publications.


You should also keep in mind that networking is an extremely important part of any successful job search in Japan, even more so than in other destinations. If you don’t have a business network in Tokyo yet, you should start building one — and not only online. Begin, for example, by attending trade fairs in Tokyo, if possible, or at least Japan-centric trade fairs at home.

You could also check the event calendar of the nearest Japanese chamber of commerce for business gatherings relevant to your professional interests. If they should not offer any of those (and even if they do), also ask them if they know about further Japan-related business associations in your home country. The Japan External Trade Organization, for instance, is active in over 50 countries, from Australia to Germany, Turkey, and the UK to the USA.

How to Get a Job in Tokyo

Language Skills

In case you do decide to apply for a job in Tokyo on your own, you may wonder how extensive your Japanese language skills should be. This always depends on the position you are applying for. As a rule of thumb, one can say that if a certain level of Japanese skills is mentioned in the job description, it is absolutely mandatory.

Applicants are often expected to pass the level 1 exam of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. This can also give you an advantage when you start applying for a visa, as under Japan’s new points-based immigration system, a positive grade at level 1 of the JLPT can give you 15 points towards your application.

Even if the job of your dreams is a position in a multinational company in cosmopolitan Tokyo, speaking some Japanese will be a huge asset. It also helps you to socialize with your Japanese colleagues after work and to make you feel more comfortable in general.

Applying for a Job in Japan

When you apply to an international or foreign company, you usually send in a European-style or US-style application, depending on the HR office’s preference. But if you should apply for a job with a Japanese company, you may be expected to hand in a rirekisho, a standard CV form completed in Japanese.

You can find more information on completing a rirekisho here. However, many specialists and executives include a so-called shokumu keirekisho (details on your employment history) as well. Unlike a standardized rirekisho, the shokumu keirekisho is fully customizable, giving you the chance to describe your qualifications and experience in detail.

Both in the cover letter and in the interview, you should make sure to stress your interest in working in Tokyo and especially for that particular company. The stability of your career should also be mentioned as an important factor. If your CV is not straightforward or if you are planning to pursue a 180° career change, this will be quite hard to explain in an interview for a job in Japan.

Going for a Japanese Job Interview

Here are some additional tips for weathering a job interview for a Tokyo-based company:

  • As an experienced employee or specialist, you should emphasize your hard skills in a particular field. Recent graduates, however, should expect to talk about their soft skills at length.
  • Japanese HR departments are fairly conservative. Neat business wear and extreme punctuality are a must.
  • Being well informed about the company and appreciating its positive image are particularly valuable in Japan.

If you should have s쳮ded to find a job in Tokyo or if you are sent to Japan on an expat assignment, you will probably be interested in learning more about health insurance and social security. Please refer to our article on working in Japan for these topics.

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  • Edmund Taylor

    Tokyo has so much to offer and InterNations made it much easier to become acclimated to life in this bustling city.

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    In such a huge city, InterNations has created great events for expats to meet in Tokyo.

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