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Finding a job in Japan

Need some money and you don’t want to touch your savings? Here’s what you need to know about jobs, training, and dismissals in Japan.

jobs in Japan
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Updated 15-5-2024

With its rich culture, varied cuisine, and friendly people, it’s no surprise that Japan (日本, Nihon/Nippon) is a popular choice for expats and digital nomads looking to move abroad.

Fortunately for those wanting to make the jump, there are a lot of interesting job opportunities, particularly in consulting, IT, and English teaching. The tricky bit is that you have to find a job before you can apply for a work visa (就労ビザ, shuro biza).

Discover how you can start your career in Japan with the following topics:

Working in Japan: things to consider

The Japanese job market

Japan is a generally good spot for finding work. In February 2023, the unemployment rate was at a remarkably low 2.5%. Job-to-applicants ratio was in the job seeker’s favor at 1.35, meaning there were 135 jobs for every 100 applicants.

Overhead view of multiracial business team having a meeting in the lobby
Photo: ferrantraite/Getty Images

Some of the leading sectors in the job market are consulting (コンサルティング業界, konsaruteingu gyokai) and HR (人材業界, jinzai gyokai), followed by IT (IT業界, IT gyokai) and media (マスコミ業界, masukomi gyokai). According to data collected from job boards specializing in native-English-speaking jobs, the Kanto (関東) region had the largest number of jobs available. This was followed by Kansai (関西) and then Chubu (中部).

If you want to join the 3 million foreign residents currently living in Japan (2023), there are a number of work visas available, including:

Keep in mind that many jobs at Japanese companies require a working knowledge of the Japanese language (日本語, Nihon go). So if your language skills need some polishing, you might find it easier to find a job at an international company where the primary language is English.

Job vacancies in Japan

Japan faces a lot of labor shortages due to an aging population, flat wage levels, and digital disparities between workers, among other things. According to a 2022 survey by Teikoku Databank (帝国データバンク, Teikoku Deta Banku) (in Japanese), the industries with the most labor shortages are:

Industry (full-time work):Industry (part-time work):
1Information services (i.e., IT)Restaurant service
2Maintenance, security, and inspectionInns and hotels
3ConstructionHuman resources
4Automobile manufacturingProduct retail
5Human resourcesHospitality
6Restaurant serviceMaintenance, security, and inspection
7Agriculture, forestry, and fisheriesAgriculture, forestry, and fisheries
8BroadcastingTextile manufacturing and fashion retail
9Inns and hotelsEntertainment
10Transportation and warehouseEducation

Job salaries and minimum wage in Japan

There is no nationwide minimum wage in Japan. Instead, minimum income differs per prefecture and is determined by region, industry, and occupation. Every year, the Central Minimum Wages Council (中央最低賃金審議会, Chuo Saitei-chingin Shingi-kai) makes a recommendation for the year’s wage increase. The prefectural offices then make changes accordingly.

Fish lady standing by her stand at Omicho Market in Kanazawa, Japan.
Omicho Market (近江町市場, Omicho Ichiba) in Kanazawa (金沢), Japan (Photo: Chiara Salvadori/Getty Images)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the average salary is higher in more urban areas like Tokyo (東京), largely due to the higher cost of living. Japan’s capital and economic center has the highest hourly minimum wage in the country, at ¥1,113 after the 2022 increase. In contrast, Kochi (高知) and Okinawa (沖縄) have a minimum wage of ¥853 after the change, which is the lowest in the country.

Of course, your wage will vary drastically depending on your skills, experience, and Japanese level. For example, the average yearly salary advertised in 2021 for a job in marketing without Japanese language skills was ¥5,900,000 (around €38,060). That same job with business-level Japanese paid an annual ¥8,500,000 (around €54,835).

Working hours and PTO in Japan

Japan has a bad reputation for overworking its employees. In theory, regular working hours are eight hours a day including your break, totaling 40 hours a week. However, overtime (残業, zangyo) is very common, with a typical workday being 09:00–18:00 rather than 09:00–17:00.

Some select businesses have permission to contract employees to work up to 44 hours per week, such as in retail, beauty, and entertainment. Overtime is typically paid as follows:

  • 25% or more of your standard hourly wage on a regular working day
  • 35% (minimum) on your mandated days off or a national holiday

However, while many companies pay for overtime, others still expect employees to work long hours without extra compensation.

Many employers in Japan include a set amount of overtime in the initial contract, meaning you will not get paid extra until you have completed that overtime first. For example, if your contract includes 20 hours of monthly overtime in your paycheck, you will not get extra until you have done those first 20 hours.

Likewise, you’ll not get any paid time off (PTO) (有給休暇, yukyu kyuka) until you have been working with the company for six months. This is actually arranged according to Japanese labor law (労働基準法, rodo kijun ho). Your years of employment will determine your amount of vacation days. Regular full-time employees get:

DescriptionUnitsUnitsUnitsUnitsUnitsUnitsUnits
Years employed0.51.52.53.54.55.56.5+
Vacation days per year10111214161820

Work culture in Japan

Japanese work culture is traditionally hierarchical, and punctuality and deadlines are taken very seriously. For example, you are considered to be on time if you’re five minutes early.

If you don’t speak Japanese, you might find that your co-workers are a bit shy around you. This is likely because they don’t feel confident speaking English. In those cases, a smile and a regular hello or ohayo gozaimasu (おはようございます, good morning) can go a long way.

A Japanaese worker or salaryman heads home late at night past a neighborhood yakitori bar
Tokyo, Japan (Photo: Craig Ferguson/LightRocket via Getty Images)

After work, you may sometimes be expected to join nomikai (飲み会, drinking parties). Although every-week hangouts have decreased in recent years, other celebrations such as end-of-year parties (忘年会, bonen kai) are still very common.

Labor laws and employee rights in Japan

While social norms and peer pressure will likely cause you to socialize after work, Japanese labor law makes it difficult to dismiss (解雇, kaiko) you if you don’t. There are a number of laws that cover employee contracts, wages, health and safety, pregnancy and childcare, and the like.

Employers can only terminate a contract if it’s “objectively reasonable” (客観的に合理的, kyakkan-teki ni gori-teki) and “socially acceptable” (社会通念上相当である, shakai tsunen-jo soto de aru). The most common methods of dismissal are:

  • Negotiated voluntary resignation – in most cases, you can negotiate your resignation terms and ask for compensation. Courts have the right to annul these so-called encouraged resignations (退職勧奨, taishoku kansho) if proven unreasonable.
  • Termination for cause – in the event of severe misconduct with admissible evidence, a company can terminate an employment contract. You must receive a mandatory 30-day notice.
  • Economic downturn – if a company is undergoing severe financial issues, it may reduce the workforce as necessary

If you think you’ve been unfairly dismissed (不当解雇, futo kaiko), you can file a lawsuit with a labor tribunal. Settlements usually cover at least several months’ salary.

Though limited, Japanese labor law also protects you from discrimination based on sex, gender identity, or nationality. If you feel you have been a victim of this kind of discrimination, you can contact the Human Rights Bureau (人権擁護局, Jinken Yogo Kyoku) for online and phone counseling services.

Requirements to work in Japan

Work visas in Japan

There are a number of work visas that allow you to live and work in Japan. The visas are categorized by occupation and have strict rules about what kind of work you can do. If you change industries, you must also apply for a new visa.

In most cases, you are prohibited from getting a part-time job not related to your field (e.g., working at a convenience store while teaching). You are also not allowed to work in the service industry (e.g., hostess clubs and bars).

Two people working in a restaurant kitchen.
Photo: Anton Nazaretian/Unsplash

If you’re planning to work while traveling through Japan, you can apply for a working holiday visa. This visa allows younger travelers from 27 countries to work a limited number of hours and money for their travel funds. The working holiday visa is valid for a maximum of 12 months.

Language requirements to work in Japan

Compared to other world economic powers, Japan scores low on the 2022 EF English Proficiency Index (PDF). Despite having the world’s third-largest economy, the country ranks only 80 out of 111. In other words, not a lot of people speak English. This can make it difficult to get hired for specific jobs if you don’t speak Japanese.

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) (日本語能力試験, Nihon-go Noryoku Shiken) is the standard measurement for Japanese language skills. It runs from levels N5-N1, with N5 being the lowest and N1 being the highest. N2 is considered business level and N1 is rarely required unless you are looking to do translation or interpretation.

That said, there are still plenty of job options for non-Japanese speakers, such as becoming a tour guide, teaching English, or working at an international company.

Qualifications to work in Japan

One of the requirements for getting a work visa is having a job offer lined up. Depending on the type of work you do or want to do, you’ll need to have a certain level of education or experience. For example, to become a teacher at an English conversation school (英会話スクール, eikaiwa sukuru), you’ll typically need to either:

  • Have spent a certain number of years at an English-taught school
  • Be a native English speaker
  • Be able to prove native-level proficiency

For more specialized jobs (e.g., doctors and lawyers), you might need to pass exams in Japanese or retake your degree in Japan.

Tax and social security numbers in Japan

When you first move to Japan and apply for your residence permit, you will be issued a 12-digit national identification number (個人番号, kojin bango) (known as “My Number” – マイナンバー, mai namba). This number is used for a wide range of services, including:

How to find a job in Japan?

There are a lot of great job sites that advertise in both Japanese and English. Some of these allow you to filter on language skills, salary, and location.

Group of people having a business meeting and sharing a laptop screen.
Photo: Masafumi Nakanishi/Getty Images

The most well-known options include:

  • Career Cross – primarily focused on international and foreign-owned companies
  • Career Engine – bilingual, offers a variety of jobs around Japan
  • Daijob – primarily aimed at job-seekers with working Japanese proficiency (N2)
  • Gaijinpot Jobs – primarily English teaching jobs, with the occasional other position
  • Indeed – primarily for Japanese speakers and those already living in Japan
  • Izanau – bilingual, offers a variety of jobs around Japan
  • Jobs in Japan – bilingual, with many English teaching jobs
  • LinkedIn – primarily overseas companies with offices in Japan, often looking for skilled English speakers
  • Wantedly – primarily startups or smaller companies based in Japan, preferring Japanese speakers. Search “English” in the search bar for English-related jobs.

If you’re searching for a more specific job (e.g., at an embassy or consulate), it is best to go directly to the official website. For example, you can find a job at the Japanese branch of the United Nations (国際連合, Kokusai Rengo) at UN jobs.

Government employment service center

Hello Work (ハローワーク, Haro Waku) is a government-run employment service center that can help you find and apply for work. It also provides Japanese classes for foreign nationals and manages unemployment benefits.

You can also call to speak to a representative (PDF) in your native language, such as Chinese, English, Indonesian, Korean, Nepali, Portuguese, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, or Vietnamese.

Teaching English in Japan

The most popular way of securing a job before moving to Japan, especially for new graduates, is by teaching English. While many companies are hesitant to sponsor a work visa unless the applicant is highly skilled or has years of experience, English conversation schools are much more open to it. Such schools include:

Within the field, there are a couple of occupations you can do:

  • Assistant language teacher (ALT)
  • Eikaiwa teacher (英会話スクールの先生, eikaiwa-sukuru no sensei) – a teacher at an English conversation school (not a regular school)
  • English school teacher (英語の先生, eigo no sensei) – working at a regular private or public school teaching English

While finding a job at a regular Japanese school can be challenging, native English speakers will find it easier to start as an ALT or eikaiwa.

How to find a job in Tokyo?

When searching online for jobs in the capital, it is easiest to simply use one of the nationwide websites mentioned above. Simply filter by location, and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to go around.

Three people having a business meeting in a modern working space in Tokyo.
Photo: recep-bg/Getty Images

Tokyo also has a lot of in-person job fairs, including:

How to become a freelancer in Japan?

Freelancers must register as a sole proprietor (個人事業主, kojin jigyo-nushi) by filling out a form and sending it to your local tax office (税務署, Zeimu Sho). However, only those already living in Japan on a spouse visa or certain work visas can register as sole proprietors.

Those with extra cash can also become business owners and apply for a Business Manager visa. This requires a minimum ¥5 million investment, as well as a dedicated, physical office space in Japan.

In both cases, it is highly recommended to hire a Japanese lawyer or other professional assistance to help you navigate the legal requirements. I-socia Advisors has some helpful information on the subject as well as services available for the Osaka area. June Advisors Group also has useful information and services throughout the country.

Keep in mind that entering the country as a freelancer (フリーランス, furiransu) can be a challenge. It is much easier to find a full-time position first and then transition into freelancing and update your visa.

According to Lancers (one of the main freelancing platforms), Japan had 15.77 million freelancers in 2021. This number accounts for 22.8% of the working population, though does include those who have a full or part-time job and are doing freelance work on the side.

Traineeships and internships in Japan

Traditionally, Japan does not have a formal system of apprenticeships or internships. Instead, there is an “on-the-job” mentality. This means that you get hired in a starter position, and you learn as you go.

In more recent times, more and more companies have started to offer internships to foreign nationals. The easiest way to find one is through an agency, such as:

Japanese volunteering positions

It’s not common to volunteer (ボランティア活動, boranteia katsudo) in Japan. In 2018, only 17% of people had volunteering experience. Of those, only 12.9% were company employees and 14.3% were temporary, contract, or part-time workers.

Young boy volunteering to plant seedlings at a reforestation event at a logging site in Japan
Nishiawakura (西粟倉村, Nishi-awakura Son), Japan (Photo: Trevor Williams/Getty Images)

The main reasons behind this lack are:

  • Not enough time in the day to participate
  • Insufficient information
  • Not enough time off to participate

That said, there are some platforms where you can find volunteering positions in Japan. These include:

Applying for a job in Japan

Perhaps understandably, job application processes differ when it comes to Japanese and international companies, and which primary language is used.

For companies where the primary language is Japanese, you will be expected to submit a CV (職務経歴書, shokumu keireki-sho) or resume (履歴書, rireki sho) in Japanese, as well as a cover letter (志望動機, shibo doki). Your resume should follow the typical Japanese CV structure and include:

  • A photo
  • Your address
  • Work experience
  • Qualifications and degrees

At the interview, you’re expected to wear formal businesswear (e.g., a (pants) suit).

International companies are likely to have an application process more similar to the American process. You’re also expected to submit a CV and cover letter, but these can be written in English. Likewise, you can use the American CV structure. Larger or well-known international companies can have multiple interview stages.

No matter what job you apply for in Japan, you should always arrive on time (i.e., at least five minutes early), dress well, and research the company before your interview.

Support while looking for a job

If you find yourself without a job, you can claim limited unemployment benefits and help from government support services. Keep in mind that foreign nationals must have been paying into National Insurance (社会保険, shakai hoken) for at least six months.

Vietnamese migrant workers made jobless and homeless by the coronavirus pandemic enjoy dinner together.
Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images

Those in Japan on a work visa must update the Immigration Services Agency (ISA – 出入国在留管理庁, Shutsu-nyukoku Zairyu Kanri-Cho) within 14 days of their dismissal. They then have three months to find a new job before their visa is revoked.

You can visit the ISA website for more information.

Tips on finding a job in Japan

The better your Japanese, the more opportunities you’ll have. As such, it’s a good idea to learn some basic Japanese before applying. The easiest way to quantify your language level is by getting a JLPT certification. Your eventual goal should be N2 (i.e., business level), but having any certification is better than none.

Another great tip is to brush up on your knowledge of how to find a job as an expat before you go.

Starting a job in Japan

Once you’ve landed yourself a job, you’ll need to consider some of the practicalities. Most full-time jobs will enroll you into health insurance and pension plans, but it is a good idea to check with your HR representative or manager. If not, you must join the national health insurance yourself and make your own payments.

Other things you should do before you start your job:

Useful resources