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Finding work in Japan

What jobs are available? Which industries are thriving? And how can you find work? We answer all your questions below.

It’s hard to look at photos of Tokyo and not think of businessmen with futuristic tech working in the stock market or for tech giants like Sony. But this is a 1980s anachronism, and was only true of certain areas at the time anyway.

In the 1990s, Japan’s real estate and stock market bubble burst and gave rise to ‘the lost decade’ which lasted well into the new millennium. Just as things were recovering, the 2008 global financial crash hit, followed by the 2011 earthquake.

Today, Japan’s economy is slowly growing, but it still faces issues, such as:

This is the backdrop against which expats — gaijiin [guy-jin] in Japanese — find themselves when looking for work in the country.

Sectors

Despite the challenges of the last 25 years, Japan’s economy is highly diversified and market-oriented — the third largest in the world. Its key sectors include:

  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing
  • Mining, manufacturing and construction
  • Real estate
  • Scientific and technical
  • Wholesale and retail trade

(Source: Statistics Bureau, Japan)

70% (2016) of the workforce — including expats — are employed in service-related industries, from banking and finance to retail and telecommunications.

Expats also have their own demands. Many people want to teach English as an easy way to enter the Japanese job market and get residency, while few want to become farmers. According to a 2017 travel blog, the most popular jobs for expats are:

  • English teacher
  • IT professional
  • Translator
  • Sales
  • Banker
  • Service staff
  • Engineer

As well as those expats who move and look for work, many hold diplomatic posts, have careers as foreign correspondents, or are sent abroad as part of an intra-company transfer.

Finding work

Japan runs a points-based system for Highly Skilled Foreign Professionals (just one way of receiving a visa or getting residence), which includes three categories:

  • advanced academic research activities
  • advanced specialised/technical activities
  • advanced business management activities.

For each of these, different scores are available for skills and experience, for example:

  • Doctorate degree – 30 points
  • 10 years’ related work experience – 20 points
  • 3 years’ related work experience – 5 points
  • How much you have in savings – 10-40 points

2017 saw reports that Japan had a labour shortage (1.48 jobs per applicant), which is good news for the economy. As well as people, Japan has skills shortages, and an expat with those skills will find it far easier to find work and get residency. 64% of employers believe they don’t have the talent they need right now to meet current business objectives, according to findings in the 2016 Hays Asia Salary Guide.

As well as approaching the industries where skills shortages exist, or where there is a demand for English speakers, expats seeking work should learn as much Japanese as they can, and network. Personal connections are an important part of a successful business career, and, as the British Chamber of Commerce says, “More so in Japan than in many other countries.”

Networks and networking are great ways to both research the job market or specific industries and meet people who may be in a position to employ or refer you to potential employers. Expats can prepare for a move to Japan by building a professional network using sites such as LinkedIn. After your move, you can take advantage of some of the many professional networking events that take place in cities across the country. Considerable emphasis is placed on personal connections and participating in the business after-work drinking culture, and references and referrals go a long way.

Certain professions require proof of a level of Japanese language skills via the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), which includes reading, writing vocabulary and grammar skills. A command of Japanese can add 15 points to your application. For more information on the test, visit the JLPT website.

It is very hard to find work before moving to Japan as most employers, understandably, want to meet a potential employee before appointing them. Foreign language teaching is outside the points system, so many expats find easy access to employment in teaching until they can find a job that may be harder to secure while living abroad.

It is important to note that Japan has strict controls on foreign workers and you need to make sure you have the right permissions. Visit our guide to visas for Japan for more information.

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