Working in Japan: How to Move to the Land of the Rising Sun

tokyo japan

Japan is one of the most diverse countries in the world. And although the temples, castles and stunning nature are amazing to behold, it’s the ever-vibrant Tokyo that has been attracting an increasing number of people who are interested in working abroad.

If you’d love to work in Japan and experience Tokyo’s pop culture first-hand, check out the guide we’ve put together below.

General info

One of the first things you should know about Japan is that has a relatively homogeneous population. 98.5 per cent of the people living in Japan come from Japan. To the aspiring expat this can only mean two things: that a culture shock is inevitable and that you’re almost guaranteed to struggle finding someone from another culture. Of course, Japan has 127 million inhabitants, so the 1.5 per cent of foreigners that live here comes up to a total of almost two million people, most of which are based in Tokyo; the commercial centre of the country.

Biggest sectors

Working in Japan can mean an excellent remuneration package as the country has the third largest economy in the world with a GDP of $38,412 per capita. The country’s economy is largely based on the automobile manufacturing and the electronic goods industries. Japan is, also, often ranked as the most innovative country in the world with manufacturing focusing on high-tech goods such as robotics and hybrid vehicles, which means that if you have an eye for creativity and innovation, Tokyo could well be the place to you could thrive in.

In spite of its shrinking population and lack natural resources, Japan has managed to remain one of the biggest influencers in the world’s economy by turning towards trade; in fact, the country now focuses on engineering-oriented export.

Moreover, Japan is amongst the three top importers (together with the European Union and the United States) for agricultural products as this mountainous and volcanic island has trouble producing enough agricultural products for its population.

Salary information

The average salary in Japan is £72,000 per year. Professional in financial services, as well as executives and professionals in law make significantly more than that. Engineers, on the other hand, are amongst the lowest paid qualified professionals in the country as they only make £36,000 per year.

Minimum wages vary depending on the prefecture where you are located, but generally range between ¥714 (£4) per hour, in prefectures like Okinawa, to ¥932 (£6.33) per hour, in prefectures such as Tokyo.

Cost of living

Japan is by no means a cheap country to live in. Consumer prices, as well as grocery prices are higher than in the UK. But other costs such as rent, purchasing a new car or interest rates on mortgages are much cheaper.

Work visa

Getting a work visa in Japan is a little complicated as there are twenty-seven different types of visas. These fall under three main categories:

  • Working Visa
  • Non-working visa
  • Family members visa

Working visas are granted for experienced, high-level professionals. These visas are not available for simple labour work and it’s strictly forbidden for individuals pursuing these types of visas to seek any other type of employment other than that which is specified.

Bear in mind, that it’s typically expected to have a sponsor before you apply for a visa, so it’s recommended that you start looking for a job before you apply for a visa.

Types of work visas

  • Professor: university professors, assistant professors,
  • Artist: songwriters, composers, artists, sculptors, photographers,
  • Religious activities: monks, bishops, missionaries,
  • Journalist: newspaper and magazine journalists, editors, cameramen,
  • Business manager: company presidents, directors, etc.
  • Legal/Accounting Services: attorneys, judicial scriveners, public accountants, tax accountants,
  • Medical Services: physicians, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, etc.
  • Researcher: researchers, investigators,
  • Instructor: teachers, etc.
  • Engineer/Specialist in humanities/international services: scientific engineers, IT engineers, foreign language teachers, interpreters, copywriters, designers, etc.
  • Intra-company transferee: internal transfers of international companies
  • Entertainer: musicians, actors, singers, dancers, models, etc.
  • Skilled labour: chefs, animal trainers, sommeliers, etc.

Highly skilled professional visa

The Highly Skilled Professional visa is a new type of work visa that was introduced in 2012. Essentially, it’s a points system type of visa which allows professionals to engage in multiple activities that cover different visa categories.

  • Points are given for educational level, professional background, income, academic achievements
  • Covers any dependents
  • Faster access to Permanent visa
  • Five years of residency granted
  • Allows spouse to work full-time

You can find out more about visas and requirements through Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Find a job

Working in Japan is a completely different experience to working anywhere in the West. The Japanese are very hard working people, and they generally work 60 hour work weeks. They are also very dedicated to their jobs and are extremely business savvy.

Your quest to find a job in Japan should start from before you move as getting to the country and then looking for a job can only complicate things. Japanese employers will not hire you if you’re not legally entitled to live in the country and they are also generally hesitant in sponsoring a work visa on short notice.

Where to find work

Jobs in Japan can be quite hard to come by as the workforce is competitive. Here are some job boards where you can find vacancies:

  • Daijob: This website is one of the major job search websites in the country and it also features various articles aimed to help jobseekers.
  • GaijinPot: Is the other major job search website in the country. Apart from vacancies, they also have flat listings and host interesting articles that can help you settle in when you first move to Japan.
  • JobsinJapan: Jobs in Japan is one of the biggest English job search websites in the country. You can find lots of positions based on industry, or if you prefer by location.
  • Japanese Jobs: This website targets bilingual professionals, who speak Japanese and English, together with hiring companies. The website also lets you submit your CV and get found by employers.

Cultural norms

Japanese and Western culture are worlds apart. Being aware of etiquette and cultural norms could help you get a job or at least enhance your chances. You need to be much more polite and kind than you normally would be. You should also be careful to maintain the correct body language during interviews, so for example, avoid placing your hands in pockets and smiling awkwardly.

Working in Japan can be an exhilarating experience, but to succeed in the admittedly demanding Japanese workforce, you’ll need to be willing to work hard and commit a big portion of your life to your career.

Would you be interested in working in Japan? Or would a country with more cultural similarities, like the US, Canada and Australia be better suited to you? Let me know in the comment section below.