Working in Japan

Updated 2020-04-30 13:30

Japan is becoming more and more popular with foreigners, with many people aspiring to live and work there. The "Land of the Rising Sun" offers a unique culture that attracts and fascinates. The government understands this well, and has been working for some years to facilitate the expatriation of foreigners. Their efforts are also spurred on by the challenge of an ageing population: Japan is a country with more need of manpower than ever.

Job opportunities in Japan

With regards to finding a job in Japan, one question often arises - what will tip the balance in your favour? What would push a company to recruit you? For expatriates, the question is doubly important. The global economic crisis that has been raging since 2008 has not spared Japan, though the country does remain strong. With the third-largest economy in the world, Japan enjoys an unemployment level of less than 3%. But competition is ever-present and increasingly fierce. Hence the question: is it easy to find a job in Japan?

It all depends on the job or sector you are targeting. But before asking that question, ask yourself if your level of Japanese is conducive to securing a job in Japan. The higher your level, the more likely it becomes that you will be welcomed into the job market. As with many other great powers, the market - or rather, the labour market - has two sides. It's all about networking and relationships. This network will reap better rewards if you are able to highlight your strengths: mastery of Japanese, diplomas, and solid experience. The more qualified you are, the more value your resume will have. 

The foreign language education sector - especially English - remains the preserve of expatriates. Language institutes regularly offer English teaching positions or those of ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). Many ALT companies recruit abroad, such as JET, Interac and Altia. English is also taught in the eikaiwa - English schools. Several large companies hire both abroad and within Japan, such as AEON, ECC, Amity, Nova, etc.

However, foreigners are not confined to teaching, tourism or translation. Many other doors have opened over the years. For those who speak Japanese fluently and have the required qualifications, no barrier is impassable.

Japanese labour markets

The Japanese labour market is, first and foremost, two distinct markets - the first is the one that most are looking to get into. This market is that of the permanent job, with a fair or even high salary, with the possibility of social mobility. This is the market for graduates, those who have mastered Japanese and its habits and customs (including its corporate culture). It's a highly competitive market, where speaking English is no longer enough – in fact, English is no longer a foreign language. Japan understands the importance of English and many Japanese have themselves mastered the language - something for expatriates to bear in mind if they hoped to count on their knowledge of English.

Consequently, in addition to English, you will need - depending on the sector/profession - to speak other languages and to have demonstrable expertise and skills that will set you apart from other candidates.

The other market is equally competitive but more precarious. This is the market of part-time jobs (oddbaito). Contrary to the first market, which relies heavily on your professional network, the "Baito market" is very accessible. Offers of odd jobs are found almost everywhere - the supermarket, konbini (mini markets open 24/24), restaurants, fast food outlets, security, personal services, cleaning, etc. The need is so pronounced in these sectors that there is almost no selection criteria - not even that of fluent Japanese. At most, you will be asked to know the rudiments of the language. 

These jobs do have their disadvantages: low wages, staggered hours, difficult working conditions, and minimal social protection. Conscious of these challenges, the Japanese government has implemented measures to better protect workers in precarious jobs. These measures are difficult to track, however, in a country where the official figures conceal a more controversial reality: yes, Japan may statistically be in a situation of “full employment”, but it is a state of fragile, precarious employment.

The job hunt in Japan

Many job sites publish advertisements for job vacancies across the country. You can also apply directly to one of the many companies that hire foreigners in Japan. If you speak Japanese, expand your search to Japanese websites. But before you do, consider getting a free CV review at TopCV.

 Useful links:

JET Program (teaching foreign languages in Japan)
Japan Times 
Jobs in Japan

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