Finding an internship in Japan

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Updated 2022-12-21 13:48

Are you dreaming of doing an internship in the Land of the Rising Sun but don't know how to go about it? Maybe you have heard that internship offers in Japan are rare, and you would like some advice on how to prepare for your move to Japan.

Indeed, internships in Japan are scarcer than in other countries. However, it has slowly become a new trend in the past few years. Although Covid has significantly impacted the situation, the progressive reopening of the borders is giving hope to international students and prospective trainees.

The internship culture in Japan

Why is it so difficult to find an internship in Japan? To understand the reasons, you have to look back at the Japanese higher education system. In Japan, you don't need an internship to complete your degree. Students usually join the Japanese labor market once they have graduated. In fact, the last years of university are devoted to intensive job searches. Young Japanese people attend many job fairs and other professional events, and a large part of their time is dedicated to job search. Those who get the desired position (seishain or permanent employee contract) leave the university with honors (and great relief). The others remain at the university.

It is uncommon for students in Japan to take a break to do an internship for one or more months. It's considered even worse to take a sabbatical year to travel the world and do internships. Hence the low number of internship offers. But although it is difficult to find internship opportunities in Japan, it is not impossible. International companies in Japan are gradually opening up to the internship culture, even though there is no Japanese equivalent for the term internship.

Is a visa required for doing an internship in Japan?

Whether you need a visa for Japan or not depends on the duration of your stay. If you stay less than 90 days, you do not need a visa. If you stay more than 90 days, then it is compulsory to have one. The Covid pandemic brought quite a lot of changes in Japanese immigration policies. From now on, every foreigner needs a visa to enter Japan, even as a tourist. Please check with your embassy to obtain the relevant information for your specific status.

Types of internships in Japan

Make sure to inquire about any type of remuneration for your internship in Japan. There are usually two options. You can either do an internship as part of your studies (it will be unpaid but will give you university credits), or you can do a paid internship.

Short internships in Japan

In the past, it was possible to do an unpaid internship for less than 90 days. That was exactly the duration of a stay in Japan without a visa (as a tourist who is not allowed to work in the country). But the health crisis has changed the situation. From now on, you will need a visa to enter Japan, whatever the duration of your stay.

Long internships in Japan

Long internships are intended for stays of more than 90 days and require an internship visa. First of all, you will need to find a sponsor (employer). The company will be responsible for issuing the Certificate of Eligibility (CoE) in either of the two following cases:

  • You are doing an unpaid internship. In this case, apply for a "cultural activities" internship visa.
  • You are doing a paid internship. In this case, apply for a "designated activities" internship visa.

If you are already in Japan with a student visa or a Japanese Working Holiday Visa (WHV), you can take the opportunity to try a new experience and look for an internship. The student and WHV allow you to work 28 hours per week.

How to apply for an internship visa in Japan?

In all cases, you will have to apply for a visa at the Japanese Embassy in your home country, which will verify that you meet all the set conditions. Keep in mind that the application has to be made in person. Do not use a third party. The information provided below is a general guide and should be used as a reference only, as Embassies may modify their list of required documents. They may also ask you for more information.

List of documents required to apply for an internship visa in Japan (subject to the discretion of each Embassy):

  • Visa application form
  • Passport-size photo and passport (original and photocopy)
  • A proof of residence in the country from where you are applying for the internship.
  • Your school certificate
  • An internship agreement signed by all parties (your university, your host organization in Japan, and you). Your university and the Japanese company must also endorse your internship agreement.
  • The sponsoring company in Japan must send you a "letter of acceptance" (ukeire kikan hakkô no shôdakusho) and a certificate allowing you to enter Japan (Certificate for Completion of Registration to the ERFS system - uketsuke zumisho). The letter of acceptance should reflect the details of your internship in Japan: working hours, whether or not you will be paid, the name of the hosting company, etc. The certificate is a mandatory document usually sent by your Japanese sponsor. The same document is now requested for WHV applications.
  • Your last 3 bank statements: you must have sufficient financial means to cover your whole internship in Japan without being paid. If the Embassy considers that your means are limited, it may request a financial guarantee from a third party, with proof of capacity.

Are scholarships available for foreign trainees in Japan?

Several types of scholarships are available in Japan. They are usually study scholarships proposed namely, through JASSO (Japan Student Service Organization) or through JISTEC (Japan International Science and Technology Exchange Center) for research scholarships. These scholarships are reserved for students who wish to continue their studies in Japan.

Other scholarship options can be found through agencies like Euraxess Links Japan, the Matsumae Foundation, or the Japan Foundation. But these scholarships are reserved for research and doctoral students. There does not seem to be a specific scholarship for foreign interns in Japan.

Check with your university to find out where you can pursue your studies in Japan.

Remember that in Japan, as elsewhere, internships are generally poorly paid (when they are paid at all). Hence, Japanese immigration will want to ensure you can sustain yourself without working.

Important:

Do not accept any offer if you do not have the required visa. Japanese authorities do not joke with the law, and you risk deportation.

How to find internship offers in Japan?

Universities

Does your university in your home country have a partnership with Japan or with companies in Japan? Does it have links with Japan? Have you chosen a university that offers an international curriculum, with the possibility of doing an internship in Japan? Find out how to apply from your university.

Sister cities

Many cities in the world are twinned. More than a symbolic title, these twinning arrangements create real cultural and economic partnerships. For example, Tokyo is twinned with Berlin, Beijing, Cairo, Jakarta, London, Seoul, Moscow, and São Paulo. Kyoto is twinned with Paris, Boston, Cologne, Kiev, Zagreb, Jerusalem, and Vancouver. Osaka is twinned with Chicago, Milan, Saint Petersburg, Hamburg, or Shanghai. Fukuoka is twinned with Atlanta, Busan (South Korea), Bordeaux, Ipoh (Malaysia) and Auckland. Studying in the sister city of a Japanese city can open doors to future internships and ease the process. Contact your university for more information.

International companies

Many major Japanese companies, like Panasonic, Nintendo, Sony, Toshiba, Hitachi, and many more, are now open to the international labor market and to the internship culture. Try your luck with them. Don't wait for internship offers to be published. Apply spontaneously. Consider smaller companies as well, but ones that work in connection with Japan or have a presence there.

Organizations

Chambers of Commerce and Industry, job search organizations, associations, and embassies are as many organizations that can propose internships in Japan. The Japan Society, an American instance, offers internship opportunities that are primarily intended for American citizens, but anyone can apply. The Vulcanus program also gives the opportunity to get an internship in Japan, but it is reserved for engineering students.

Job boards

Job search websites also host internship offers. Try your luck on GaijinPot, Jobs in Japan, or Daijob. If you speak Japanese, do your search in the local language. You will get more results.

Networking

You perhaps know a friend, an acquaintance, or a colleague who has managed to find an internship in Japan. Some even manage to transform their internship into a long-term job. Usually, the company that recruited them as interns was satisfied enough with their work to sponsor their long-term visas. Whether you are aiming for a stable job in Japan or professional experience, do not hesitate to use your network. Someone you know might introduce you to a company. Word of mouth and informal contacts have proven to be very effective.

Beware of shady internship offers

Beware of overly tempting offers. This warning is especially true for those who are not going on an internship. If you take advantage of your student visa or WHV to do an internship, choose the company properly. Check with the HR department to ensure you are eligible for the internship. Ask for a contract. Remember that working hours are limited. Some unscrupulous employers may take advantage of your poor knowledge of the law to make you work as a full-time employee, but without the pay and protection that goes with it.

Is knowledge of Japanese compulsory for doing an internship in Japan?

As with finding a job in Japan, speaking Japanese will increase your chances of finding an internship. However, companies are quite lenient, so it's not compulsory to be bilingual. But your fellow competitors probably will be. Many young people dream of moving to Japan to study Japanese. Do your best to master the basics of the language, or even have a conversational level (N3, intermediate level). This is even more true if you are doing a long internship.

Planning your move to Japan as an intern

Importance of diplomas

Do you have a bachelor's or a master's degree? Higher education in Japan is as competitive as in many Western countries. Your diploma, especially if it does not come from an internationally recognized institution, will certainly not speak to your Japanese recruiter. However, the level of your diploma may reassure them or motivate them to choose you.

Speaking Japanese

Do you speak Japanese? As mentioned above, it is possible to become an intern in Japan without speaking Japanese, but this doesn't mean that it's easy. So don't wait until you leave for Japan to learn Japanese. The competition is tough, and COVID has only made things worse. As much as English is a must (whether you travel or not, by the way), Japanese is just as important, especially if you want to work in Japan later on. If you have a good command of Japanese, you will be able to apply for more internship opportunities.

Purpose of the trip

Take the time to define the purpose of your trip. Are you looking for a job in the long run? Do you want to learn about Japanese culture? Set goals for yourself to better target your internship search in Japan.

Explore the country

When you arrive in Japan, set a few days aside for administrative matters. Moving to a foreign country can be stressful, especially if it is your first-ever international relocation. Get the most out of the first days following your arrival to take care of all your administrative procedures (city hall, telephone and internet subscription, etc.).

Start your research well in advance. In Japan, schools and professional life start in April. Use your free time to work on your Japanese and other languages. Working in Japan, even as an intern, can be tricky (especially in this time of crisis) but not impossible. Be patient and stay positive.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.