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Ask the Staff – Working & Living in Japan
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 12:28am in Ask the Staff

Our first Ask the Staff question is ready to be answered! Catharina sent us a couple questions about living and working in Japan!

Hello! I’m from Germany and a big fan of Japan. I just love this land and I want to work there some day. So I learn japanese and want to work in a company which has its head office in Japan. Do you think this is a good idea? And what can I do to work in Japan and maybe live there? I’m really happy that I can ask this and I’m excited about your answer.

Bomi says…
A friend who is taking japanese classes with me has recently got a job in a graphic designing company in Tokyo, so she will be moving there soon. Luckily, the company is somewhat international, so everyone who works there must know at least basic english, and lot of their employed are foreigners. Some of the important steps I remember she mentioned is to contact Japanese embassy in one’s country where they give you a basic japanese language knowledge test (around JLPT level 4 based on a new 5 level test, and around level 3 from old 4-level format). Embassy also helps with contacting different companies, so contacting them and asking for some extra information may help. It’s important to have a few years of experience in the working field. It’s really not all impossible!

Ku says…
In order to start a new job in Japan, you have to be able to get a work visa which is sponsored by your employer. MANY (but not all) employers require a 4-year college degree (or equivalent; not every country offers 4-year degrees) in order to get their sponsorship. While this is almost always the case, there are ways to get in without a four year degree, as there are some companies who will sponsor you without. Generally, it seems you either need a few years’ experience in the field or a 4-year degree.
Another option is to head over to Japan on a 90-day tourist visa and try to get a job from within the country; you’ll still need to get them to sponsor a work visa, but it’s generally easier to find work once you’re already here.
Teaching English is a good way to get your foot in the door. Once you’re in, you can spend a few years as a teacher gaining experience with working and living in Japan in general, bolster your language skills, and then move on to a career in another field if that’s your plan.

I think the most pertinent advice I have to offer is this: If working and living in Japan is a real goal for you, work toward it every day. Find work or volunteer opportunities in your field of interest, study the heck out of Japanese, and keep an eye on current job postings to see what kind of things may be expected on your resume in the future so you can work on them NOW.

Adrienne says…
Like Ku said, you do need to have a working visa to legally work in Japan, and usually your employer will sponsor it. Changing your visa status while in country is doable (I actually did it), but you can’t work until it’s switched over, which in my experience, took about a month.

Teaching English is a great way to get to Japan, and to get some experience, but coming from a country where English is not the native language, you may find it a bit more difficult finding a good teaching job at a decent company. Having qualifications would definitely help, or you could look at teaching German (although admittedly, the opportunities for that are probably far less).

Go with what your skills sets are. If you’re studying Japanese, and are able to reach a high level of proficiency, you could do translating or interpreting. If your skills are in another area, focus on that. A friend of mine is a computer programmer, and had a good job working at a company here doing that. I would also recommend looking into international or foreign owned companies, as opposed to a purely Japanese owned company.

My biggest piece of advice is that if you have never lived in Japan for any extended period of time, consider doing an exchange. Visiting Japan, and living in Japan are completely different, and to make sure moving half way around the world is something that will work for you, having experience on exchange will really help. It also looks great on job applications (that’s part of the reason I got the job I have). My boss told me that he looks specifically for people who have had experience living in Japan, so they won’t get a culture shock within the first few months, and leave town. I also have had experiences with even exchange students coming over and Japan not being what they imagined it would be.

If you’re determined enough, you should definitely be able to make your dream work. A good place to look at job postings is I found my job (which I love, and have been at for nearly three years now) through there. I don’t know how soon you’re planning on heading to Japan, but even looking around now at what kind of jobs are available could help you make some decisions.

Good luck in your endeavors! If you have anymore questions, feel free to ask.

Don’t forget, you can always send the staff a question about life in Japan, travelling to, or going to lives in Japan via our Ask the Staff contact form.

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