Working in Japan: Finding a Job in Japan

Hey all!    It’s a new year, which means new beginnings and the beginning of the Japanese hiring season!  As I’ve written before, I plan on leaving my current company for something more flexible and less hectic.  So while I’m on the hunt for a new job or string of part-time jobs, I figured why not make it into a series that way someone else might also benefit from the experience.

This first post in the series focuses on where many of us find ourselves at in the very beginning-  trying to get hired from abroad or within Japan.

First things first, in order to stay in Japan, you either need a visa, permanent residency, or citizenship.  There are a variety of visas, but one of the most common is a working visa.

Luckily teaching is an easy way to get a visa if you are from a country that speaks English as a first language, and is made easier if you’re from a country with a working holiday visa program.  If you’re not from a country with a working holiday program, all you need is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university to qualify for sponsorship from a willing employer.  It doesn’t matter what field your degree is in.  Many people often use entry level teaching positions as a means to work while they try to better their Japanese or study something in Japan that they plan to later make a career out of.

If you’re a teacher with a degree in education and have a teaching license in your home country, you might want to consider applying to an immersion or international school.  If you have a masters degree or doctorate, some experience in your field/teaching, and can get by conversationally in Japanese, you might want to consider applying for a university position.

If you are have a degree in business, engineering, computer programming, or something in demand, and your Japanese is business level or fluent, I recommend looking for something in your field.

No matter what type of job you’re looking for, you’re going to need to sit down a sift through some job listings.  The hiring season in Japan is January-March, for an April start.  Some industries hire twice a year, with another hiring season around June-August for mid-August or September start.  The January-March hiring season usually brings the most job listings.   Most of the sites below are good whether you’re looking for a job from abroad of within Japan.

Popular or Useful Job Listing Sites

  • Gaijinpot – This is the main hub, but not necessarily limited to, teaching and other entry level jobs in Japan.  You can search by field or location.  Their resume maker tool makes applying to job listings on the site a breeze, but if you really want to stand out I recommend visiting the company’s website and applying through any listing posted there if possible.
  • Jobs in Japan – Lots of jobs, especially for teaching, that might not be listed on Gaijinpot.  Unfortunately search options are only by industry, which means you’ll have to sift through tons of listings if you’re after something in a specific area.
  • JET Programme – A nice way to get a teaching gig with a decent salary if you currently reside overseas in one of the many countries they accept applications from.
  • O-hayo Sensei – Sign up to their mailing list for a free current issue of teaching positions, or subscribe to get all issues for $12
  • Japan International Schools K-12 – For those already in the teaching profession that wish to teach in international schools in Japan.  Best way to find employment opportunities is to visit each school’s homepage and look for any recruitment postings.
  • Job Board – For those looking for employment on a working holiday visa
  • Daijob – Mostly for non-teaching, non-entry level jobs for bilinguals.  Many job listings require a high level of Japanese.
  • CareerCross – Another site for non-teaching jobs for bilinguals.  Many job listings require a high level of Japanese.
  • Tokyo Connections – A networking site for mailing lists with job offers, internships, etc.

Many of the jobs (especially teaching ones) featured on the sites above are for entry level work unless otherwise noted. More experienced teaching work will come via networking, word of mouth, and/or posted on a Board or Education’s/local school’s/town website. If you have a teaching supervisor you can trust and who is happy with your work, he or she might be willing to recommend you to other schools or a board of education if you ask him/her for advice.

Most regular Japanese job listings can be found in town circulation magazines like Domo, Job Idem, or Town Work.

Right now I’m looking for part-time/freelance translation work and oDesk has been pretty helpful. After you get everything set up, using it is a breeze.  I’ll make a post on oDesk later on. 🙂

Many universities, both Japanese and abroad, also offer international job fairs and can another good way to get scouted for a job in Japan.

Read the Fine Print
First things first, not all jobs will sponsor a visa so make sure this is addressed in the listing or ask for clarification it isn’t noted and you will require sponsorship.

Second, make sure the salary seems reasonable.  An average full time entry level teaching position in Japan pays around 230,000 – 250,000 yen.  Anything less and you will probably have trouble making ends meet, especially in bigger cities where rent is high.  That said, if a job with a low salary provides a housing allowance or bonuses throughout the year, you might come out just as well or even better off.  Be sure to do the math!  Also, be suspicious of any job that doesn’t tell you how much you will be paid, or will only reveal salary or working hours at the at the interview.

Speaking of working hours, my third point of advice is to not to take all listings at face value until you’ve been to the interview and seen the contract.  A “full time” teaching position, for example, might list 20-25 teaching hours per week.  This doesn’t mean you will only be working 20-25 hours a week, but almost always means that you will only be paid for 20-25 hours or work in the classroom.  On top of these hours you will likely be expected to do other things like planning, paperwork, meetings, or commuting to different work sites during your free, unpaid time.  No matter what the field, Japan is pretty bad about under listing actual working hours.  Expect to work a 40 hour week, plus possibly longer hours for positions that require paid or unpaid overtime.

Do they provide social insurance (shakai hoken)?  Companies are legally bound to enroll you in social insurance and pension if you work more than 29.5 hours a week.  The reality is that a lot of companies don’t or find ways to skirt the law so you end up having to enroll on national insurance (kokumin hoken) on your own, which isn’t as good of a plan, and then pay everything out of pocket yourself.  This is fine the first year, when you have no income to base your insurance off of and pay a flat rate, but with each year the cost increases with your salary.  My insurance cost is around 34,000 yen ($340 USD) a month, so you can see how that might seriously impact your finances.  ALT/eikaiwa (English conversation) outfits are especially notorious for saying that only your teaching hours count as hours worked towards the insurance scheme and try to loophole out of it.  Other companies might lie and say they provide their own (cheaper) insurance scheme, which can be substituted for social or national insurance.  This is not a legal substitute, and if you ever try to enroll on social or national insurance later, you might find the city will require you to backpay for all the years you were supposed to legally be enrolled but weren’t.  Both of these situations have happened to me at various different companies, so let my experience be a lesson to you.  🙂
It might be hard to find job listings for completely legitimate companies that include visa sponsorship for your first job here, but if there are too many red flags, it’s probably best not to waste your time.

– J

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