How to Get a Job in Japan from Overseas
By Kasia Lynch (Founder of Ikigai Connections) | March 5, 2021
“I live overseas. Can I still apply for jobs in Japan?”
The answer to this question is an absolute YES - but it’s not necessarily easy.
That said, it’s also not impossible! So if you are open-minded, ready to put the work in, and unwilling to give up on your dream of living in Japan - keep reading!
Let’s dive in so you can learn how to get a job in Japan.
This article is a subsection of our ultimate Guide to Jobs in Japan.
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First and foremost, you need to familiarize yourself with the legal aspect of working in Japan. Like any country, some legalities are important to understand before you travel to, live, or work in Japan.
You need to research online what relationship your country has with Japan, and this can usually be found on your country’s official government website. For the USA, for example, you can travel to Japan without a visa for up to 90 days. If you want to work there, you need to find a company that is willing to hire you and provide a work visa.
I highly recommend reading BFF Tokyo’s Ultimate Guide to Japan Visas for a thorough deep-dive into the many kinds of visas and ways to get to Japan.
A Word About Covid
As of this writing (Feb 2021), the world is slightly frozen in time and very few people are traveling. Japan has also closed its doors to any new visitors, so job ads within Japan are likewise closed to any applicants outside of the country. Even confirmed JET participants have been waiting since 2020 to be finally given the green light to travel to Japan and begin their assignments.
There’s a lot of negativity, doom, and gloom for anyone currently wanting to work in Japan.
But have hope! Japan needs non-Japanese people to support the economy, especially with the rising domestic elderly population and decreasing birth rate. Japan is also the third-largest economy in the world, so being internationally-minded is key. There are a lot of changes happening domestically because of the pandemic, such as moving away from a reliance on hanko and experimenting with remote work, so I’m personally excited to see what changes take place within Japan going forward.
Don’t feel stuck; take this opportunity to network and research your Japan-related career ikigai. I’ll go into details later in this article, but first, let’s look at the top routes to get to Japan for when the world reopens.
Route #1: Teach English
One of the easier ways to work in Japan is to teach English at a private school, aka a business that focuses on teaching English (not an actual school in the education system). It’s also known as an Eikawa school. Depending on the company, you may be able to get a visa and pre-arranged accommodations, both of which are big pluses.
A quick Google search will show you many English-teaching companies in Japan. The bigger and long-standing ones have more structured programs that provide a visa, housing arrangements, training, and orientation. Smaller companies may not have all of those perks, but if they offer a visa, then you can figure out the rest. (I worked for two companies, one in Tokyo and one in Kyoto, that had only one branch each and maintained their businesses successfully via word-of-mouth.)
It is important to research reviews about particular companies - but keep in mind that reviews should be specific to branches, not entire companies in general. Sometimes branches serve as types of franchises, and what happens in one branch could be wildly different from other same-named branches. Also, one person’s bad experience on the internet may not be a good portrayal of the situation, especially if the remaining employees have good experiences that they don’t review online. A good podcast to listen to is ALT Insider if you want to dig deep into teaching English in Japan.
I was lucky enough to be featured on the podcast and you can hear me talk about my experiences and making it happen. Tyson Batino, the founder of has also appeared several times. Here is him talking about opening a Japanese school as a westerner.
How do you find these schools? Check out job listings on job boards that are listed on our Guide to Full-time Jobs in Japan article and on websites such as JobsInJapan.com - be sure to check whether visas are provided or not. JobsInJapan also has a nice section for overseas applicants that you can check out as well. Don’t forget to check out BFF Tokyo’s very own One Coin English for some openings.
In my humble opinion, I firmly believe that applicants for such roles should have a good understanding of English vocabulary and grammar. You don’t necessarily need to have a teaching degree, but you should be comfortable teaching the subject and be ready to answer questions that will satisfy curious students as to why English rules are the way they are.
I also believe that you need to show up with energy and enthusiasm for your job. If teaching English is not your ikigai in life, then you may struggle. Teaching full-time can get boring if you’re not interested in it, and your students and management will expect you to at least maintain an interest. Some students attend classes because their ikigai is studying a foreign language and traveling the world, so meeting their expectations may be helpful. Conversely, some students may not necessarily want to be in class, so you may need to get creative to spark their interest.
That said, teaching English in Japan could be a stepping stone for you to get to Japan, even if it’s not aligned with your true purpose in life. It could be said that it’s relatively easier to find an English teaching company than any other kind of career, so it might be worth your while to start here.
Be sure to check out the Ultimate Guide to Teaching Jobs in Japan, created by BFF Tokyo.
Route #2: Apply for JET or MEXT
I’m a huge fan of both government-sponsored programs. Let’s dig into each!
The JET program is a highly competitive program that accepts applicants from various countries. Applicants can apply to be an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), CIR (Coordinator for International Relations), or SEA (Sports Exchange Advisor). You don’t necessarily need to have Japanese language skills to become an ALT (although it’s helpful), but you must have a good working knowledge of the language for the CIR role. (Becoming a CIR is a fantastic step for aspiring interpreters or translators to take!)
The JET program has been around since 1987 and has a great onboarding process. They will fly you to Japan, get you accommodations, and provide training. There is also a huge network of current and former JET participants, so you feel like a part of a great family.
Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, or MEXT, offers a great scholarship to Japan for post-graduates. I did this program, and highly recommend it for those who would like to extend their studies in Japan. You need to contact your local Japanese Consulate or Embassy to get information on the application process, which can be considered quite lengthy and detailed. Give yourself plenty of time to apply.
Being on the MEXT is a great way to immerse yourself not just in the academic world, but the opportunity allows you time to network and meet people in the business world. It’s also a fantastic way to improve your Japanese language skills. For me, the classes I attended had few non-Japanese students, so I was thrown into some serious language learning opportunities. In fact, at times it felt like my head would explode. Eventually, because I didn’t have time to process the English translations, I started understanding Japanese lectures, presenting in front of the class with keigo, and writing class notes in kanji… Although at times painful, I still feel fortunate to have had that opportunity to skyrocket my Japanese. Also, the friends I made and networking events I attended helped me with my job search, which I’ll detail in Route #5, below.
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Route #3: Job Hunt as a Tourist
I don’t list this here to make you think that you can travel to Japan on a 90-day tourist visa and immediately get some work confirmed. No - this option requires a lot of preparation.
If you are serious about working in Japan, plan your next trip and get your job searching started ASAP. Complete applications online and mention that you will be in town during your planned dates. Attend online networking events and plan to attend in-person ones during your stay. Get on LinkedIn and let others know what exactly you are seeking, and mention your planned dates. (Keep reading below for more about the job search, online networking, and in-person networking.)
This is a great option to not only get some in-person interviews taken care of, but to see what Japan is really like before you make this huge life change.
Route #4: Job Hunt While Studying Japanese in Japan
If you have the opportunity to study abroad in college, this is a great way to do some on-the-ground research. Traveling while in Japan is a great way to discover what city you would ultimately like to live in. Networking events can help open your eyes to opportunities. Studying will no doubt improve your Japanese language skills, too.
If you are past college, you can still get to Japan with any number of Japanese language schools - and they sometimes will help you get a visa! You would need to fund this yourself, but it’s a great way to get to Japan and then do your in-person job search.
Be sure to check out the Ultimate Guide to Language Schools, including a master list to Japanese language schools.
Route #5: Serious Shuukatsu for Students
If you are a college or graduate student, you can apply directly to Japanese companies within their system of Shuushoku Katsudou (就職活動 or “job search”), which is sometimes abbreviated to shuukatsu (就活).
This process requires time and patience; you would typically apply one year before your graduation. Since graduation in Japan is in March, and the school and business year starts in April, you would typically start applying in March of the year before you graduate. Keep in mind that the more competitive industries can take much longer. You will need to go to your desired companies’ websites and find the online application portal. They typically use words such as “Entry” or エントリー, which is short for “Entry Sheet” or their standard application process.
Keep in mind that each company has its own Entry Sheet, so you will need to individually apply to each. I’ve also found that more companies are willing to hire graduates from overseas, so they may have sections devoted entirely to foreign students (sometimes written in English!).
The process starts with an application and then leads to group and individual interviews. Depending on the company, you may need to be in Japan for the interviews, so perhaps you can plan a trip around that potential opportunity.
I did this when I was in graduate school in Japan, and went through much of the shuukatsu experience. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. This route requires you to use your brains, patience, and a think-outside-the-box mentality. You should also have thick skin and a fairly good level of Japanese language skills. I have included my tips and tricks in my online training program series, Japanese Jobs 100. (Readers of this article get 25% off any package by using “BFF” for the coupon code! The first course, Japanese Jobs 101 “Career Ikigai,” is free if you want to take a test drive.)
If you’re not a student, you can similarly visit the company websites to find the words chuuto saiyou (中途採用 or “mid-career hire”). However, if you are a non-Japanese person, it might be easier to apply to companies that are specifically open to non-Japanese people. That leads us to Route #6…
Route #6: Typical Job Hunt
There’s no surprise here: connect with recruiters, sign up for job boards, check out company-specific websites, and apply for as many roles as you can. I compiled a list of recruiters and job boards in Japan for your easy access here.
I won’t go into further details here because BFF Tokyo has an amazing guide to finding a job in Tokyo that you need to check out. Be sure to also check out the blog post about working with recruiters.
One word of advice I will offer is to customize your resume for each employer. I know, I know - it’s a lot of work. It’s a pain in the oshiri, actually, but it’s what helps you get the most bang for your job-searching buck. If your resume is generic, and your cover letter does not specify why you are applying for that particular job, then the employer will select one that does. Don’t be generic and waste your time sending out resumes that won’t get noticed! (I dig into this topic a lot in my Japanese Jobs 102 course, Japanese and English Resumes. BFF readers get 25% off by using the “BFF” coupon code.)
Route #7: Move to Japan as an Expat
If you prioritize doing something that you love and can wait to go to Japan later, then consider finding a company in your home country and find a way to get to Japan on business trips or as an expatriate employee.
It helps to find companies that have headquarters in Japan or work with Japanese customers. These companies may be interested in you because you already have that Japan connection. I believe it is important, but not always necessary, to have a specialty outside of just your Japanese language or cultural skills, such as business, marketing, accounting, engineering, etc.
This isn’t a magic bullet to get to Japan; the process could take years and may not be guaranteed. It all depends on what you want to do and what kind of companies you are dealing with. Some may require years of experience before sending anyone to Japan. You also will need to be upfront with your employer that you desire to go to Japan. I’ve heard many success stories of employees mentioning this to their employer even when there was no Japan opportunity at the time, but opportunities opened up and they were the first to be considered for overseas roles.
Additionally, you may need to be ready for adversity with companies who haven’t yet considered non-Japanese applicants for their Japan roles. Some may be stuck with thinking that an English-speaking Japanese employee is sufficient. I am particularly passionate about this point and will forever promote the Japan-loving, super passionate non-Japanese people who study Japanese and want to use the language and cultural skills in a career. If you’re interested in joining my mission, please check out my website. I believe that nothing is impossible, and if we team together, we’ll make great things happen!
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Pick Your Preferred Route
None of these routes are impossible, so which one would you like to tackle? You can dig deep into any of them and see where your research takes you.
If you’re not sure how to proceed, I recommend getting quiet and thinking about what you really want. You are constantly bombarded by what others are doing or what others are telling you that you must know, but have you sat down to think about what you truly want? Turn off any notifications, get a journal, or sit to meditate. Your intuition may be out of practice if you haven’t used it in a while, but take it out for a spin. (If you’re interested in a conversation about Career Ikigai, check out this conversation I had on YouTube with former JET and Job Search Strategist, Kamara Toffolo.)
Regardless of your route, though, we need to address two very important topics when it comes to your Japanese job search:
- How much Japanese language should you know?
- Are you networking effectively (online & in-person)?
Let’s discuss the Japanese language requirement first.
Japanese Language Requirements
Is Japanese fluency a must to get a job in Japan? The answer is no, but let’s dissect this a bit more because it’s not a simple answer.
I firmly believe that knowing another language broadens your personal and business world, especially when it comes to Japan. I highly recommend learning the language if you want to be successful in Japan.
That said, I know people with varying degrees of Japanese fluency (from zero to amazing) who have been successful in Japan, so there should be nothing stopping you regardless of your level.
Speaking of “fluency” - that is a very loaded term. The definition of fluency is hard to grasp when it comes to Japanese. It depends on your speaking/listening and reading/writing capabilities, and when it comes to business, you should know keigo (honorifics), too. The Japanese Language Proficiency Test is also something that doesn’t necessarily test your Japanese business knowledge. I still highly recommend it to anyone seeking a job using their Japanese language skills, but it may not be the right way to gauge these skills. If you would like to increase your Japanese Language Proficiency, click here to get some help from Japan Switch and possibly some FREE resources.
Employers require “advanced” or “fluent” in most job ads, and that deters a lot of candidates that may check the box in every other way. If you are a go-getter, and if you are determined to improve upon the language to apply to such roles, then I advise you to apply and promote your potential contributions to the company.
At a minimum, you should constantly be striving to improve your Japanese language skills to get ahead of the other candidates applying for the same role. The supply is high for these bilingual roles, so having great language skills will make you stand out.
Keep in mind, of course, that you should have another specialty/major that you excel at. Japanese language and cultural skills are wonderful, but that alone may not make you stand out from the crowd of hungry job seekers. If you didn’t have another major, then take this opportunity to learn a new skill and get certification in it.
Here’s a pro tip: regardless of your language level, I highly suggest studying the terminology in your desired industry in both Japanese and your language. Find a major company that is a leader in your industry, and check out their Japanese and English versions of their websites.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out BFF Tokyo’s thorough guide on learning Japanese.
I’ve only briefly covered this topic, but let’s move onto the importance of networking when it comes to your job search.
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Networking: A Key Factor to Job Searching
It is very difficult to understand why networking is important and how to do it, but let me give you some tips in this section. Whether you want to work at a giant company or work for yourself as a freelancer, your success will rely on your community. You need to know how to work with people, and you also need to know people.
Networking is very important for the job search because you can learn about a particular industry and even be made aware of opportunities that may not become official (like in a job ad or announcement). Building relationships with people will also help them be aware of your skills in case they need to find someone like you.
In-person networking means attending events (i.e. professional groups, Meet-ups) and putting yourself out there. This isn’t easy for introverts, and I can completely relate. If you plan to ever work with people, then you need to get through this. If you understand how important it is to meet people for your future success, it will be easier to attempt such events. Tip: especially if you’re involved in the Japan world, be sure to have business cards for the occasion!
Online networking is also very important, especially in this digital age. How to do this? There are many platforms out there, and I recommend utilizing the one that works best for you in your industry. I use LinkedIn the most because it is so job-centric, but you may have others that you prefer. (LinkedIn is also not as used in Japan as it is overseas, but I find that the people who do use LinkedIn in Japan are very globally-minded and open to foreign talent.)
You can use online networking platforms to follow who’s who in a particular industry, connect and interact with others who may share interests, and showcase your skills. Let’s give an example of each related to LinkedIn (but these can be applied to most other platforms, too).
- Follow others: search your desired industry and see who comes to the top. These thought leaders may have many followers, and it’s because their message is that important. Follow as many people as you like, and see what they share in their feeds.
- Connect and interact with others: If you relate with someone, or would like to connect over a particular interest, then be sure to “connect” with them. Don’t just send a blank invite, though; be sure to add a note as to why you want to connect. If you don’t want to connect just yet, check out their profile, follow them, and interact by liking or commenting on their posts. Consider joining groups, too, to deepen your networking within a particular association of people. (Experiment by connecting with me on LinkedIn; don’t forget to write an introduction note! Quick tip: unlike on the desktop, when you click on “Connect” via your cell phone, you don’t get the option to write a note. Instead, click on “More…” and then “Personalize invite.”)
- Showcase your skills: this can sometimes be considered as a humblebrag, but it’s what is expected. If you attained a certification, got a promotion, or changed jobs, it’s perfectly fine to share that on your feed. If you’re seeking a job, it also can be very strategic to share that information in case someone can help you. People are not mind-readers, so you need to let others know what you are looking for. Create a post about it, share it in a group, or place it in your bio. If you don’t mention it, we won’t know that you’re looking! Of course, it can be difficult to make such announcements if you don’t want your current employer to know your plans, but do what is best and try to put yourself out there.
You need to network constantly, even if you don’t need something right now. “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” (Chinese proverb)
Dig deeper into networking in Japan with this article from BFF Tokyo.
Whatever route you decide to take, I hope that you will be patient and won’t let anything get in your way.
Further, my wish to you is to think outside the box and consider various opportunities. Do your research, be proactive, and don’t wait for job offers.
Be brave, and put yourself out there! It most certainly won’t be easy, but don’t let that stop you!
Guest blog post by Kasia Lynch, Founder of Ikigai Connections. Kasia is a digital bridge (kakehashi) between job seekers and companies, and typically supports entry-level and mid-career candidates (inc. JET alumni!) via her blog, online training, and consulting calls to get a Japanese job in any country. She also has a job board for Japanese jobs in the US, NihongoJobs.com.
Remember: Readers of this article get 25% off any course by using the “BFF” coupon code. Get your Japanese job in any country by digging deep into the job search, resume prep, networking, and application process with my online training program series, Japanese Jobs 100. Try Japanese Jobs 101 “Career Ikigai” for FREE to get a taste test, and to dig deep into discovering how to combine your Japanese skills with a job!