Ultimate Guide to an Internship in Tokyo
Why Read our Guide?
Many foreigners in Japan make the wrong choice when choosing an internship in Tokyo because they do not know what to look for nor know what questions to ask in the interview. Many internship seekers like yourself end up not gaining as much out of the experience as you could have. Our guide will give you a framework for finding the right internship.
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Section 1 : Is an internship in Tokyo right for me?
Here are some important things to consider before investing 100s of hours or half a year into an internship. Based on your situation, you may not even benefit from doing an internship. For others, an internship could help you decide your future career path.
What are the benefits of an internship in Tokyo?
Here are the main reasons you should do an internship in Tokyo.
Confirm If Japan Is Right For You
Many interns who come to Japan over their summer break are curious about living in Japan long-term. Doing an internship is a great way to spend several months in the country and meet foreign and Japanese residents in the capital. Meeting a variety of people and experiencing the honeymoon phase and the “I have seen enough phase” will give you a good idea if living in Japan in the future is right for you. Many foreigners make the decision to move her after traveling here a few times, but interning for several months will give you a much broader and realistic experience of living here.
Experience Working in a Foreign Country
Doing an internship can be a great way to experience living in a foreign country. You also get to see how business is done in a different country and potentially different ways of doing things. You also can see how Japanese people interact with one another and seeing an environment where multiple languages are used simultaneously. However, please note that most foreigners will be interning in places that are not your typical Japanese work environment.
Confirming Your Career Path
Not sure about spending your next 40 years as a lawyer or chemist? Welcome to the majority of people. Doing an internship in the field you are considering a great way to discover if it is right for you. You may find out that your personality is not suited for that work field or environment. My internship in college is what made me decide to not pursue a master’s degree in my field.
Exploring Other Career Options
On the other hand, you might try doing an internship in something completely different than your major. I have had many students in fields like politics and biology give marketing a try and enjoyed it. You may find that you excel in something unexpected or might be better suited in the field of your internship than your major in university.
Finding a Company That Will Hire You
This would be a great reason to do an internship in the US and in the U.K, but less so for a foreigner in Japan depending on what field you are working in. The main types of foreigners who get hired in Tokyo after doing an internship are graduate level and PhD level students with high technical ability and high market demand for those skills. For those in non-technical positions, you should confirm or make clear that you are doing an internship with the intention of being hired in the future before your start.
Feel free to read below if you want to know why. If not, feel free to move on to the next section.
If you were doing an internship in the US, the company probably has accepted many interns in the past, have somewhat of a training program or guidance plan developed, and is part of the company’s strategy to hire fresh graduates. Companies in the US would rather hire a fresh graduate who has worked in your company and is a match as opposed to someone you simply interviewed.
Japanese interns often get hired by employers. The main reason being that most companies target customers in Japan are Japanese, and if you cannot speak Japanese fluently, it would be hard to justify a salaried position. Foreign interns are also often working on experimental projects and departments as opposed to solidified and core sections of the business. Another reason why finding a future job in Japan is tough because companies who hire foreigners will normally hire an experienced person over bringing in an intern because they do not have the ability to train the foreign staff.
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Who should NOT do an internship?
Students who are learning a practical trade
Learning a trade involves something like accounting, nursing, engineering, network engineering, and other fields where a national certification program judges whether or not you are competent to work in that field. Students who are learning a trade in university often graduate to working on something directly related to their field and are often required to get additional certification outside the university degree. Students who are learning a trade often do not need to get an internship outside of their studies because their university programs prepare them for that certification.
Students who are entering the academic field
People planning to pursue further education in something academic or research related will not usually need to an intern at a company to gain work experience. You will gain the skills necessary for your future academic employment through your current university studies. For example, you do not need to join a company to learn how to do academic research, receive a grant for research, and write for an academic journal.
Who should do an internship?
Students in liberal arts and non hard science programs
In my personal experience of being an HR manager for 8 years, if you have any of the following university degrees, you probably lack the skills necessary to succeed in the business world.
- Liberal Arts, Cultural Studies, and Language Studies
- Politics, History, and Archaeology
- Social Sciences, Psychology, and Anthropology
University and high school programs focus too much on reading and theory and not enough on getting your hands dirty and learning from doing. You will learn a lot of theories, famous people in the field, and how to analyze society and cultures, but you will not learn how to apply that knowledge to create financial value. For example, you are evaluated with grades in university, but could you answer how much your “B” project’s research results are worth in dollars?
Imagine you want to receive $3000 dollars a month in salary after you graduate - I know most of you would like to receive more than $36,000 dollars your first year. Would you pay someone else $3000 for the mid-project you spent 160 hours on? Would you even pay someone $500 dollars to complete that one month project? If not, how can you expect a company to pay $3000 dollars for one month of your work. In reality, companies will pay this amount when investing in new graduates, but if you want to make more money in life, you have to do things that people will pay more than $3000 dollars for.
Below are many of the things that you can only partially learn in a Bachelor of Arts program. You will never fully experience it until you do an internship or enter a work in a real environment.
Team projects in college will not prepare you for working on teams in a company because you do not learn management skills in college. Asking for feedback from your professor is different than asking feedback from your boss because your professor does not get in trouble for your underperformance! How do you work and communicate with someone much more experienced than you and how do you get someone to mentor you? Can you create a financial balance using a spreadsheet with automated formulas?
English teachers in Japan
There are many English teachers in Japan who want to live in Japan, but do not want to be teaching English for two or more years. Teaching also pays decently well and you can get comfortable really easy in the ALT teaching sector. We have an article on teaching jobs in Japan for you to check out if you are interested in becoming a teacher in Tokyo. Getting out of the teaching sector is possible, but you need to be able to speak Japanese or have experience in a field that does not require Japanese ability. Programming and marketing skills are in high demand and Japanese is not necessary due to the recent tech and tourism boom, but you need strong daily conversational skills for anything outside of these two fields.
To learn programming, you would have to self-study or go to a coding boot camps, but you can learn marketing through self-study and through an internship. You also may be able to intern doing something like recruitment or something else that targets foreigners. If you are a teacher and want to do an internship, be careful because there are many companies that will waste your time, so please make sure to read the entire article on how to choose the right place.
To learn Japanese to a daily conversation level you will need to invest more than 300 - 500 hours. If you would like more information on learning Japanese, check out our Japanese language school called Japan Switch in Shinjuku and Gotanda and our ultimate guide to Japanese self-study at BFF Tokyo.
Section 2 : What types of internship in Tokyo are there?
What industries offer an internship in Tokyo?
You can get an internship in pretty much any field because there are so companies in Tokyo. The basic rule of thumb is the more educated you need to be the fewer positions are available. Additionally, the more financial and legal risk involved the less internships are available.
Many big corporations are looking for third and fourth year students and master and PhD students to do an intensive internship during the summer or a part-time internship during the regular school year. Big corporations are looking for interns in finance, law, training, marketing, logistics, and many different areas of the business. The main catch is that you need to be currently enrolled in university and some internships will require that you are studying in that field for your master’s degree and higher. The major benefit of corporate internships is that they are paid in general and they probably have a training program in place. The downside is that they are more selective and like to receive interns from top universities.
Internships at startups and smaller companies are easy to find. Everyone is looking for marketing, design, and coding interns. This also applies for languages outside of a English and Japanese. For areas like coding and design, you will definitely need some background in those fields. However, you do not need experience or to have a relevant degree if you are looking for a general business or marketing internship. Due to the recent boom in tourism and increase of foreign residents, companies are looking for interns and employees to help them target these foreigners.
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These internships are usually arranged through an internship agency and involve coming to Japan on a tourist visa for one to three months - the limit of the tourist visa - and interning at a company during the week and exploring Japan on the weekends. These interns normally pay the agency a set fee and the agency organizes the internship with a company, finds housing for the intern, arranges health insurance and a SIM card, shows them around Tokyo through organizing tours to places like Mt. Fuji and cultural events and experiences like making sushi, and provides support and answers questions while the intern is in Japan.
The businesses provide interns job experience and training and the agency provides life support in Japan, so the businesses do not have to worry about that. Current residents in Japan can also arrange this type of voluntary experience with a company, but would need to find it through word of mouth or a site like craigslist.
Summer Break Internships
A summer break internship is exactly the same as a full-time internship, but the main difference is that a majority of them are for current foreign students in Japan. These types of internships normally happen in summer, but may also happen during the break between March and April. Many of these internships are offered by major international corporations and are often paid internships.
They often have strict requirements and are normally only for students who are studying in a field that matches exactly what they would be doing in that corporation. Anything research based would be limited to students with a master's degree and higher students. I am probably wrong on this so don’t quote me on it, but it seemed like doing a part-time job in terms of pay but something in your field of study.
Visa Based Internships (Designated Activities Visa)
Did you know that you can get a visa into Japan to do an internship as a student? See the article below for more information on this.
Part-time internship in Tokyo
Most part-time internships are for foreign students who are studying at a Japanese unicversity on a study abroad program for a year or doing a 4 year program in Japan. However, there are also many internships available for English teachers and working holiday visa holder at start ups and smaller companies and firms. Part-time internships can start anytime of the year and involve a smaller time commitment each week than other types of internships.
The company bringing you in as an intern will expect you to be there for around three months to one year. Normally, it is not worth the companies time investment if an intern requests to volunteer or work for only three months or less unless they are coming in full time. Similar to full time internships, you have both paid and unpaid internships.
Getting a Full time Position from Your Internship in Tokyo
In my experience, a paid internship in Tokyo is more likely to offer you a full time position in the future. If a company has enough money to pay you to work 20 hours a week, there is a chance they will have the budget to bring you on full time. Internships at startups will not likely lead to a full time position. Most startups are struggling to find a profitable business model and may not even have the cash to pay for transportation.
Large corporations both foreign and Japanese do not normally hire interns full-time but offer nice perks while you intern there. They are normally looking for an international student from a high pedigree university. Interning there would boost your chances of getting a position with them in your home country though. Receiving a letter of recommendation from an international corporation looks much better than one coming from a small or start up company.
If you have a strong technical skill and in a field where you need a masters degree, you are more likely to be offered an internship with the intention of bringing you in as a full time position. If you have a high demand skills like coding, you should only take a paid internship with the intention of being hired full time unless the work is so cool and challenging that the experience is more valuable than the pay.
To summarize this section, if you have a high demand skill or high ability and meet visa requirements, there is a good chance the company would want to bring you on full-time. However, if you are just starting out or have a complicated visa situation - ex. Tourist visa, your odds of getting a position is much lower. When you meet with the company, try to discover if they are looking for an entry-level staff member in the future, look for a veteran to come in after having several interns build the base, or be permanently relying on interns.
Section 3 : Where to find an internship in Tokyo
You have two options for finding an internship in Tokyo.
One : You could pay to go through an agency who finds you a placement, apartment, possibly Japanese lessons, and provides some job training.
Two : You could save your money and find an internship on your own or through some non-profit organizations for free.
One option saves you time while the other option saves you money on your quest to find an internship in Tokyo.
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Where to find internships - Agencies
How do internship agencies work?
Most of the agencies that provide full-time internships are companies that are based outside of Japan and provide support for internships across the globe. They normally have an international team that will guide you through the process of making the decision to come to Japan, organize interviews with potential companies, and finalize your payment and paperwork. Then the domestic team will take care of you once you arrive in Japan.
Your normally have to pay a set fee up front and most companies offer a variety of packages. These packages range from finding you an internship placement and health insurance at the most basic level, providing some cultural experiences and residential assistance at the medium level, and providing a sim card, train pass, Japanese lessons, and a lot of follow up and check ups on how you are doing at the premium level. Most of the international companies have decades of experience in supporting foreigners and can explain the differences between countries if you are considering multiple countries.
What agencies are out there?
The intern group is a British company that provides internships to many different countries and continents across the globe. They have an international team that would get you settled in and a domestic team that will take care of you in Japan. They tend to provide a lot of support and care and focus a lot on helping you get the most out of your cultural experience in Japan. They will take you to many places and introduce you to many unique experiences with their staff and other interns.
Interns who we have spoken to who have done their internship through this agency mentioned that they were satisfied with the large amount of activities that were organized after hours. Interns also mentioned that they were very satisfied with the staff and felt the staff cared a lot about the interns. They also mentioned that the staff were very responsive and quick to help.
I also reached out directly to the intern group on what training they offer for interns
Aside from the cultural experiences, The Intern Group provides a professional workshop (normally on Monday before their internship starts) to our interns which consists of a presentation and training materials on a number of key topics essential to their development and growth to help them excel in a global job market. They include:
- Adapting to an international office environment
- Interview techniques
- Making a lasting impression in the workplace
- Building your personal brand
- Resolving difficult situations
- Leveraging your international internship into a successful career
- Selling your international internship
After they have finished their internship, they will become alumni and we have an alumni network on Linkedin which is a great way for our past participants to keep in touch and network when their own workplaces are hiring.
2 : CRCC
CRCC Asia is a British company that has offices in the UK, USA, Australia and several locations across Asia. CRCC Asia tend to focus more on business skills than the Intern Group and will take you to business networking events and to some seminars on work skills. They also provide monthly cultural and community outreach events as well as full support from local and international staff based in Tokyo.
They have a very strong network of marketing and entrepreneurship internships in Tokyo and are probably the best choice among the three agencies for someone who wants to find a marketing internship. They also have good connections and ties to the startup community.
Interns who have used CRCC liked how they were taken to networking events and supported by the CRCC staff in reaching out and talking to business people. They also liked how CRCC who try to make most interns stay in the same location, so they have a strong and tight-knit community while they are in Tokyo.
3 : Zentern
Zentern is unique because they have staff who have experience interning in Japan before unlike the other agencies. Their focus is only on the Japanese market and provide internships in a variety of sectors from illustration to finance, business and engineering. They probably have the most corporate connections among the major internship organizers in Tokyo.
Similar to other agencies, Zentern also provides work training courses, weekly cultural and exploring Tokyo activities, but probably provides more support on understanding Japanese work culture compared to other agencies.
I do not know any intern who has used their services, but I reached out to them and here is what Zentern has to say on some of their unique services
Focusing on the Japanese market so we have close ties with Japanese and international companies not only in Tokyo but also in Hokkaido, Osaka, Fukuoka and even some companies in Okinawa!
We strongly work with Zensho Agency, a recruitment agency which recruiters take time to help our Zenterns prepare for interviews or can receive information on the Japanese job market, how to get a job in their field, etc.
I have a good friend who works as a recruiter for Zensho and they have a lot of recruiters who know Japan market in and out and have lived here for more than 5 years. In my friend's case, he has been here for more than 15 years and is an expert on Japan.
Where can I find an internship for free - online job boards
Where you look for an internship depends on what you want. If you are looking for a paid internship, an internship in Tokyo with visa sponsorship, or an internship with an international corporation, we recommend checking job boards that charge money to place a job ad. Job ads can cost around 30,000 yen, so if they have the money to pay for this, they have the money to pay for your hourly wages and transportation.
Job Boards for Corporate Internships
- Internship positions in Tokyo on glassdoor
- Internship positions in Tokyo on LinkedIn
- Internship positions in Tokyo on Indeed
- Internship positions in Tokyo on American Chamber of Commerce Site
Job Boards for Internships
- Lightened Works - English
- Iagora - English, French, etc
- Intern Baito - Japanese
- 01 Intern - Japanese
- Pasona Internships - Japanese
Job Boards that include internships
We provide a longer and more comprehensive list of job boards and organized it based on the type of position here.
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Where can I find an internship for free - organizations
Organization with Internships
Kopra is an organization that connects Europeans to Internships and Job opportunities in Japan and Asia.
Internship Kansai is an organization that helps foreigners find an internship with their partner companies in Kansai.
American Chamber of Commerce provides an Internship Portal with internship opportunities at global companies in Japan.
Internship Japan provides great information and you can post your request for an internship on their LinkedIn group and have potential companies reach out to you to offer you on.
Job Boards for Government Internships
You will have to search their agency’s website to find government internships
Students - Check Your University
If you are an international student in a good university in the big city or are in a masters degree or higher program, we would recommend checking with your university. They normally have connections with large businesses and research institutions that will offer paid internships and even potentially full time employment. Please note there are not as many opportunities for people in the social sciences or other majors that are not directly connected to business or practical research. You will more likely need to go the small
Section 4 : Finding the Right Internship
What area are you interested in learning?
Using the marketing industry as an example, here is a framework for how you should approach your search for an internship if you are not sure what you want. The general challenges that apply to marketing interns will also apply to you in your search in your field.
What area of marketing do you want to learn?
Before you choose a marketing internship in Tokyo, you really need to know what areas of marketing you want to learn. If you do not know what you want to learn you will pretty much be doing a wide variety of work and you may not even learn marketing because they are making you do general work that is completely unrelated to marketing but it is something they want done.
Here is a general list of marketing skills that you can learn at a company. In major companies like UBER and Airbnb, they have large teams of people who only focus on one of the areas below. What I am trying to say is that if you try to become a jack of all trades, you really become a master of none because each area of marketing goes super deep and there is so much to learn that there are people who only focus on one area at the corporate level.
- Content Marketing
- Social Media Marketing
- Email Marketing
- Website Analytics
- Market Research
- Graphic Design
- Paid Advertisements
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Develop a framework for comparing internship job ads
What is the purpose of an internship? To learn skills that will get you a minimum wage part-time office job? No, the purpose of an internship is to help you get a full-time position in a field that can serve as a career. The more skills you develop in that field, the higher your salary and prestige. If you are going to volunteer your precious time at a company, make sure you will learn skills that will help you get that full-time position. Avoid internships that would make you do work that is related to low wage work. Follow the framework below to avoid this mistake.
When you know what type of marketing you want to do, your next step is to learn about what skills and abilities companies are looking for in a paid ad marketer for example. You can learn this by checking the job ads for professional marketers and see what software and platforms they expect you to know and hopefully find concrete examples of their expectations of what you should accomplish. For example, are they expecting this marketing professional to be able to manage a 100,000 dollar advertisement account, be able to create the copy, text, and images or simply manage a Facebook ad account.
Now that you know what companies want in a professional, your next step is to look at what type of training or areas of marketing potential internships cover. As someone who offers marketing internships from time to time, my general thought is the more specific the job ad is on types of work, the more likely you would be doing something relevant. Compare internship job ads to real job ads and look for the ones with the least amount of difference.
research some marketing intern job ads for that specific position to see what type of work they do and the requirements for that position. Look for a marketing internship that get you to work on areas that will prepare you for the full-time marketing position you will want in the future.
What information do I need to get from the interview
Does your manager know what they are doing?
Another huge challenge in choosing a marketing internship in Tokyo is that the person in charge of marketing may not know anything about marketing at all. You could be wasting your time because you will only learn marketing to an amateurish level that would make it hard for you to find a position at an innovative company or a competitive company full-time. You really need to be selective when choosing a place to intern because you are making a 6 month to 1 year commitment and you may not be paid, so make sure you know exactly what you want in return for your investment in time.
Many foreigners and Japanese in marketing positions actually do not know that much about marketing even though it is their full-time job. The main reason this happens is because a company has a stable income to support hiring a marketer and they want to get more customers, but the CEO and other founding members may not actually know marketing themselves and therefore may be unable to coach the person who will be mentoring you. In other cases, they often put foreigners into marketing positions who have no background in marketing. Many small to medium size Japanese businesses assume that because you are a foreigner, you immediately know how to market to foreigners in Tokyo and put you in a marketing position role. This sounds hilarious...I know, but it happens so often that I am not surprised at all.
Should I join a large company or a startup?
The great thing about startups is that they will allow you to take more risks and explore a wide array of social media channels because they do not have to worry about doing everything on brand. They will let you do things from the bottom up and you can test what works and what does not. The only downside about startups in Tokyo is that they may not be able to mentor you either because they are busy or because they may not know much about marketing themselves! Also you need to be aware that the definition of a startup is a company that has not succeeded yet.
Not surprisingly, the opposite would apply for a company bringing on an intern to join their marketing team in Tokyo. They have several full-time staff working on marketing projects and can provide feedback and guidance on learning marketing. They may even pay money or provide other benefits compared to a startup. The only small downside is that they will have a specific area they would like you to focus on and if they are paying a salary, you will probably be doing work that no one else wants to do! I have heard of many paid interns being made to do data entry and other jobs that may not benefit their learning.
The good news is that you will be interviewed by the people you would be working with and they will be able to answer many of your questions. Corporate internships might be handled by the recruitment department and may not be able to answer your question outside of the job ad or general questions.
Questions to ask in an internship interview
I would recommend asking for an opportunity to meet your manager. Ask your potential future manager questions in your field to analyze their level of knowledge. Do not assume that the manager is qualified in the field you would be doing your internship in. Here are some additional questions to ask in the interview.
Quality of Training and Manager
- How much time a week will my supervisor provide for feedback and guidance?
- How many interns has the manager managed in the past?
- What areas of expertise does my manager have?
- What successes has this department have recently?
- Do you provide evaluations for interns?
- Do you have a training curriculum or training sessions for interns?
Relevance of Work to Intern Goals
- Do you have my general task list for the week?
- Do you know what skills I will gain by the end of the internship?
- What percent of my duties will involve clerical work or data entry?
- What would be the distribution of my time be spent working on?
- What work would not be given to me?
Benefits and Perks
- Do you pay for transportation?
- Do you provide free food?
- Do you provide a computer?
- Do you provide a set work space or does it change daily?
If you want to know about what to ask and what not to ask in an interview, check out our guide to full-time jobs in Tokyo.
Section 5 : Internships in Japan
We are looking for two interns to join our marketing team at BFF Tokyo to help us with content marketing and then helping with either social media or website design and banners.
You can learn more about the BFF Tokyo marketing internship here.
Our friends at scalingyourcompany.com are also looking for one business intern to help with creating business presentations and infographics for business owners in Japan.
Summary for an Internship in Tokyo
We hope you have enjoyed our guide to internships in Tokyo. If you follow the information here, you will not only have several companies to choose from, but you will also be able to pick out the company who can offer you the most in terms of what you want. However, the big first step is to know what you want first before you go out and adventure into the big business world.
The interns you do the most preparation from the start will reap the rewards in having an internship that provides a good education and in other cases an opportunity for a well paying job in the future.
We wish you the best of luck and share this article with your friends if you think they can benefit from this information.
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