Have you ever considered applying for a Working Holiday in Japan? If not, hopefully, this guide will help you make your mind up! If staying in Japan for up to a year (18 months for you Australian folks), eating ramen, finding random vending machines as well as working and traveling sounds fun to you, then read on! This article gives you valuable insight as well as details about the visa, how to obtain one, and make sure your stay in Japan is a complete success.
What Is a Working Holiday?
If you are between the ages of 18-30 years old then it is a perfect opportunity for you to explore a country while also earning some income. The Working Holiday is a type of visa in Japan which is provided bilaterally between countries in which nationals can visit and stay for up to one year. To put it simply, it is a visa that allows you to work, explore and make lasting memories. Some people use it as a stepping stone to live in the country or to test out the waters. You can only obtain one Working Holiday visa per country you visit in a lifetime.
The aim of the visa is to help strengthen relations and cultural exchange between the respective partnering countries. Japan currently has agreements with Argentina, Austria, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, and UK (as per 2020).
The Working Holiday Visa is explicitly not a work visa, but the aim of the visa holder should be to get to know Japan through an extended duration of stay in Japan. This legally includes the possibility to be employed in Japan and have an income.
What can you do during a Working Holiday in Japan?
Let’s start with the fun part of what the Working Holiday visa lets you do. There are many traditional and contemporary Japanese activities that inspire people worldwide, such as judo, sumo wrestling, Japanese cooking, ikebana, bonsai, origami and calligraphy, or manga, anime, cosplay, J-pop, and gaming. Heck you might even end up doing a homestay after meeting a random Japanese person like this one Working Holidayer has done
Agencies like World Unite! that specialize in Working Holiday support can often assist you with the moving process as well as give you support if you aren’t well versed in Japanese. They have small tips and workshops to help you feel at ease. When using the services of a Working Holiday support agency, you can also easily get connected with other people from all over the world that are on a Working Holiday visa and make friends. There is a lengthy read about making Japanese friends you can browse later here!
Get to Know Tokyo! But Why Tokyo?
Many Working Holiday travelers spend a considerable amount of time in the city that stays alive all through the night. Tokyo. Mainly because Tokyo has the largest availability of jobs that Working Holidayers can apply to.
After several months of being in Tokyo, there’s still so much more to discover. You will not get bored! There is a lot to visit and discover. The two pilgrimage sites in Tokyo where fans of Japanese pop culture can gather and let loose are Akihabara and Nakano Broadway. Both have numerous shops for manga, anime, cosplay, gaming, and collectibles. The Working Holiday support agency World Unite! has an office in a central location in Tokyo. They also have online groups full of participants, so you can link up with other Working Holiday participants from all over the world and plan your time in Tokyo and Japan with them.
If you are more about Thrift shopping, music, food, and events the big cities always have something going on. Taking a quick trip to Koenji, Kichijoji, Harajuku, Roppongi, and the famous Shimokitazawa. You will find these places have a lot of museums, food festivals, cultural events and festivals, fireworks, and more. You can see some of the many events in Tokyo at BFF Tokyo. There are also a lot of national holidays in Japan which you should definitely take advantage of when you visit!
Learn Japanese on a Working Holiday Visa
If you are on a Working Holiday in Japan, you can of course, also take Japanese language lessons, for instance in a formal language school. A cheaper alternative are the community centers, where volunteers teach Japanese to foreigners. However, the lessons at the community centers are typically not as well structured and professional as in a formal language school and are often only offered 1-2 times a week. If you want to achieve faster success, a formal language school is probably the better choice.
If you just want to learn a little bit of Japanese, or if you are already advanced and you want to fine-tune your language skills, the community center should be fine though. Please note that taking Japanese classes shouldn't be the only reason to apply for a Working Holiday Visa (use a Student Visa for this purpose).
BFF Tokyo offers some guides on how to learn Japanese like how to learn as a beginner, the best youtube channels to watch, and choosing a Japanese language school. BFF Tokyo also provides good lessons for an affordable price at their sister company Japan Switch.
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Doing Japanese Activities and Traveling around
There are many traditional and contemporary Japanese activities that inspire people worldwide, such as judo, sumo wrestling, Japanese cooking, ikebana, bonsai, origami and calligraphy, or manga, anime, cosplay, J-pop, and gaming.
Agencies like World Unite! that specialize in Working Holiday support can often recommend you offers that can be carried out without advanced knowledge of Japanese at attractive prices and they also have many other tips on how to make your life in Japan more pleasant and interesting. When using the services of a Working Holiday support agency, you can also easily get connected to other participants on a Working Holiday visa and find like-minded people.
Travel around Japan - an integral part of "Working Holidays", which is also called "Work and Travel", is "travel" and "holidays". Since the interests of travelers in Japan are very diverse, it is beyond the scope of this article to make specific travel suggestions. You can get inspiration from common Japan travel websites. Just a note: If you have a Working Holiday Visa, you can NOT use the Japan Railpass for cheap train tickets. It is aimed exclusively at tourists however there is a JR Wide Pass which you can get. A cheaper option to travel through Japan than trains are long-distance buses, which often have overnight service.
It is unusual for those on a Working Holiday Visa to bring or buy their own car while in Japan. The formalities for registering it are quite complex and the costs are rather high (e.g. parking fees, road tolls), so that this is hardly worth it financially compared to using public transport.
If you are all about music, food, and events, the big cities have a ton to offer and there is always something going on. You have a lot of museums, food festivals, cultural events and festivals, fireworks, and more. You can see some of the many events in Tokyo at BFF Tokyo. There are also a lot of national holidays in Japan which are interesting.
The "Getting a Job" part of your Working Holiday
Many of those who come to Japan will already have some savings, as a requirement for obtaining the visa. More often than not, funds will be limited and the smart idea is to always have a small flow of income to keep you afloat. Another plus to finding employment is that you get a closer look at Japanese culture while also filling up some extra time!
Improve Your Resume
A job in Japan does not only provide you with an income, allowing you to fund your extended stay in Japan, but you will also get practical work experience abroad, which is a big plus on your resume. With the Working Holiday in Japan, you can improve your intercultural skills by working alongside Japanese colleagues, and of course, you can practice and apply your Japanese language skills at work.
While it isn’t explicitly prohibited, the Japanese Immigration Authorities don't like it so much if you only do one job for a whole year. They would prefer you to do various short-time jobs at different locations. Unfortunately, this does not represent so much the reality of the Japanese labor market, because employers in Japan always prefer employees who stay with them for a longer duration. The "Road Trip'' concept, that you might know for instance from Working Holidays in Australia, where you would travel through the country, picking strawberries here for a week and cleaning surfboards there for a week does not really work in Japan. In Japan, there are only a few short-term jobs of this kind. For foreigners from western countries, these jobs might include seasonal jobs such as helper positions on Christmas markets or Oktoberfests. Realistically, you should be available at one location for at least 3 months to land a job, which will reduce your total number of jobs to 3-4 during your one year in Japan.
Usually, when you start a new job in Japan, you will generally not be able to take extra time off within the first few months, so you’ll need to do your traveling on the weekends and public holidays (there are quite many public holidays in Japan though!!). Or, if you are planning to travel for more than just a few days, try to do it when you have finished an employment or at the beginning or end of your Working Holiday in Japan.
You can check out BFF Tokyo articles on how to pass an interview in Japan, part-time jobs in Japan, full-time jobs in Japan, and English teaching jobs in Japan. The section on jobs in Japan has a lot of good information that would help those coming on a student or Working Holiday visa.
You can dramatically speed up this process by using the services of a Working Holiday agency such as World Unite! The services might include help with writing your Japanese resume, preparation sessions about Japanese work culture and other useful information, e.g. legal issues to consider, role plays for successfully passing a Japanese job interview and individual counseling for your personal job situation.
World Unite! also cooperates with recruitment partners that can introduce jobs to you, even prior to your arrival in Japan.
Working Holiday Jobs in Japan
When you are on a Working Holiday Visa in Japan, there are no restrictions on weekly working hours or wages. Depending on your preferences and your financial situation, you can work part-time or full-time. Many Working Holiday travelers take on 2 or 3 part-time jobs simultaneously. However, it is typically already possible to cover your living expenses in Japan with just one part-time job of approximately 20 hours/week.
Typical Working Holiday jobs, if you have little or no command of Japanese, are being an English teacher or English assistant teacher, which besides at formal English schools is also possible for instance with afternoon childcare providers or at language cafes. For such informal English teacher positions you often do not need formal EFL qualification and you even don't need to be a native speaker. Alternatively, if you have little or no mastery of Japanese, you might consider a Working Holiday job where you don't need to speak a lot, such as being a cleaner, kitchen assistant, factory worker, warehouse clerk, docker or furniture packer.
If you can already communicate in Japanese, you can for instance work as a waitress, salesperson in a convenience store or shop, farmworker, or hotel service staff.
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Which Working Holiday jobs are not possible?
On a Working Holiday Visa, you cannot do jobs at premises affecting the "public morale" of Japan. This explicitly excludes anything related to gambling and prostitution. It does however not generally exclude nightclubs or bars, as long as no activities are offered there "affecting public morale". In Japan, there are establishments where, for you, as a foreigner, it might not be always totally clear at first glance what kind of services are offered, such as "snack" places where women are employed to entertain men by engaging into conversation with them, which is still classified as affecting the public morale of Japan. Even if you work at such a place as a regular kitchen assistant or cleaner, it is illegal and could result in deportation.
The people running such places might try to convince you that working with them is perfectly legal, however, this might not necessarily be true. A Working Holiday support agency familiar with 風営法 (Law regulating Adult Entertainment Business) should be able to give you some orientation if in doubt.
Also, you cannot work as "self-employed" in Japan, e.g. offering your services as a freelance babysitter, freelance language tutor, or freelance cleaner. You can only have an income from being legally employed by a Japanese company.
Lastly, what is legally perfectly fine, but in most cases realistically not possible is – in case you have already completed professional training or university – to find a job as a qualified professional in Japan unless you are advanced in Japanese. The only exception might be IT professionals. As there is a demand for IT professionals in Japan, a Japanese employer might hire you even if you only speak English.
Working Holiday Accommodation in Japan
The type of accommodation that is most suitable for travelers on a Working Holiday visa in Japan are sharehouses. A sharehouse is a house in which you share sanitary installations, kitchens and common areas with the other residents. Sharehouses are available in all major cities and you can usually choose between single, twin and dorm rooms.
Not only are sharehouses the cheapest and easiest to organize type of accommodation in Japan, but they also offer great opportunities to meet other young people from all over the world who are in a similar situation and have similar interests as you.
Even if you prefer more privacy, sharehouses are probably the best option as there are sharehouses that have single rooms with en-suite bathrooms. It might be difficult for you to rent your own apartment in Japan. Particularly in the central locations of Tokyo, where there is a very high demand for apartments, landlords can choose between many people willing to rent their apartments. They will most likely not choose a foreigner who will stay for a short time only and cannot provide a permanent employment contract. In addition, almost all rental apartments are offered through real estate agents that usually charge a non-refundable fee of 3 months of rent to the tenant, and most apartments come unfurnished.
World Unite! is one of the biggest Working Holiday support agencies in the world and they operate their own very affordable share houses in Tokyo for participants of their Working Holiday program.
BFF Tokyo also did a great job of covering apartments in Tokyo and has some useful information on cheap apartments in Tokyo. Based on our experiences, share houses have short term contracts and as someone coming from overseas, your best bet would always be to live in a sharehouse first and then consider an apartment in Japan.
Japanese Cultural differences you should know!
Cultural differences between Japan and most other countries, especially western ones, are huge. This can lead to difficulties at work when dealing with Japanese superiors or colleagues. You should be able to deal with the following facts:
- In Japanese companies, there is usually a higher power distance between bosses and subordinates compared to Western companies, and bosses have to be consulted more often for any decisions.
- Decisions are usually group decisions on one hierarchy level and might take long.
- Being loyal to and a strong sense of belonging to one's company and colleagues is often considered more important than one's own needs. Japanese employees usually don't have problems with working long extra hours and don't put their own interests (e.g. requesting holidays) on top of the company's or colleague's interests.
- Communication in Japan is very indirect - you need to learn to read between the lines and to communicate in a very diplomatic way. People might feel personally offended if you are directly criticizing things, even if you don't see any personal relation between what you criticize and the person to whom you express your criticism.
- Japan is a country that is very success-driven and there are high expectations to "give your best" in order to achieve a very high-quality output of your work. Again, the outcome of your work for the common interest of your team is far more important than your personal interests.
- Japanese companies often follow extremely formal structures and processes and you are expected to do the same.
- Japanese companies are often very risk-averse and decisions have to be backed up by hard facts and numbers.
World Unite! provides you with a comprehensive intercultural training session, which will significantly speed up your intercultural learning process about Japan and will reduce the risk that you are facing difficulties resulting from cultural differences in your workplace.
How to get the Working Holiday Visa
If you are of one of the nationalities that can obtain the Working Holiday visa and within the age range by the time when applying for the visa, you have to apply for your Working Holiday Visa at the Japanese embassy or consulate in charge of where you have your permanent residence. You cannot get the Working Holiday visa while you are already in Japan or in any other country.
The application process and documents you have to hand in differ from country to country. You will also need to show a certain amount of available funds in your bank account, which differs considerably between the various countries that have Working Holiday agreements with Japan.
The visa application process is not extraordinarily difficult, but there are a couple of things you should consider, particularly when writing the letter of motivation and plan of activities, which are two of the documents you need to hand in. World Unite! will guide you through the process and can also check your documents before you hand them in.
World Unite! via its Canadian partner can also assist Canadians to get their Working Holiday Visa without having to travel long distances to the Japanese embassy or consulate.
Now Get Out There!
In the end, the Working Holiday experience is what you make of it. It’s all about getting a deeper look into Japan’s culture as well as sharing yours! Whether you want to work a job where you get to interact with the locals, learn the language more, or see all that each prefecture has to offer the possibilities of your Working Holiday in Japan are endless. So get out there make some friends and have the best of times in the land of the rising sun!
About the Working Holiday support service of World Unite!
World Unite! is the largest Working Holiday support provider in Japan with extensive experience in the field, and annually supports thousands of Working Holiday travelers. World Unite! will prepare you for your stay in Japan before your arrival and will take care of all formalities with you after your arrival in Tokyo. During your entire year in Japan, you can contact World Unite!'s international, multilingual team for any assistance. World Unite! also operates several sharehouses in Tokyo where you can stay at affordable cost and easily meet other travelers.
World Unite! offers group and one-on-one counseling sessions where you can learn everything you need to know about working in Japan and get help in finding a job that suits your skills and interests. With the help of World Unite!, few participants need more than two weeks to get their first job in Japan and earn an income from it. If you prefer the security of a job that has already been arranged prior to your arrival in Japan, World Unite!, in cooperation with several recruitment agencies, can arrange jobs for you in language schools, farms, hotels and ski resorts.
If you're interested in rural and traditional Japan, head to Sado Island (Niigata Prefecture), where World Unite! has a branch office and jobs in agriculture, fishing, hospitality, and tourism.
Please visit the World Unite! website for more information.