Guide to work in Japan: overview, in-demand jobs and FAQs
Updated 11 September 2023
Japan is one of the world's major economies and a technology hub. Its high standard of living and strong economy make it a potentially attractive option if you want to work abroad. If you're thinking about moving to Japan to work, knowing what to expect can help you decide if it's the right choice for you. In this article, we provide an overview of Japan, describe what it's like to work in Japan and answer some frequently asked questions.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
An overview of Japan
Japan is an island nation in the east of Asia. Its capital city is Tokyo, with major population centres in Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo and Fukuoka. Japan has no land borders, with the closest countries by sea including South Korea, China, Russia and Taiwan. The country consists of numerous islands, the largest of which are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu from north to south. Japan's population is 125.7 million inhabitants as of 2021 and has been decreasing in recent years. The landscape is largely mountainous with abundant forests and many rivers, with the larger plains adjacent to the coast.
Japan is a long, thin country whose climate varies from north to south and from its eastern to western shore. Northern regions have a colder, almost subarctic climate. Southern regions are subtropical. The western shores along the Sea of Japan tend to have a warmer climate than their counterparts on the eastern Pacific coast. Japan is a major exporter of cars, large construction vehicles, hot-rolled iron, electronics, machinery, photography equipment and vehicle parts. It's the world's fourth-largest exporter and third-largest economy. Its official currency is the Japanese yen (¥).
What it's like to work in Japan
If you'd like to know what it's like to work in Japan, here are some of the key factors to consider:
The official language of Japan is Japanese, which is part of the Japonic language family. Living and working in Japan generally requires a good level of proficiency in Japanese. Learning Japanese may be more difficult than familiar European languages due to the significant difference in phonetics and characters compared to English. Finding proficient English speakers is also likely to be more difficult in Japan than in many other countries. According to the English Proficiency Index (EPI) from Education First (EF), Japan ranks 14th among 24 Asian countries in terms of English proficiency among non-English speaking countries.
Its score is lower than the global average, placing it 80th of the 111 countries on the index with a low proficiency rating, alongside others like Mongolia, Turkey, Iran and Egypt. There's some variation among regions in Japan, with Kanto and Kansai reaching moderate proficiency. Chugoku and Hokkaido rank lowest in Japan. English proficiency is highest among those aged between 26 and 40. Consequently, learning Japanese is a high priority if you want to live and work there.
The information in this section is from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan (MHLW), as of February 2023. Japan has strict employment laws that protect the rights of employees, including anti-discrimination rules. Work contracts with a definite period can't exceed three years in duration, although in some cases, this extends to five years. The contract must include details of working conditions, hours, overtime, days off, wages, date of payment, promotion details and retirement details. Japan entitles women to take leave six weeks before childbirth and up to eight weeks after birth.
If an employee is absent for reasons attributable to their employer, they're entitled to at least 60% of their earnings. If an employee works six hours consecutively, they're entitled to a break of at least 45 minutes. Employees are entitled to at least one day off per week, and employers can only extend overtime to 360 hours per year, except in certain temporary circumstances. For overtime and night work, employees are entitled to 25% extra pay and 35% extra for work on days off. Paid leave starts from 6 months of employment, increasing with years worked there.
Japan has a low unemployment rate of 2.8% as of 2021. As of 2019, the largest sector by employment was services, accounting for 72.4% of the workforce. The industrial sector employed 24.2% of the workforce, and agriculture accounted for 3.4%. The ratio of job offers to candidates is 1.35:1, meaning there's an excess demand for qualified candidates. According to the local Japanese job site, Jobs in Japan, the IT sector is among the most promising for those seeking vacancies. Below are some in-demand jobs in Japan, both from the IT sector and others:
financial product and control evaluation professions
cloud computing professions
IT infrastructure project managers
bilingual office managers
mobile app developers
sales and marketing specialists
Related: Jobs in Japan for foreigners
The information in this section is from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MoFA) as of February 2023. Work and long-term stay visas comprise numerous categories. These include the highly skilled foreign professional visa. This visa lasts for five years and requires a Certificate of Eligibility. This certificate is based on a points system determining skill levels. Examples include advanced academic research work, advanced technical expertise and business management. It's necessary to have an employment offer, and getting this visa can make subsequent residency easier. It also grants spouses of the visa holder the right to work in Japan.
There are also ordinary working visas for various professions, as follows:
lawyers and accountants
doctors, nurses and other medical personnel
teachers and instructors
engineers, humanities specialists and linguists
skilled labourers like pilots, chefs and sports trainers
entertainers, musicians, actors and models
technical intern trainees
skilled individuals specialised in an industrial field
Frequently asked questions
Here are some frequently asked questions about working and living in Japan, together with their respective answers:
What's Japan's qualifications framework?
At the school level, Japan has the Upper Secondary School Leaving Certificate (Kotogakko Sotsugyo Shomeisho), which has a numerical grade point average (GPA) system. These are equivalent to GCSEs and A-levels in the UK. Japanese bachelor's degrees also have a GPA system out of 4.0. For example, a Japanese bachelor's degree with a GPA of 3.7-4.0 is equivalent to first-class honours, a 3.0-3.3 to an upper second and a 2.3-2.7 to a lower second. This applies to degrees where the passing grade is 2.0, while those with a passing grade of 1.0 have slightly lower GPA equivalents.
How can I find work in Japan?
You can start your job search with sites like Indeed Japan. Proficiency in Japanese is another key priority. When looking at job advertisements, check if they're willing to hire from abroad. Prioritise in-demand jobs when searching and prepare your application documents in Japanese. CVs in Japan may differ from those in the UK and include additional information, such as personal details. Japanese job interviews can be quite long and involve multiple interviewers asking questions in Japanese.
Can I teach English in Japan?
Yes. The low levels of English proficiency can present an opportunity to find jobs teaching English in Japan. A Teaching English as a Second Language (TEFL) certificate may be necessary and can help you distinguish yourself from other candidates, in addition to a teaching degree. Being a native speaker is also a priority for teaching positions in Japan. Potential employers include secondary schools and private schools. Proficiency in Japanese may also be a requirement and is going to be useful for living in Japan even if you don't use the language in the workplace.
Explore more articles
- What is a ward clerk? (With duties, requirements and FAQs)
- What Is Working in a Call Centre Like? With Tips and Duties
- How to become a mental health counsellor (with salary info)
- What does a bookkeeper do? (Duties, careers and salaries)
- How to become a property manager (plus definition)
- How to become a beach lifeguard in the UK, plus tips
- What is sports management and what does a sports manager do?
- How to become a health psychologist (Plus duties and skills)
- How to become a private tutor (With definition and steps)
- How To Become a Game Designer (With Qualifications)
- What qualifications do I need to be an electrician?
- How does mystery shopping work? (With definition and FAQs)