Living in Japan/Finding a Job
In order to work in Japan as a non-citizen, you need a visa. Visas are described in detail later in this guide, but the most important things to know are:
- You need a job before you can get a working visa.
- You generally need a bachelor's degree or a large amount of work experience to get the visa.
Teaching in Japan
The most common profession among native English speakers in Japan is teaching English.
There are a number of ways to teach in Japan. The most basic is to teach on a freelance basis, where the teacher and student(s) meet at a coffee shop or other location for private lessons. Compensation for this sort of teaching varies, but is generally between ¥1,500 and ¥5,000 an hour. However, since there is no guaranteed source of income through this method, people seeking full-time employment usually look for a position at some sort of school.
Japan has a number of specialized language schools, which may cater to adults, children or both. The largest of these schools, such as NOVA, AEON, ECC, GEOS and GABA, often recruit teachers from overseas and place them within Japan. These schools provide an easy way for a first-timer to come to Japan, but they may demand stressful working hours, and the employment contract may try to restrict your activities outside the workplace.
There are also many smaller language schools which hire teachers on a more ad-hoc basis. While these often provide a more easygoing work environment, they rarely hire outside Japan, and they often want an applicant to have a work visa before applying.
Starting salaries at private language schools are about ¥200,000 to ¥250,000/month; part time wage per hour ranges from ¥1,500 to ¥4,000. Only a bachelor's degree is generally required, and some teachers get by without even a bachelor's degree if they are otherwise eligible to work in Japan (e.g. by having a Japanese spouse).
While English is the most popular language by far, Mandarin Chinese teachers are in rapidly increasing demand, and other languages such as French, German and Korean are also taught in many locations.
Another avenue for teachers who would rather work with children is to teach at an elementary, junior high or senior high school.
One popular avenue for doing this is the JET Programme, a government-run program which places foreigners under 40 in "assistant language teacher" positions at public schools or local boards of education. The JET Programme provides special orientations for living in Japan, and is a common stepping-stone into the country for newcomers. However, the program is fairly competitive, not all nationalities may participate, and many areas of Japan have withdrawn from the program in recent years, instead opting to recruit trained foreign teachers directly.
Outside of JET, which requires no particular teaching experience, schools often demand some teaching experience or teaching qualification. Salaries range from ¥250,000 to ¥300,000/month for entry-level jobs; experienced teachers may make a bit more.
Universities offer higher pay than schools, but also demand a better resume: you will need at least a master's degree to teach at a university. Note that foreigners generally do not receive tenure-track positions at Japanese universities: instead, they are hired as lecturers on fixed-term contracts.
Tokyo is one of the financial capitals of the world, and many foreigners are employed in investment banks and securities firms which offer high salaries and good benefits.
The most common way to get a position in the Tokyo finance industry is to join a firm overseas and then be transferred to Japan. This is not the only way to manage things, however: many firms, particularly smaller ones, hire foreigners directly in Japan. These positions are usually filled through personal contacts or through "headhunters" (executive search consultants).
Many finance positions demand fluency in Japanese, and a good number demand fluency in a third language as well.
Legal services are also clustered around Tokyo, although there are a few firms in Osaka, Nagoya and other major cities. Most "serious" work for foreign lawyers and paralegals is in a handful of multinational law firms and investment banks in Tokyo, which have fairly high hiring standards and often seek both experience and language ability. Japanese law firms employ some entry-level foreigners to proofread contracts and memoranda, and employ some more experienced foreign lawyers to work as handlers for foreign clients.
The IT industry is big in Japan and employs many foreigners with programming and engineering backgrounds.
Naturally, a technical background is a must. Most foreigners who work in the Japanese IT industry also need to know Japanese on a basic level. Besides daily communication, a command of the language is necessary in order to navigate and program local computer systems, since Japanese systems have issues of character encoding, IMEs, and other features that often do not exist on Western systems.
Starting a business
Thanks to recent legal changes, it is now easier than ever to start a business in Japan. However, this is probably not a task for those who are unaccustomed to managing a business or working in Japan.
The Japan External Trade Organization, an organ of the Japanese government, has published a guide on setting up business in Japan. For a basic office-based business you should anticipate an initial investment of at least ¥10,000,000 to cover rent and legal paperwork. If you are entering Japan for the purpose of starting the business, the business must also meet certain conditions of scale in order to be the basis for your working visa as a "business manager." Generally, this means having at least two employees in addition to yourself (often a Japanese manager and secretary).
Bars and restaurants
Restaurants, bars and nightclubs have long been a vocation of foreigners in Japan. However, because there is no visa for waiters and bartenders, you will need another form of work eligibility (such as a spouse visa or working holiday visa) in order to obtain such a job legally.
One potentially lucrative market for young foreign women is the "hostess bar" industry. Hostesses are often compared to the traditional geisha – entertainers who get paid to "charm" men. Hostessing is not prostitution, and sexual services are not part of the job description, which could be better described as "paid flirting". While hostessing pays well, it is not a particularly secure job, and it requires a certain degree of appearance and charisma. One good essay on the hostessing experience is "Mama-san's Babies" by Sarah Dale. Male "hosts" are also in some demand nowadays, although this market is much smaller.