Within Japan, the Tokyo region generally offers the widest array of jobs for foreigners, including positions for lawyers, accountants, engineers and other professionals. Teaching positions, on the other hand, are more likely to be found outside of the Tokyo region.
Visas and residence permits
To work in Japan, a foreigner who is not already a permanent resident must receive a job offer from a guarantor in Japan, and then apply for a working visa at an immigration office (if already in Japan) or an embassy or consulate (if abroad). It is illegal for foreigners to work in Japan on a tourist visa. Working visas are valid for a period of one to three years, and may be used to secure employment at any employer within the scope of activities designated on the visa (including employers other than the guarantor). Alternatively, if you have substantial funds, you may apply for an investor visa. This requires you to either invest a large sum of money in a local business, or start your own business in Japan by contributing a large amount of start-up capital, and allows you to work for that particular company in a management capacity. Expect strict penalties if you overstay on any visa. Spouses of Japanese nationals can obtain spouse visas, which carry no restrictions on employment.
The Working Holiday program is open to young citizens (between 18 and 30) from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Korea, France, Germany, Ireland and the UK. Those eligible may apply for working holiday visas without having a prior job offer.
Foreigners who have lived in Japan for 10 years continuously are eligible to apply for permanent residency. You need to prove that you are financially independent and have no criminal record. If granted, then you can live and work in Japan indefinitely.
However, if you have found work on a US military base, even as a civilian, you may be considered to be under SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) status, which is separately managed and outside of the Japanese immigration system. While you will be physically allowed to remain in Japan and work on base, you will not be considered a resident of Japan, nor be given a Japanese residency card, and will thus be significantly limited in obtaining access to certain services that other residents can access relatively easily (for example, in terms of local banking services you will generally be limited to select local banks with branches near bases that have agreed to accept a US military ID in lieu of a Japanese residence card), and time spent in Japan on SOFA status does not count towards obtaining Japanese permanent residency (if you were working towards permanent residency and change from a Japanese immigration status to SOFA status, you will have to start over if you lose your SOFA status).
- See also: Teaching English
A popular form of employment among foreigners from English speaking countries is teaching English, especially in after-hours English conversation schools known as eikaiwa (英会話). Pay is fairly good for young adults, but rather poor compared to a qualified educator already at work in most Western countries. Working conditions can also be quite strict compared to Western standards, and some companies have very bad reputations.
An undergraduate degree or ESL accreditation is essential for most desirable positions. Interviews for English schools belonging to one of the larger chains would usually be held in the applicant's home country.
Learning English is no longer quite as fashionable as it once was and the boom years are long since over. Greater emphasis is being placed on children's education. North American accents are preferred, as well as an unspoken preference for teachers with a white appearance.
The JET Programme (Japan Exchange and Teaching) offers young university graduates a chance to teach in Japan. The program is run by the Japanese government but your employer would typically be a local Board of Education who assigns you to one or more public schools, often deep in the countryside. No Japanese skills or formal teaching qualifications are required and your airfare is provided. Pay is slightly better than the language schools and, unlike at such a school, if you have a serious problem with your employer you can appeal to the JET program people for help. The JET program also has a small number of positions for international relations or sports coordinators, although these require some Japanese ability.
Foreigners with postgraduate education may be able to find jobs teaching English (or even other subjects) at Japanese universities, which offer better pay and working conditions than the eikaiwa industry.
Quite a few young women choose to work in the hostess industry, where they entertain Japanese men over drinks in tiny bars known as sunakku (スナック) and are paid for their time. While pay can be good, visas for this line of work are difficult if not impossible to obtain and most work illegally. The nature of the work also carries its own risks, notably poor career prospects, alcoholism, smoking, potential problems from clients such as groping and lewd questions, and even harassment or worse, exemplified by the abduction and murder of hostess Lucie Blackman in 2000.
While there are host bars where young men entertain women, very few foreigners work at host clubs.
There are hundreds of thousands of foreigners studying in Japan in language schools (to learn Japanese), universities, Japanese martial arts academies and institutions of fine arts and crafts.
Japan provides a general exemption from visa requirements for up to 90 days for citizens of over 50 countries who come to Japan for language study. These countries include Australia, Canada, most of Europe, Hong Kong, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, the United States, and a dozen Caribbean/Latin American countries. This compete list is available here.
If you qualify for the exemption, you need only a valid passport to study at a Japanese language school generally for up to 90 days. All other foreign students in Japan must get a student visa. A visa application must be sponsored by an educational institution.
In order to obtain a student visa, you will be required to either have ¥1 million, or the equivalent in financial aid awards, to cover your living expenses. With a student visa, you may obtain an additional permission form from Immigration to legally work up to 20 hours per week. Contact your local Japanese embassy or home university's exchange program department for information on how to proceed.
There is a wide range of Japanese language schools in many cities that teach at various levels of proficiency including courses that prepare students to study at Japanese universities.
The Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU) is a standard examination that covers the Japanese language, science, and mathematics. It is held biannually in Japan and in some foreign cities. Aside from the section on Japanese language, the examination can be written in English or Japanese. Most universities use the EJU as admission criteria for international students, while some use their own entrance exams.
A few universities offer degree programs from the undergraduate to the doctoral level that are taught in English, but to be able to apply for the wide range of programs offered, proficiency in Japanese is required. The largest university offering programs in English is Temple University's multi-faculty campus in Tokyo.
International students can apply for scholarships provided by the Japanese government, local governments, the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO) and private organizations, foundations and companies. These bodies also offer exchange programs at the post-secondary level.
The cheapest way to stay in Japan for a longer period of time is to study at a local school or university with a generous Monbusho (Ministry of Education) grant to pay for it all. A number of Japanese universities offer courses taught in English; some foreign universities also operate independent programs in Japan,
Japan's top universities are also very well regarded worldwide, though degree programmes are almost always conducted exclusively in Japanese. Nevertheless, many of them have exchange agreements with other foreign universities, and you can apply to go on exchange for a semester or a year. Japan's most prestigious university is the University of Tokyo (東京大学), which is also considered to be one of the most prestigious universities in Asia, with Kyoto University (京都大学) in second place. Besides these two, the other members of the elite "National Seven Universities" in Japan are
- Osaka University (大阪大学)
- Nagoya University (名古屋大学)
- Tohoku University (東北大学)
- Hokkaido University (北海道大学)
- Kyushu University (九州大学).
Admission to these universities is extremely competitive for Japanese students, with notoriously tough entrance examinations, but spending a year at one as an exchange student is usually much easier: Japanese ability is typically not required (although it will certainly help!) and even tuition fees may be waived if your home university has an exchange agreement.
- Judo (柔道 jūdō, literally "the gentle way") focuses on grappling and throws, and was the first martial art to become a modern Olympic sport. There are many schools all over the country in which you can study it. If you are a member of a judo federation in any country, you can take part in a randori training at the Kodokan, the headquarters of the worldwide judo community.
- Karate (空手, literally "empty hand") is a striking martial art — using punches, kicks, and open-hand techniques — that is popular all over the world, and also has an influence on Western pop culture as can be seen in the Hollywood movie The Karate Kid (1984). There are schools all over the country in which you can study various styles. It will be featured at the Olympics for the first time in 2020.
- Kendo (剣道 kendō) is competitive swordfighting using bamboo or wooden swords, akin to fencing. While judo and karate are better known in much of the Western world, in Japan itself, kendo remains an integral part of modern Japanese culture, and is taught to students in all Japanese schools.
Other Japanese martial arts include aikidō, another grappling form, and kyūdō, Japanese archery.
Japanese arts and crafts
- See also: Arts in Japan
Traditional Japanese arts and crafts include tea ceremony (茶道 sadō or chadō), origami (折り紙 "paper folding"), flower arrangement (生け花 ikebana), calligraphy (書道 shodō), and bonsai (盆栽).
Banking in Japan is a notoriously cumbersome process, especially for foreigners. You will need a residency card and proof of a Japanese address to open a full bank account. Many will also require a Japanese phone number. This means that while foreigners in Japan on an extended period (i.e. those on student, dependent or work visas) may open an account, this option is not available to those on short trips for tourism or business. Many banks also require you to have a Japanese seal (印鑑 inkan) to stamp your documents with and signatures are often not accepted as a substitute. Bank staff often do not speak English or any other foreign languages.
In the event that you only need a locally-issued bank card (for an online merchant that performs region checks, for instance) and not a full bank account, some stores' point cards carry a prepaid Visa or JCB card function, and should you at least be able to get a data SIM with SMS, you will be able to sign up for one of many prepaid Visa or MasterCard cards available on the market with just that and any address in Japan. These typically have low spending and reloading limits compared to full bank accounts, however (all prepaid Visa/MasterCard/JCB cards issued without verifying a Japanese residency card are required to limit spending from the card to 1 million yen over the life of the card, typically 5 years). They also can not be used for recurring bills, utilities, gas stations, and certain other types of purchases.
Prepaid electronic cards are quite popular in Japan for small purchases. There are cards for train fares, convenience store purchases, and other general purposes, though they aren't interchangeable (except for transit-based cards; Suica, Pasmo, ICOCA, Toica, and many others will work in each other's service areas, although they can not be used to pay a fare that crosses from one to the other). If you plan on returning frequently and/or need to be able to add funds to your prepaid cards with a credit card, it may be worth it to buy a cheaper, used Japanese smartphone (~¥5000) and use the included prepaid card apps over WiFi. Mobile Suica (usable nationwide) on iOS accepts any Apple Pay-capable Visa/MasterCard/JCB/AmEx, but only the latter two on Android. Mobile Edy (Android only) accepts foreign JCB/American Express credit cards for funding, but requires a two-day wait from submission of credit card details before it will allow loading.
If you have a Japanese phone, be aware that initializing the prepaid card on a local SIM, rental or prepaid, will consume data, which can be avoided by using Wi-Fi. Only feature phones require a Japanese SIM to initiate the service; Japan-market smartphones, once unlocked, can be initialized using any data service, be it Wi-Fi, your own SIM, a local one, or a rental. This means it is possible to set it up before arrival.
To purchase a phone plan capable of voice you usually have to have a residency (or an obliging Japanese friend willing to front for you). However, it is still possible to get service without residency (for frequent visitors or those on SOFA status), but options are much more limited.
- There are only two providers that provide postpaid voice service to people without a Japanese residency card: Mobal and Smash Mobile[dead link]. Mobal uses the SoftBank network, charges ¥3000 for the SIM and then either ¥1000 (voice and SMS support only) or ¥4500 (voice, SMS, and 7GB data) a month with calls costing ¥29 a minute. Smash Mobile uses the docomo network, has a range of plans from ¥3300 for voice, SMS, and 5GB data to ¥7400 for voice, SMS, and 50GB data, and includes 20 minutes of domestic calling per month.
- The easier way is to get a prepaid (プリペイド) phone. SoftBank is the only remaining provider of prepaid phone service with voice. If you have arrived as a tourist, you must purchase your prepaid SIM from their Global Rental counters in major airports. Stores in important areas of major cities in Japan often have English-speaking staff to help long-term foreigners, but this should be confirmed prior to visiting the store, and they can not help you with a prepaid SIM purchased from an airport counter as a tourist. A prepaid feature phone is available for as little as ¥6578 including a ¥4000 60 day call time package (SoftBank also now sells stand-alone SIMs), which will get drained at a rate of ¥90 per minute of domestic voice and ¥330 per 30 days for 100 MB data. A smartphone bundle starts at ¥24,200 including ¥10,000 of credit valid for 120 days, for which data packages can be purchased at the following rates: ¥990 for 2 days and 200 MB data, ¥2,970 for a week and 700 MB, and ¥5,478 for a month and 3 GB data, all on their LTE network.
- Users of the latest iPads with Apple SIMs can simply choose to set up a prepaid AU or SoftBank data service account in the data settings menu using a credit card from home. Both providers charge ¥1620 per 1GB/30 days and in the case of AU, can be set to automatically add more data when you run low. Registration can only be done upon arrival in Japan, and only between the hours of 9AM-9PM.
- Electronics stores like Bic Camera have selection of prepaid data-only SIMs for tourists. You can choose between different data options and terms (for example, b-mobile's plans of a 5GB prepaid data only SIM available in a visitor version at ¥1,980 or a 7GB version for ¥2,970).
- The cheaper way is to get a monthly contract, but for this you'll need proof of longer stay (=residence card) if you want a plan with voice or to finance a new phone. You can expect to pay around ¥5,000 per month at the major providers, assuming light calling, but prices are beginning to fall (all three major providers now have plans with 20GB of data for under ¥3000 and voice rates around ¥40/minute). A cancellation fee may also apply if the contract is terminated early. However, there are MVNOs of the major providers that charge lower monthly fees (usually less than ¥2,000 and sometimes just below ¥1,000 if voice service is not necessary) and do not require a contract term, but do expect you to bring your own phone and often have activation fees of around ¥3,000 (there are often promotions which discount this fee; if you are able to wait for a promotion, you should). These MVNOs also suffer lower priority on the host's network (mineo, an MVNO of AU, often sees its users' LTE speeds cut to a few percent of what they usually are at peak times as AU users continue to enjoy high-speed service).
- Note that if you do not need voice, you can apply for a data-only or data and SMS monthly plan from a provider with only a credit card (some providers accept foreign credit cards, some do not). You will still need to have an address in Japan to send your SIM to, unless you are signing up for an eSIM (see below), in which case everything can be completed online.
- For anyone wanting an eSIM, a monthly data-only plan from IIJMio is the only option available from a local provider. It comes in two flavors: "Giga Plan" with a defined amount of data per month, and "Data Plan Zero" which charges a basic monthly fee of ¥165 and requires you to separately purchase data every month in 1 GB blocks (¥330 for the first GB, ¥495 for subsequent GBs) as needed on a prepaid basis. The Giga Plan makes more sense in most cases, as the price works out cheaper from the get-go (¥440 a month for 2 GB data compared to ¥990 on Data Plan Zero). However, it is more cost-effective to keep a Data Plan Zero eSIM if you are someone who infrequently visits Japan rather than lives there, as the fee when no data is being used is only ¥165). No ID is needed, just your credit card details (foreign credit cards are accepted) and the address in Japan you will be staying at. Note that once you sign up, your first opportunity to cancel is the last day of the month following the one in which you signed up. This can still save you a lot compared to a fully prepaid data SIM (an 8GB Giga Plan costs ¥1,100 a month, so even paying that for two months would be two-thirds than the price of a 7 GB Visitor SIM from b-mobile), but a visitor signing up for this plan would need to remember to come back and cancel at this page once that day comes to avoid being billed beyond that.
If you're staying for a longer period, say a month and longer, you might be able to drastically reduce your living costs by staying in a "gaijin house". These establishments cater specifically towards foreigners and offer at least minimally furnished and usually shared apartments at reasonable prices, and without the hefty deposits and commissions of apartments (often up to 8 months rent) paid before moving in. It will almost certainly be cheaper than staying in a hotel for a month, and for those coming to Japan for the first time they are also great for networking and getting to know a few locals. The downside is that facilities are often shared and the transient population can mean poor maintenance and dodgy neighbors.
Gaijin houses are concentrated in Tokyo, but any other big city will have a few. They can be anything from ugly cramped apartment complexes with new tenants every week, to nice family run businesses in private houses, so try to get a look at the place before you decide to move in. Two of the biggest letting agencies for gaijin houses in Tokyo are Sakura House and Oak House, while Gaijin House Japan has listings and classified ads covering the entire country.
Traditionally, renting an apartment in Japan is a ridiculously complex and expensive process, involving getting a Japanese resident to act as your guarantor (literally—trash up the place and run away, and they will get stuck with the bill) and paying months of rent in advance. It is thus essentially impossible for anyone who is not both familiar with the culture and there to live and work for a few years at least.
Weekly mansions (short-term apartments) have become popular for residents (typically businessmen on long-term assignment or young singles) and are accessible even to visitors. Most are 1 or 2 person rooms, although larger ones for 3 or 4 are sometimes available. Apartment fees are around ¥5000 for a single, around ¥6000-7000 for a two person room per day. Most of these apartment rental agencies will offer all apartments with shower, toilet and bath. They usually have air conditioning, microwave and cooking amenities. Reservations can be made on an English language website, and they have various promotional offers on their website. WMT [dead link] has more than 50 apartment buildings in Tokyo and Yokohama, together with Osaka. Sometimes a deposit is required for some of the apartments. This deposit can usually be waived if you have stayed with them a few times without any trouble. The apartments are always kept clean and often have much more space and flexibility than a hotel and are priced in the youth hostel range.
Student and company housing
Larger universities operate heavily subsidized dormitories (寮 ryō) for their students, and some of these are dedicated to foreign exchange students. The apartments are often incredibly tiny (under 10 m² is typical), and curfews and strict rules on guests are common, but they're private (no roommates!) and incredibly cheap, with rents that can be under ¥10,000/month even in the middle of Tokyo.
Japanese companies operate very similar dormitories for their unmarried full-time employees, but few visitors to Japan will qualify for one.
Japanese work culture is more hierarchical and formal than what Westerners may be used to. Suits are standard business attire, and coworkers call each other by their family names or by job titles. Workplace harmony is crucial, emphasizing group effort rather than praising individual accomplishments. Workers must often get their superiors' approval for any decisions they make, and are expected to obey their superiors' instructions without question. It's rude to not be present when your superiors are, which means arriving early (tardiness is never accepted), staying late, and sometimes working on Saturdays (twice a month at many companies, and every week at some). Japanese authority figures take any attempts to challenge their authority extremely seriously, and will not hesitate to put you in your place should you try to question or challenge them. On top of that, workers are expected to go out after work for food and drinks multiple times a week, and this is often where the real discussions take place.
Business cards (名刺 meishi) are treated very respectfully and formally. How you treat someone's business card is seen as representing how you will treat the person. Make sure to pack more than you'll need, as not having a business card to present is a serious faux pas. There's a lot of nuanced etiquette, but here are some basics:
- When presenting a business card, orient it so it's readable by the person you're giving it to, and use both hands holding it by the corners so everything is visible.
- When accepting a business card, use both hands to pick it up by the corners, and take the time to read the card and confirm how to pronounce the person's name (more of an issue in Japanese, where the characters for someone's name can be pronounced several ways).
- It's disrespectful to write on a card, fold it, or place it in your back pocket (where you'll sit on it!).
- At a meeting, you should arrange cards on the table (in order of seniority) to help you remember who's who.
- When it's time to leave, pack the cards in a nice case to keep them pristine; if you don't have one, hold on to them until you're out of sight before pocketing them.