Working in Japan

Kicking Off Your Career in Japan

Getting your first job and heading down a career path is daunting and even more so when it is not your home country. Time to brush up the resume, pick up new skills, and network like crazy to find that first job.

For newcomers starting their employment journey in Japan, the country can be a place to pick up new skills or grow existing ones. It is up to each person to leverage their best skills, improve on them, and carry them to the next challenge. Careers do not usually follow a straight path but look more like a hop, skip, and jump through a series of roles. Settling into a career is a journey rather than just a destination. Hopefully, each new role on the curriculum vitae shows improvement and growth so that the CV looks like a well-orchestrated plan rather than a road full of potholes.

Navigating the job market and finding a career in Japan has major constraints to consider. A valid visa, with permission to work, as well as budget, are two major factors which will influence job hunting decisions. When the budget is tight, many of us will jump on the first paycheck which may eventually turn into a dead-end job. The challenge is how to pivot from these voids; can they be leveraged and made into an interesting addition to the CV or are they best left buried in the past. The skill lies in recognizing the potential for growth in a position and learning from each experience, regardless of first impressions. By reframing setbacks as opportunities for personal and career development, everyone can craft their CV to highlight resilience, adaptability, and a proactive approach to overcoming obstacles.

Japanese Language Skills

No discussion about work in Japan would be complete without addressing the topic of Japanese language proficiency. Obviously, living in a new country requires linguistic skills. Whether you aim to master basic transactions for daily living or aspire to navigate complex professional environments, language proficiency is an important consideration.

Probably everyone will undertake some type of organized language study either in-person, online or self-guided. Japanese language study should be coupled with real life language practice. Get out of the comfort of the school and pursue your hobby with the locals such as joining a running club, photography group or any other of your favorite pastimes. Language school will mostly teach you formal Japanese expressions, but they are too prim and proper and may lack the nuances needed for everyday interactions in daily life and working with colleagues. If you have the time and money to focus solely on language study that is an ideal situation. Once your time is consumed with work, language study momentum may take a backseat unless you are highly disciplined and rigorously schedule time for it.

There are many job opportunities in the fields such as cyber security, AI, cloud computing, corporate governance, etc. which are in high demand in Japan and many employers may show greater flexibility prioritizing expertise in these areas over linguistic fluency.

Working in Japan

Let’s fast forward to your first job. Tokyo, as well as the other major cities in Japan, are host to all the big names in business. Tokyo has a greater supply of foreign firms compared to Osaka or Nagoya mainly due to its large size. Foreign firms come in many different varieties. Some companies have partnerships with Japanese companies and mostly just lend their name to the operation. In these cases, the company is more likely to feel like a local Japanese company rather than an international one.

On the other end of the spectrum, some international companies have an active footprint within Japan and operate independently from a Japanese partner. One point about international companies is that such companies often adhere closely to global directives. This means that offices, such as the one in Japan, typically may lack the autonomy and independence for their own decision making and usually just follow the guidance given by headquarters.

For some people who want to create their own way from the bottom up, working for an international company could be constraining due to the oversight from headquarters. On the plus side, having access to experts in other parts of the world can be a great asset and a huge chance for learning. This type of collaborative environment fosters a culture of shared knowledge and expertise.

Working for international companies requires good teamwork and communication due to the dispersed nature of the business. English may be the lingua franca when working within company teams from other countries so your English skills will play a key role as well. Working for a global company can bring new career opportunities and a chance for international moves, however, the downside can be accommodating time zone differences with either early morning or late evening conference calls from Japan.

There are numerous articles about the ‘correct’ behavior expected for working in a Japanese company – punctuality, strong work ethic, dress code, etc. however, it’s important to recognize that these expectations extend beyond Japanese firms and are equally important within international organizations. As the world evolves, so do workplace norms, covering aspects such as dress codes, participation in after-hours gatherings, and provisions for family care leave. Within Japanese companies, there exists a spectrum of practices. While some companies may adhere to tradition and rigidity, others are actively embracing change and adapting to evolving global standards.

it’s important to recognize that these expectations extend beyond Japanese firms and are equally important within international organizations.

In addition to those who will work for traditional companies, there are also free spirits who will choose not to join the salaryman ranks. Artists, DJ’s, photographers, Airbnb hosts, and others will make the decision to go solo. It’s inspiring to see the diverse talents and strengths within the foreign community in Japan.

For individuals pursuing independent endeavors, navigating visa regulations and budget constraints can pose added challenges. However, many prioritize flexibility and autonomy over these obstacles, recognizing the value of pursuing their passions on their own terms.

Diversity & Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are increasingly recognized as global initiatives with companies endeavoring to create environments to be supportive of diverse groups of individuals, including people of different races, religions, abilities, genders, and sexual orientations. Yes, you will still find companies who operate with their head in the sand and ignore the tsunami of change in the work environment, but they will have trouble attracting and keeping the top talent.

In Japan, companies with over 300 employees are required to allocate 2.5% of their workforce to individuals with disabilities, encompassing physical, intellectual, and/or mental impairments. This quota is set to increase to 2.7% by 2026. Despite these regulations, only 19% of working-age disabled individuals in Japan are currently employed, a large contrast to other developed nations.

Many of Japan’s major corporations are members of the Valuable 500 which is a partnership of 500 companies with a vision to end disability exclusion. In 2025, a summit is planned in Tokyo to assess progress and drive further action on this crucial issue, highlighting the ongoing efforts to foster inclusivity in the workforce.

Which path will lead you to success? In Japan, the journey towards success is achieved through a strong network of friendships and connections. True success is not attained overnight; it evolves over time through persistent effort. Build your network, hone your skills, and master the language—these are the steppingstones to achieving your goals.

Keep a short journal, even if it is just a few notes on your phone, to track your progress so you can remain focused on your North Star. Wishing you the best of luck and smooth sailing ahead.

Find a better job in Japan through Jobs in Japan.

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