“I want to work in Japan! But how?”

Photo by Sorasak on unsplash.com

Hello readers! The 1/26/19 Japanese Job Fair was a great time, and I wanted to devote this week’s blog to a topic that came up over and over again with the candidates I met. Many people said that they want to work and live in Japan, but they don’t know how to go about this. Well, I hope that this blog post answers your many questions! 

There’s a lot to cover, but we can divide it into the following categories:

  • the legal aspect (visas)
  • the quickest route (teaching English)
  • the slower route (finding a company in the US to work with and then get sent as an expat)
  • the more difficult route (trying to get hired directly in Japan)
  • notes on those who specifically want to improve their language skills


Like with any country, you need to be legally allowed to live and work in Japan. 

Currently, you can travel to Japan from the US without a visa for up to 90 days. (This blog post will specifically be about Americans traveling to Japan, so please check your government’s websites for other nationalities.)

If you want to work there, you need to find a company that a) wants to hire you and b) is willing to apply for a visa for you. Do note that applying for a company will take time, as will the visa application process once you get accepted. The visa itself can take a 3 or more months, so you will need to be patient.


If your main focus is to get to Japan so you can live there, then I recommend teaching English in Japan. There are a few ways:

  1. Apply at an English teaching school like Gaba, Epion, and Aeon that will help you with your work visa. There are more schools, so do some research for the area you want to live in and see what else is out there.
  2. Check out job listings on websites such as JobsInJapan.com, GaijinPot, Metropolis, and other news sources- although be sure to check whether visas are supplied or not.
  3. Apply for the JET program. You’ll need to take into consideration application due dates since you apply by November and get sent to Japan the following July. Most people apply for an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) role, and can get sent all over the country to teach in schools. There is also a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) position where you can work in government positions, and the friends I know who did this came out speaking with near fluency. Overall, the JET Program does an excellent job with sending their ALTs and CIRs to Japan since it was founded in 1987.

Here are some things you should keep in mind regarding teaching English. They will be either pros or cons depending on your goals:

  1. It’s relatively easier to find a company that needs an English teacher, than any other kind of career.
  2. Teaching may not necessarily be a step in your personal career path.
  3. You can make good money.
  4. If you want to use/improve your language skills, you will need to work a little harder to find Japanese friends or language partners outside of your English-teaching job.
  5. You have to really like teaching English all day and every day, as it can get boring if it’s not your passion. 
  6. You should know English! You may not need a degree in it, but your working knowledge should be good enough to teach from a textbook and answer the many, many questions about grammar and sentence structure.
  7. You should show up for work with energy and enthusiasm. Some students are there because they love English and want to share their enthusiasm with you, and some students are forced to be there, so you need to be creative to get that lesson interesting.


If you prioritize doing something that you love, and can wait to go to Japan later, then here is what I recommend:

  1. figure out what you want to do with your life (= your ikigai)
  2. research what you can do with that in a job
  3. research what global companies have such jobs AND have a location in Japan
  4. apply for that job with an emphasis on your love of Japan and Japanese skills
  5. state in your interview that you eventually want to get to Japan to support their services there

I summarized that in a few points, but the truth of the matter is that the process could take years. It all depends on what you want to do and what kind of companies you are dealing with. 

Some companies may be interested in someone like you if they have subsidiaries in, or are looking to expand to, the Japan market. Some may be struggling to find a native English speaker who understands Japan for a part of their business, and they might be surprised to meet anyone who wants to live there.

Then again, it could be even more difficult than that. Some may require years of experience before sending anyone to Japan because they need the candidate to be a manager. Some may be stuck with thinking that an English-speaking Japanese employee is sufficient.

Yes, this is scary and overwhelming, but you know what? It doesn’t have to be true. If there are enough of us to show that we love Japan and want to work there with our enthusiastic approach to our ikigai, then we can start to prove what awesome employees we can be. In this global economy, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. You just have to work harder to get it 🙂


Of course, you can focus on your ikigai, apply to global companies located in Japan where you can do what you love in the country you love – but I have found that this route can be one of the more frustrating ones yet. 

That said, I hope my readers read that last sentence and consider it more of a challenge than a roadblock. You have to think outside the box, and if you are vehemently focused on your goal to do your ikigai and live in Japan, then GO FOR IT. You have 90 days to job search in person, so what’s stopping you? 

I personally utilized this route back in 2006 and came out with bruises and cuts – as well as a whole bunch of amazing stories. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. It’s not impossible, but this route REQUIRES you to use your brains, patience and a think-outside-the-box mentality. You have to also have thick skin, and a fairly good level of Japanese language skills.


Many people I spoke with expressed concerns regarding their language skills. Let’s cover some below.

“I want to focus on learning Japanese vocabulary that is specific to my dream career. Will I be wasting my time/energy working at a job that uses a different set of vocabulary?”

My answer: Any job where you can use Japanese, even if it has zero to do with your desired career, is still excellent language experience. Say you want to be a doctor/scientist/fill-in-the-blank, but you found a job using Japanese while serving in a restaurant. Even if you never want to be a waiter/waitress after this part-time job, the job itself will help you learn keigo and how to work with a customer. Even if you never use the Japanese word for souffle, your practice of sentence structure will leave you so much better off. I was in the music, electronics and automotive manufacturing industries, and I can say with 100% certainty that the terminology I learned in each industry was a BENEFIT, not a hindrance, to every other industry. I can also say that having access to those industries helped me realize my ikigai even better, because we humans change over time, as does our ikigaiNo experience is a waste of time; if you are unhappy with it, then you have every means to change it.

“Will living in Japan really help me improve my Japanese?” AND “I’m concerned that not living in Japan won’t help me improve my Japanese.”

My answer: Although living in Japan is one of THE best ways to speedily improve your Japanese language skills since you are immersed in it, I don’t want my readers to think that NOT living there won’t. Again, let’s think outside the box! Going to live/work in Japan can be a big decision, and one that may or may not happen immediately. You can entertain so many other ideas at home, such as: finding local Japanese people for conversation partners, working at a Japanese restaurant where many Japanese eat, reaching out to your Japanese friends in Japan to correct each other’s e-mails/correspondence, enrolling in a Japanese language class, watching Japanese movies/TV shows online, attending Japan-related events, listening to Japanese podcasts in the car, etc. 


Whatever you decide, I hope that you a) are doing what your heart desires and b) not letting anything get in your way. 

I also hope that you are truly thinking outside of the box, and not waiting for anyone to hand you any job offers. You have to do your research, and find what it is you want to do. Go out there, and be creative! It won’t be easy, but it will be an amazing life-learning opportunity. If you really want something, why let anything stop you?

So what do you think? Do you have any other concerns or questions? Do you need me to expand on any of the above categories? If so, please do not hesitate to respond in the blog or social media comments!

Sorasak on Unsplash.com

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