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Working in Japan

Working in Japan can be a great, albeit challenging experience for expats. Local customs in particular and the prevailing bureaucracy can be overwhelming. No worries, though: With our help you will feel right at home in Japan’s business world.

Working in Japan may still conjure up images of suit-clad sararīman (white-collar business employees), pressing themselves into Tokyo’s underground during rush hour. However, today the employment market has changed for much of the local population and expatriates moving to Japan.

The Effect of “Abenomics”: The Japanese Economy Today

The Japanese economy has been suppressed since its real estate and stock market bubble burst in the 1990s, resulting in the so-called “Lost Decade”. The GDP plummeted and growth stagnated. By 2005, the economy was showing strong signs of recovery, but following the global financial crash of 2008/2009 and the Great East Japan earthquake of 2011, Japan’s economy was further weakened.

While the economy is slowly growing again, working in Japan means working in a country struggling with problems such as slow economic growth, a decline of the manufacturing sector, low productivity, rising public debt, and an ageing population. By 2025, two employees might have to support one retiree.

The 2011 Fukushima disaster and its aftermath have had an additional impact on the country’s economy. Although GDP started to rebound in the third quarter of 2011, the nuclear catastrophe led to even higher government debt, as well as problems in the energy sector.

In the years immediately following the disaster, all 50 of Japan’s nuclear power plants closed their doors. In 2015 Prime Minister Shinzō Abe oversaw the reopening of two plants, but the industry is still suffering, and Japan has turned to oil instead of nuclear power once more.

Following his reelection, Prime Minister Abe introduced his new economic measures designed to stimulate the stagnant economy. Dubbed “Abenomics”, the approach has led to some success, with an increase in spending on luxury goods and a weakening of the yen being attributed to the policy. However, the measures are highly experimental and Japan is yet to return to the financial strength it enjoyed in the 1980s.

2020 will see Tokyo host the Olympic Games. The added tourism from the event should give the area an economic boost with predictions of an extra 1.67 trillion JPY being generated in the capital. It’s thought that around 152,000 extra jobs will be created in Japan as a result of the games and international trade will enjoy a bump following the global attention.

Getting the Right Kind of Visa

Any foreign nationals who will be working in Japan (i.e. who are not traveling here for a business trip, to engage in negotiations, etc.) have to apply for a special work visa. For this purpose, they need to obtain a so-called Certificate of Eligibility from the immigration office.

As soon as you have an offer of employment for Japan, an HR staff member of your Japanese employer should submit the application on your behalf. The procedure takes up to three months and needs to be handled before the actual visa application. Without the proper visa, you should never take up paid employment in Japan.

For further information on alien registration and different types of visas also have a look at our articles Moving to Japan and Living in Japan.

Japan’s Key Industries

Due to the lack of arable land, there have never been very many opportunities for those working in Japan’s agricultural sector. Except for rice cultivation and fishing, agriculture is rather negligible.

The manufacturing sector is both advanced and diversified. Japan exports various industrial ingredients and high-tech products, especially to East Asian countries and the US. This has traditionally been a source of pride to the many laborers working in Japan’s post-war manufacturing industries. However, this sector is suffering from fierce competition from emerging markets and general globalization in the Asia-Pacific region.

Above all, working in Japan is characterized by its status as a service economy. About 70% of the workforce are employed in service-related industries, from banking and finance over real estate and insurance to retail and telecommunications.

Expats Wanted: What You Need to Move to Japan

You should bring necessary qualifications, hard skills, and experience for specialist positions. Many expats in Japan hold a diplomatic post, have a career as a foreign correspondent, or are sent abroad as part of an intra-company transfer.

Skilled expatriates may be hired as experts in the automotive sector, environmental or medical technology, B2B salespersons for industrial products, technical translators, or in the teaching profession. Other traditional fields of employment for qualified staff, like IT or electronics, are currently on somewhat shaky ground, but they might still be worth a try.

Finding Your New Job in Japan

It can be helpful to begin your career in Japan by applying to the local overseas branch of a sōgōshōsha (Japan’s large trading companies) in your home country. If you’d like to start working in Japan, you should not underestimate the importance of a local business network.

Your contacts may help you by letting you know about vacancies that haven’t been openly advertised or by recommending prospective employers. Last but not least, a solid grasp of business Japanese is an invaluable asset for working in Japan.

Certain professions, such as medicine, require proof of your Japanese language skills in the form of a Japanese Language Proficiency Test. The qualification examines reading, writing vocabulary and grammar skills. A positive result in the test can be highly beneficial for those trying to enter the country as a Highly Skilled Professional through Japan’s points-based immigration system, as it can be worth an extra 15 points in your application. The tests are held twice a year within and outside of Japan, and more information can be found on the JLPT website.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Edmund Taylor

"Tokyo has so much to offer and InterNations made it much easier to become acclimated to life in this bustling city."

Marina Salgado

"In such a huge city, InterNations has created great events for expats to meet in Tokyo."

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