Help a Newbie Get Work in Japan


Hey JapanNewbies!

A fellow JapanNewbie (but actually not so newbie Newbie) contacted me with a request for help. I figured I would ask the community to see if we can generate some ideas that may help any other people who may be facing the same situation.

Basically it shakes down like this. Got the education, got the Japan experience, just finished school, and want to work in Japan. Tough to seal the deal without being in Japan though. Check the details below.

I am a newly minted MA in Japanese Studies, living in New York City. The world is my oyster, right?!! I am trying very hard to find a full-time job in Japan (non-English teaching) to improve my Japanese language abilities while gaining professional skills. As someone who had done JET for two years, I have never had to do the shukatsu (job hunting in Japan) thing. I have applied to a number of jobs in Japan, for which I am qualified, and gotten a few Skype interviews. From many companies, however, I get the familiar refrain: “we only hire locals.” So, my fellow Japanophiles, how would you suggest I tackle this problem? Should I head to Tokyo on a tourist visa and hit the pavement? Should I sell my soul and take an eikaiwa job just to get a visa? To help you answer these questions, here is some info about myself:

I graduated from an Ivy League university in 2005 with a BA in English and Art History. I did JET from 2005 to 2007 in Shizuoka-ken. I came back to NYC and worked as a copywriter for a marketing company for one year. For my MA, I spent two years taking courses focused specifically on Japan in business, politics, and history. I also completed a certificate in logistics and transportation, unrelated. My primary areas of research were renewable energy and environmental policy in Japan. I have about 1,000 kanji safely under my belt and have passed 2 kyuu of JLPT.

Based on my background, I am looking for jobs in sales, marketing, market research and operations in Japan. My strengths are writing, research and area knowledge of Japan. I actually found my perfect job the other day: “proposal writer for a leading renewable energy company in Japan.” I applied for it, only to encounter the same response: “LOCAL HIRES ONLY.” Please help me get to Japan. Yoroshiku.

Tough situation. I have my thoughts, and I’ll post them in the comments. Please share your ideas as well!

Help a newbie out!

– Harvey


  • Go to Tokyo on the tourist visa and hit the pavement. But specifically, go see Keizo at Bossanova, the ramen restaurant.
    Keizo was in a similar position to you. But he caught the ramen bug.
    You’ll (hopefully) get a job at Bossanova, but it won’t take up all your time, so you’ll be able to look for another job in the field in which you really want to work.

  • My personal suggestion is that he attend the 10-month IUC Japan program in Yokohama which starts in September, and look for a job while he is there learning Japanese.

    The status of being a student at IUC is somewhat significant and may open some doors. Also, the extra Japanese ability won’t hurt. Plus its a great way to be in Japan and hunt for the job.

    Just my two cents!

  • the company is afraid of two things:
    1) your japanese skills
    2) the expense of moving you to japan and taking a chance on you w/ no japanese work experience

    prove them wrong on both counts and you’re in!

    • also, do you want to be a proposal writer? do you have the technical/legal japanese skills? send them a writing sample (or ask for a sample assignment)

  • Thank you for the comments, Harvey, pudgym29 and discojing. I really appreciate the advice. The ramen idea does sound interesting, and his story is great. So if I end up having to go the tourist visa route, I’ll definitely look Keizo up. Harvey and I have discussed IUC privately. I know it’s a great program and I’d love to enter in the next few years. But my priority right now is building professional experience.

    Discojing- Yes, I have encountered both of those concerns from employers. With the benefit of Skype interviews, hopefully their concerns about language will be alleviated. And, if I can get to Japan and do face-to-face interviews, they’ll have an even better idea of my language abilities.

    Regarding the second concern, I imagine I’ll have to pay my own relocation expenses for any job that I take. So I am careful to make that clear when I communicate with companies, that I am taking the risk and expense on myself.

    You bring up an interesting point though: is English teaching, like JET, considered “Japanese work experience”? Or is English teaching considered outside of the Japanese employment system? Would it be worth getting a letter of recommendation from one of my former supervisors at my school?

    FYI – The Proposal Writer position only required Conversational Level Japanese and there was nothing in the description about translation. It seemed more about being able to write clearly about technical concepts in English, with a high attention to detail and formatting. So, between the English major, copywriting experience, and knowledge of Japan’s renewable energy industry, it would have been, yes, perfect!


  • Three quick thoughts:

    1. Do whatever アルバイト you can get to pay the bills until October this year, at which point you go to the Boston Career Forum and sell yourself to Japanese companies looking to hire bilinguals:

    2. Take your ivy league diploma and your academic background in logistics/energy/environment and try to sell yourself to some of the 総合商社 doing business in New York. (Or Nissan in Tennessee, Honda in California . . .) Getting hired where you are and transfered to Japan later is one route to take, and it can be a particularly lucrative one in some cases (the expat packages tend to be much cushier than those for in-country hires here).

    3. Study the language more. Frankly speaking, JLPT2 and a thousand kanji aren’t going to convince a lot of companies here to read your resume a second time, much less hire you sight unseen based on phone interviews. (Although of course this will differ according to the type of company/work being considered.)

    I guess my other advice would be to organize your thoughts on why/whether you really want to work *in Japan* as opposed to in a position with some connection to Japan. If the geographical factor is truly at the top of your list, then getting an 英会話 gig to get you over here shouldn’t be something that injures your pride in any way. The company that says “you look great on paper, but we need to hire locally” won’t suddenly change its song to “we need to hire locally . . . oh and we hate English teachers.”

    • Thanks for the comments Durf. I agree with pretty much everything you said.

      I’m on Career Forum everyday, looking for new listings. I will definitely attend the Boston Career Forum in October. Hopefully I’ll find some Japan-related baito in New York for the next couple of months. I’m not going to take any action (going to Japan on tourist visa, committing to eikaiwa job, etc.) before attending Boston Career Forum.

      I am really hoping to go to Japan directly, instead of the intra-company transfer. But that is definitely a path that is on my radar.

      To be sure, I can’t rest on my laurels with my Japanese ability. 20 years ago, maybe. But now, there are too many fluent bilinguals to compete with. So studying kanji will be my other task for the next couple of months, and I’ll go for JLPT 1kyuu in December.

      Going to Japan is a high priority for me, so I might have to bite the bullet and take an eikaiwa position. It won’t damage my pride. But if there is another way (getting a non-teaching job) to get to Japan and build some new professional skills, I’d like to pursue that.

      I have a pretty clear order of priorities right now. I am trying to gather as much information as possible, to see which path is the most realistic/legitimate.

      Durf- That’s too bad DPJ withdrew funding for Japan Focus. I loved that magazine. It was a great resource for my research, and really interesting.

  • Japan Echo, you mean (Japan Focus is still online I think). Thanks!

  • Durf, my mistake. I did mean Japan Echo. The shukatsu has made me a bit sloppy. Shitsurei.

  • Getting the visa is going to be the hardest part. If you have enough cash to live out your tourist visa while looking for work here you can try that. The most stable way would probably be taking an eikaiwa job while you look for other work.

    With the kind of education and experience that you have though I would suggest translation. The translation jobs will give you the material and contacts with which to land the marketing jobs you want. Choose translation jobs of marketing materials and stuff you have background knowledge in and that can get your foot in the door for an actual marketing position that you want (English liason for example).

    Try to start (a translation jobs website).

    Good luck and ganbatte kudasai.

  • Thank you for your comments Weegle. The tourist visa idea seems increasingly unlikely, based on the comments I’ve received from fellow users. I believe the Eikaiwa route will be the last resort for me. As I mentioned above, I’ll wait until after the Boston Career Forum at least.

    Thank you for suggesting translation positions. That isn’t an avenue I have considered yet. I am not sure my Japanese is good enough for translation. But I will take a look on, and see what their offerings are.

  • I wouldnt recommend showing up on a tourist visa, that can be an expensive exercise as it takes time to find a sponsor and process a visa. I think people who are not teaching English in Japan usually get their jobs because of other work skills they have. For example, maybe they work in finance in their home country and their company has a branch in Japan and send them there. Others require a bit more effort. I had a friend who taught English part time while studying Japanese. Her Japanese was pretty kick ass and while she was teaching she applied for jobs in Japanese co. in Tokyo. After a year, she landed one and moved to Tokyo. I think its way hard to get a job from outside of Japan, except for with English converation schools who recruit internationally. I dont know your age, but maybe a working holiday visa would be the best way to go- work part time, study and apply. Its not as easy to move to Japan as it used to be (when Nova was still in business). Like anything, if you want a quick solution you probably wont find it. Good things take time.

    • @Dave, could you get in touch with your friend? I’d like to know what all she did concerning learning Japanese. Right now I’m working on reading, writing, and listening. The speaking is more difficult because I can’t find anyone who’ll keep the conversation in Japanese.


  • Working holiday visas can be a nice way to do things, but unfortunately they aren’t available to US citizens, if that’s what Sam happens to be.

  • Sam The Newbie

    Thank you for the suggestions everyone. In part, I am just trying to get people’s opinions about getting to Japan. So I really appreciate your comments. I haven’t heard many good things about the tourist visa issue; so that will be a last last resort.

    Durf, I am in fact a US citizen; so I can’t take the working holiday route.

    FYI, everyone- I managed to get a Skype interview with a Japanese company tonight. So if that goes well, I might have the visa issue taken care of! I’ll keep you all posted!

  • Just an update for for anyone still following this thread:

    I’m still waiting to hear back from that Japanese company that I Skype-interviewed last week. I have set up a few more Skype interviews for this week and next week. I’ll post more updates when I have news.

    Thank you all for your support!

  • Update: I have a third Skype interview with a Japanese company next week. This is the most promising lead so far. Keep your fingers crossed everyone!

  • Same problem here brother…and my drawback is far bigger. I’m not a native English speaker, so even the eikaiwa route is closed for me.

  • Incredible, we have the same background down to the career! I’m also an Ivy League grad (undergrad ’07), copywriter in the digital marketing field, and studying japanese! Although you have way more experience in the language than I do.

    After discussing this very same problem with my good friends from Tokyo and a friend who used to work in Tokyo, I determined that the easiest way to get a non-eikaiwa job is to build up work experience and apply to business school this fall. I’ll have 3 yrs of work experience by the time I matriculate in 2011.

    At business school, it’s easier to make the contacts and secure the internships necessary to work for an American or European company with offices in Japan. My Japanese friends said that this would be preferable as working for a Japanese company could really be a major stress point for a non-Japanese person. My non-Japanese friend who worked in Tokyo for a Japanese company confirmed this.

    For you, I think the problem is three-fold:

    1. You only have 1 year of true work experience! With the Japanese economy tanking as it is and native Japanese people finding it extremely hard to keep jobs, you’ll find it hard to find a true professional job there unless you have significant work experience. I suggest you stay in your field for at least another year (preferably another 2 years) to gain more experience.

    2. Your Japanese isn’t yet good enough. Which I think you already know. However, the best way to learn Japanese is to live in Japan which gets in the way of what I mentioned in #1. You’ll have to decide whether you can work really hard in NYC to learn the language (which shouldn’t be too hard, there are SOOOOOO many fantastic Japanese courses and resources in the city)or whether you just want to take the plunge and live in Japan for a while on an eikaiwa job.

    3. The MA degree probably wasn’t a value-add unless it really helped you learn Japanese. To remedy this, I’d suggest going the business school route after you’ve had more experience as a copywriter.

    So there you have it. If you’re patient, you can build up your experience, apply and go to business school and while there, use the school’s resources and career network to find a cushy professional job in Japan. This is what I’ve chosen to do.

    If you’re impatient and just want to be back in Japan as soon as possible, the obvious thing to do is to suck up your pride and secure an English teaching job while studying Japanese in Japan and looking for a more professional job at the same time.

    The choice is yours. Gambatte ne and let us know what you decide!!!

  • It’s my first time on the site.

    I don’t know if they still do this, but it used to be that Dentsu Inc., Japan’s largest advertising agency agency, advertised in Advertising Age every couple of years for English-language copywriters for their Tokyo and Osaka offices.

    I know this because I did that job for 11 years and stayed in Japan for an additional 5 years with my own business importing U.S.-made motorcycle accessories into Japan.

    Long story short: I didn’t need Japanese-language skills (I had an in-company translator), I didn’t have that much experience (3.5 years), and I made a ton of money ($135,000 per year at one point, and this was 20 years ago). Little know outside of Japan, Dentsu, at that time, was one of the most famous companies in Japan. I was well treated and well paid.

    Nowadays, you can’t stay longer than 5 years at Dentsu. They’ve made a rule against it after a copywriter tried to invoke the labor law that says that a contracted employee has the right to become a regular employment after five years of contracted work. Dentsu didn’t want any foreigners becoming regular employees.

    Overall, I enjoyed my time in Japan. I came home with a Japanese wife, bought a nice house in the suburbs with the money I made in Japan, and my daughter will start at the University of Southern California next month. Both her and my wife are in Japan right now for the summer. My daughter loves it there.

    ‘m not sure if Dentsu still hires English-language copywriters (I left the company 20 years ago), or if they still use Advertising Age to find adventurous copywriters. But it might be worth a shot to look. You will need some good samples in your portfolio, and NYC is probably the best place to get them.

  • Ivory – Thanks for your comments. Interesting to know that we’re in similar positions here. I hope your business school experience pays off for you. You have hit on the problems that I face, and those are questions that I’ll need to deal with as I continue my job search. Working in Japan would really solve all of those problems (building work experience, improving language)…I guess it’s a chicken-or-egg problem. To be honest, business school is not a route that I am considering right now (in the short term). I just did two years of school, and I view more school as prolonging the entry level experience/ skills-building that I need right now. I appreciate your comments and hope we both have luck in our professional futures!

    Thezof – Good to hear that there is success to be made in Japan! I hope I will have a similarly successful go of it in Japan. Dentsu is a pretty well known name outside of Japan these days. So I imagine its pretty hard to get in there now. But I will explore if they are hiring for their Japan or New York offices.

    To update again, the third Skype interview that I mentioned here had to be rescheduled…so I am still waiting for the confirmation on the new date. I’ll keep you all posted!

  • @sam thank you and good luck! would be interesting to hear where you end up. Definitely agree that it’s a good idea to get entry level experience but you can just as well do that in new york and wait until you’re more experienced to work in tokyo. that way, you’re more valuable abroad.

  • This site shows All Jobs in Tokyo.

    You can Search or Browse.

    The jobs come from different sources (including SimplyHired, Indeed, Craig’s List, Twitter, Japanese portals, etc.)

    Check it out daily, an you may find a job.

    Good luck!

  • I just found this site, as I am getting very excited for applying to be an ALT and have googled pretty much everything japan-related that I can.

    While I have absolutely nothing to add to this discussion, as I have not been to Japan/don’t speak Japanese/don’t know much about it (although I am incredibly excited about being able to do all 3), I just want to know if Sam ever got the job!!!

    Its very weird reading old comments – in about 15 minutes you feel very connected to the writer, even tho you really don’t, and likely won’t, ever know anything else about them.

    But yeah… if you’re tracking follow-ups, I would love to know if you got the job!

  • I am also interested in how things have progressed. I have been trying to find a non-English teaching job in Japan for far too long now, and reading these comments have helped me realized that I might just need to bite the bullet and go the Eikaiwa route. Would love to hear if Sam made it to Japan, and if so, what was the successful route?

  • I’m a pro drummer in Tokyo on a tourist visa. I’m from the UK so I’ve got 6 months. It’s been 8 weeks and already my potential career here has gone through the roof, played with some pretty famous folks. Even played my own solo show. Can I get an artist visa??
    I dropped out of a Biology degree, which I hated, to play drums. I’ve taught as special consultant for Chichester University.
    I’m a bit over the hill at 32, even though I look like a 17yr old. Any suggestions?

    • Dear James,
      I’m a pro musician/songwriter from Indonesia who also loves Japan and really planning to go there and always looking/hoping for expanding my music career there.
      When I read ur story, I can’t help but feeling amazed of how now you’re able to “make it” there actually, and as a musician!

      It would be so much blessing if you don’t mind to share and get in contact with me, as I have some very important questions regarding this live-in-Japan, as a fellow musician.
      To be honest, I’m afraid if you’re not getting this comment of mine, and hence lose contact,
      But here’s my email address:
      and also my personal website: with some of my music compositions.
      I really hope you can still check this website (and my comment here), and just email me and say hi (as I don’t know how else to contact you).
      And also for any of you who are (or know someone) who take the ‘overseas musician’ route and have somewhat “made it” in Japan!
      Would really love to befriend and keep in contact!

      Domo arigatou!

  • Sam checking in here. It’s a been a while, my fellow newbies…I just returned from Boston Career Forum. I believe it was very successful. I agreed to write something up longer for Harvey regarding BCF, which I’ll do later this week. So for now, I’ll just say that I made it to final round interviews with 4 companies at the fair, and got a positive feeling from all 4 of those companies. I have not heard anything yet, either positive or negative, from the companies, so I’ll have to wait. I will, of course, let you all know when I hear something!

    If any of you have specific questions about my job searching process or BCF, please post them. That will help me to target my write up a bit more.

  • Interesting. Keep on interviewing. Put up a website with samples of your work. Keep on applying and seeking out companies. You’re credentials are pretty big, show it off! Market and sell yourself.

    Best of luck, Sam!

  • Well done! I know for a fact that finding that first job in Japan from overseas is significantly more difficult than when I did it 14 (14!?) years ago.

    The only other advice I have to add is don’t worry too much about the initial job itself. Once you’re here, you’ll make all sorts of contacts and all sorts of new opportunities will become available. The job to get you into Japan may not be your dream job, but as long as you think it is something that you can handle for about two years, then by all means take it!

    Good luck sealing the deal!

  • My question is – is it somewhat easier for a foreigner having been living in JP to find a job, compared with this off-shore applying? Also, I know someone, Chinese, Japanese major for BA and then accounting master got in Australia and then applied in Australia, got job offer from JP, is this quite rare?
    I enjoy reading your articles way better at home than at office, quieter ~

  • I am a Japanese residing in Tokyo. I work for an advertisement company, and my team called “Overseas Section” is seeking an English copywriter who can write manufacturer’s product catalogues(Audio) for overseas market. It is hard to find somebody who is eligible and who has already working/permanent visa. We are seeking this copywriter on freelance base, because this project runs only 7 months duration every year. If we have more English projects, we surely want to hire a native English speaker for full-time, and we possibly look after his/her visa.
    Either wise, coming and residing in Japan before job hunting is ideal, especially Japanese prefer face-to-face interview.

    • Hello, is this role still open? I am looking to move to Japan & have experience as a Journalist in the UK. Please get in contact.

  • Hello i whant too stay in japan too. I stayd in japan for 6 weeks, travelled for Tokyo to Okinawa and back and just loved it. Back in holland i signd up for a Japanese class. It wasn’t heavy or anything, just basic. But a friend got a job offering in a sound studio and I would like to go with him. Only if its for 3 months. Then i can say i tried. So if enyone knows a job as a English assistant temp in Tokyo near Musashino. I never was a assistant or teather, but i know proper english, and i want too get them that knowlige too. So i,ve someone can help me? You will make my dream come true. Thanks

  • hello..!!< i'm from morocco and i'm looking for a job in japan can some one help me ?? this is my number +212673520660 i can speak english and arabic i'm ready for any work and thx

  • Hi Harvey! Wish you could help me out :-) I am an advertising copywriter living in Johannesburg, South Africa who would love to get an English-language copywriting position in Japan! Any ideas?