Whether a person came to Japan by choice or due to unforeseen circumstances, those that choose to stay in the land of the rising sun long-term as permanent (or semi-permanent) residents will likely have to find work to support themselves and, if they already have or are planning to have one, their family. Apart from teaching English (which comprises the majority of expat occupations in Japan), there are several other avenues those who wish to stay longer can take.
Below are some quick overviews for a handful of jobs that foreigners living in Japan can look into. Depending on Japanese ability and duration of stay in the country, some might find more available jobs and positions than others. Every situation is different, though as a general rule any applicant looking to get work outside of teaching English should look into improving their Japanese language level and acquiring marketable skills.
So let’s start at the most common job for foreigners in Japan and work our way from there, shall we?
Teaching English in Japan is a staple job for most foreigners coming into the country on their own. Companies will hire English speakers from outside Japan, sponsor them for a 1-3 year visa, and help them with the moving process (some companies moreso than others). English teachers can teach at various levels, from kindergarten to high school, in a school or through a private business.
The good: English teaching is one of the easiest ways to enter the country with a valid visa. ALTs (assistant language teachers) mainly teach at public schools in Japan, though there are positions for private schools and private businesses (that generally teach children and adults). It’s because many companies will support foreigners before, during, and after they enter the country that expats will do one year (give or take) teaching English before finding other employment that suits their degrees or needs.
The bad: Since it’s easy to break English teaching contracts, the turnover for many companies that dispatch such teachers is quite high. The pay varies, though it is considered to be quite low compared to the industry standard. It’s hard to support a family on an ALT salary, and even harder to maintain the position long-term since ALTs are easily disposable to the company (there’s always another foreigner who speaks English eager to live in Japan).
A travel agent is someone who, either for a company or on their own, plans out trips for travelers. They can be tasked with creating schedules, researching tourist locations and attractions, or translating for foreign travelers during a trip. Travel agents working for larger companies may even get paid to travel as a translator or guide to foreign locations.
The good: If your Japanese is above conversation level and you can speak another language in addition to English, you’ll have quite the advantage over other applicants. In some cases it’s quite easy to plan a trip for a client, as they already know where they want to go and what they want to do. If you’re great at understanding a person’s needs easily (i.e. have a crazy, hectic, adventurous trip through Japan, or a lazy, peaceful, restful vacation in Japan) and planning accordingly, then you’ll do well in this position.
The bad: If your Japanese is not the greatest, it might be more difficult to expand your clientele (if you’re running your own business), or guide travelers through Japan (since you yourself won’t be able to read signs/interact with staff). Being a travel agent can also be hectic when clients are unruly, don’t know what they want, or are not happy with any schedule you make for them.
A headhunter is someone who finds the perfect person to fit an open position at a company. A common misconception is that headhunters are helping people find jobs, but really they are trying to filter out undesirable prospects until they find the perfect match for the position they’re tasked with filling.
The good: You get to meet a lot of people being a headhunter, and the job itself is rewarding for those who love solving problems and being mentally active. Sifting through numerous applicants can provide an interesting challenge, much like solving a complicated puzzle or beating the hardest level of a video game. You’ll also be open to a lot of networking in this position.
The bad: If you prefer easy and straightforward, you won’t have a good time as a headhunter. Headhunters have to roll with the punches, and not everyone will like you for what you do for work. Many headhunters work on commissions, so unless you can find the right people for the open jobs, you won’t be making much in this field of work.
A day trader is someone who buys and sells stocks, often digitally. This can be done in any country, of course, and takes a considerable amount of startup funds, but can be very rewarding if you’re able to understand monetary trends and company portfolios.
The good: You get to work in your underwear! Only if you want to, of course. Being a day trader means that you can work from anywhere at any time, making you your very own boss. Many love this type of freedom and excel when not being micromanaged or bossed around. If you’re great at understanding financial trends you can make a huge return on your initial investment.
The bad: There is no visa for ‘day trader’, so likely this is a job for those on spouse or permanent resident visa, or have spare time outside of their regular job to play with stocks. There is also a fair amount of research that needs to be done in terms of taxation laws for Japan and other countries (depending on where your stocks are being traded).
It’s almost impossible to not know of at least one expat who has their own YouTube. Expats around the world record or write about their experiences living in a foreign land. Many have amassed a huge following that allows them to live comfortably on what they are paid for views/reads.
The good: It’s easy enough to record or write about your experiences, seeing as how most people do so almost every day in some way, shape, or form. People post to their facebooks about what they did that take, upload photos to Snapchat, and text their friends crazy stories. A content creator uses all of that in their videos or writing to reach a larger audience. Thankfully, living in a foreign country is a topic many viewers and readers are eager to enjoy.
The bad: YouTube is getting more and more saturated by the minute with videos about living as an expat, so unless you’ve got something extra to bring to the table – like living with a family, having a cool job, or engaging in an interesting hobby – you’re not really bringing anything new to the table. Do the research, know what you’re getting into, and keep your expectations low.
A salesperson can work for a company selling a service or product. There’s a wide variety of sales positions across Japan, some of which require little to no experience or Japanese ability. Some foreigners find success in doing international sales for companies that require English speakers, while others do sales online.
The good: Though this can be seen as a double-edge sword, many Japanese sales positions are NOT commission-based. This is good for those who might see some lows in their quotas, as their pay will not be negatively imapacted by underperforming. Direct sales aren’t nearly as detested in Japan as in other countries, so even door-to-door salespeople won’t be shot in the face for knocking on the door.
The bad: Since most sales positions aren’t commission-based, those that sell high generally don’t see any reward for their hard work. It’s also extremely difficult to have a domestic sales position in a Japanese company without having a firm grasp on the Japanese language. Those that sell online will also have to navigate self-taxation and tax agreements between countries if they’re selling to another country.
Programmers are being highly sought after right now in Japan. Those that can speak English and Japanese are ever more desirable to prospective companies. Knowing programming languages and how to fix coding issues will get a person far in the programming industry in Japan.
The good: Japan is hungry for more competent programmers and technologically savvy workers. There’s a huge push to get more and more of them in the coming years as technology advances and companies update their hardware and software. Coding is relatively easy to learn, as there are plenty of resources online, meaning that you can learn coding in your spare time while working another job before applying to an IT position.
The bad: Since you’ll be competitive against 22-year-old Japanese college graduates who speak native-level Japanese who also know how to program, you have to have other skills that will allow you to stand out from the crowd and make you indispensable to the company. Though there’s a huge need for programmers, companies can afford to be a bit picky with the influx of willing workers.
A financial advisor is someone who helps a person, couple, or family manage their money. Certain financial advisors will also invest their clients money for them with expected returns. Expats can find great success in this sector for both Japanese and foreign clients.
The good: In short, you’d be getting paid to advise people on how they should or shouldn’t spend their money. If you’re great at balancing your own finances, investing in profitable stock, and coming off as sincere and helpful, the job will be a breeze. Though there’s a bit of market research needed to be successful with investing, much of helping others with their assets comes from giving an outside perspective to their spending habits, and should be relatively simple and straightforward.
The bad: You have to be good at cold calls and sales if you’re going to convince people to allow you to play with their money, assuming you’ll also be investing for them. Even for those who just need someone to work out where their money’s going, how they can save more, or what they need to do to make ends meet, it’s not always easy for someone to allow a stranger a closer look into their personal assets and debts. If you don’t seem like a trustworthy person, or can’t communicate your thoughts effectively, this will be a challenging position to take on.
There’s actually quite a large amount of jobs and positions available in Japan for foreigners to fill depending on their Japanese ability, visa sponsorship, experience, and other factors that potential employers look at. There are foreigners working in adult videos, professional wrestling, wedding planning, or even those that start their own businesses in Japan and thrive!
You’re only limited by your drive to succeed when looking for a fulfilling employment in Japan!