How students can find a job in Japan

Not only are Japanese universities trying to recruit more international students, but so are Japanese companies. Here is some advice on how to find a job there and read about a student’s experience

February 8 2019
Working in Japan

It’s not only Japanese universities that are seeking to attract international students. Japanese companies are now introducing global outreach strategies into their short- and long-term recruitment plans. 

Japanese firms are feeling the pressure of an ageing population and a shrinking labour pool. The country is looking outward to meet this rising demand, by offering job and career opportunities to students at universities in the UK.

To target students in the UK, HR representatives from Japanese firms are visiting campuses across the UK to deliver information sessions – especially at universities with higher numbers of Japanese students or Japanese language learners.  

Information sessions are also arranged by Japanese recruitment agencies that may represent several companies, which also provide a broader overview of the peculiarities of the job-hunting system. 

A few of these firms also host annual Japan-related career fairs in London. The London Career Forum is produced by Disco, Top Career by Connect Job and BalJob by Tessio. These fairs are not just an opportunity to learn about the companies, they also offer a fast track to entry. Pre-registration online and CV submission is a must, as the main purpose of these fairs is to conduct multiple interviews with candidates before a final interview that may include an all-expenses trip to the Japan HQ. For example, at the London Career Forum in 2018 there were more than 30 companies and 1,400 participants. Forty-seven per cent of applicants received job offers on site.

Many of these events and services are primarily geared towards bilingual Japanese students that are studying in the UK and nearby European countries, and who would otherwise miss out on the job-hunting schedule in Japan. Non-native speakers of Japanese are also encouraged to apply. Beyond the obvious language barriers, one of the biggest challenges is that Japanese companies ultimately want employees who are willing to conform to their corporate culture. Japanese candidates or those with a degree in Japanese studies are more likely to adapt, so the thinking goes.   

Indeed, a large number of new international hires from the UK leave their Japanese company within only a year of joining because of the cultural differences in expectations of the job roles, work-life balance and career development. This has made some Japanese companies more reluctant to reach out to non-Japanese students. These mismatches occur because of a lack of knowledge and miscommunication on both sides.

To bridge these gaps and offer practical solutions that allow students to take advantage of the growing number of job opportunities in Japan, at the University of Oxford I have been collaborating with the Careers Service to create university-led Japan-specific careers information sessions, counselling and guides. Most significantly, we have pioneered an initiative to reach out to Japanese companies that are eager to attract global talent, and encourage them to offer fully paid summer internships and industrial placements to Oxford students. 

There is strong interest from both sides. Students are eager to gain work experience in Japan and the internships consistently receive some of the highest numbers of applicants across the global internships advertised by the university.  

This model of Japan-specific careers guidance and internships allows students to get a taste of what it’s really like to work in Japan before making a long-term commitment. It also raises the profile of these companies among the student body as a whole, placing Japan firmly on the career destinations radar. This can serve as a template for other UK universities to engage with Japanese companies and benefit from Japan Inc.’s burgeoning international student recruitment drive.

How Japanese universities are attracting more international students
Foreigners in Japan: student stories
Best universities in Tokyo
Studying at a Japanese university: the experiences of two British students

Kara Juul, Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games business development intern at Recruit Holdings

The media feeds us a steady diet of unsettling stories about Japan’s terrible working conditions: the long hours; the strange/compulsory drinking rituals; the impenetrable etiquette. So as I headed off for my first taste of working life in Japan I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little apprehensive.

After a few rounds of applications and interviews, I was offered a six-week internship at Recruit Holdings. Anyone who has spent time in Japan will have come across this company at some point – their activities include everything from being prominent sponsors of your favourite variety TV shows, to being the masterminds behind the apps and websites you use to organise your daily life. If you’re in Japan their “blue arch’ isn’t hard to find.

After settling in with my shiny new work phone, laptop, and even my own space in the team workstations area, I was entrusted with a series of independent projects researching Japan’s booming inbound tourism industry. A rapid rise in the number of foreign tourists has seen Japan become one of the world’s fastest growing travel destinations. The Rugby World Cup in 2019 and Olympics in 2020 are set to further drive this trend. Companies across Japan are developing products and services to meet this new demand.

My task was to produce comprehensive (but succinct) reports and a final presentation for the senior leadership covering my findings and business strategy proposals. One of the most rewarding projects that I worked on was interviewing first-time visitors about the challenges they encountered while travelling in Japan, and to use these to make suggestions on how the new app that my team was developing could solve these issues. Refreshingly, this meant that I got to use the interview and data analysis skills that I gained through my PhD research, and apply them to a totally new project within a business context.

While most of my time was spent on this project, I also jumped in and out of helping with my teammate’s work; a bit of database management for the launch of a website here, testing translation software there, even helping design marketing for the new app. I felt that the skills and unique perspective I could bring to the table were highly valued.

The internship was also a big change of pace to my student life. I hadn’t worked in a job before that required me to commute – let alone in one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world. Although riding the legendary Tokyo rush hour commuter trains ranks fairly low in my list of exciting experiences from my internship, it was admittedly quite fun to join my local friends in whingeing about them. Being a student, I am mostly able to set my own schedule. Therefore, one of the initial hurdles was adjusting my life to fixed working hours with only a couple of free hours in the evenings and the weekends to pursue my own interests.

There were a lot of perks to this taste of working life in Japan. My team was extremely kind, welcoming, and friendly. Thanks to their generosity, I spent my lunches (and often dinners too) exploring Ginza’s (a high-end shopping district in Tokyo) hidden gems – particularly the fantastic restaurants and bars we went to – and came away with new friends to boot.

Far from the nightmare conditions that I was worried about before coming to Japan, I found the working environment collaborative, warm, and a great exercise in adapting my communication skills to working in a high-context culture that is not your own. The experience of being in the company itself was also fun. I was working with a young, energetic team of people, who were developing a genuinely exciting product, in a central Tokyo office that seemed plucked from Silicon Valley. I got to feel that I was part of the global tech revolution – if only for a few weeks. Whether it’s to prepare for a potential career, or just to try something out for the summer and learn new skills, I can’t recommend an experience like it highly enough.

Read more: Best universities in Japan

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