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Working and volunteering


Japan doesn't have as many volunteer opportunities as some other Asian countries. However, there are positions out there for those who look. One of the most popular options is provided by World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms Japan (www.wwoofjapan.com). This organisation places volunteers on organic farms around the country and provides participants with a good look at Japanese rural life and the running of an organic farm. It's also a great chance to improve your Japanese-language skills.

Alternatively, you can look for volunteer opportunities once you arrive. There are occasional ads for volunteer positions in the various English-language journals in Japan. Word of mouth is also a good way to search for jobs. Hikers, for example, are sometimes offered short-term positions in Japan's mountain huts.


Japan is an interesting place to live and work for a year or two and you'll find expats in all the major cities doing just that. Teaching English is still the most common job for Westerners, but bartending, hostessing, modelling and various writing-editorial jobs are also possible. Note that it is illegal for non-Japanese to work in Japan without a proper visa.

The key to success is doing your homework and presenting yourself properly. You will definitely need a sharp outfit for interviews, a stack of meishi (business cards) and the right attitude. If you don't have a university degree, you won't be eligible for most jobs that qualify you for a work visa. Any qualification, such as an English-teaching certificate, will be a huge boost.

Finally, outside of the entertainment, construction and English-teaching industries, you can't expect a good job unless you speak fluent Japanese.

Work Warning

As this book went to print, the Japanese economy was still suffering from the effects of the global financial crisis that started in 2008. Unemployment was on the rise and job opportunities were diminishing in all fields. We suggest that you research carefully the current employment conditions in the field in which you wish to work before packing your bags for Japan.


Bartending does not qualify you for a work visa; most of the foreign bartenders in Japan are either working illegally or are on another kind of visa. Some bars in big Japanese cities hire foreign bartenders; most are strict about visas but others don't seem to care. The best places to look are 'gaijin bars', although a few Japanese-oriented places also employ foreign bartenders for 'ambience'. The pay is barely enough to survive on: usually about ¥1000 per hour. The great plus of working as a bartender (other than free drinks) is the chance to practise speaking Japanese.

English Teaching

Teaching English has always been the most popular job for native English speakers in Japan. A university degree is an absolute essential as you cannot qualify for a work visa without one (be sure to bring the actual degree with you to Japan). Teaching qualifications and some teaching experience will be a huge plus when job hunting. Keep in mind that Japan is in the middle of a prolonged economic slump and the number of jobs available and the wages they pay is decreasing year by year.

Consider lining up a job before you arrive. Some big schools, like AEON, now have recruitment programs in the USA and the UK. One downside to the big 'factory schools' that recruit overseas is that working conditions are often pretty dire compared with smaller schools that recruit within Japan.

Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians and British citizens, who can take advantage of the Japanese working-holiday visa, are in a slightly better position. Schools are happier about taking on unqualified teachers if they don't have to bother with sponsoring a teacher for a work visa.

There is a definite hierarchy among English teachers and teaching positions. The bottom of the barrel are the big chain eikaiwa (private English-language schools), followed by small local eikaiwa, in-house company language schools and private lessons, with university positions and international-school positions being the most sought after. As you would expect, newcomers start at the lower rungs and work their way up the ladder.

ELT News is an excellent website with lots of information and want ads for English teachers in Japan.

Government Schools

The program run by Japan Exchange & Teaching provides teaching-assistant positions for foreign teachers. The job operates on a yearly contract and must be organised in your home country. The program gets very good reports from many of its teachers.

Teachers employed by the JET program are known as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs). Although you will have to apply in your home country in order to work as an ALT with JET, it's worth bearing in mind that many local governments in Japan are also employing ALTs for their schools. Such work can sometimes be arranged within Japan.

Visit the JET website or contact the nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for more details.

International Schools

Major cities with large foreign populations, such as Tokyo and Yokohama, have a number of international schools for the children of foreign residents. Work is available for qualified, Western-trained teachers in all disciplines; the schools will organise your visa.

Private Schools

Private language schools (eikaiwa) are the largest employers of foreign teachers and the best bet for job-hunting newcomers. The classifieds section of Monday's Japan Times is the best place to look. Some larger schools rely on direct enquiries from would-be teachers.

Tokyo is the easiest place to find teaching jobs; schools across Japan advertise or recruit in the capital. Heading straight to another of Japan's major population centres (say Osaka, Fukuoka, Hiroshima or Sapporo), where there are smaller numbers of competing foreigners, is also a good bet, but, as noted in this section, the hiring situation is tight these days and you cannot count on just showing up and finding work.

Proofreading, Editing & Writing

There is demand for skilled editors, copywriters, proofreaders and translators (Japanese to English and, less commonly, vice versa) in Japan. And with the advent of the internet, you don't even have to be based in Japan to do this work. Unfortunately, as with many things in Japan, introductions and connections play a huge role, and it's difficult to simply show up in Tokyo or plaster your resume online and wind up with a good job.

You'll need to be persistent and do some networking to make much in this field. Experience, advanced degrees and salesmanship will all come in handy. And even if you don't intend to work as a translator, some Japanese-language ability will be a huge plus, if only for communicating with potential employers and clients. If you think you've got what it takes, check the Monday edition of the Japan Times for openings.

For more information about proofreading and editing in Japan, visit the website for the Society of Writers, Editors & Translators. The website has a job-listings section that is useful for those seeking work in this field.

Ski Areas

Seasonal work is available at ski areas, and this is a popular option for Australian and New Zealand travellers who want to combine a trip to Japan, a little skiing and a chance to earn some money. A working-holiday visa makes this easier, although occasionally people are offered jobs without visas. The jobs are typical ski-town jobs – ski-lift attendants, hotel workers, bartenders and, for those with the right skills (language and skiing), ski instructors. You won't earn much more than ¥1000 per hour unless you're an instructor, but you'll get lodging and lift tickets. All told, it's a fun way to spend a few months in Japan.

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