If you are searching for an internship in Japan because you want to live and work in Japan, especially if you are a newly graduate…

You need 3 things.

  1. VISA

Your goal is not really an internship, but coming to Japan to find a job, right?

…you have or do not have several options depending on your education, age, work experience, finances and nationality. Yes, all those points matter. So let us go with IFs and HOW TOs.

Founder's journey as newly graduate

2010 in December when I graduated as M.A. in Japanese Studies, English Specialist Translation and Contemporary History, I thought of going to Japan doing an internship, but all I ever got was: “We are so sorry but, since you are already graduated, you do not fit into our system any more. You must still be a student and apply for the “Cultural Activities Visa”. 

Frustrated I gave up on that and instead applied for jobs out of the blue, using websites like Gaijinpot etc. Nothing for newly graduates. 

(More on that, please scroll down to “Job Search in General”) 

Even more frustrated I got the blues…not knowing what to do, nobody able to give advice, I turned to YouTube and watched motivational videos of Zig Ziglar, Les Brown, Joyce Meyer etc. The message I got was the following: “Think out of the box, start setting goals and plans how to reach them, always actively approach people, go for your dreams no matter how difficult…” O.K. …hmmm…and indeed I started to think about what my skills are, what I really want to do etc. and set goals for myself.

If you are asked about your future goals and the answer is: “I just want to live and work in Japan doing anything!” – now is the time and place to forget about that. WHAT do you want to do in Japan? WHY in Japan? HOW do you plan to achieve it? Is it realistic? WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO, WHAT KIND OF PERSON do you have to become, WHO’s help will you need to reach that? First find the answers! A very important matter is you Japanese language ability. If you want to reach anything in Japan, not get there to go back home frustrated, get your Japanese fixed FIRST. 

Skill inventory now!

First I needed to know what my skills are and what could get me a job in Japan.

My Japanese wasn’t yet great, but I had something very unique to offer. I am a scientist on Sumo, Japan’s national sport. I am teaching about Sumo for ages, did many public speeches and due to my research over the years I got good contacts to the world of Sumo. 

This might have been useful in tourism or education. Being a German, my English, even having an M.A. as translator, won’t help me walking along the English-teacher road… “Native English Speakers only"…Well, forget that one too.

Back in 2010 I already had been in contact with a young man from Egypt for over a year. He wanted to become a Sumo wrestler and me and a friend agreed to help him, so I was planning to go to Japan the second week of March 2011 after receiving my degree, to set things up and him coming there a little later, so I could introduce him to the Sumo teams. The plan was to also find a job for myself during this time. I would have probably long be gone home to Germany if that plan would have worked out. The quake one week before I wanted to go to Japan crushed all plans for now. Also for the young Egyptian man.

Before that happened, I had set up a few job interviews. Knowing that I wanted to work using my Sumo-knowledge, being a Japanologist, I did contact Japanese language schools wanting to teach there about Sumo, the Japanese culture etc. and getting my own Japanese brushed up, also telling them about the plan to bring the young Egyptian sure nobody yet had heard of. Tokyo Riverside School (yes, my current work place :-) ) did invite me for a first job interview, but the quake in March did postpone all dreams and plans. Long story short – got a Job in Thailand, went there to work, went on planning. 

I went to Japan, my friend and the young Egyptian as well, in the first week of September 2011 to finally introduce the young man to Sumo, using my network. It worked out. :-) So with a fresh newspaper reporting about our success, I went to Tokyo Riverside School for two job interviews. They wanted me. :-D Bingo. But…after the earthquake many Japanese language school students, foreigners in general had been gone home. Getting a work visa and a normal salary right away would have been difficult. So we made the plan that I go back to Thailand for now and come back in January 2012 with a student visa, study Japanese at the school and also work there (in Japan by law アルバイト = part-time job, but to me it felt like an internship - in the European definition), to become the Sumo-teacher and PR-person, receiving a proper work visa after graduating. Agreed and did as planned. 

You can check my LinkedIn-profile for current information. 

This is what I am today, this is how it worked out. Not perfect, not the mega-career yet, but I am living in Japan making a decent living while managing this NPO and once I have received my Permanent Residency I will certainly start my own business as a social entrepreneur too.  

You could do something similar. I do not say that it is easy, but the way I went is the way I can tell you about.

Job Search in General

Japanese job boards like gaijinpot.com, daijob.com or myshigoto.com etc. often show wonderful jobs, but the descriptions make you feel like the companies are actually looking for Japanese people who are bilingual. Most job offers require this: You must have at least a B.A, be fluent in Japanese, reside currently in Japan, have so-and-so many years of working experience and not to forget that you must already have a working visa – so reading through, maybe applying to some, you will soon realize that, if you are neither engineer, IT-graduate, native English teacher / translator nor super experienced top quality mid-career person, you might not get to Japan like that. It is hard to get hired from abroad. People want to know you before “buying”. The visa application paperwork for foreign workforce as well as the responsibility for that foreigner is what Japanese companies are not keen to do.

Not to forget about all those difficulties arising from the differences in thinking, the work etiquette etc. It is not easy to fit in here in Japan, finding yourself in a Japanese company is completely different from spending time studying there or on vacation…Even LOVING Japan, there are many alienating factors. They know it. You will experience it. Many foreigners do give up etc…So what you have to do is BE here, introduce and PROVE yourself of being worth the trouble. And find out yourself. 

If you are young and think about entering a university to go for Japanese Studies as I did - if possible come here before you start it. 

So how to come to Japan? (the IFs and HOW TOs)

  1. You can apply for a Student Visa at a Japanese language school…

    a) if you have any university degree


    b) if you have finished 12 years of education (high school, vocational school etc.) and have a proof that you do/did study Japanese a (little already), best would be a low level JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test). While on a student visa you may work for 28 hours per week, do internships and get taken over as employee after graduation. You can also go on to study at a Japanese institute of higher education – do another B.A. or M.A. or enter a vocational school. The more of your education you did in Japan, the more you are treated like a Japanese in the working world. In a Japanese company anyway. I would like to say the better your chances are to find work – but I do know people like an engineer from France not even speaking one word of Japanese who got his job applying from abroad. Certain fields have it easier than others. Certain fields like medicine on the other hand require taking exams in Japan (= further education). In that case very good Japanese is an absolute MUST.

    The student visa also requires you to go to the Japanese language school / university all the time – the 出席率 (shussekiritsu = percentage of attendance) is taken seriously. If too low, your following visa application might be refused or you will not get the job / might not be able to enter the institute of higher education you planned to. It is normal to change from student visa to working visa, but while on a student visa people expect you - as your status says - that studying is the main purpose of you being in Japan. Working must not be No.1 priority.

  2.  You are eligible for a working holiday visa (check here, more information and support here)

    You are a lucky person. I suggest you come with this visa to Japan. You are more free than with a student visa. While in Japan with this visa, you could already study Japanese at a Japanese language school and become eligible to later change your working holiday visa into a student visa, not having to leave the country.

  3. Some people come as simple tourists, also study Japanese at a language school, get a certificate, go back home and apply for a student visa from there. 

It does not matter what kind of visa you do have – for as long as you are allowed to stay in Japan, you also may study at a Japanese language school. All cases are common and I witnessed them myself at Tokyo Riverside School.

What cannot be recommended is coming and going to Japan on a tourist visa to find work. You might have heard of people "going to Korea" and coming back. You can be refused entering Japan again. Japan does open up the job-market to foreigners more though they become more strict about visa.

There is a lot of information out there, the proper sources though are the websites by the Japanese government, especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs "mofa". They are the most updated and should always be seen as primary source of information.

What we at Internship Japan are planning to do for people like you is to cooperate with Japanese HR-companies helping you on your way. Part of our mission is to make sure that you study Japanese (hopefully sponsored by the company taking you as intern) while doing an internship. How this all works together you find here: Our Mission.

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