job market in Tokyo

Job Market in Tokyo in 2019 and 2020

By  Tyson Batino  August 01, 2019

This article is a part of our ultimate guide to jobs in Tokyo.

2019 is a great time to find a job in Tokyo

Job hunting in 2008 sucked...

When I was looking for a non-teaching position ten years ago it was tough. I had passed the N1 level of Japanese and had an N2 level of speaking but even then it was hard to find companies willing to hire someone who was not a fresh graduate. The same challenges that applied to Japanese people who wanted to change jobs also applied to foreigners and the belief of companies in their staff working the same job for life was still extremely present.

Although I was hardworking and willing to do 60 hours a week, very open to feedback and willing to learn, and very hungry to develop a career after teaching for 5 years, being 27 years old and looking for a full-time at a Japanese company was not a good position to be. This was despite my Japanese language skills and looking for a job in Tokyo, which you would assume to be full of opportunities.

The unreasonable standards for foreigners of the past are now gone

The great news was that was 2008 and 2019 is a completely new ballgame that is in your favor. Looking for a job in Tokyo in 2019 is really a job seeker market. You needed N1 in 2008 just to get the interview and N2 was not high enough unless you had a great connection in the company who was Japanese. In addition to speaking Japanese, you also needed experience or to be really sharp and be a Japanese culture ninja because Japanese HR managers were very cautious in hiring foreigners and did not want to be blamed if the foreigner did not perform or did not understand the “rules.”

In 2019, Japanese companies are hiring many foreigners straight from Japanese school, university programs that teach in English, and foreigners who are here on tourist or working holiday visa. I have been seeing a ton of foreigners who are getting hired by the 100s and whose Japanese level and talent was not at the unreasonable levels expected in 2008. The biggest problem now is that companies are hiring foreigners, putting them in charge or marketing, sales, or programming and really not knowing what to do with them in general.

What are some of the job market changes in 2019

The decreasing population and less Japanese talent to choose from, the increase in the amount of companies who want or are doing business, the desire to not get left behind competitors who are expanding to foreign markets both domestic and foreign, relaxation of immigration policies and regulations, and the big influx of foreigners studying Japanese and traveling to Japan are probably some of the big reasons for the change. I would also say that the Japanese in general know that they need to open up the country more. The bad news is that no one really has a plan for how this is going to work and are trying to figure things out step by step.

The good news is that Japan is providing more visas for foreigners and you can learn more in our guide to Japanese work visas.

Japanese is unnecessary in 2019

Although saying that Japanese is not needed at all is going too far, I have been seeing an increase of foreigners who cannot speak an ounce of Japanese who are finding full-time positions. Similar to the export car sales and coordination position mentioned above, there are many other businesses catering to the needs of foreign residents and tourists in Japan and the numbers of these customers are only rising.

The main point is that finding a position that does not require any Japanese is definitely possible because of the increase in foreign customers and this number will only rise for the near foreseeable future. My word of caution is to choose a company that you will gain experiences that are transferable to other industries, so if any of the boom industries go bust, you will have an edge on the competition for finding a position once things come to slow down.

More foreigners are starting companies in Japan

There are many more companies now that are ran by foreigners compared to 10 to 15 years ago. There were very few operations run by foreigners then but those were more on hiring people from Asian countries. There are now more English speaking foreign company owners from all over the world and this had lead to more opportunities for foreigners in Japan.

Some of these entrepreneurs nowadays may not even target Japanese customers although they are in Japan. For example, with the car export industry, their main target is to sell and export used cars in Japan to other nations all over the world. So even if your office is in Yokohama, you are mainly on the phone speaking with customers who are not in Japan. Foreigners in these positions do not need to learn Japanese language and Japanese business culture and customs and only need to focus on the countries you are targeting.

More Japanese are creating companies that target foreigners

There has been an increase in the number of Japanese people who are creating businesses aimed towards foreign customers. Since most companies were mainly targeting Japanese customers 10 to 15 years ago, there was no need to hire foreign workers for customer service positions and most of the jobs going to foreigners were either in the eikaiwa or manufacturing industries.

Nowadays, Japanese business people are creating businesses that even focus on specific countries, so there is definitely someone who has a business that focuses only on your country or the region where your country is and that will help you narrow down your job hunting targets. Creating a business that targets foreigners will always be outside of any person’s core strength and knowledge, so they will need to find talent who knows the market and people and that gives you an advantage over other foreigners and fresh Japanese university graduates. Depending on the company, you may even have an opportunity to jump into a managerial position.

Strong English Teaching Industry

The English industry for teaching children still remains strong and there are still many job opportunities in Tokyo for foreigners who are native speakers and non-native English speakers as well.

We recommended checking out our post on English Teaching jobs in Japan.

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In addition to providing great content and information for foreigners, BFF Tokyo also runs an English language school chain that hires teachers from all over the world - more than 25 countries represented.

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