Updated: Nov 8, 2019
By: Abbey Kruska
Published date: October 10th, 2019
My exchange was about to end, but I knew I needed more time. I had wanted to do an internship in Japan for a long time, but the uncertainty and fear kept getting the best of me, and I went back and forth for weeks. I decided to take a leap of faith, and spend my last month in Japan on a hunt for a Japanese internship. I was able to find a paid 3-month internship with a Japanese company in just one month--and so can you.
When I first went looking for my internship in Japan, I was struck by just how limited my options were. Back in the US, internships seem like a given when it comes to university life. They’re offered everywhere, by just about any firm or institution you can think of. However, Japan’s internship pool is quite different. There’s a lack of real conclusive understanding of what an “internship” actually is, or what having an internship implies. I’d heard a great deal about Japanese internships through my Japanese friends at my university in Tokyo, but to me my friend’s “internships” sounded more like unique part time jobs rather than a hands-on business learning experience.
As a child born in the 1990’s, Google-Sensei, as its known in Japan, was my first stop on my journey to find an internship in Japan. A quick search for “internships in Japan” brings up countless internship sponsor programs, but there’s one problem with all of these websites:
The cost of an internship
The fees are everywhere! With one click, several internship programs such as Internship In Japan, Zentern, GO Overseas, and more appear on screen--a beacon of hope for those who don’t know where to start. But these websites have one major downside: cost.
Application fees average in the ¥50,000 (~$500 USD) range, and program fees for up to 4 months can cost upwards of ¥600,000 ($6,000 USD). Here at Jport Journal, we feel that you shouldn’t have to pay to get paid, so I’m here to teach you about your other options.
Ask your friends
That friend with a part time job at NHK, your school advisor, your Japanese professor, your host brother, they are all valuable resources when it comes to looking for internships in Japan. Japan is a 紹介 shoukai (introduction) culture. Though it may be frowned upon in other countries, networking and knowing how to utilize your connections and titles is a standard in Japanese business. When I began my search for an internship, my second stop was the international center at my Japanese university. They were able to recommend online resources, as well as talk to me about other exchange students who were successful in finding an internship, help me write a Japanese CV, and recommended me to some large companies such as NHK, Bosch, and Audi that I could potentially apply to. The level of response you get will depend on your university’s capacity for handling exchange students or their knowledge in the intern sector, but every university will have some sort of valuable career advice available.
From there it’s always a good idea to contact the working adults in your life. Not only can they give you solid, experienced advice, but also potentially introduce/recommend you to their company or their associate’s companies. Reach out to as many people as you can--there’s no harm in trying. Most people will gladly help you or at least offer advice.
Build a network
After talking to the network you already have in place, it’s time to reach further. Attend meet-ups, job fairs, reach out to companies you’re interested in. The door-to-door technique may be bothersome, but no one can argue with results. So put on your best recruit suit, and start attending. Don’t know where to start? You can start right here, with our article on the most popular job fairs in Japan!
Hitting the streets is a great idea, but having an impressive digital profile will also increase your chances of landing that interview. Westerners may be familiar with sites like Linkedin, Facebook, or Indeed, but these aren’t necessarily end-all here in the land of the rising sun. Japan’s most popular job-hunting sites are Wantedly, MyNavi, 01Intern, Rikunabi, and Career Baito. Unfortunately, aside from Wantedly most of these sites do not offer other language support, but if your Japanese is N2/N3 level, you should be able to navigate the other sites without too much trouble. Wantedly offers service in both English and Japanese, and some job postings are written in English as well.
Build a strong virtual and physical profile
As an independent applicant, you want to stand out. For an online application service, a professional and yet personable profile picture, and an intricately filled out profile will take you farther than you may think. Include your resume, school history, and other accomplishments, leaving nothing out. The employers will look at your profile, and the more professional and complete it is, the better chance you’ll stand at getting a reply. If you’re multilingual, include translations for all sections of your profile in your 2nd or 3rd language. If you have multiple networking accounts, connect them! Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Wantedly, Linkedinーthe more the merrier! Make yourself as visible as possible. Strong presence=more noticeable. Just make sure the information and image you present is consistent.
To add an extra cherry on top, have a Japanese 履歴書 rirekisho, complete with photo, filled out and ready. Consider what company you’re applying for when choosing which resume to send out. Some recruitment sites only allow one resume to be sent at a time, so be careful which one you send. If the entire page is written in Japanese, it may be best to assume they won’t be able to understand your English resume, and instead send out your Japanese rirekisho. However, when given the opportunity, always send both! The type of information provided on a resume vs a rirekisho is completely different, and having both not only shows off your language skills, but also provides a clearer image of you to the company.
Have your rirekisho checked by a native-Japanese speaking adult, such as a professor or a career counselor at your school. Japanese friends are great people to ask too, but a professor or a career counselor will know what kind of person companies are looking for, and they can help you market your skills in a way that will get a company’s attention! Don’t send anything out before its been corrected for grammar and spelling mistakes, and is in the best condition it could be!
Apply, apply, apply!
Now that you have your plan in mind, your resume written, your network built, and your profile complete, it’s time to get your name out there. For most job-hunting websites, one click will send out your pre-uploaded resume to the company of your choice.
Not all internships listed are paid, depending on the site! However, just because a salary isn’t named doesn’t mean the internship isn’t paid, or doesn’t have the potential to become a paid internship! Once you’ve got a reply from your favorite company, feel free to ask questions and make requests to see if it’s a good match for you!
During my time applying, I received a lot of emails, and replies from about half of all the companies I applied for. Some asked me to come in for an interview right away, some invited me to visit the company to check it out, while others wanted to talk over the phone or over email before making any plans. This part of the job-hunting process is 99% a waiting game. Know that these things take time, and you may not get a reply right away.
Even failed interviews have merit! My first interview was with the human resourcing company No Limit CEO Atsushi Seto(pictured left). Though he couldn’t offer me a position that suited my needs at the time, we continued to stay in touch and he helped to connect me to other companies and events. It was inspirational to meet such a young entrepreneur, and not only gave me a future networking connection, but also a better understanding of the Japanese work landscape. Kindness and hard work are immediately recognizable qualities, and people will want to help you if you show your determination.
Messaging Manners Matter!
Yes, it’s true. Even business E-mails in Japan have their own set of etiquette. Japan is a country of hidden rules, unspoken expectations, and “common sense” that is likely unknown territory for non-Japanese people. If you were lucky like me, you’ve taken a Business Japanese class, studied it for two terms, and had plenty of practice constructing and conducting business emails in Japanese. But for you in the general population, we've prepared a simple guide with templates, vocab, and samples for writing polite, well-worded business emails to boost your image.
Click here to read out article on writing business emails.
It’s okay to be up front and make some demands! Whether you do this before, during, or after the interview is up to you, but I recommend letting the company know as soon as possible so you don’t waste your time or theirs. For my case, I had some very specific 条件 jouken (conditions/requirements). I needed to work at least 25 hours a week, be paid at least 1000 an hour, and get my visa sponsored. I worried that because my conditions were so specific and difficult to meet for most companies that I would be turned away at the gate. However, surprisingly enough, several of the companies I applied too were willing to negotiate with me, and still wanted me to come in for an interview. So don’t be afraid to tell the company what you’re looking for, if they’re interested in you, they’ll make it work.
Be culturally aware
Navigating Japanese business manners for the first time is no easy task. Even after two years of living in Japan and working part-time in Japan I still struggle to understand the do’s and don’ts of Japanese business communication. Most Japanese employers will be aware from the moment they see your Katakana name that you’re not from around here, and they will understand that you don’t know all the ins and outs of Japanese business. Still, efforts shows, and you will get a lot of bonus points even just for trying to do things in the “Japanese” way.
What can you take away
I was once told by my Japanese career counselor that I was sure to find an internship because my smile was “bright”. I didn’t believe her at the time, and thought, “that has nothing to do with getting hired!” But now, working almost full-time at my paid internship in Japan, I understand what she meant. Japanese recruiters do value your skills and achievements, but above that they value who you are as a person. My host mother told me, “Japan is a country in which hard work is recognized, and rewarded.” If you show that you’re willing to put the effort in, then those around you will want to help you succeed. Your employer will recognize your hard work, and reward you by meeting your conditions and offering you an internship, free of charge.
So next time you see the hefty price tag on internships in Japan, remember one thing:
hard work is free.