Why Learning Japanese Is Good for Your Career

Working in Japan
Life Where I'm From

More than a quarter of Japanese population are people 65 years and older, which translates to more than 30 million senior citizens. The portion of Japan’s aging population will continue to grow due to low birth rate and high living expectancy. It is predicted that in the next fifty years, the proportion of people 65 years and older will increase to 38%.

Japan is experiencing a serious shortage of labor. In Tokyo alone, there are twice as many job vacancies as applicants. The country depends on foreign workers to supply young labor forces. Currently, there are approximately 1.3 million foreign workers in Japan, an 18% rise from last year. Most of the foreign workers come from China, Vietnam, and the Philippines, doing unskilled work in construction and agriculture. Japan is also experiencing a shortage of skilled workers and has opened door to welcome foreign talents in specialized and technical jobs, such as information technology workers, academics, and healthcare professionals. Only 20% of the foreign workers in Japan fall into this category. Japan intends to relax immigration and recruitment rules to attract more skilled foreign workers to work in Japan.

How attractive salary wise is Japan compared to other countries? According to Michael Page 2018 Salary Report, an IT professional with more than five years of work experience can earn an average of 10 million yen (about US$90,000). An academic can earn from 7 million yen to 10 million yen (about US$60,000 to US$90,000) as per the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare’s 2014 survey, whereas a registered nurse can earn between 5 million yen to 9 million yen (about US$45,000 to US$80,000).

Working in Japan does not mean working only for Japanese companies as there are more than 3000 foreign companies operating in Japan (75% of these companies are concentrated in Tokyo). If the company you are currently working at has an office in Japan or has a business partner there, you could possibly join your company’s secondment program to gain overseas work experience for a short-term placement.

Some people may even want to go to Japan to open their own business. The Tokyo government has launched a new support program to increase foreign entrepreneurs since January 2016. Under this program, foreign entrepreneurs are granted a six-month permit to start their commerce and fulfill other requirements to have their visa renewed. This year, Tokyo Star Bank launched its Foreign Entrepreneurs Business Plan Competition 2018 which provides a prize of 10 million yen for the winner.

The 2018 Best Countries ranks Japan the 5th in best countries overall. The country ranks 14th in terms of quality of life (for comparison, Canada ranks 1st and the United States ranks 17th). What makes Japan score high in terms of quality of life is its well-developed public education system and public health system. The country is also relatively safe and economically stable.

Language, however, is a major hurdle for foreign workers. Despite English being a compulsory study in Japanese high schools, many Japanese people struggle to speak English. For skilled workers who are interested to work in Japan, you need to learn Japanese and reach a certain level of Japanese language proficiency in order to be able to do your job effectively. Most people find they need to pass JLPT or Japanese Language Proficiency Test level 2 scoring at least 60% to be able to communicate effectively at work and in social settings. The good news is, Japanese is relatively easy to learn. With a few years of commitment to study the language, non-Japanese speakers should be able to master Japanese and interact with locals with no difficulty.

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