An internship can be a great way to dip your feet into a country’s business culture and customs. As a prime destination for work, Japan has seen a steady growth in demand for internships from people abroad. However, internships are a fairly new idea in Japan, so finding information is difficult. So, in this article, we’ll cover the positives of doing an internship in Japan, what’s available to foreigners, and more.
Why Should You Do an Internship in Japan?
Japan recently ranked 6th in a global survey of the most desirable countries for people to move to for work. It’s easy to see why. Besides a strong economy, Japan is also many people’s dream travel destination. It is full of famous landmarks, exciting places to visit, and amazing food to try.
Want to explore Japan over a long period of time or dive deeper into its culture than a typical tourist? An internship could be a good option. Japan has over 100 multinational corporations headquartered in Japan, including titans like Sony, Fujitsu, and Toyota. So, chances are that there is a top company in Japan that can help take your career to the next level. While a lot of them do primarily operate in technology-related fields, you also have companies like the international bookstore chain Kinokuniya or places where you could stretch your creative muscles like Nintendo or Bandai. In short, wherever your interests may lie, an opportunity exists for you.
Types of Internships in Japan
The system of lifetime employment, which is still going strong in Japan, means that Japan has only recently adopted the concept of internships to become more competitive in the global market. For a long time, Japanese companies have used aptitude tests like the SPI to see if a candidate is suitable. However, internships are slowly becoming more common as a more thorough test of their aptitude. Currently, there are two main types of internships available in Japan: the taiken internship and the Technical Intern Training program.
What Are Taiken Internships?
Taiken, literally meaning “experience,” is probably the closest thing that Japan has to a Western idea of internships. Primarily geared towards university students and other young people, taiken programs allow you to participate in a company’s day-to-day operations to better understand it.
The majority of taiken internships take place around the third year of university, before students start job hunting. They are usually very short-term, ranging from a few days to a few weeks at most. During this time, interns mostly do simple office work while also attending company lectures and seminars. They often do not lead to a job offer, as the sole purpose is to introduce the company and its operations to students.
Do Taiken Internships Pay?
If you are a long-term taiken intern, you can expect to receive compensation that should be on par with or slightly below what a person working a typical part-time job makes, so around 900-1,000 yen/hour.
Will a Taiken Internship Lead to a Job?
Possibly, but it really depends on the company. Short-term internships that last, say, less than a month, most likely will not get you a job offer. Long-term internships with specific long-term goals that focus on education as much as work are your best chance of a taiken internship resulting in a proper job offer.
How Do I Find a Taiken Internship?
The easiest way to get a taiken internship is to be a student in Japan and apply through your university. Most higher places of learning have some kind of system in place that helps connect students with potential employers. Make sure to start your research early, as internships are a coveted experience at Japanese universities, so some students start working on their applications months in advance.
If you’re looking for a more Western-style internship opportunity, you should definitely target larger, international companies. They’re the most likely to have an internship program or even be aware of the practice. If you know enough Japanese, you can internship hunt yourself using sites like MyNavi or Rikunabi. However, please take note that they are primarily geared towards students! Any internship offers they may have will probably be summer ones, so you should start looking through the postings around June or even earlier. In Japan, the fiscal year starts in April, so you might also see some internship ads start to appear around January. A few other Japanese sites to peruse include Jeek, 01 Intern, or Intern Baito.
Are you currently living outside of Japan? While a few internship postings will come with an offer of visa sponsorship, the vast majority are geared towards people already living in Japan. However, this shouldn’t discourage you from checking out intern placement sites or the official websites of large companies headquartered in Japan. Another option is contacting companies directly to see if they can set up an internship opportunity for you, visa sponsorship included.
Do I Need a Visa to Do a Taiken Internship?
If your taiken internship is unpaid and will last less than 90 days, then you won’t need a visa to enter Japan. Your passport will be enough. If the internship lasts longer than that or is paid, you’ll need a visa. Activities that are unpaid and related to studying Japanese culture fall under the Cultural Activities (文化活動) status of residence. Paid and long-term internships in Japan will require a Designated Activities (特定活動) visa.
If you’re already in Japan as a student, then that means you probably have a Student (留学) visa. Like the Cultural Activities one, it generally forbids you from earning money from an internship. There is a way around it, though. You’ll have to fill out an application for permission to engage in activity other than that permitted under your current visa and file it at your local Immigration Bureau. If granted, you will be able to intern and get paid for it for up to 28 hours a week. Please do not exceed that limit as doing so can get your current resident status revoked.
What Is the Technical Intern Training Program?
The Technical Intern Training program (外国人技能実習機構) allows foreign workers to seek employment at Japanese companies so that they can obtain technical skills to aid in the development of their home countries.
This program is much more structured and rigorous than a taiken internship. For starters, it’s limited to specific industries and occupations, such as agriculture, fishery, construction, food manufacturing, textiles, and machinery. It also has a very clear path and end. In your first year, you are considered a Technical Intern (i) and have to take lectures on top of practical training. Only after passing a test can you move to Technical Intern (ii), which is mainly practical training. After two years, you must pass another test after which you can be a Technical Intern (iii). If you pass that, you have two more years in Japan, after which you must return to your home country.
The program is administered by the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO) and goes back to 1993. Though exact figures vary depending on the source, there are currently around 400,000 technical interns in Japan, making them one of the largest foreign worker groups in Japan. The vast majority of these technical interns are Chinese, followed by people from Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand.
Do Taiken Internships Pay?
Yes! A technical intern who’s just starting out can expect to earn, on average, 977 yen an hour. A trained and experienced technical intern can expect to earn about 1,151 yen an hour. This is all not counting overtime and bonuses. In comparison, the average minimum wage in Japan is about 902 yen an hour (as of October 2020).
How Do I Enter the Technical Intern Training Program?
There are two ways to enter the Technical Intern Training Program: the individual enterprise type and the supervising organization type, with the latter being most common.
With the Individual Enterprise type, a Japanese company will deal directly with an overseas company that they have some kind of business connection with. Afterwards, the overseas company will dispatch one of their employees to learn a technical skill in Japan.
For the Supervising Organization type, an overseas dispatching company enters into a contract with a non-profit supervising organization such as a municipal chamber of commerce. The supervising organization, which is licensed and overseen by the OTIT (Organization for Technical Intern Training), will then offer guidance to the technical interns and help them find relevant jobs in Japan.
What Visa Do I Need for the Technical Intern Training Program?
You’ll have to apply for a Technical Intern Training visa at your local Japanese embassy or consulate. Please note, however, you will need to apply for a new visa each time you transition from Technical Intern Training (i) to (ii) and then to (iii).
Things to Watch Out for With the Technical Intern Training Program
There have been allegations of abuse towards foreign technical interns. Many of them don’t speak Japanese or aren’t familiar with Japanese culture. As a result, it’s easy for companies to take advantage of them. For example, there were reported instances of employers holding back their wages and using these interns as a source of cheap labor without actually teaching them any technical skills.
To ensure you don’t become a victim of abuse or workplace harassment, please consult our article on so-called Black Companies, i.e. businesses known for exploitative practices. If you are already participating in the Technical Intern Training program and you suspect you’re being taken advantage of, you can find a lot of helpful resources on the Organization for Technical Intern Training website.
Which Internship Should I Do?
If you’re looking for an experience like what you’d find over in the West, then the taiken internship could be just the thing for you. The Technical Intern Training program, on the other hand, is perfect for those wishing to develop skills in a specific industry that they can later put to practical use back home.
Is an Internship in Japan Right for Me?
In the end, it all depends on what you hope to get out of your internship in Japan. Weigh your needs and career trajectory against the information given in this article and hopefully you’ll come up with a satisfying conclusion.
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By the way, if you're looking for a job or career change and you're already in Japan, we now have a jobs site called tsunagu Local Jobs! On top of having exclusive job listings that you won't find anywhere else, we've vetted all the listings to ensure that they're foreigner-friendly and high quality. If you register for an account on the site, you can even make use of our agent service where our international staff will help you find the perfect job in Japan, so check it out today!
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.