Japan and the Myth about “Just Working in IT”

Let me preface this by saying that I have not and will probably never work in the Japanese IT industry. But I have been in Japan for quite a while now and researched all kinds of ways which would me allow to work and live here. I have also spoken with many people, be it those working in IT themselves, job councillors for foreigners and so on. I feel like this gives me a good basis for writing this article, but as always, don’t take my words as gospel and do your research if you are truly interested in working in IT in Japan.

Whenever somebody with little to no Japanese language skills asks online for job recommendations in Japan, there will usually be two answers posted immediately: English teacher (which comes with its own set of problems, see my article here) or IT. Generally speaking, the common language of the IT world is English, and in many countries, companies will be willing to hire IT staff, even if they do not speak the local language. The industry has an image as being very global, also thanks to the interconnectedness of the World Wide Web.

You will occasionally still encounter monsters like these

Unfortunately, this generally does not hold true for Japan. There may be a few big companies in Tokyo, which are willing to hire staff even if they do not speak Japanese, but these openings are few and far between. Other English-affine companies will be young startups that will not have the capital to take the risk of hiring somebody from overseas. The vast majority of companies that can offer long-term gainful employment will be companies that conduct all of their business in Japanese, and often only for the Japanese market. Think about it, if you look around the programs installed on your computer, apps on your phone, websites that you bookmarked on your browser, how many of them are Japanese in origin? I’m willing to bet the answer is close to zero. Have you heard of services called Kintone, a cloud-based file sharing service, or U-Next, a Japanese streaming platform? Again, for most people, the answer is probably no.

People have this image of Japan being a high-tech and advanced country, and thus they assume that the same holds for the Japanese IT industry. Japan may make the best and most advanced toilets in the world, Sony and Nintendo may be exporting their gaming systems to the whole world, but the IT industry is still very self-contained, developing Japanese programs for a Japanese audience. If you are very highly qualified, you might be able to land a job at Google or Rakuten in Japan, but you will have to accept that your wages will be probably lower than if you just got a job in your home country. And if you are not able to speak Japanese, then living in this country is probably not going to be much fun for you anyways. 

So, there you have it. If you are deadest on working and living in Japan and you like the idea of working in IT, or already have some experience in it, then by all means try and go for it. Just don’t believe what some online commenters will tell you and accept that getting into the industry will probably require some determination and good Japanese skills. But I guess that is the case for almost any kind of job in Japan. There are no shortcuts (maybe only the English teacher niche, but then you are at risk of getting stuck there), if you want to live and work in Japan you have to be realistic and accept that fact.

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