Getting in and getting started

Getting in and getting started

With all the information out on the Internet, it's surprising how often I still get people asking me about the logistics of getting a visa and accommodation here in Tokyo. The answer to both issues depends on what kind of work you have lined up and how cashed up you are. My advice is mainly for those seeking a job in Japan on a shoestring budget. That's how I got started here 19 years ago.

OK, so you want to find a job in Japan. Although you can try to line up work from overseas, by far the easiest way is to get yourself over here and look around. A 3 month visitor's visa, unless you're from some Asian or African countries (in which case you may only get 2 weeks), is easy to get and to move around on. Once you're here, you should stay at a "gaijin house" to keep the costs down, and starting buying some job information sources. First, get online and check and similar web sites, get the Monday edition of the Japan Times, and just generally start calling companies in your desired line of work. For those of you thinking of doing the cold calls from your own country - I don't know why it is, but employers in Japan respond much better if you're already here. Indeed, I know of very few companies that will hire someone sight unseen. Meeting in-person is very important for nailing down a desirable job.

No matter what visa you get and how long you stay, just remember one important rule that may come back to haunt you later should you choose to ignore it: while it's OK to look for a job and meet with potential employers, you're not allowed to work until you get the proper visa. I know of a few people who have successfully found temporary work on a visitor's visa, but if you land a great job and later get caught without a proper visa, it's your employer as well as you that will be in trouble. So do the right thing from the start.

The most common visas people get for work are those covering teaching, technical, managerial, finance, modeling, and general business positions. Usually you can get a visa for 1 year, with some categories (such as engineers) now able to get 3 years. Ask your local Japanese embassy for more details, or check out the Ministry of Foreign Affairs web site at :

Next: finding somewhere to stay. The answer is simple. While on a visitor's visa and, indeed, even while on probation, keep your costs and commitments low. You may not get/keep the job, or you may simply find that Japan is not for you. It costs a lot to settle in Japan - at least 6 month's rent (deposits, key money, etc.) on an apartment, most of which you'll never get back - so play it safe to begin with. The best place, if you don't mind some down-to-earth living and sharing a room, is a so-called "Gaijin House". These inexpensive, privatelyowned guesthouses are generally older places run by the owner/proprietor, and they cram two guests together in a room. Prices run from JPY50,000 ($375) to JPY100,000 ($750) per month. That's pretty cheap! You can find many such places on the Web, such as those listed at

Once you're settled, and your company has agreed that your probation period is over, you're relatively safe thereafter. By law, Japanese companies can't easily fire their post-probationary staff, making it easier for you to start looking for your ideal home for the next few years. After shared living in the previous 4-6 months, you'll probably be ready for it! Good luck.