Foreign Workers in Japan

Until Covid-19 seemingly stopped the world short in early 2020, Japan’s foreign worker population continued to grow year-to-year. According to, 2019 saw a record 1.66 million foreign workers in Japan. That’s a 13.6% increase from 2018. The upward trend hit a new record-high for the seventh year a in a row.

Looking at nationalities, the top three were Chinese with 418,327, Vietnamese with 418,327, and Filipinos with 179,685 workers.

G-8 countries including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the UK, the United States, Russia, plus Australia and New Zealand made up for less than 5% of the total foreign workers with 81,003. also broke down the number of foreign workers by industry.

Manufacturing, wholesale/retail, and accommodation/food and drink service were the top three industries to employ foreign workers.

based on data from Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare 2019

Although the facts show manufacturing is the largest employer of foreigners, I want to take a look at some of the most common jobs available to those 81,003 of us from European and other Western countries.

Top Jobs for Foreigners in Japan

English Teaching

The fact that Japanese will inevitably ask if you are a student or English teacher demonstrates just how common this job path really is.

Although the job market has become increasingly competitive over the last decade, most teaching jobs still only require a Bachelor’s degree.

Forty years ago, teaching English was lucrative in Japan and you could easily support a family or save money, but since then, pay and working conditions have not improved.

Prolonged school closures and class cancelations due to Covid-19 have left many teachers struggling, or even out of a job. Some businesses have tried to move their classes online, but the pandemic’s impact to the English industry has definitely been costly.

You can check out our previous article which talks about English teaching in more detail.

IT and Engineering

Japan offers opportunities to those holding degrees in various engineering fields. From civil engineers to computer engineers, Japan holds this specialized knowledge in high regard.

Many companies will hire foreigners regardless of their Japanese ability, although it’s always a plus to communicate with co-workers and clients.

Many software developers and programmers in particular often work on teams with people of various nationalities. On top of that, coding language is English-based, so a strange mix of katakana English and Japanese may be the main form of communication.

Depending on your experience level, engineering jobs can be some of the best paying in Japan, although engineers themselves will be quick to tell you they could make much more in their home countries.

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, many companies have allowed their employees to work completely remote or adopt flexible schedules to avoid rush-hour traffic. Engineers were in a good position to benefit from these policies as their work may not require direct contact with other staff or clients, instead holding Zoom meetings from home in their pajama bottoms.

Service Staff

Fast&Slow | © PIXTA

Along with the growing number of foreign workers, foreign tourists continue to visit Japan year after year, well until Covid-19 brought international travel to a standstill.

According the the Japan Tourism Agency reported 31.9 million foreigners traveled to Japan in 2019.

Hotels, resorts, restaurants, and cafes located in busy tourist areas often hire foreign staff, especially if they can converse in several languages.

Working in the service industry can be tough though, especially working night shifts at hotels, and you shouldn’t expect to get holidays off, as those are their busiest days.

Covid-19 hit the tourism industry hardest and although larger hotel companies have used government subsidies to continue paying employees, smaller businesses could not remain open and were forced to lay off employees.

Translator / Interpreter

metamorworks | © PIXTA

Japan has the world’s 3rd largest economy and as such, there is always the need to communicate globally. English may be the international standard, but there is also a need for other language such as Chinese and Korean.

The gaming industry and the increased popularity of Japanese manga around the world has led to a need for localization, testing, and translation in these areas.

Experienced translators and interpreters may find full-time work and make a decent living, but the majority of translation work is given to freelancers for a cheaper price and to avoid paying benefits.

Sales and Consulting

Fujiyo | © PIXTA

As stated above, Japan’s position in the global economy offers positions in a variety of industries for sales, marketing, and consulting staff.

Foreigners are often tasked with handling international clients or helping management maintain smooth communication with foreign offices or headquarters.

This kind of work requires a high-level of Japanese communication and can be stressful for those not used to a Japanese work environment, but also offer job security and a range of benefits and remuneration.


These are just a few of the most common career opportunities awaiting foreigners in Japan.

When applying for a visa to work in Japan, the immigration office considers what benefits you bring to the table as a foreigner. Mostly commonly this means language skills or specialized knowledge.

Perhaps you’d like to work as a massage therapist or run a business. These are also plausible options if you can prove you’ll benefit society.

So what kind of job would you like to do in Japan?

By - Mujo.