Despite this labor crisis, neither the Japanese government nor Japanese companies are planning to hire foreigners en masse. Japan's plan is to invest heavily in robotics and offshore manufacturing and white collar jobs.
In terms of job opportunities, Japan's fast growing neighbors such as China are more likely to produce large numbers of jobs for foreign workers in the coming decade. That being said, if you have a personal interest in working in Japan — it is often possible.
These 14 careers hold the most promise for foreign job seekers in Japan.
1. EngineeringMany Japanese companies (including those in the electronics, automotive and heavy manufacturing industries) are open to hiring foreign engineers.
There are a great number of engineering jobs in Japan — it's not a function most Japanese companies are willing to offshore.
2. Information TechnologyJapanese companies haven't been quick to offshore IT to India. Most IT shops have hired at least a few foreigners in the local market. This is only likely to increase.
3. Investment BankingForeign investment banks tend to hire large numbers of foreign workers. In the Tokyo market, these investment banks have a history of hiring large numbers of workers one year and laying off large numbers the next. It's an unstable environment.
Investment banks not only hire bankers but also large numbers of IT staff. They can afford to run major software development projects in prime Tokyo office locations. Pay for IT workers is far higher in the investment banking industry as compared with industries such as manufacturing. Competition for these jobs is intense but Japanese language skills are often not required.
4. English TeacherEnglish teaching is the best known path to working in Japan. When you tell people you work in Japan, they inevitably ask "you're an English teacher?".
In the old days (1980s), English teaching in Japan was an excellent deal. The pay was enough to enjoy your life and go home with savings.
Today, some schools have gone decades without raises. New schools have popped up that impose difficult terms on teachers. For example, they may pay by the lesson rather than a monthly salary. On slow days, or when students don't show up for lessons — teachers don't make money.
In 2007, Japan's largest English school, Nova, went bankrupt leaving many teachers unpaid. The sudden influx of thousands of unemployed English teachers into the job market meant it was almost impossible to find another job. The media reported that some teachers received food donations from former students just to stay alive.
Conditions for English teachers in Japan remain difficult today. On the plus side, English teaching jobs are available in all of Japan's 47 prefectures. It's possible to live virtually anywhere in Japan and teach English (most other jobs for foreign workers are located in Tokyo).
English teachers seldom regret the decision to work in Japan. Even if they don't walk away with big money — it's a great experience.
5. Office Work (General)If you have a valid visa and acceptable Japanese language skills — any white collar job is a possibility. Many English teachers have successfully made the jump from the classroom to the office.
6. Service Industry (General)Visas and language are the two obstacles to securing a job in Japan. If you have these, any job is possible. The service industry requires keigo (formal polite Japanese).
There are foreigners in Japan working at fast food restaurants or teaching snowboarding classes — any job you can imagine.
7. Japanese Companies Expanding GloballySeveral prominent Japanese companies are on a push to expand into global markets. These companies have sought the expertise of foreign professionals. A few large companies have gone so far as to implement an English-only policy in their Japan offices.
8. Small BusinessJapan is ranked 20th of all countries by the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index. Starting a small business is extremely tough — it's doubly tough in a foreign country.
Nevertheless, some foreign entrepreneurs have been successful in Japan.
9. BarsThe Japanese government discourages foreigners from working in bars. Certain visas specifically prohibit holders from working in a bar. Nevertheless, foreigners do end up working in bars in nightlife districts such as Roppongi.
10. ActorsIf you can act and speak Japanese it's not that difficult to get small parts in Japanese television and films. There aren't many foreign actresses and actors who become stars in Japan. However, it does happen.
11. ModelsJapanese print advertising requires a large number of foreign models. Your face doesn't stay fresh in Japan for long — models are recruited directly from abroad for short (well paid) contracts.
Japanese advertisers only work with top agencies — always check the reputation of an agency before heading to Japan. Agencies should never ask for money from models.
12. SalesThe occasional business-to-business sales position pops up in Japan that requires a foreign sales person. These are usually Japanese companies that want to sell to foreign companies in Japan (e.g. investment banks).
13. RecruiterForeign recruiting companies operate in Tokyo to supply foreign professionals to foreign and Japanese companies. Most of their business comes from foreign investment banks. They tend to follow the same boom and bust cycle as the banks — hiring one year and laying off the next.
Recruiters work on commission and can make big money in a good year.
14. Research and ProfessorshipsJapan ranks 3rd in the world for research and development spending (144 billion dollars per year).
Japan is always willing to hire researchers who reach the top of their field. In certain areas, such as robot research, Japan is the top destination for researchers.
Professorships (especially short term contracts) are also possible in Japan.