Master's degree helpful for finding jobs in Japan?

Hi all,

I am interested in living and working in Japan. However, I have an American passport and cannot get a working holiday visa in Japan.

I am currently in a Master’s program in computational science in the US, where I am working on a project using parallel programming, C++, Linux, and Unix. I also know Matlab and R. Are these skills in demand in Japan? After I finish my Master’s, could I head to Japan and expect to find work and visa easily, despite the fact that I have minimal IT-related work experience? Or am I better off just spending that time in the US to build up work experience?

Or would I have a better chance of landing a decent job in Japan if I first work as an English teacher or enroll in a language intensive course and then using my free time to network and improve my programming skills?


The working holiday visa is one way to come here, and while it makes things easier, I wouldn’t say it dramatically changes the situation. One attribute employers are looking for is commitment to living in Japan. In my case, I was determined to live in Japan for at least the duration of my working holiday visa, whether or not I got hired by a company, so I think that made me more attractive then someone who predicates living here on having a job here. The working holiday visa made it easier for me to stay here until I found a job, but in the end, I don’t think it had a big influence on me getting hired.

If you’re wanting to get a job here, I think you need to accept the risk of coming here without a job and possibly not getting one. So if you are wanting to get a job here, consider at what point in your career you want to take that risk. In my case, after graduation seemed the natural time for me, as I figured even if I never found anything here, I could get a job back in Canada. I thought it would be easier to do that at the start of my career than after I had established myself.

Because of how Japanese companies recruit people, traditionally there are two opportunities to get hired: before you’ve graduated and once you’re “mid-career”. From that perspective, you might be a more attractive candidate if you have some on the job experience. On the other hand, if you wait to come, you might end up missing the opportunity as your responsibilities tend to increase as you get older. So really what is the right timing is a question only you can answer.

I think no matter what your skill set is, it is possible to find some sort of job here. I wouldn’t come with the expectation that it would be easy though. There also isn’t a clear answer to which is the best route to take to come here. Here’s my comparison of the different options:

  1. Come over on a tourist visa for a couple of months and find a software job. I think this is least likely to succeed, but if you do make it work, probably the most rewarding career wise.
  2. Work as an English teacher. If you’re a native speaker, it’s basically a guaranteed job. You might not get compensated so well, but it is a pretty easy job. You could aim to do #1, and fall back on this if you can’t find anything within a couple of months. On the other hand, if you really try hard to find a programming job on a tourist visa but don’t succeed, you probably don’t have much greater chances after having lived in Japan as an English teacher.
  3. Intensive language school. This requires the biggest financial investment for you, as you’ll be paying to learn. On the other hand, if you can become a fluent Japanese speaker, it will open up other opportunities you didn’t have before.

Sorry if all this is pretty vague, but it really comes down to your very specific individual situation, and until you actually try it, it is hard to say what will work.

1 Like

Thanks for the reply Paul. Appreciate your response

BTW Paul, do you know anything about what the salaries and working conditions would be like for foreigners who are able to find work in Japan? Do they have any power in trying to negotiate salaries/working conditions similar to western companies as opposed to Japanese companies?

Also, do you know if it would be any easier to find work at foreign companies, such as IBM or Amazon, as opposed to the large Japanese companies like Panasonic and Rakuten?

I have some really rough data about salaries for international developers in Japan. The sample size was too small to draw much conclusions from it, but my main impression was salaries were all over the board. Also, I would say there has been a general upward trend for developer salaries over the last five years or so.

Because Japan has traditionally had lifetime employment, there isn’t such a strong culture of salary negotiating here: if you’re planning on spending your life at a single company, you don’t have much power to negotiate. However, that culture is eroding, and when people do change jobs, they’ll negotiate.

I suspect Japanese people would focus more on negotiating salary, as they wouldn’t want to stick out by having different working conditions than others. For instance, they wouldn’t want to take two weeks straight of holidays, when no one else is taking off more than a day or two at a time. As a non-Japanese, you’ll already probably be doing things different anyways though, so maybe negotiating about this could work out for you.

I don’t think domestic vs international companies makes much difference with regards to hiring, rather, you’ll have the easiest time if you find a company looking for someone with your skill set. Of the companies you mentioned, Rakuten is probably the easiest to get hired by, as they are going out of there way to hire international talent.

I work in HR in a Japanese company so I will reply.
For those seeking to work in Japan, if you know Japanese, then please by all means join the bilingual job fairs. This is especially true if you hold a Masters degree.
Currently they are held online but I have attend those before Covid19 and there were literally hundreds of companies covering all different sectors. They are held off and on. The below links may help.
I attended the fairs held by Bizreach. I have hired people I met there. This is an excellent way to get your resume into the hands of HR and even have an initial interview on the spot. If you are in IT chances are even if your Japanese is spotty, you may get hired. Please give it a try.

1 Like