I like this place... I could live in Japan
Ever visited or researched Japan and thought you might like to try living here? (Part 1)
Work in Japan; safe, historic, scenic and fun. Photo: Ajay
Whether you've had a passion for Japan since you were young, developed it through study, perhaps through seeking adventure through travel or considered it because of work or business opportunity (yours, or a partner's), one day you might find yourself seriously considering living here.
Unless you're already set with an Employer sending you to Japan, or someone will be supporting you, or you have some other opportunity locked in already, you're going to need to consider two things; how will you secure a visa and how will you support yourself - both of which in most cases, also involve, a Job.
If living & working in Japan is something you're only just giving some thought to, logically the first thing to consider is what your existing career is - what do you do for a living where you are now and what can you already offer a potential employer in Japan?
Visa Categories are based on what you will do to support yourself (or be supported) and most require sponsorship or proof of Job offer, so both of these early considerations are of course linked. There are jobs here that you might potentially get once here, are connected to people working in the industry, and perhaps fluent in Japanese, that are simply not available to you from outside the country (without very strong people connections).
A typical 'blue collar' example is 'working in a bar/restaurant'. While getting a visa to work in a 5 Star hotel with their help because they're hiring you, is clearly possible, finding a small to medium sized hospitality business from outside of Japan, willing to sponsor your application for a visa and offer you a job, is most unlikely.
Perhaps surprisingly, the same can be said these days for getting hired from outside the country in Information Technology, without particularly niche or high end skills, and without strong Japanese (meaning simply you can use it as a critical part of doing your job, on a daily basis). IT however, is considered a higher skilled job and so depending on how far you're willing to go, it is one Industry you can find ways into, in Japan. More on this in a future post.
Another misconception is that 80%+ of jobs available to foreigners are from Japanese companies (& that a large percentage of Japanese firms are searching for foreign staff). Discussion of the issue in Government & Industry are getting more positive, but this is still far from the case. If we exclude unskilled workers & jobs such as manufacturing, as well as work in Japanese Government programs & Education such as Universities & the JET Program, the majority of work available to foreigners is in Foreign Capital firms.
Lets put the above aside for now and look at the initial procedures in regard to Application & Visas.
Am I eligible to apply?
Involved in the process of any Visa type is obtaining a "Certificate of Eligibility". You can pursue a Visa without one but this is rare I believe. Basically they check all the other things besides what you're saying you're going to do for work / to support yourself while you're in Japan and make sure none of them exclude you from applying for a Visa.
Indeed depending on where you come from, the work you seek and other things specific to your application & to what Visa, there may be some restrictions. For example if you have no degree related to the work you will do, in some categories you may need to prove you have worked in the related industry for 10 or more years, and prove it on Letterhead of the companies you say on your CV/Resume, that you have worked for!
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) direct people to their closest Ministry of Justice, Immigration Bureau to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility and for all details on what to do Prior to your Application, go here: http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/faq.html#q1-3
Japan's Visa Categories
If you want to work for some time in Japan & you're not; a Diplomat/Diplomatic Staff, of Japanese Ancestry, a Spouse or child of someone who already has a long-term Visa, going to be an Intra-Company transfer or Exchange student, then it is important to note the perhaps obvious - you need to fall into a category of long-term stay foreigner who offers Japan skills they (or companies/Institutions in Japan) feel are needed.
 Highly Skilled, Journalist, University Professor, Medical, Legal Accounting, University Professors, etc., etc. - If you fall into one of these categories I'm sure you'll be fine and don't need any advice beyond what's in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) website below, or someone would be helping you anyway
 University Researchers - I separate this out as for students without much work experience or for whom other work is less attractive, actively pursuing an understanding of how Researchers are found and accepted into Japanese Universities may lead you to seriously consider this possibility, and lead to an exciting role in R&D here.
 Entertainer - an option for some to consider
 Skilled labor - Examples from the MOFA website: chefs specializing in the food of a foreign country, animal trainers, pilots, sports trainers, sommeliers, etc.
 Cultural activities - those studying Japanese cultural activities/arts like Martial Arts, Tea Ceremony, etc.
 Student - University etc. Separated out from 'Exchange Student' purely for the fact that Exchange programs are usually organized by an institution for you, whereas as well as that occurring at a University level too, many Japan University programs can and are pursued by individuals. ("If it's meant to be, it's up to me"!)
Which leads to the more common other options for most western foreigners at least:
 Specialist in humanities/International Services - the stereotypical English Language Teacher / other foreign language teachers, but can include Interpreters, etc.
 Instructor - Covering teaching at elementary schools, intermediate schools and high schools, not just English language of course, though most other presumably require fluent Japanese language skills
 Engineers - Including of course people in the Information Technology & Communications Industries, as well as other mainstream Engineers.
 Investor/Business manager - often a later choice for longer term foreigners running their own business, if you have plans to start a business from day one or run someone elses business, this can be an option.
Period of stay for your first long-term Visa is likely to be one year to start (though MOFA say 3 years to 1 year for most categories). After that, on renewal should you wish to stay longer, it can range from another year to three, or recently for long term residents they quite likely will extend for five years if that's what you apply for.
Working Holiday Visa
If you are 30 years old or under, Japan does have a Working Holiday Visa program
Conditions, other than not having a Criminal Record or being very sick are as follows - you must:
 Be from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Republic of Korea, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark or Norway currently residing in his or her country of citizenship, or must be a resident of Taiwan or Hong Kong.
 Intend primarily to holiday in Japan for a specific length of time.
 Be between 18 and 30 years of age.
 Possess a valid passport and a return ticket or sufficient funds to purchase a return ticket.
 Possess reasonable funds for living expenses, including medical expenses, during the period of the initial stay in Japan. For a single person, the minimum is US$ 2,000, for a married couple, US$ 2,000 or equivalent amount of the national currency.(France: 3,100 Euro)
For full details from MOFA on all Visa categories, statistics, FAQ and other information, see: http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/index.html
Stay tuned for my next post on what type of work is actually available to Foreigners in Japan - many categories of work just aren't open to foreigners, even if technically you could get a work Visa for it in Japan, and even if you 'could' indeed do it (or do/have in your own country). I'll give some typical ways people find work here in Japan from outside the country, and others who didn't have that open to them, so chose to come here, build connections find something while visiting Japan, and create their own opportunity to begin. (again, "if it's meant to be, it's up to me!")
In the meantime, here's a link to a Discussion Post to inspire you with stories of how some people found work in Japan, in a LinkedIn group that I run called 'Business In Japan':
How to get a job in Japan: ideas & experience thread