Japan holds an endless fascination for millions of people around the world, but everyone has a different reason. Tech lovers, anime geeks, foodies, tea drinkers, martial arts enthusiasts, design buffs, and fashionistas have all been flocking to Japan for decades, and show no signs of slowing down.
But there is, of course, a difference between visiting Japan and living in it. If you really want to experience Japanese culture firsthand, you need more time to immerse yourself in the day-to-day life of its buzzing cities. An internship will allow you to do this while gaining invaluable resume-boosting experience.
Japan has a booming economy across several industries, many of which are making a concrete effort to become more globalized. English-speaking internships can be found in any sector, but they are more popular in large multinational corporations than in smaller, local companies.
The great thing about marketing internships is that they can be in essentially any industry. They also tend to be quite broad, allowing you to develop a range of skills. You could be helping a tech giant carry out market research, writing English content for a hotel chain, or creating graphics for a start-up.
Banking & Financial Sector
International banks often have English-speaking placements available. As an intern in the banking and financial sector in Japan, you will have the opportunity to work in one of the most fast-paced environments in the world. If you can handle the Tokyo or Yokohama workday, you can handle any workday.
Media & Pop Culture
Japanese media and popular culture have fans all over the world. For many people, it doesn’t get any better than working within a Japanese animation studio, manga (comic book) publication, or J-Pop magazine. Internships in these industries are competitive and tend to be for Japanese speakers.
Japan can be an overwhelming country when you arrive, but most employers will help you soften the culture shock.
Best Time to Get an Internship in Japan
In most industries, you can find an internship at any time of year. Some companies time their internship adverts with the end of the academic year (end of March in Japan) in order to appeal to students. However, this tends to be for Japanese-speaking roles.
Companies offering English-speaking internships to international applicants will sometimes do the same thing, advertising their placements in the lead up to the summer break. Overall, early spring is a good time to start looking.
Many large corporations in Japan actually have employee accommodation, which is primarily used by young, single employees. Interns are often placed in these halls of residence, sometimes for free.
These dorms will almost always be separated by gender. In this scheme, you will have a private bedroom with a small shared kitchen and a shared bathroom, usually with communal showers.
If you are doing an internship through a third-party organization, housing will usually be included. This will either be in a dorm-style arrangement with other interns on the same program as you or in a homestay.
If housing is not provided as part of your internship, you will have to look for a flat. Rent can be expensive and flat-sharing is not as common as it is in other countries. Usually, you will be renting a small studio or one-bedroom apartment.
Cost of Living
Japan is relatively expensive, but not prohibitively so. Rent in a big city costs about ¥100,000 ($920) a month, but it can be almost half of that if you are willing to live in the suburbs and face the legendarily crowded commuter trains.
Eating can be pretty cheap, as long as you eat like a local. Certain foods are more expensive than in the West, either because they are considered special treats (like fruit) or because they are Western novelties (like cheese).
Lunch deals for busy workers are common in restaurants and are a good way to fill up. Convenience stores are a blessing when you live alone in Japan, offering microwave meals and snacks that are both far tastier and cheaper than you would expect.
Transport in major cities is extremely reasonable given its quality: a subway ticket will cost around $3 for most trips. When traveling around the country, the Shinkansen (bullet train) is the most convenient option, but it is also usually more expensive than flying.
The type of visa you need will depend on the length of your internship and whether you receive compensation for it. Paid internships usually require a Designated Activities Visa, while unpaid ones (which are more common) require a Cultural Activities Visa.
Your employer, third-party organization, or university (if you are interning as part of your studies) should be able to provide you with guidance and support. You can also contact your local Japanese Embassy for help.
Japan has a very specific work culture, which involves a large number of unspoken rules and customs. For example, people meeting each other in a professional context will always exchange business cards by taking turns bowing and presenting their cards with both hands.
Seniority and hierarchy are hugely important in Japanese culture, so challenging your superiors is frowned upon. This attitude extends outside the workplace: at a work dinner, junior employees are expected to serve drinks for senior ones.
Speaking of work dinners, these are fairly common, and part of the Japanese workplace’s culture of networking. Employees are regularly brought together to eat, drink, and socialize -- in this context, they are allowed to let their hair down considerably more than at the office.
All of these conventions can be intimidating for a foreign intern, but don’t worry too much about them. You get a bit of a free pass as a foreigner, since they don’t expect you to know all the rules. That said, being observant and picking these up will most likely impress your coworkers.
Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. Even in large cities, the risk of crime is considerably lower than you would expect anywhere else. Of course, you should still take the normal precautions: always be aware of your belongings and avoid areas you aren't familiar with at night.
Healthcare standards are also very high, but treatment can be expensive. Make sure you have insurance to cover you throughout your stay and familiarize yourself with your policy before leaving.