Updated June 29, 2023

Background Checks and Employee Screenings in Japan: A Comprehensive Guide


Japan Dev Team

Japan Dev contributor

As a foreigner who’s lived in Japan for a good while now, I — like many others — have gone through my share of job applications in Japan, and I’m here to talk about a part of it that’s not talked about nearly enough.

If you guessed background checks, you’re correct.

There’s not much information online that can tell you what a background check exactly involves in Japan, but it’s a big part of the process that you don’t want to ignore. Simply put, a background check is a process companies go through to make sure the candidates they’re considering are up to their standards.

However, what these standards actually are is often a mystery fit for the most skilled PIs. Besides, the idea of a background check leads many people to believe that their privacy will be violated or that their private life will be examined at a molecular level. 

Today, I’m here to shine a light on these mysteries and talk about what you can expect from an employee screening when you apply for a job in Japan. I’ll also explain just how important Japan’s background checks are and share my tips for foreigners undergoing background checks.

Let’s start with some definitions. 

Understanding Japanese Background Checks

If you’ve ever applied for a job in Japan and got somewhat far in the process of getting hired, you’re probably already familiar with the concept of a background check. 

Not that it’s not a prominent thing in other countries, of course. It’s quite common to make sure the employee getting hired is who they say they are and that they’re not bringing along any sort of baggage from the past that may affect their performance or the company’s image. 

However, background checks can be especially important in Japan and are a big part of the job application process. This may not be the case with more modern companies that operate in tech-related fields, but the more traditional companies may have different values that motivate them to check for certain, more personal things that others may not.

Essentially, a background check or screening is a process where an employer verifies the various information submitted by an applicant. Think of it as doing due diligence: as you’re responsible for presenting the employer with the right information, they’re responsible for doing their due diligence in finding out whether you’re telling the truth or not.

Of course, this means that not all companies in Japan may choose to do a deep dive into your background. Some may prefer to only check your references, while others may even hire private investigators to make sure you’ve never committed an offense in your life, which I’ll get to in a bit.

Now, let’s see how background checks in Japan differ compared to other countries and what the main challenges are.

Background Checks in Japan: Legal Framework and Data Privacy Laws

When it comes to background checks and employee screening in Japan, perhaps the biggest challenges for employers are the laws related to libel and privacy.

Even though it’s not as strict as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which is a series of data protection regulations set by the European Union, some of the most well-known data protection laws around the globe, Japan’s regulations still prevent employers from obtaining most information shared without consent regarding a potential hire.

The APPI (Act on the Protection of Personal Information) is Japan’s data protection law, and it has been in effect since 2003, which is a good ten years before even the GDPR went into effect. Judging by this, you can already tell that Japan cares about personal data deeply.

In Japan, the APPI effectively protects individuals from having personal information about them shared without their consent. 

For instance, this can mean that past employers can’t really speak about the specifics of your employment and can only confirm the information you provided, such as the duration of your employment and your position. That is — unless you have a very detailed CV that provides even more information regarding your duties, for instance.

Similarly, libel laws are another part that holds past employers back from speaking about an employee, whether it’s bad or not. 

As the laws regarding badmouthing someone are also strict in Japan, past employers usually refrain from saying anything bad about an employee as well, which is another motivation for them to only verify the data you provided. 

Overall, it’s safe to say that the data protection laws in Japan are more similar to the ones in the U.S. rather than the GDPR in Europe, which are even stricter. 

In turn, the background checks in modern companies in Japan nowadays are also more similar to those in the U.S. rather than that of EU countries.

Types of Background Checks in Japan

As you may know, a background check can mean one thing for one company and another thing for the other. Some may choose to take your word for most things and only check your references, and some may go as far as doing a criminal record check on you without your consent — which isn’t exactly legal. 

The way most companies do background checks in Japan is by handing the process over to a company that runs background checks professionally. Due to Japan’s less-than-ideal past when it comes to background checks, it’s not unheard of for these companies to have their own databases of information that they’re normally not legally allowed to possess, such as criminal records.

Luckily, as I said, employee screenings are becoming more and more consent-based nowadays in Japan, so the companies that do run more extensive background checks also conduct their businesses on a legal basis. 

Now, let’s see what the actual screening process for potential employees can entail in Japan and explain whether it’s legal or common.


Criminal Record Checks

While the APPI doesn't usually allow employers to check for criminal and civil records, employers may ask you to obtain your own criminal record from the police. Except for supreme court records, these aren’t in the public domain.

However, it’s worth noting that asking for a criminal record is an old practice, and it’s not really a thing for most modern tech companies, especially the major international ones like FAANG companies. So, unless you’re applying for a job at a traditional company or in a sensitive field like banking and finance, you probably won’t be asked to obtain and submit a criminal record.

Either way, traditional companies that do go the extra mile on this particular notion may hire background check firms — as I broached. These firms work with private eyes and PIs and often collect information from news articles and other public sources to create their own databases, which also becomes a selling point for them.

Many private investigators take pride in their databases by advertising them as “the most comprehensive,” so keep in mind that companies can still do criminal and civil background checks on candidates this way, even if it’s not common — or exactly legal — among modern companies.

Employment History Verification

Your employment history is another point of concern when it comes to background checks, as you’d assume that the company you applied to would reach out to your previous employers. Believe it or not, this is hardly ever the case in Japan.

When you apply for a job, it’s often the case that the recruiter will take the job history you stated in your resume at face value. As I mentioned, the regulations regarding libel and privacy prevent companies from speaking badly of you, so even if the recruiter reaches out, they know they won’t get anything substantial.

This is why most employers, in general, will refrain from speaking about your performance even if it’s positive, and in most cases, they’ll only verify that you worked at the company in a given period of time.

However, the details that do matter, such as company names, positions, and start and end dates, can be confirmed, so it’s rather ill-advised not to tell the truth. 

If you’re unsure what to include and what to omit in a CV, you can check out my guides on preparing Japanese resumes like rirekisho and shokumu-keirekisho, as well as my guide to writing a perfect English developer resume in Japan.

Education Verification

Similar to your job history, another crucial information companies may need to verify when they’re hiring you is your education history. 

As it’s the case with your job experiences, the same privacy laws also prevent universities from sharing specific information about you as well. However, companies are still able to verify education history, as it’s one of the most crucial qualifications companies often look for. 

Keep in mind that while they may not be able to find out about your exact performance as a student, recruiters can still find your graduation information from the university’s public resources. 

Additionally, companies will also check if you graduated from universities known as diploma mills, or online schools where you basically “buy” a diploma/certificate. This is why I always recommend sharing the correct information and ensuring that your educational qualifications are truly in line with what the company asks for.

Credit Checks

While most employers may be interested in your educational or professional history, or even your criminal records, they’re rarely ever interested in your personal finances.

It’s rather unheard of for companies to check your credit score in Japan, and this is mainly because there isn’t a credit score system in Japan that’s similar to the one in the United States. Unless you have a history of bankruptcy, which is rare, your personal finances likely won’t get in the way of your employment.

Personal References

Although some companies may ask for personal references, traditionally, submitting references along with your application hasn’t always been common in Japan. The idea was that if a recruiter wanted to verify your past employment information, they would simply contact the company.

However, personal reference checks have recently been popularized by foreign companies operating in Japan. Nowadays, the companies that ask for references are usually the more modern ones that operate within the tech sphere.

As companies hand over background checks to other companies, these companies may choose to verify your references, which usually happens at the end of the hiring process before the company sends an offer to the employee, but it’s still not really common like in the United States.

Social Media Screening


Nowadays, pretty much everyone’s private lives have an online counterpart, so ensuring privacy means keeping your information safe online as well.

As social media increasingly becomes a part of one’s personal life, companies also do background checks on candidates’ socials to collect information regarding their personality and their personal lives. This is, of course, by no means fair or right, but it’s, unfortunately, a thing.

As I explained, background screening nowadays is largely based on the candidate’s consent, which means that a company can’t obtain personal information that’s not shared by the candidates themselves.

However, having a social media profile and choosing to keep it public can very well mean that you’re sharing your personal information willingly. 

Even though the company may not share this with you directly, if your social media accounts are public, they can reject you based on the information about your character they obtained online. So, it’s best to set your social media accounts like Instagram or Facebook to private. LinkedIn, however, should be fine, as it’s a professional networking platform.

Drug and Alcohol Testing

Drug and alcohol testing is not common in Japan for pre-hire scenarios, and it’s not legal for companies to ask for it. 

The only time you’ll need to give a drug or alcohol test is if you get into trouble with the law due to alcohol or drugs, which is pretty much the same for everywhere else in the world. If an employer ever asks for a drug or alcohol test from you without a valid reason (which there really isn’t), it’s best to look for a job elsewhere.

If you’re curious about your options, you can check out my post on all the different job options for foreigners in Japan.

Data Related to the Applicant’s Private Life

Lastly, another type of background check that’s — hopefully — well and truly a thing of the past is regarding data related to one’s private life. 

Background checks in Japan used to be quite invasive of people’s privacies, and it usually entailed finding out information regarding an applicant’s private life and their daily habits and personal discretions. 

It may sound crazy, but this meant hiring a PI to collect information from the applicant’s neighbors and finding out whether they had habits such as drinking and smoking. Some companies even cared about what the applicants did on their weekends and would ask investigators to find out what applicants did in their free time.

While this was all fair game in the past, things have changed significantly. Nowadays, this is considered a huge violation of privacy and is illegal. 

How to Do a Background Check in Japan

As I explained, background checks in Japan are often conducted by companies that specialize in employee screenings. Most of the time, large companies don’t do background checks themselves but simply outsource the process. 

In the event that a company does conduct employee screenings, however, the first thing they need to be careful about is consent.

As it’s illegal to do a background check on someone without consent, and companies can get a hefty fine for it, the first thing a company needs to do before an employee screening is to obtain written consent from the applicant.

In this written consent, make sure to include the candidate’s full name in Japanese characters as well, and include all types of data that will be checked in the process for full transparency.

As an employer, some of the documents you can consensually collect from candidates are mainly visa and citizenship certificates, credit reports, and public social media accounts. 

Lastly, keep in mind that if you’re having a third-party company do the background screening, you’ll need to exercise extra caution and vet the company properly to avoid future legal trouble.

Tips for Foreigners Undergoing Background Checks in Japan


By now, you pretty much know all you need to know about employee screenings in Japan; however, before I conclude this post, I’d like to share a few brief tips for prospective candidates that may undergo background checks in the future.

Be Honest and Transparent

The title speaks for itself, but this is arguably the most important part of this process. 

Be honest and only submit information that you know is true and can be proven. It may be tempting to twist the truth and make some minor adjustments to your resume, but it’s simply not worth it, and getting caught lying may damage your reputation within the industry.

Gather Necessary Documents Ahead of Time

As I said, companies may ask you for certain documents like your citizenship certificate or — if you’re a foreigner — your visa information.

In addition, they may ask for the following, so it’s best to keep them prepared in addition to your English CV and cover letter, and your Japanese resume and CV rirekisho and shokumu-keirekisho:

  • Your official address,

  • Your date of birth,

  • Your relevant degrees and certificates,

  • A clear photograph of you,

  • Documents related to bankruptcy, if there are any.

Know Your Rights and Seek Legal Advice When Necessary

Last but definitely not least, always remember that, even as a prospective employee, your rights are protected under Japanese Labor Law and the APPI. So, if you ever realize that your privacy is being violated, remember that you can report it to the authorities.

Also, if you’re unsure about the legality of a certain action by a potential employer, keep in mind that seeking legal advice is also an option and can be especially helpful if you’re a foreigner living in Japan.


In this post, I tried to explain the process of background checks in Japan to the best of my abilities. To recap the main points I covered, you should first and foremost remember that background checks in Japan should be conducted on a consensual basis, and companies can get fined for trying to obtain personal information about your private life.

Secondly, always presenting information that’s correct is key, and it will ensure that you have a smoother hiring process. It’ll also cause less anxiety because you won’t live in fear of getting found out about your dishonesty, which can stain your reputation in the industry.

Additionally, you should keep documents such as visa and citizenship certificates, your relevant degrees and certificates, and other documents that can help the process ready. This will expedite the process and make things easier for both you and the hiring company.

Lastly, always be careful of companies that want to invade your privacy and request drug testing or access to your private social media accounts. Your rights are protected by law, and familiarizing yourself with it is crucial. You can always get legal advice if you’re unsure.

Of course, if you don’t want to have bad experiences with companies, I recommend going with modern, international tech companies. To find out about job opportunities at such companies, you can check the Japan Dev job board, which features listings from modern companies that are personally vetted by our team.


Japan Dev Team

This post was written by our Japan Dev editorial team.