Updated March 13, 2023

How to survive coding interviews in Japan


Japan Dev Team

Japan Dev contributor

Most programmers hate coding interviews.

It’s not that you don’t trust your coding skills, of course — in the right setting and with enough time, there’s no doubt you could finish any coding task.  You know it.

However, even though the job description of a programmer might include various duties, performing live isn’t one of them. After all, one might say that an interview is exactly that — a live performance where you’re expected to do your best.

Getting your tech knowledge questioned while being put on the spot in a completely new setting is a whole other beast, and not everyone excels at it. Add the stress of the stakes being so high that failing can potentially cost you a job, and you have a recipe for a panic attack.

That’s why I want to talk about coding interviews in Japan. I’ll help you understand what to expect and how they’re different from the ones conducted in the US. I’ll also give you tips on how you can prepare so that you can go to interviews with confidence.

Let’s jump right in.

How Programming Interviews in Japan Work

Let me start by saying that the coding interviews in Japan aren’t as grueling as in the US. In general, you’ll have an easier time, assuming you’ve prepared well enough. 

You probably won’t be asked to do a full day of programming, like you might be during an “onsite” at a FAANG company in the US. And the coding section will likely only be part of the whole interview process. 

Keep in mind, however, that every company is different. Some companies may do a few rounds of interviews and a technical one in the final stage, which can take a few weeks, and some might do it all in a matter of two days. 

Before I get on with the structure of the interviews, if you’re a naturally nervous person, you can also benefit from my other post, where I talked about the most commonly asked interview questions in Japan

This can help you come prepared with answers to the potential questions you’ll get asked, which should take some of that pressure off your shoulders.

With that out of the way, let’s see how a programming interview usually goes in Japan.

Talking About Yourself

A coding interview is essentially where you show off your programming skills, but if you didn’t have another interview prior, you’ll also be expected to talk about yourself and answer any questions the recruiter may have about your resume or cover letter.

Most companies conduct a series of interviews to assess different aspects of a candidate’s capabilities, but some of them might ask you to come in for a whole day. If that’s the case, you’ll most likely start with regular interviews and then move on to the coding interview.

When you arrive, the first thing you’ll likely be asked is to introduce yourself.  Make sure you explain the parts of your story that are relevant to the job.  Don’t simply give a factual overview of milestones in your life — the question is intended to check if you’re a good fit, not get to know you.

Since you know the title and the company you’re applying for, you can pick the most relevant details of your resume and talk about them. 

For instance, you wouldn’t think to mention a year-long experience as a front-end developer when you have several years of experience as a back-end developer, but if the front-end experience is more relevant for the job you’re interviewing for, I’d totally lead with that.

Here, you also want to mention your motivation for the job to tie it all together, which is something recruiters care about a lot in Japan. Show them that you’ve done your research, and explain why you’re a good fit for the company.

While you’re at it, throwing a couple of achievements in there is also a good idea — if relevant, of course.

For other general interview tips, you can also check out my tips for interviewing in Japan. It also includes various tips from people who work at different companies in the industry, so it’s an invaluable resource for your job-hunting journey.

Technical Discussion and Your Skill Level


Most companies will then move on to a technical discussion section to evaluate your technical skills.

Here, you can expect to get questions about how you do certain things. Most commonly, you’ll get asked about the tools you normally use to perform certain tasks and what your normal process is like.

You may also be asked about times you’ve run into issues (when designing systems, coding etc) and how you handled them.  Or other similar behavioral questions, but related to engineering specifically.

Your understanding of different concepts and procedures might also be questioned here. It’s important to talk them through the process as clearly as possible, even if you think the answer may be obvious. 

These questions are usually asked for a reason. The interviewer most likely wants to make sure that you actually know what you’re doing and not just rely on automated tools. There are so many developers on the market that managed to somehow get far by cutting corners, and it’s only natural that they want to eliminate these candidates from the get-go.

Questions regarding the algorithms you regularly use, as well as fundamental concepts of computer science, are common. You may also be asked to compare different tools or concepts, which one you prefer, and for what reason. 

Moreover, most companies like to discuss architecture, and they’ll ask how you handled certain problems in the past. Focusing on the “why” as much as possible when you’re answering questions will go a long way here, as this will provide the interviewer with the relevant information to judge you more accurately.

Talking about why you use a particular tool or why you picked a certain approach helps the recruiter assess your problem-solving skills better, and it also helps alleviate the concerns of the recruiter.

Soft Skills Are Skills Too

As a side note regarding your skills during your interview, don’t forget your soft skills. For most companies, they’re just as important as your hard skills, and some traditional Japanese companies may even find them more important.

After all, most traditional Japanese companies see software developers as mere workers, and they think that programming can be learned by just about anyone with enough effort and time. 

This is why most companies may take your soft skills more seriously, as they think that they can teach you the technical side of the job in a short time. Since employment is seen as a “lifetime deal” by most traditional companies, these companies think that you’ll have plenty of time to benefit from your hard skills once you learn the job.

The Coding Task/Challenge

These days, most tech companies have some form of coding task as part of the interview. They take many forms, but basically you’re given a problem and are expected to solve it by writing code.

Some companies may prefer to give a take-home task, while others may require you to complete the task on the company premises. Either way, as we said, these tasks are generally easier than coding interviews in the USA.

Usually, companies in Japan won’t ask you to do whiteboard programming, so no need to worry about that. However, you might come across questions regarding the Fibonacci sequence or be asked to solve a Fizz Buzz question, depending on the company.

Before you take on the technical task/challenge, some companies may also require you to take a test. These tests are usually for assessing your general math knowledge, but still, I’d say that they’re not as common.

Some “Modern” Companies Do Things Differently

While the things I’ve mentioned so far are pretty much it for the technical side of things for more traditional Japanese companies, modern companies may follow a different approach. 

In recent years, a lot of modern tech companies in Japan started to do coding screens using tools such as LeetCode, Karat, and Codility. These tools are useful to companies to help weed out candidates earlier, so they can cut down on the number of interviews needed.

However, many candidates are not a big fan of these timed coding tests.

If you’re applying to an international Japanese company with foreign software developers, there’s a good chance they include this step.  We recommend drilling LeetCode questions to prepare for these coding screens.  The website offers over 2500 practice questions, and there are even contests so that you can put your skills to the test and earn rewards.

What About FAANG Companies?


While it’s true that coding interviews usually aren’t as detailed and tiresome in Japan, there are exceptions to this rule, namely American FAANG companies.

FAANG is an acronym that stands for the world's largest tech companies, which are Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google. Sometimes, it's just "FANG," where the "A" signifies either Apple or Amazon, and sometimes Microsoft replaces Netflix, which makes it "FAAMG," but they all refer to the same concept.

These companies do things differently in Japan and follow the same interview standards that you may be accustomed to in the US and in European countries. Expect full-on algorithm or data structure interviews here.

These companies usually give you an online test first, which includes two tasks that you’ll solve in a couple of hours. There’s usually one task about programming and another one on system design.

Then, you’ll be asked to explain your reasoning for how you approached the tasks for about an hour. Again, explaining the “why” while answering questions can give you a competitive edge here.

You’ll also be asked to solve more questions similar to the first ones, but this time you’ll explain your reasoning on the spot and write your code in real time. 

On a personal note, I recommend going with JavaScript for the tasks given at these companies, as it can be easily understood by everyone. It’s also one of the most worthwhile languages to learn out there.

Once you get through all of these technical parts, you’ll then have a final interview session going over how you did on the task and receive feedback from the engineers at the company. 

If you want to learn more about FAANG companies in Japan and what the hiring process is like, you can check out my post where I talked about the subject extensively.

How to Prepare for Coding Interviews in Japan

Now that you have a general idea of what the interview process is like, you might want to start preparing. Before I go, here are a few tips for how you can prepare for a coding interview in Japan.

First of All, Calm Down

This is as straightforward as it gets, but there’s no other way to say it. If you want to do good at an interview, you have to find a way to calm your nerves first.

To preface this, it’s completely normal to get nervous at interviews. Some people might feel it more than others, but everyone feels it to some degree. Anyone who says they don’t either have no nerves at all or they’re flat-out lying. 

What’s important is to maintain control and remind yourself that you got this. Remember that being nervous is almost always guaranteed to bring your performance down. Take a few deep breaths if you need to. You’ve got this.

Practice Makes Perfect

As you’re preparing for a technical interview, you want to practice as much as possible.

While the coding interviews in Japan may not be as intricate as in other places, you’ll still have a hard time if you don’t practice. Most programmers online see it as an exam and prepare for it as such. 

You can use tools like LeetCode, as I mentioned, but that’s not all. There are other tools you can use, such as HackerRank, and books like Cracking The Coding Interview can help you out a great deal as well. 

Also, Google is your friend here, as there are hundreds upon hundreds of resources that include the top LeetCode questions, like this curated list. You can use these to understand question structures better and therefore get better at solving them quicker. 

Take a Refresher on the Basics

No matter where you go, always assume that your knowledge of fundamentals will be questioned.

There may be some basic concepts and terms regarding data structures and algorithms that you don’t work with regularly and don’t remember well. Don’t forget that these still make up the foundation of programming. 

Brushing up on the basic concepts is an absolute must. After all, you don’t want to look like you don’t know the most basic stuff when you have countless finished solo projects under your belt.

Different Strokes for Different… Companies?


As you prepare for any interview in Japan, you need to consider one important thing, and that is the type of company you’re interviewing for.

Mainly, it’s safe to say that there are four distinct types of companies in the IT industry in Japan. These are traditional Japanese companies, large foreign companies (FAANG companies), large Japanese mega-venture companies, and small startups. 

Let’s sum up how you should approach each one in one sentence:

  • For traditional Japanese companies, there’s usually no defined common structure to the interviews. Your best bet is to talk to people who actually work at the company and have been through the process.

  • For large foreign companies, preparing as you would in the US is the best idea here, and you should expect a very structured interview process that spans multiple sessions. 

  • For large Japanese mega-venture companies, think of companies like PayPay or Mercari. As these companies usually have an online challenge from Codility or HackerRank, preparing with these tools is a must to familiarize yourself with the interface.

  • For small Japanese Startups, it’s a different experience every time. Some may have a coding challenge, while others may just prefer to talk about the technical side of your resume and ask you questions. 

All in all, it’s important to remember that each company is different. You should do your research for each company separately and try to talk to people or recruiters who work or have worked with the company to get the most accurate information.

Company Culture is King

Last but not least, before you go to an interview at any company, always do your research well. You’ll naturally want to learn everything the company does, but I’m referring more to the company culture here.

Although this is a technical interview, the interviewer will still need to assess your compatibility with the company culture and make sure that you’re a good fit. Even if you absolutely ace the interview with your technical knowledge, the company might still go with another candidate that understands the inner workings and the social dynamics of the company.

Therefore, emphasizing the hard skills that you think are relevant to the culture of the company during the interview will significantly increase your chances. 

As I finish here, I’d like to remind you that while these tips should help for the interview, you still might want to familiarize yourself with the other aspects of the job-seeking process in Japan. 

If you want to learn more about the job hunting process here, you can check out how you can find a job as a software engineer in Japan in great detail.


Japan Dev Team

This post was written by our Japan Dev editorial team.