Updated March 6, 2024

Do You Need To Speak Japanese To Work in Japan?


Japan Dev Team

Japan Dev contributor

Can you can find a job in Japan... without speaking Japanese? Let's take a look.

In my post “Is Japan a good place to work as an engineer?”, I answered some common questions about moving to Japan, but this time I'd like to dive into the issue of Japanese skills.

As many people wonder, “Do I need to speak Japanese to work in Japan?” or “Can I move to Japan if I don’t speak Japanese?”, I thought it best to explain this topic in greater detail.

So, without further ado, here’s all you need to know to work in Japan as an English speaker. I'll try to offer a realistic view, and let you know if you can apply for jobs in Japan without speaking Japanese.

Can You Get a Job in Japan Without Speaking Japanese?

Yes, you very much can. As I explained in my other post, you don’t need to speak Japanese to work in Japan. You can get teaching jobs, as many foreigners do. That said, speaking Japanese does help a lot in Japan if you want to work as a software engineer.

This is because, in reality, whether you need to speak Japanese to get a job here depends entirely on the circumstances. In fact, there’s a strong argument to be made regarding the negative correlation between a candidate’s Japanese skills and their tech skills and expertise.

This means that if you have relevant, well-developed skills and years of expertise under your belt, you’ll likely get an engineering job speaking only English just fine. We feature many companies on Japan Dev that hire English-speaking candidates with no Japanese requirements.

That said, what needs to be considered here is the fierce competition such positions involve. After all, many foreigners move to Japan for various reasons: a change of lifestyle, better career opportunities, or to experience the culture.

So, even those who consider themselves “experienced” may be outshined by others with better skills or longer experience, and it’s important to assess what you really bring to the table carefully. 

Considering this, while you can get a job with no Japanese, it’s still rather hard if you want to work in IT. So, considering it an exception rather than a rule is in your best interest.

Companies Seek Reassurance 

As I mentioned, the competition among foreigners looking for a job is fierce. However, additional concerns prevent companies from hiring candidates who don’t speak Japanese, and reliability plays an important role here.

While there certainly are many people who move to Japan with long-term goals and a desire to live here for good, there are also many people who come to Japan just for a change or to experience the culture for a couple of years.

However, when these people apply for jobs in Japan, some choose to keep this plan private from the hiring company. 

It’s not that people have ill intentions and want to trick companies into thinking they’re here for the long run. Many people genuinely come to Japan hoping to find a place to settle, but not everything goes as planned.

As a result, many companies hire foreign professionals only to be left high and dry a couple of years later, which is why most now exercise extreme caution when hiring foreigners. 

So, as I mentioned in my post “Do you need to take the JLPT?”, even if a job doesn’t require you to speak Japanese, doing so and reaching N2 or N1 level proficiency will show that you’ve invested considerable effort and time into your life in Japan, and can provide companies with the reassurance they seek.

Jobs That Require Client Interaction Are The Hardest To Get

English teaching jobs are by far the easiest jobs you’ll find as a non-Japanese speaker. An IT job, in comparison, is significantly harder to score without any Japanese. 

That said, from a broader perspective, I’d still say that getting an engineering job without Japanese is more feasible than a job that requires client interaction.

Think sales, marketing, or HR. With these jobs, employees' performance can only be as good as their interpersonal skills and how well they can manage communication in a country’s primary language.

So, I’d say that these are by far the hardest jobs to get as a non-Japanese speaker. 

On a more positive note, let’s see what other jobs you can get as a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language.

What Other Jobs Can You Work in Japan Without Japanese?


If you’re asking, “What jobs can English speakers get in Japan?”, know that you’ve got options. 

As I already mentioned, the most common job for foreigners in Japan is being an English teacher.

Working As An English Teacher in Japan


As there’s always a high demand for English teachers in Japan, one of the most popular jobs for foreigners is teaching English. This is a common experience for many foreigners who move here to start a new life or experience the country for a while.

In fact, this job is so perfect for absolute newbies in Japan that many language schools specifically look for tutors who don’t speak a word in Japanese. The intention behind this is to encourage students to communicate with the teacher solely in English.

If teaching English sounds good, there are two main paths you can take: working as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) or working at an Eikaiwa school.

ALT positions are, essentially, teaching jobs at regular Japanese schools. This job offers stability and safety, and has a regular Monday to Friday work schedule.

Eikawa jobs, on the other hand, mean you’ll be working at a language conversation school. The classes at these schools usually begin in the afternoon, and you can expect people of all ages and backgrounds to be your students.

While I recommend the Eikaiwa route if flexibility or traveling is important to you, working as an ALT will allow you to immerse yourself in the language and culture more, as you’ll be surrounded by Japanese students and teachers all day, every day.

If you want to learn more about this topic, I delved into greater detail in my post on teaching English in Japan, where I answered some of the most common questions on teaching English here.

Headhunting and Recruitment Jobs

Alternatively, if you find that teaching isn’t for you, working as a recruiter is another career path you can take in Japan. 

IT alone isn’t the only industry that lacks employable talent in the market. Today, as you can tell by the government’s J-find and J-skip programs introduced in 2023 that allow graduates of the top 100 universities in the world to migrate to Japan, the country needs educated and skillful candidates in nearly all STEM-related fields. 

So, recruiting and seeking out foreign talent is a big industry on its own here in Japan. As this job requires communicating with foreigners and working with companies that hire foreign talent and speak English, Japanese isn’t an essential requirement. That said, being able to speak Japanese is always a plus and certainly expands the range of opportunities available.

Having said all that, while these jobs usually boast low base salaries, how much you earn depends on your performance, your “salesmanship”, and how driven you are. So, keep in mind that it can be highly stressful and may not be for everyone.

How Can You Get a Job As A Software Developer Without Speaking Japanese?


Let’s not beat around the bush. Now that you’ve learned that getting a tech job without speaking Japanese in Japan is somewhat hard but possible, you want to know how you can turn the tides in your favor. 

As I said, years of experience can’t hurt, but it’s not something you can obtain in a pinch. So, if you’re in the earlier stages of your career, here are some ways to make a difference and become the outlier among thousands of non-Japanese speakers on a job hunt in Japan.

Skills, Skills, and More Skills

Developing unique skills and mastering sought-after languages, techniques, and certifications is the best way to land a software engineering job here if you don’t speak Japanese at all. 

You need to provide value that’ll make up for your lack of Japanese skills, which can be a long-running experience in tech, open source contributions, or having a strong network.

Japanese employers have every reason not to hire you as a foreigner if they can simply find Japanese candidates with your skillset and education. After all, your employer will have to sponsor your visa, and even provide extra benefits like relocation and accommodation support in some cases. 

I’m not saying these jobs don’t exist. You can find many companies with open positions on the Japan Dev Job Board that hire engineers from overseas and provide relocation support, but it’s all about what you have to offer.

So, if you’re wondering how hard it is to get an engineering job in Japan, you first need to evaluate what sets you apart, and what unique or sought-after skills could be an asset.

To learn which skills may be worth more than you think, consider reading my post where I discussed the top-paying programming languages in Japan

Additionally, you can check out my other posts explaining the top tips for technical interviews and resume writing, as well as how to ace coding interviews in Japan, which are great resources. 

If you’re a visual learner, you can also watch a detailed video on nailing a tech interview on our YouTube channel, which will also give you a good idea of what skills you can highlight or work on.

Become a Part of The Community

If you surround yourself with the right people, the right opportunities just might come to you. 

As a foreigner here, you might not have as much of a social circle or a professional network as you may have established in your home country. So, one of the best things you can do is become a part of the local tech community in Japan and meet people who share your interests.

Networking, after all, is an age-old way to find new job opportunities, and even if it doesn’t directly lead to employment, making friends in your industry is bound to be good for your career one way or the other. 

If you don’t know where to start, you’re in luck, as I have detailed posts where I introduce tech communities and meetups in Tokyo, Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe, and Fukuoka. You’ll find some of the best opportunities to network in your field, and many meetups and groups I introduced are English-friendly, so no Japanese is required to get started.

Alternatively, make sure to check out my post detailing some of the best tech conferences from all over Japan, and if you want to play a more active part in networking, my article on the best hackathons in Japan is a great starting point.

Show That You Care

As I close out this post, one final piece of advice I can offer to increase your chances of finding a software engineering job without speaking Japanese is also arguably the most crucial one: start learning Japanese right away.

Start learning at your own pace, and have a trajectory of progress, slow as it may be. 

This will not only help you integrate into life in Japan better, but it’ll also show that you care about living here, which many candidates fail to prove.

I mentioned this already, but considering the common pattern of foreigners coming to Japan on a whim, getting somewhat settled, only to leave shortly after finding out Japan isn’t for them, even if you speak a little bit, you’ll prove that you’re worth taking a chance on.

When applying for jobs, showing that you’re learning Japanese can give the company enough reassurance that they may consider you despite not having an impressive resume.

While this is it for today’s post, if you want to learn more about finding jobs in Japan, you can head over to my post on job hunting in Japan. Alternatively, you can also check Career Coach in Japan, which includes crucial tips on navigating Japan’s recruitment landscape.

As a final reminder, the Japan Dev job board always has openings for software engineers with no Japanese skills, which you may want to check out after this article.


Japan Dev Team

This post was written by our Japan Dev editorial team.