Updated February 16, 2023
Job Hopping in Japan: How Much is OK? 
It used to be that people in Japan would retire from their first jobs after a lifetime of employment.
Was it because jobs had better conditions back then? Were people treated better or paid better? No, not really. The mentality around what a job should be was vastly different. The concept of “work-life balance” was barely part of the zeitgeist.
But things are changing. More and more people are seeking better job opportunities.
With all the vacant jobs in the ever-growing market, we nowadays have the right to look for a job that’ll suit our needs the best and keep changing jobs until we find “the one.”
However, this can end up filling up your resume with lots of short stints at companies, which are bound to raise some eyebrows in job interviews.
Today, I’d like to talk about the experience of job hopping in Japan. I’ll explain how the general public views job hopping and talk about the ideal time to change jobs in Japan.
First, let’s look at the current state of job hopping in Japan.
About Changing Jobs in Japan
Historically, Japan has had a system of “lifetime employment”.
The typical work/life routine at older companies in Japan is one where you exhaust yourself until it’s the evening hours. Then, you go home, eat, and sleep, only to repeat the same thing the very next day.
This lifestyle definitely isn’t for everyone, but it does have some pros too. Some Japanese employees are OK with it because of the stability it provides — it’s very difficult to fire employees in Japan, so people have great job security.
Some people in Japan may value this stability even higher than things like work hours or conditions. A lot of people also want a sense of belonging and see their co-workers as almost like family members.
This sense of belonging works both ways, of course. You dedicate your life and “career” to a company, and in return, you have somewhere you belong, where you’ll be taken care of.
This idea is so embedded into Japanese culture that even the word for job hunting stems from the word “Shusha (就社),” which means “to belong.”
This works for companies too.
Some older-fashioned Japanese companies believe that you won’t be of much use until you’ve been employed for at least a few years. They believe that it takes a long time to train an individual.
Therefore, a lifetime of employment allows companies to train their employees to exactly fit the job, ensuring that they’ll get the best out of the employee.
As a result, changing jobs was more rare in Japan.
No Getting Fired, No Prospect of a Career
Since lifetime employment was the norm for a long time in Japan, the thinking around “careers” was a little different. Many employees didn’t have much say in what they got to work on — or even where they worked.
In such a system, the only career that exists is the one that’s within the same company. As long as you do your job and don’t get fired, you can be promoted within the company hierarchy.
And while it’s not impossible to get fired (it is if you stop showing up or violate your contract), it’s quite unlikely for most “seishain” (full-time employees).
When a company hires you right out of college, which is and has been the default in Japan for a long time (the shinotsu system), they have a responsibility toward you as well. Just like you’ll be dedicating your life and throwing any prospect of a dynamic career away, the company will take on training you as an employee and take care of you until you’re retired.
So, there’s sort of a balance. You’re expected to work until retirement at the same company, but the chances of losing your job are pretty slim.
I also talked about being unemployed in Japan in another post, where I covered the unemployment system in Japan in detail.
Things Are Changing
As with anything, it’s not all black and white.
Not every company in Japan adopts the lifelong employment culture, especially these days. Many foreign tech companies are more similar to the U.S. or European style, where changing jobs isn’t that big of a deal. New companies like these are popping up every day.
It was reported that, in 2021, the number of employees who registered on “Jeed,” a job-seeking platform for older citizens, increased by 2.7 percent. This increase is a trend that’s been going on for the past few years.
And while these changes are most obvious in the tech industry, others are starting to follow suit. This is also fueled by the booming startup culture — it’s just a matter of time.
The Japanese government is paying close attention to startups and supports these companies with initiatives like J-Startup. The government has also named 8 of the biggest “startup cities” in Japan where startup companies can enjoy benefits such as tax reduction, among others.
I wrote about all of this in more detail in my post on startups in Japan.
These startups bring a more modernized and westernized culture of employment where one can frequently change jobs.
So, what does “frequently” mean in Japan? Let’s find out.
What is Considered Job Hopping in Japan?
What constitutes job hopping varies significantly from country to country and even from company to company. However, there are some general tips that apply to different cases.
Keep in mind that these aren’t set-in-stone rules and are mere suggestions based on my personal experience.
Firstly, if you’re a relatively new graduate looking for your first job, you might be off the hook. There’s a special type of employee market in Japan called “daini shinsotsu (第二新卒)”, which translates roughly to “second new graduates.”
This may sound confusing, but this simply refers to new graduates who already had their first job. So, the job they’re looking for will be sort of like their second “first job.”
As a new graduate, your first employment can leave much to be desired, causing you to feel regret and resentment toward that workplace. This is why it’s considered normal for new graduates to change jobs once, usually in the first three years of employment.
The typical advice among Japanese people is to stick with your first company for 3 years, but — especially if you’re a foreigner and you have a replacement job lined up — that may not be necessary.
The “daini shinsotsu” system isn’t considered as major of a “job hop” as switching later, and it’ll be easy to explain to recruiters. The key here is doing your due diligence well and ensuring that the next company you’ll apply to is the one. You can find my guide on finding a job in Japan as a software engineer helpful here.
Another tip is that you should be mindful of the industry you’re in. In more modern industries like tech and IT, frequently changing jobs isn’t that bad. It’s even considered normal.
However, it won’t be as tolerated in more traditional industries like banking, finance, or auditing.
The exception here is, of course, job hopping among the Big Four (Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PWC) companies. There’s a well-known competitive nature among these companies, and it’s quite common for employees to switch from one to the other.
So, How Often Is It OK to Change Jobs in Japan?
As I explained, changing your job every year won’t really fly in Japan, at least not in all industries. However, there are certain rules you can follow to make sure your resume doesn’t have any red flags.
It all depends on the type of company you’re applying to, but generally speaking, staying at a job for at least 3 years is a good rule to follow if you don’t want your resume to raise any eyebrows.
That being said, if the company you’re interviewing for is a modern startup or a foreign company like the ones featured on the Japan Dev company list, things are likely to go easier. It’s safe to say here that changing jobs every 2–3 years won’t be much of a problem.
As long as you’ve worked at one company for a substantial amount of time (2–3 years), you should be fine. If it’s a particularly modern company, you might even be fine if you’ve changed jobs every 1–1.5 years. Just make sure that that’s not all there is on your resume.
As a general rule, I wouldn’t recommend changing jobs after less than 1 year at a company. And this is especially true if you do it multiple times in a row.
A few companies might turn you down because of too many jumps after 2 or 3 years, but the majority of companies will take issue with serial 1-year stints.
And if the company you’re applying to is a traditional Japanese one, you might want to be extra cautious. Even switching jobs every 2–3 years may be frowned upon by some of the most traditional companies.
The thing is, some Japanese recruiters still believe that job switching should not be the norm. In the worst case, some might expect people in their 20s to have no more than 3 companies on their resume, ~5 companies if they’re in their 30s, and so on.
If your resume doesn’t fit this description, it’s best to stick with foreign companies and modern startups, like the ones on Japan Dev. However, there might be ways to explain your crowded resume to more traditional companies as well.
How to Explain Your Job-Hopping History to Recruiters?
Before I conclude this post, I’d like to share my final tips on how you can explain your job-hopping history to recruiters.
Let me start by saying that if there are six jobs in your resume in 3 years, there’s no easy way to explain this.
You can explain a single instance of brief employment — among other experiences that are 2–3 years long — fairly easily, but any more than that becomes harder to explain. Whether they’ll believe you depends heavily on the company.
Always expect your job-changing history to be questioned at every interview and have an answer prepared. You’ll need a good reason, too, so try to focus on spinning your job-changing history into something positive.
You can talk about something concrete that you’d rather do differently that matches the practices of the new company you’re interviewing with.
For instance, you can say that you didn’t find the other company’s management style productive, explaining how you can thrive better in this new company’s management style.
You can also say that you wanted to take time off for your personal development, but you should have something to show for it.
All in all, it shouldn’t be a flat-out lie that can be easily proven false. However, there’s no need to be unnecessarily honest, either. A job interview is a game, and you need to know how to play it.
I also prepared a guide for acing job interviews in Japan. I recommend you check that one out, too, as there are some great tips in there that might be of use to you.
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