Tips for Landing an Internship in Japan


This is a guest article by Zentern Internships. To follow them, check out the social links at the bottom of this post. 


What it’s all about


Japan, a blend of ancient traditions and cutting-edge innovation, presents a unique landscape for interns. For university students and young professionals eyeing this land of the rising sun, an internship here isn’t just about professional growth; it’s a plunge into a culture deeply rooted in both respect and forward-thinking. However, venturing into Japan’s professional realm, especially without speaking Japanese, comes with its challenges. This guide aims to equip you with essential tips to not only land an internship in Japan but also to thrive in an environment vastly different from the West.

Information on non-Japanese living and working in Japan

As the number is growing every year, close to 3 million non-Japanese people live in Japan (the correct number is around 2,93 million). The largest number are Chinese (close to 1 million residents), Vietnamese and South Koreans. The number of people with US nationality is approximately 62,425.
According to statistics, the majority of non-Japanese individuals reside in Tokyo, followed by Aichi-ken. This is primarily due to the abundance of factories in these regions. Most non-Japanese work in manufacturing.

Source: Japan Immigration
Source: Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare


Understanding Japanese Work Culture


Japan’s work culture is often characterized by its distinct blend of traditional values and a strong work ethic. It is considered one of the most professional environments in the world, the word “Salaryman” is still widely used and even though you’re not meeting any clients that day, it is expected that you wear a full suit to work every day. Another typical professional formality is business cards. Business cards are a thing here and are used as a formal greeting when meeting someone for the first time. This card must be placed in a business card holder, not just in your pocket or wallet. There are many more rules and etiquettes even Japanese new-grads are confused about. No wonder that most new grads must participate in a “Business Seminar for Beginners” to learn all about Japan’s business culture. Luckily, this is included in our service as well. Before the start of your internship, you will participate in our seminar where we will pro-actively teach you about the wonderful world of business etiquette in Japan.

To make the most of your internship in Japan, understanding and adapting to these norms is crucial.



Key Aspects of Japanese Work Culture


Respect and Hierarchy: In Japanese workplaces, hierarchy plays a significant role. Showing respect to superiors and colleagues is paramount. This includes understanding the proper use of polite language and gestures. Chit-chat is not very much appreciated during work hours but most welcome during lunchtime and breaks.

Punctuality and Dedication: Japanese professionals are known for their punctuality and dedication. Being on time, or even early, for work and meetings is seen as a sign of professionalism. Did you know that getting to work 5 minutes early is already late? A successful business person is at the office at least 10 minutes early.

Teamwork and Harmony: The concept of ‘Wa’ or harmony is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. Japan’s culture is a group culture. Workplaces often emphasize teamwork and collective effort over individual achievements.

Communication: Indirect communication is common in Japanese workplaces. It’s important to be attentive to non-verbal cues and learn to read between the lines. This can be quite difficult but Japanese are not very direct. For example, if you sit next to an open window and your colleague says, “Gosh, it’s quite cold in here”, in most cases, it means he/she wants you to close the window.

Customer-Centric Approach: ‘Omotenashi’ involves anticipating needs and offering service before being asked. Interns in Japan can learn the art of customer satisfaction and proactive service.

Efficiency and Innovation: ‘Kaizen’ focuses on continuous improvement in work processes. Interns are encouraged to observe and contribute to these practices, gaining insights into the Japanese pursuit of excellence.

Understanding these concepts is crucial to navigating the Japanese workplace and leaving a positive impression during your internship. Adapting to these cultural nuances will not only help you integrate into your internship role but also enrich your overall experience in Japan. We understand that it’s not easy and no one is asking you to change. Luckily the Japanese people are super kind and understanding, they don’t expect you to understand the unwritten rules right away.



Embracing New Opportunities with an Open Mind


Japan’s professional landscape offers a myriad of opportunities, often in forms that might be unfamiliar to many Westerners. Did you know that it’s very uncommon for new grads to apply to a company directly? Usually the “recruiting season” starts a year before graduation and you attend a bunch of seminars and job events organized by companies. You then send out your resume to over 100 companies waiting for an interview invitation. Due to a declining population, there are now more job openings than people available to fill them, making it highly probable that you will find employment. In 2023, the average job openings-to-applicants ratio was 1.31 times. This number is expected to grow.
Source: NHK News

Therefore because the hiring environment is so different, approaching these opportunities with an open mind and a positive attitude is key to making the most of your internship experience.


Tips for Embracing New Internship Opportunities


Be Curious: Show a keen interest in learning not just about your work but also about the cultural nuances of Japan.

Stay Flexible: Japanese work culture can be different from what you’re used to. Be adaptable to changes and different ways of doing things.

Seek Feedback: Japanese supervisors may not always provide direct feedback. Actively seek it out to understand your performance and areas for improvement.

Network: Use this opportunity to build relationships with professionals and peers, which can be invaluable for your career.

Participate in Local Events: Engage in local festivals and community events. This provides a deeper understanding of Japanese culture and traditions.

Adapting to Business Etiquette: Japanese business etiquette has its unique nuances. Learn the basics of bowing, exchanging business cards, and attending meetings to show cultural sensitivity.

By being open to new experiences and maintaining a positive outlook, you’ll gain more than just work experience; you’ll immerse yourself in a culture rich in history and modernity.


The Unique Nature of Internships in Japan


Internships, as understood in many Western countries, are a relatively new concept in Japan. Usually, internships in Japan only last for 2 – 3 days with the longest 7 – 14 days. Instead of actual practice work, these types of internships are more of an introduction to the company and what their business is all about. The interns then get to shadow different departments. Most companies use this as a PR stunt to attract talent.

Here, the focus is often more on gaining cultural understanding and building networks rather than just acquiring job-specific skills.


Understanding the Internship Landscape


Varied Expectations: Japanese internships might not always align with the concept of internships elsewhere. They can range from formal work experiences to cultural exchange programs.

Research and Prepare: Before applying, research the types of internships available and what they entail. This ensures you have realistic expectations and are prepared for the experience.

Cultural Integration: Many internships in Japan provide opportunities to learn about Japanese culture, language, and business etiquette, which are as valuable as the professional experience.

Start-Ups and Tech Giants: From dynamic start-ups to established tech giants, internships in Japan cover a wide range of industries, each providing distinct learning experiences.

Roles and Responsibilities: Intern roles in Japan might focus on project involvement, research, or cultural exchange activities, depending on the company and the program.

Understanding that internships in Japan can be more about cultural immersion than professional development will help you align your goals and make the most of your time.


Finding Internship Opportunities


Navigating the path to an internship in Japan might seem daunting, especially for non-Japanese speakers. However, with the right approach and resources, securing a rewarding internship is entirely achievable. Before you get started, make sure you’ve prepared for the following:

Resume Preparation: Customize your resume to align with Japanese standards. This includes adding a photo and detailing both educational and extracurricular activities.

Cover Letter: Write a concise, clear cover letter expressing your interest in the internship and how you can contribute to the company.

Interview Preparation: Familiarize yourself with common interview questions in Japan. Practice humility and respect, key traits valued in Japanese business culture.


Strategies to Find Internships in Japan


University Resources: Many universities have study abroad or international office programs with connections to internships in Japan. These can be a great starting point.

Zentern Internships: we specialize in placing international students in internships across various fields in Japan. We provide support and guidance throughout the process and your internship is guaranteed meaning that when you sign up, you can already book your tickets to Japan!

Online Portals: Websites dedicated to international careers often list internship opportunities in Japan. Regularly checking these can provide leads to potential positions.

Social Media: Platforms like LinkedIn and even Instagram can be useful for networking and discovering internship opportunities.

Professional Forums and Blogs: Engage with online communities related to working in Japan. These can provide insights and potential leads for internships.


Internship Success Story


Meet Maisha from the USA who has completed her internship in Japan:

“After exploring numerous Japanese internship placement companies, Zentern stood out for their comprehensive support. The excitement and information provided in every interview heightened my anticipation for the internship in Japan. Besides the placement, Zentern offered Japanese language lessons and organized trips, like a memorable visit to Kamakura, deepening my appreciation for Japan’s rich history. The internship at a burgeoning startup allowed close interaction with the CEO, offering insights into establishing a business in Japan as a foreigner. This experience didn’t just enhance my professional trajectory; it inspired me to pursue an MBA in Japan.”


Start your internship adventure!


Embarking on an internship journey in Japan is more than a career move; it’s a life-changing experience that opens doors to understanding a unique culture, building international networks, and developing a global perspective. Whether you’re looking to dive into the corporate world of Tokyo or explore startups in Osaka, Japan offers a plethora of opportunities for growth and discovery.


Take the Next Step with Zentern


Ready to embark on your Japanese internship adventure? As a local agency with unparalleled connections, Zentern Internships guarantees internship placements in Japan across various fields. By choosing us, you’re not just securing an internship; you’re opening yourself up to a world of opportunities, and cultural experiences, and accomplishing your life’s goals. With Zentern, a rewarding internship in Japan is not just a possibility; it’s a promise.


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