10 Surprising Ways to Make Money in Japan Without Speaking a Word of Japanese

Are you an American dreaming of working and living in Japan, but worried your lack of Japanese language skills will hold you back? Don’t let the language barrier stop you from pursuing your goals.

With some creativity and resourcefulness, there are actually many ways you can find work and earn an income in Japan, even if you don’t speak much or any Japanese.

Here are 10 paths to consider:

1. Teach English

One of the most common jobs for native English speakers in Japan is teaching English. You can work at private language schools, public schools through programs like JET, or even do private tutoring. While some Japanese ability helps, many entry-level teaching jobs don’t require it.

2. Work remotely for a US/European company

If you have in-demand skills like programming, design, writing, etc., you may be able to keep your current job or find a new remote position and work from Japan. You’ll earn a salary in dollars or euros, which goes further with the current exchange rates.

3. Find jobs on US military bases

Americans connected to the US military and living on bases can often find work on-base, such as administrative jobs, childcare, retail and food service positions. The jobs are often posted on base job boards.

4. Do freelance/project-based work online

Platforms like Upwork and Fiverr allow you to find freelance gigs that you can complete from anywhere. Translate documents, do graphic design, write articles, edit videos, etc. You set your own rates in your preferred currency.

5. Work at foreigner-friendly cafes, restaurants and shops

Some businesses in bigger cities and tourist areas prefer to hire foreign staff who can interact with the many foreign customers. Japanese ability requirements are often lower. Try applying directly or looking on foreigner-focused job boards.

6. Be an extra in TV/movies

There’s demand for Western extras for TV shows, movies and commercials filmed in Japan. The jobs are sporadic but pay decently. Look for casting calls online or via foreigner communities.

7. Leverage any special skills you have

Use any niche skills or expertise to your advantage. Are you an experienced yoga teacher, software developer, or fintech professional? Some Japanese companies may be willing to hire you for your specific skillset even if your Japanese is limited. Research companies in your field.

8. Be a brand ambassador/model

Some Japanese brands hire foreign models or brand ambassadors for events, ads, websites, etc. to give their brand an international vibe. Usually they want a certain “look” more than Japanese skills.

9. Work at international companies in Japan

International companies with offices in Japan, especially in Tokyo, are more likely to have English-speaking workplaces. Explore job openings at foreign corporations, focusing on roles that interact with global stakeholders.

10. Intern or volunteer to gain experience

Consider taking an internship or volunteer role in your field to gain experience, make connections, and prove yourself. Some may provide housing or stipends. It can lead to fuller-time paid opportunities down the line.

The most important things are to be proactive, network extensively both online and in-person, and make the most of your existing skills and experience. Keep studying Japanese on the side, but don’t let it stop you from starting your job search now. With persistence and an open mind, you may be surprised at the opportunities you can create.

User Comments:

“I’m an American programmer and I’ve been working remotely for a Silicon Valley tech company while living in Tokyo for the past year. Best decision ever! My salary goes so much further here.”

“My first job in Japan was at a European beer garden in Roppongi. My Japanese was so-so but I got to meet people from all over. That led me to my next gig at an international recruiting firm. You never know where those first jobs might take you!”

“I taught English in Japan for 3 years through the JET program. You don’t need Japanese at first but it’s a great chance to learn. And you get to make a real impact on your students’ lives. An amazing way spend time in Japan.”

“One hidden gem is looking for jobs that involve more behind-the-scenes work, like copywriting, video editing, etc. for Japanese companies marketing to the West. They need native English skills more than Japanese skills.”

“If you’re in Tokyo, spend time in foreigner-dense areas like Shinjuku, Shibuya, Azabu-Juban etc. Become a regular at restaurants, cafes and bars. Get to know the owners and staff, and let them know you’re looking for work. Personal connections go a long way.”

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