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How to Work & Travel in Japan on a Working Holiday Visa

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Ever wonder what a year living and working in Japan looks like?

I can tell you it has the potential to change your life and to open the door to a whole new world. For me, it was filled with lovely humans, unbelievable scenery and delicious food- but it also came with its own challenges. Living in a different country, with its own culture, traditions, language and rules is something you should be mindful of. 

While living in the Canadian Rockies the gossip from fellow snow junkies was that Japan was powder heaven. And I mean living in Japan, why not? I was ready for an adventure, ready to experience something new and I wanted to be snowboarding.

I want to share some helpful information through my own experience, in hopes that others may start their own story.

Deciding I was going to Japan meant I would have to cover a few basics like:

-Getting my Working Holiday visa sorted 
-Learning when to go & where exactly I wanted to be
-Finding a job
-Saving money before I took off

I took full advantage of my year living in Japan. The Working Holiday Visa allowed me to spend a summer working on a farm in Hokkaido and the winter working on the slopes in Niseko. But, before you can jet off to Japan, you first need to understand how to get a Japanese Working Holiday Visa.

Understanding the Working Holiday Visa

General Requirements:

  • Applicant must be between the age of 18 and 30 (25 in case of some countries)
  • You must hold a passport from one of the following countries Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Iceland, Czech or Lithuania
  • Must be currently residing in his or her country of nationality
  • Must hold sufficient amount of funds
  • Must be in good health
  • Never have been issued a Japanese working holiday visa in the past

First off, you will need a little moola in place to apply for the Working Holiday Visa. This is how I actually got into the country, and hopefully you can too, but to apply for this bad boy you need to have at least US$2,500 in travellers cheques or a bank statement. If you don’t have this yet just start saving, even if its little bits over time.

Gotta start somewhere!

New Zealand and Australia also offer Working Holiday visas as well. The requirements are a bit different for all 3 countries so if you can't get one of the visas, you should try for a different country!

There are a few other requirements for a Working Holiday Visa in Japan, which will vary depending on which country you are a citizen of. Above is a general list, but be sure to check out this link for a more in depth look at eligibility, procedures, and funds required per country. 

A foreigner working and living in Japan walking down the street in the countryside
I got spoiled by those daily views

I am going to go over the process for a Canadian passport holder, so there may be differences depending on your country. 

You need to be living in your home country to apply for this visa. You will have to find the closest Japanese embassy to you and then make an appointment. This will be to submit all necessary documents and to actually apply for the visa.

If you cannot make it to an embassy, I would recommend getting in touch with the nearest office to see what other options they recommend. You may be able to just send everything yourself, however I know they have specific standards on all forms needed to apply. So I went to the embassy in Calgary to be safe.

You’ll want to make an appointment for at least a month before planning on going to Japan. Once you get the visa you have 12 months to activate it. 

The Application Process

Now applying for the visa you’ll need a few different documents. Again, keep in mind this is from the perspective of a Canadian passport holder.

Necessary Documents to Apply

  • Valid Canadian passport
  • Completed visa application form
  • One photo (Approx. 45mm x 45mm, taken within the last 6 months)
  • Personal resume
  • Detailed itinerary of your stay in Japan (form)
  • Letter explaining your reason for applying for a Working Holiday Visa
  • Note from a doctor stating that you are in good health (original note)
  • Return airline ticket or flight itinerary provided by an airline company or travel agency 
  • Canadian dollar minimum amount equivalent to US$2,500 (US$3,500 for a married couple) in travellers cheques or a bank statement.

While getting my visa, I picked up on a few things that might help you out.

Big Tips While Applying

1. They expect this visa to be mainly used as a holiday

This is why they ask for you to have sufficient funds, so while you can legally work, the work is just meant to supplement your funds and not be your main reason for going.

2. The itinerary you submit does not have to be your exact plans

It is a good idea though to include a few places and things you’d like to do. While I worked for most of my time in Japan, I still left plenty of open spaces to travel the country. I suggest you do the same. My favorite place I visited with Osaka. With incredible food, a deep connection to Japanese culture, and amazing places to stay, I'm pretty sure you'll love this city just as much as I did.

3. Buy the cheapest flight out of Japan

When dealing with the flight home, I wasn’t sure when I would actually want to come back. You can ask if instead you can have a higher amount of money in your bank account or do what I did and buy the cheapest flight out of Japan (in my case to Hong Kong) and explain you plan to travel afterwards.

4. Have extra copies of the application ready

They are a bit particular with the paperwork so I recommend printing out extra copies of the visa application. You also will need to send your passport with the paperwork, just be sure you won’t need it during the processing time!

A foreigner working a ski season in Japan doing a handstand in the snow
Having a blast working the ski season

One Year Living in Japan

Ski Season/Winter in Japan

This is an option for someone who loves snow, would like to test out the ski bum lifestyle, or is a die hard shredder. Welcome to your winter in Japan! 

An advantage to this lifestyle is you don’t need a lot of experience for the work and most times accommodation is taken care of. But be prepared for shared houses and drinking- even if your not really participating, it will most likely be around you.

That's part of the culture, be open minded and ready to meet lots of different people from around the world.

Best Ski Resort Location

There are many ski resorts in Japan and many places you can work, but in the end we settled on Niseko/Kutchan area because of the work we were offered and the ease of a bunch of international folk doing the same thing as we were. 

It was a less Japanese vibe but we were still living in Japan and had plans to travel the country afterwards so I felt good with the decision.

The lifts in this area offered night skiing, which meant the lifts were open until 8:30pm and meant snowboarding opportunities everyday. 

Working in Niseko/Kutchan Area

It’s not 100% necessary to lock down a job ahead of time but I personally recommend it. If you're having trouble finding a job in advance, I'd suggest using LinkedIn to find jobs abroad in hospitality.

Since it was my first time moving overseas I wanted something secured. By getting a job I knew I had a place to live, a way to make money, a ski pass, and a house of people to meet. It was a lot less to worry about after that. Plus if you wait until you get to Japan you will have to pay to stay somewhere in the meantime and there is no guarantee of work or at least good work. 

If you go the route I chose and want to get a job ahead of time, you will probably have to do some skype interviews and well as online applications, so have a recent copy of your resume ready to go.

Treat any interviews you get seriously.

Be in a quiet location and know a little bit about the company before the interview, just like you would do for a gig back home. Also, always double check on the time of the interview, as they might schedule it for Japan time but if you’re back home, that’ll be a big difference. When you start looking at where you want to work, don’t be afraid to apply at multiple places, that way you’ll have a better chance securing something. 

The ski season/winter season in Japan starts about the end of November- late March, so you can start applying for jobs from June-September.

There’s a few different industries that hire for ski season and they each have different requirements and places to job hunt. 

We took full advantage of the lift pass

Working in Hospitality

This will be any restaurants, shops, hostels, or hotels in the local area. For a lot of places it is not necessary to speak Japanese, but is always an added touch if you can! I found my job on the Kutchannel, which is a local posting board for jobs and accommodation.

For other resources check:
-Facebook groups like Niseko Winter Staff

-M Group
Hostels/Hotels (contact them directly for job opportunities) 

** It is important to note that visa holders are prohibited from working at bars, cabarets, nightclubs, or gambling establishments.

Ski & Snowboard Instructors/Resorts

Another option for work is if you’re an instructor or want to work at the actual ski resort. There are many companies looking for instructors, as well as positions for ski school or Front of House.

Below is a list of companies that might help you in search of a job:
Rhythm Japan

When you start interviewing, be sure to clarify when you need to arrive, where to go exactly and if accommodation is provided.

I would also ask about the ski pass situation if that is a priority to you, as some companies provide one and others offer shared passes. You can always buy your own though.

A stunning view of the rocky Japan coastline covered in green trees
Exploring more of Japan whenever I had the chance

I ended up working at M Group, which is a hotel and restaurant in the center of Hirafu. I had a shared accommodation, with a meal provided on shift, and a shared ski pass. This ended up being fine for me as a few people in the shared pass decided to buy their own lift passes. I had to arrive before Dec. 1st, as that's when things officially opened and work began. 

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Summer in Hokkaido, Japan

The Working Holiday Visa allows you to stay in Japan for 1 year.

The ski season only covers you with a job and a place to live until April. That will leave you with around half a year left on your visa. As I knew I wanted to take full advantage of the year so I started to look for farming jobs.

I ended up finding a job right near where I was living in winter and things just kind of fell into place. Though most businesses shut down in April until the winter again, there was definitely opportunities to stick around. It was quieter vibes, less people about and well, no more snowboarding.

The season changes and so does the lifestyle, just be prepared if your thinking to stay in Niseko/Kutchan area that it will be totally different in the summer as it is in the winter. 

The Summer Farm Work

A pal of mine passed on this website to find local farm work.

It shows you where the farm would be, if you need to know Japanese, and if they have accommodation. It’s really helpful because as great as Workaway is you don’t get paid through those opportunities. On the other hand, job hunting through the local website meant you were getting paid and possible accommodation. Plus they were unbelievably friendly when helping me apply for the actual jobs.

I ended up with a job at VegetableWorks in Hokkaido, Japan. 

A typical day at work on the farm

Farming is not the only option for work around, but man, did I end up loving it. I really got to connect with the Japanese culture and all the people at the farm. It is proper work though and you will be outside a lot, so that is important to consider. 

They weren’t too strict on how many days you have to work but they appreciated if you could do 3-5 days a week. If you were getting picked up it was a set time from 8am-6pm. I got an hour lunch and proper breaks where they kindly provided drinks, snacks, and of course laughs.

You get paid monthly and you don’t need a Japanese bank account. You’ll also get lots of lovely fresh vegetables, and occasionally a sore back. They even have BBQ days with drinks and the most amazing BBQ that just never seems to end. 

Again I recommend checking out theKutchannel or Facebook groups like Niseko Summer Staff for other opportunities if farming isn’t your thing.

Accommodation in Hokkaido

I took their offer for a shared house accommodation which was about a ten minute drive from the farm, which they provided me a ride to and from. I ended up being able to rent a car for a lot of my time out there so living outside of town wasn’t too bad. 

They do offer pick ups to work from the main town Kutchan, which is also an option to find a place to live. It will be far cheaper in the summer than winter, you just might need to do some looking. It will be easier to do this in the summer after your ski season as you may find others looking for accommodation as well.

In all, I was in Japan for about 10 months. I had those as my main jobs and also helped out some local restaurants part time. I travelled in between working, 1 month backpacking around Japan and another 2 week road trip through Hokkaido.

If you are interested in what I did for those trips connect with me, I would be happy to share tips and stories. Or if you have any additional questions don’t be afraid to get in touch. Now go get lost!


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