Working in Kyoto

Updated 2022-12-23 08:31

Do you dream of working in Kyoto? The ancient capital of Japan is indeed a fascinating place that attracts millions of tourists every year. While COVID abruptly halted the flow of tourists, it is gradually picking up again with the official reopening of the borders. Visiting Kyoto during vacations and working there are, however, two different things. How do you find a job in Kyoto? How easy is it for foreigners? How open is the local labor market? Let's take a look at how to get a job in Japan's ancient imperial city.

Mapping Kyoto

Kyoto is located in the Kansai region, on the main island of Honshu. It is the eponymous capital of the Kyoto prefecture. Ideally located in the center of Japan, it is, with Osaka and Nara, the second tourist destination after Tokyo. However, the city is regularly put to the test, especially during the summer season. With a population density of more than 2,400 inhabitants per km2, Kyoto had a population of 1.5 million in 2018. But the situation is far worse in the Tokyo megalopolis, which concentrated 7,394 inhabitants per km², for 12.6 million inhabitants in 2018.

With 11.9% of the GDP, Kyoto is the 3rd largest economy in Kansai. It is, however, far behind giant Osaka, which accounts for 44.6% of its prefecture GDP and Hyogo (23.8%).

A historical capital city

The two ideograms forming the name of the city literally mean "capital city". This is exactly what Kyoto has been for centuries. The emblematic tourist city of Japan has been for 1,000 years the capital of the Land of the Rising Sun (until the second half of the 19th century). Today, it still carries the memory of Japan's imperial history. The city made sure to preserve the nation's heritage, traditions and art.

However, Kyoto has not always been so-called. At the time of its creation, it was called "Heian-kyô", the capital of "peace and tranquility". But it became, on the contrary, a city defaced by wars until the arrival of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who managed to unify the country. He is the second unifier of Japan (the first is Oda Nobunaga, and the third Leyasu Tokugawa). From this reunification, Kyoto, the "capital city" was born.

A patrimonial city

Even today, the ancient imperial city retains the marks of its illustrious past. One rarely comes to work in Kyoto by chance. Everything bears witness to the rich history of the former imperial capital. Shrines, temples, Japanese gardens, etc. Many of its monuments are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Kyoto has more than 2,000 temples, among which the famous Golden Pavilion, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Visitors flock to Kyoto to discover this cultural treasure.

Since June 10, 2022, foreigners have been back to Japan, much to the relief of the city's business owners, after being deprived of tourists due to the health crisis. The ancient capital of Japan is indeed a must-see destination for tourists. In 2020, Kyoto even surpassed Tokyo, which has held the top spot for the past 4 years. This is how Kyoto became the best big city in the world as per Condé Nast Traveler ranking, a major luxury travel magazine.

But living in Kyoto is hardly comparable to the tourist experience. To relocate to the ancient imperial city is to embrace a bit of its culture, and a bit of Japanese history.

Can one really live and work in Kyoto?

Opinions are mixed. Expatriates who have tried the experience speak of a peaceful life in Kyoto outside the tourist season. But working is something else. The job market in Kyoto is not the same as in Tokyo or even Osaka. Job offers are rather scarce, especially for a foreigner who is looking for a regular job (a seishain contract). Unless you already work in Japan, are a digital nomad, or are just looking for a side job (baito), you should think carefully before settling in Kyoto.

Japanese people are the first to question the situation. Many websites list the advantages and disadvantages of living in Kyoto.


There is little information about job offers and/or possibilities to find a job, an internship or a job. First of all, let's remember that there is Kyoto, the city, and Kyoto, the prefecture. This is an element that all websites insist on, as if to underline that life outside the ancient imperial city is quite possible.

Benefits of living in Kyoto

Kyoto offers a unique living environment. Nature lovers, history enthusiasts, and those who seek peace and quiet will find it to their liking. Parents and children alike will benefit from a good school system in the heart of historical sites. In fact, Kyoto is also a popular student city. Despite its past, it is far from being stuck in history.

Moreover, the past and the history are part of the city's present life and meet the new economic challenges, starting with the upgrading of the historical sites to accommodate all populations. And there is the redesign of the transportation system to cope with the influx of foreigners during the vacation periods.

Many cultural events punctuate the different seasons. Cafés, restaurants, and other spaces are all exciting meeting points. All the conditions seem to be met to live well in Kyoto.

Drawbacks of living in Kyoto

What about work? Of course, jobs in the tourism sector are the first to come to mind. There are, indeed, regular job offers, especially during vacations, but they are usually intended for foreigners who move to Japan on a work-study or study visa, looking for odd jobs. Life changes radically during vacations, so much so that Japanese websites list the areas to avoid for accommodation.

On the one hand, tourists support the local economy and show their interest in the culture. On the other hand, the capital of Kyoto Prefecture is too small to accommodate such a large number of people who, in addition, all tend to visit the same places. Those who live in Kyoto all year round regret the almost omnipresent noise, away from the calm that should result from visiting the cultural monuments. All these accumulated inconveniences impact living conditions there.

Crowded transportation

Transportation in Kyoto, which is scarce compared to Osaka or Tokyo, is often crowded and not always on time. In 2015, the local authorities embarked on a vast project to improve the transportation network with the integration of more buses with extended schedules, more bicycle lanes and pedestrian paths to ease the traffic and combat pollution. But COVID-19 has put the brakes on this ambitious project. In fact, the absence of tourists has put Kyoto's finances in the red and consequently, the government's new priority has been to revitalize Kyoto by appealing to businesses and young people. Paradoxically, it was during the COVID that the inhabitants were able to rediscover the calm of Kyoto. The authorities still have to find a balance between the necessary tourist market and the preservation of the local lifestyle.

The labor market in Japan

With an unemployment rate that remains below 3% despite the crisis, the Japanese labor market could be envied. But be warned: behind these good figures lies a growing precariousness, which affects women in particular. The Japanese labor market remains very unequal.

Consequently, the low unemployment rate is largely explained by the increase in precarious contracts: small jobs (baito), fixed-term contracts (keiyakushain), and temporary contracts (hakenshain). With COVID, the number of self-employed people, which had been decreasing steadily for a few years, has increased. But here again, this is more an effect of job insecurity rather than a real desire for non-salaried activity. It is worth noting that most people in Japan have to combine two activities for a living (a job and a self-employed activity).

To immigrate permanently to Japan, you will need a permanent job (seishain contract). It is this employment contract that will allow you to obtain a work visa. The seishain contract (permanent employment) generally reassures the Japanese authorities.

The most prominent employment fields in Kyoto

Major companies in Kyoto

Many large companies like Panasonic, Hitachi, IBM, Ritz-Carlton, Apple, Uniqlo, JET Program (exchange and education program, promotion of Japanese culture), Starbucks, NTT (telecommunications), AEON and Gaba Corporation (language schools, specializing in English), AIG (insurance), Texas instruments, Line (social network, hardware development), Nintendo and the list goes on, have made Kyoto their home. These big companies operate in many different sectors. AThis a good starting point for foreign talents looking for a job in Japan.

Working in a language school is, therefore, not the only option for living in Kyoto. Of course, these schools are still big expat job providers, especially if you are an English teacher. There is less demand, however, for teachers of French or other languages. But be also aware that you will need to have an expert level, justified by diplomas.

Manga, animation and video game professions

Animation enthusiasts are probably aware that Kyoto Prefecture is home to the famous Kyoto Animation Studio (KyoAni). The legendary studio was the target of an arson attack that claimed 35 lives in 2019, but was supported by other animation studios in the region. KyoAni has since resumed its operations and has launched a recruitment campaign between June 17 and July 13, 2022. The announcement, posted on Twitter and on the website of Kyoto animation studio, was entirely in Japanese.

Hence the importance of mastering the Japanese language to increase your chances of being recruited. More than just another line on your resume, mastering Japanese will prove your capacity to integrate. In Kyoto, even more than in Tokyo, English speakers are rare (except in the tourist and international fields). Even if they are numerous, it is important to make an effort to speak the local language.

When Nintendo Recruits

Nintendo, the historical video game giant, is regularly looking for new talent. In June 2022, it launched its new Nintendo internship program. The page of its article redirects to Careers Nintendo, where you can apply online. Unfortunately, it's about Nintendo America. The proposed positions are all in the United States. To apply on the Japanese site, you have to go to There again, almost everything is in Japanese.

Is Kyoto an attractive city for digital nomads?

Why not try your luck as a digital nomad? Since the job market in Kyoto seems to be rather limited, foreigners are jumping at the chance to create their own ccompanies Contrary to European or Latin American countries, Japan does not yet have a "digital nomad" visa. But it is possible to immigrate to the country with an "investor/business manager" visa. This investor visa allows you to create or transfer your business to Japan. You are your own sponsor and can therefore work legally on the territory. This visa will allow you to access the status of individual entrepreneur (kojin jigyo).

What about a digital nomad visa in Kyoto?

There are some prerequisites to applying for this visa, however. You must earn more than 3,000,000 yen per year (more than 21,700 euros). You need to prove what kind of job you have and show your contracts and any other document justifying your activity.

Good to know:

Japanese immigration will check your activity after one year, to renew or not your visa.

Digital nomads living in Kyoto appreciate the city's balance between natural and cultural spaces (ancient or modern) and its economic dynamism. Word of mouth does the rest. Indeed, expatriates are more than happy to share their good addresses and ideas for co-working spaces, like Impact Hub Kyoto or Oinai Karasuma amongst others.

How to find a job in Kyoto?

Finding a job in Kyoto is not easy, but it is not impossible either. Put all the chances on your side with a well-built CV. Get in touch with organizations such as foreign Chambers of Commerce and Industry. By becoming a member, you will have access to their resources. Attend professional events. If you are not yet in Japan, start looking at job offers as soon as possible.

Consider everything else as well: daily life, accommodation, transportation, etc. How long do you intend to stay? Is the job you want to do in Kyoto in demand? What kind of visa do you need? Are you moving to Tokyo for an internship, a job, or for studies? Answering these questions will help you refine your quest and obtain more precise information.

Living and working in Japan

Japan is huge, and Tokyo is not Japan. Choosing a place to live is only the beginning of the adventure. This choice can change as you progress in your project. But to better plan your move, start by taking stock of your situation.

What are your qualifications? Does the job you are looking for require any special skills? Do you have extensive experience? Having a university degree recognized in Japan will enhance your CV. If you don't have a degree, you can compensate with more extensive experience (10 years for a work visa if you don't have a bachelor's degree). A job without any degree is, however, an additional barrier on the way to employment. Even if this compels you to postpone your project, consider resuming your studies to make your dream come true.

Live like the locals and follow the advice of Japanese organizations regarding conditions of recruitment in Japan. Consider the presentation of the CV (mastering the Japanese CV), the dress code, and so on. If you are studying Japanese at school, your school may have a business course, which prepares you for the job market. Follow this preparation to be more comfortable in job interviews. Even without going to school, you can also get coaching from a professional community or recruitment agency.

Learn Japanese seriously. Getting a work visa in Japan is very challenging, even more so if you don't speak Japanese. Some foreigners complain that Kyoto people do not speak enough English. But put yourself in their position and in that of the recruiters. Who should make an effort to speak the local language? Japanese tourist regions are gradually improving bilingual signage (in transportation, restaurants, hotels, museums, etc.). But don't rely solely on it. You will quickly find yourself confronted with the language barrier.

Useful links (in English, unless otherwise stated):

Kyoto migration project (in Japanese)

Job park, Kyoto Prefecture website (in Japanese)

Glassdoor (in Japanese)


Gaijinpot job listings


Kyoto Jobs

Kyoto Prefecture International Center

Hello work Kyoto (the Japanese Employment Centre)

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