Amongst those doing a Working Holiday in Japan, there are many common misconceptions and myths about Working Holidays in Japan. These might result from outdated information found on the internet, or from misinterpretation of official texts. The wrong information is then passed from one person doing Working Holidays to another.
But don't worry - this article will bust some of these myths!
Myth 1: On a Working Holiday Visa it is not allowed to work at bars
It is perfectly legal to work at bars, as long as they are "normal bars" that are just selling drinks and not offering any services which are "against the public morals of Japan".
Businesses which are "against the public morals" include for instance gambling, the sex industry and hostess clubs. At such places it is totally illegal, if you are on a Working Holiday visa, to do any kind of work, even if it's not directly as a hostess, prostitute or as gambling service provider. E.g. being a cleaner or a dishwasher at any such establishment is illegal and will certainly result in a fine and deportation, should the police or immigration officers find you working at such establishment.
"Hostess Clubs" are places where usually no sexual services are offered, but there are hostesses engaging in typically flirtatious conversations and providing other entertainment such as singing karaoke with male customers who are paying high prices for drinks. On a first glance, it is not always very obvious for people unfamiliar with such establishments whether a place is a "normal bar" or a "Hostess Club". If you are invited to a job interview or offered a job at a bar, you should have an in-depth look at the kind of customers and other employees it has, and in doubt reject the job. Also, don't easily trust employers running such places who might tell you that the job is perfectly legal for you, which might not be true, either because they don't know about the restrictions of a Working Holiday Visa, or they don't care.
There are also so-called "Host Clubs", which are the equivalent for female customers, employing male hosts. It is of course also illegal to work at such place.
Jobs at "Maid Cafés" (and the equivalent for male customers called "Butler Cafés") are generally allowed, as long as they only sell beverages and food and the services offered don't resemble those of a "hostess" or "host" club.
Myth 2: On a Working Holiday Visa you are only allowed to do part-time work
There is no limitation of the amount of hours you are allowed to work on a Working Holiday Visa. Some employers confuse the Working Holiday Visa with a Student Visa, which has a limitation of 28 hours of work allowed per week.
Myth 3: If you want to leave Japan during the validity of your Working Holiday Visa and you wish to return and continue your Working Holiday, you must go to the immigration office and apply for a Re-entry permit
This information is outdated. Since 2012, if you want to leave Japan during the validity of your Working Holiday visa and you plan to return, at the immigration counters of the airport, when you are leaving, you just have to fill a white form that you find there called "Embarkation card for reentrant". You should mark the box "I am leaving Japan temporarily and will return". The immigation officer will then staple another card into your passport called "Disembarkation card for reentrant". When you return to Japan during the validity of your Working Holiday Visa, at the immigration counters of the airport you should go to the counter which says "Special Re-Entry Permit Holders" where you show your passport with the filled-out Disembarkation card and your Residence Card, and you are allowed to enter and continue your Working Holiday.
Myth 4: You need a person of reference and guarantor in Japan to get a Working Holiday Visa
You don't need a reference and guarantor in Japan, but you can leave those fields blank in the visa application form.
Myth 5: Everyone who has a Working Holiday Visa for Japan can get free Japanese language lessons
This is not true and we don't really know the origin of this myth. There are Community Centres at every city and town in Japan that offer inexpensive (and at some cities even free) Japanese language lessons to foreigners. For some (but not all) cities it is required to be a Resident in Japan to join these lessons. If you hold a Working Holiday Visa, you are a resident, so you can join these lessons, but there are not generally free.
Myth 6: During your Working Holiday, you can travel around Japan cheaply using a Japan Rail Pass for discounted train rides
The Japan Rail Pass for discounted train tickets can only be purchased by tourists. Tourists are people who have either a Temporary Visitor Status (for those nationals for whom there is an exemption of Visa for short-time stays in Japan) or a Tourist Visa (for those nationals who need to apply for a tourist visa prior to their trip to Japan). If you hold a Working Holiday Visa, you are not a tourist, but a resident and therefore you cannot buy the Japan Rail Pass.
Myth 7: Accommodation-wise, it is the cheapest and best option to rent your own apartment in Japan (that you might share with friends you make in Japan who are also on a Working Holiday visa)
Particularly in central locations of Tokyo, where there is a very high demand for apartments, landlords can choose between many people willing to rent an apartment. They will most likely not choose a foreigner who will stay for a maximum of one year and doesn't have a permanent employment contract.
In addition, almost all rental apartments are offered through real estate agents that usually charge a fee of 3 months of rent to the tennant, and many apartments come unfurnished.
The most feasible accommodation option for foreigners who are in Japan on a Working Holiday visa are the so-called "Share Houses".
Myth 8: It is the best option to rent a portable wifi device at the airport to have internet access in Japan
Renting a portable wifi probably only makes sense if you come to Japan for a few days only. For anyone staying longer than that, the cheapest option is to get a Japanese SIM card for your mobile phone. For stays of up to 90 days the choice would be a pre-paid Travel SIM Card, and for longer stays to make a phone contract with a Japanese mobile phone provider.
If you have a support package of World Unite! for your Working Holiday or internship in Japan, they will make arrangements for the best mobile phone/internet access option for you.
Myth 9: You can get a tax refund when leaving Japan for the income tax that your employer has paid for you
You cannot get back the income tax that your employer has paid for you in Japan when you leave Japan after your Working Holiday.
If you have done any pension funds payments in Japan you can get them back when you leave Japan. It is however unlikely that Pension Funds payments were made for you by your employer as this is not a requirement for employees who are on a Working Holiday Visa.
This article was written by Chris Engler, founder of World Unite Japan KK, a company based in Tokyo, providing Working Holiday support services to currently more than 1000 young travellers per year in Japan. You can learn more about World Unite!'s Working Holiday support services in Tokyo.