Jun 14, 2019

Inbound tourism and media jobs in Japan: Skills required

Inbound tourism and media jobs in Japan: Skills required photo

There has never been a better time to find media jobs in Japan in the inbound tourism sector. With tourist numbers in Japan soaring, spending at an all-time high, and an Olympics on the horizon media organizations, in particular, can’t make enough content or sales, for themselves or clients, as they battle for the inbound riches … maybe before it all dries up after Tokyo 2020. 

The numbers don’t lie, and those foreigners already living and working in Japan will not be surprised to see foreign tourist numbers up by nearly 9 percent to 31.19 million in 2018, according to reports from the Japan Tourism Agency. A record-high spending by said tourists of 4.51 trillion yen ($41.5 billion), and the Japanese government targeting 40 million foreign visitors annually by 2020, when the Olympics and Paralymipcs rolls into Tokyo, would indicate that the inbound tourism market in Japan is a significant one, and plenty of companies and organizations want a piece of it.

The problem facing many of these Japanese companies and organizations though, is that they don’t know how to get it. So, they hire others to help them -- inbound tourism media specialists and their teams of creators, marketers, and consultants most of whom, if they take their task seriously at all, will have foreign staff or freelancers working in Japan, among their ranks.

This could be you. With the right set of skills, opportunities for working in Japan, maybe even starting a career, with media targeting Japan’s inbound tourism markets and offspring industries are plentiful now (written with a nervous eye on the situation post-Olympics). 

Here we look at the skills required for working in Japan with media in Japan’s inbound sector.


Shooting / editing film, photography

Appearing in front of camera

Social media skills

Sales, sales-support skills


Getting connected

Fluency in Japanese

A solution to Japan’s inbound-tourism challenge

The media skills are listed in no particular order.

Skill 1: Can you write copy targeted to inbound tourism?

Perhaps the easiest way into media jobs in Japan is through writing. Japan’s appetite for written content in order that it might get noticed on the web, seems to know no bounds. New websites shouting about the appeals of the country pop up with alarming regularity. In short, Japan needs writers, so those who can bash out some well-written prose should find the pickings rich. At least in terms of freelance writing work.

So the question is, “Can you write?” To which the answer isn’t as straightforward as one might think -- standards and purpose vary.

Inbound tourism and media jobs in Japan: Skills required photo

Without mentioning any names there are a myriad of websites up and running focused on Japan’s inbound tourism market. Much of these are likely filled with content provided by freelance writers, working in Japan, for whom the going rate for one article is around 2,000 - 3,000 yen. In this field expect plenty of articles focused on personal experience masquerading as expertise -- “10 things you must do in Kyoto,” “5 reasons why Nikko should be on your Japan itinerary,” et al. 

“Craigslist” might be a good place to start looking for writing work like this. 

Larger web-based media in Japan have the budget, the branding, and the years on the job, such that any old dross they might turn out will likely make it to the upper echelons of an internet search.  

Startups and newer media platforms, on the other hand, will almost certainly have a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy as a weapon in their growth arsenal. Those who know their way around this will be in possession of an important skill set when it comes to working in Japan as a writer, particularly for online platforms targeting inbound tourism markets. And honestly, those who do know their SEO, will perhaps be staggered by how easily some organizations in Japan are impressed when they have it explained to them. 

“Shuzai” (取材) is a term that the prospective writer seeking media jobs in Japan should, and hopefully will, become familiar with. The translations or usages of the term shuzai have some scope -- to go out and interview someone, to do the relevant research, to cover an event or incident, to get quotes.

Writers who A) know about this, B) appreciate its importance C) have the language skills to do it in Japanese and D) are able to demonstrate it (through experience, qualifications and writing samples) should really be looking at writing jobs outside of the “10 instabae spots in Tokyo,” genre. That said, these skills can be acquired and those writers looking for full-time media jobs in Japan should aim to acquire them. 

Flexibility is vital. The inbound tourism writer in Japan should expect to be called upon to write copy for in-depth articles, top 10 lists, catchy advertising, interviews, how tos, social media posts, click bait, even restaurant menus. 

A quirk facing many writers working in Japan is that, in many cases, the copy they submit will come under the scrutiny of someone who probably can’t read it, or at least can’t read it very well.  

There are pros and cons to this. Yes, standards might not be so high and one can often get away with flexing creative muscles and push through turns of phrase that might otherwise be rejected. A downside though is having to suffer the indignity of having your text picked apart by someone barely literate in the language.  

Be prepared to bite your lip as you explain the meaning behind phrases and words ad infinitum.

Skill 2: Can you handle a camera?

Key things that elevate the filmmaker, and to a lesser extent the photographer, above other inbound-content creators in Japan, especially when it comes to working with clients and partners targeting inbound tourists, are knowhow, equipment, and logistics.

Inbound tourism and media jobs in Japan: Skills required photo

Hiring / finding writers, social media managers, translators e.t.c. is easy enough and cheap enough for many companies, organizations and authorities across Japan. In fact, they may already have the resources in place.  

Getting video made from storyboarding / scripting, location hunting, and production, through the shoot itself and onto editing and post-production is a hurdle too high for many. So they pay others to do it for them. The ability of an inbound media team in Japan to make film, and at a reasonable price, can prove very important.

For people looking for media jobs in Japan’s inbound tourism market then, being able to contribute to the film-making process, at whatever level, could prove similarly important. Those who can handle a camera and use editing software in Japanese might find themselves especially welcome.  

Inbound tourism and media jobs in Japan: Skills required photo

Photography, also, is a useful skill to possess -- not just the on-location aspect but also the post-production.  

Let’s stress this again though. It’s one thing to be able to whip up a nice image of Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera, playing around with some HD filtering in your spare time, it’s another thing entirely to be sent to an event where celebrities are posing under flashing lights, or a PR shoot for which money has changed hands and clients are expecting great shots. 

Of course, a lot of inbound tourism-focused media in Japan, when it comes to images for articles, will simply lift them from other websites (regardless the copyright infringement) or just make do with embedding someone else’s images from an Instagram account. The bigger the media brand though, the higher the risk of such practices. Knowing where to source, and how to credit, photos for articles could be a welcome skill then -- or at least one that will save the writer sleepless nights worrying about copyright claims. 

Better still, have the skills to take your own.

Skill 3: Are you comfortable being in front of the camera?

Oh, how the Japanese are camera shy! Yes, notice the gaping silence that fills a room when your Japanese colleagues are asked to be in front of a camera, however briefly. Either that or see how they bat away the suggestion with exasperated giggles before quickly pointing to the foreigner in the room. Yes, you! The writer, the translator, the consultant. The … whatever.  

About the only thing that might save you from such a fate is being the only one capable of operating said camera (but even then, the suggestion might be made). 

Showing willing and calm when it comes to speaking into a video camera is a good skill set to have if looking for media jobs in Japan, particularly with an inbound tourism team. Being able to remember lines, improvise, and show nice character (and hygiene), and do so with the general public walking past, even better. 

Some of this writer’s personal highlights of being in front of the camera while working in Japan .. 

The time I underwent teeth-whitening and had my coffee-stained gnashers revealed to YouTube courtesy of a very unflattering lip-spreading device (complemented by a massive set of radiation shades). Footage that was last spotted on some dodgy video sharing platform in Vietnam (I know this because during a chance encounter with a Vietnamese lady here in Japan I was pointed out as the guy from that video).

Having to do a bon odori (traditional Japanese summer dance) in front of the camera, and a host of festival goers, wearing traditional costume and not having a clue about the moves. Not even drinking on the job could null the embarrassment.  

Being filmed in my birthday suit taking a morning bath on a cold morning in a cold location in the cold mountains outside of Tokyo. It was cold, if you get what I’m saying. 

In all seriousness though, ability, and willing, to perform in front of the cameras could lead to some fun experiences working in Japan for an inbound media team. At least consider it.

Skill 4: Have you got a social-media following?

As horrific as it might be to think of young minds harboring the ambition to be “an influencer,” they are onto something. Here in Japan, any inbound tourism sales team worth its salt will have, ‘throw money at an influencer to mug up to the camera in front of location A and tell everyone on YouTube how super it is,’ as part of their strategy.  

Of course, to be an influencer in this sense is kind of a separate genre of work all together. No, by “having a social-media following” we are really targeting those whose ambition is to write, and to shoot / edit film for inbound media, on a regular basis. Showing that you have even a half-substantial following on one of the marquee social media platforms will be seen as a good thing. But not essential, thankfully.

Perhaps implicit in having a social-media following is a certain degree of social-media savvy. And this is arguably more important for those eyeing-up media jobs in Japan. 

Regional governments and authorities in Japan sometimes foreigners living and working in Japan, in their employ as “ambassadors.” This could be you -- getting to travel around the area taking part in events and experiences on the city-tax-payer’s dollar -- if you can create compelling posts on social media channels.

Skill 5: Can you make a sale?

Media jobs in Japan aren’t always about creating content. In fact, it’s all very well being able to pen a nice article, shoot film, maybe even establish an entire media platform or publication, but if you can’t sell it … 

Yes, here’s a brutal truth, all those creatives working in Japan that throw around and pin up the term “omotenashi” -- the special Japanese sense of hospitality that is so nuanced not even the Japanese know what it means -- well, their own sense of “omotenashi” is only extended as far as they can make money out of it.

Of course, the larger media organizations hold resources and budget to the extent that they can make a clear separation between sales and product. The sales team does the selling and everyone else makes the product that they sell -- a crude simplification.

Working in Japan for smaller media teams though, means everyone having to turn their hand to a variety of skills and tasks. Including sales.

Of course including sales! That 4.51 trillion yen in foreigner-tourist spending in Japan mentioned at the top of this piece, that’s the raison d'être for any inbound tourism media in Japan that wants to make it to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.  

At the very least it pains the creative members of an inbound media team to at least understand and be aware of the sales targets. Not that this will save them from the hectering of some colleagues whose zeal to make a sale seems to leave them unaware that if sales is all that everyone in the team does, there will be no more product or service left to sell.  

If you like doing sales, great! For those fluent in Japanese opportunities for jobs in sales in the inbound market may be out there, although companies and organizations will naturally target native staff for such positions. Maybe networking will be the best way to find sales work in Japan. Without the language skills though, foreigners working in Japan as part of a sales team may be limited to a supporting role with the sales process from pitch to close likely out of reach.

Still, sales support should be well within reach -- presenting ideas, approaching foreign (potential) clients, knocking-up presentation documents, and acting as a consultant for sales staff who may have been quickly thrown onto an inbound tourism team, and thus might not have experience working with foreign markets, customers and clients.

Skill 6: Patience

Targeting media jobs in Japan? Be patient. The route into this field may well start as something freelance. If you can stick at it and prove your value, full-time positions and early-stage careers may present themselves.

Patience is surely a virtue in any line of work but let’s highlight key areas where it proves its worth once you really get into working in Japan’s inbound media industry.

Work in this field often comes with clients and partners that take the shape of a local authority or government. While on an individual level their representatives may or may not be very nice, warm, funny people, as a collective body such organizations have almost no sense of humor or irony.

Where this comes into play for the foreigner making content for them is that they really do have no sense of humor, and even less sense of risk. This often comes at the expense of the quality of product one creates for them. To be fair, such organizations are in a constant state of fending of complaints and trying to cause as little offense as possible.  

So, be prepared for plenty of back-and-forth as representatives pick apart your articles and videos looking for anything that might cause the slightest offence or result in headaches for the lawyers. 

“Gaikokujin wa dou omou?” -- “What do foreigners think about this?” Any foreigner living and working in Japan will have long become tired of this mantra -- a reflection that, in the eyes of many Japanese, they are the default representative for just about anything and everything that goes on beyond these shores.

It can’t be helped to a certain extent. Here in Japan, you’re foreign, they’re not. So, if a foreigner’s opinion is sought … 

But it can lead to frustration, the seeming assumption that you (let’s say you’re British for now) know more than your hosts about what Japan travel itinerary someone from, say, Brazil would enjoy most. Perhaps the best you can do is have a stab at an answer but qualify it with a degree of uncertainty based on gaping gaps in geography and culture.

Skill 7: How connected are you?

For anyone working in Japan, having some sort of professional network to call upon is always a plus. In the inbound media world this could simply be a matter of having friends. Foreign ones. I don’t, at least not those that I want to inflict my work on. But still, the ability to rally friends in Japan to the cause of supporting whatever inbound media you work for may well come in handy. One should at least be ready for Japanese colleagues to ask, “Do you have any friends who might be interested in this event / tour / promotion / campaign …. ?” And who knows, you could be the friend they then turn to in their hunt for media jobs in Japan

Even better than foreign friends are foreign friends who are influencers on social media. If you have the ear of some YouTubing couple with hundreds of thousands of subscribers, and you can pair this will some of the skills above, well, you’ll be snapped up for inbound-tourism media jobs in Japan. 

For people reading this outside of Japan, connectivity may be a challenge. However, once on these shores and working in the inbound industry, it will likely pay to get out and mingle, in inbound media circles.  

Talks, parties, panel discussions, exhibitions -- use these to build up a portfolio of industry connections. This could be for the benefit of the media you work for, your own career development in Japan, or even just for knowing what your competitors are up to.  

For those currently looking for media jobs in Japan, such events could also prove fruitful.

Skill 8: Fluency in Japanese (particularly speaking and reading)

Fluency in Japanese is a great skill for any foreigners working in Japan to possess. 

For those foreigners looking for media jobs in Japan with an organization or team that is small in size, being able to speak Japanese pretty fluently, and read it with a little help from a translation app or software, is perhaps essential.  

Obviously there is the ability to communicate smoothly with Japanese colleagues - something which will make working in Japan a more fruitful experience for any foreigner. More than this though, the language skills will mean being able to turn one’s hand to translation (English to Japanese) -- press releases and materials for clients, for example. 

It will also allow one to keep more up-to-date with the latest news and trends in Japan, which typically hit the press in Japanese before they do in any other language. 

Press tours, press conferences, opening events, interviews, conventions - doing coverage of this kind, in most cases, will be very hard without a decent grasp of Japanese.

Skill 9: Do you have an answer to this question?

“How can Japan get the foreign tourists out of already overcrowded marquee locations -- Kyoto, parts of Tokyo, Nikko, Nara, the Mt. Fuji area -- and into more regional, off-the-beaten path destinations suffering from depopulation?” 

Yes, the world already knows where the top 10 photogenic spots in Kyoto are -- and on any given day, it can seem like half the world has descended on them. No, perhaps the greatest challenge facing Japan’s inbound tourism sector, and the media teams working within it, is how to persuade tourists to seek their travel thrills in less-visited parts of the country.

If you’ve creative thinking to lend to this, inbound media jobs in Japan may be much easier to come by.  

All of the above

Being able to write might get you into freelance work relating to inbound tourism. Being able to shoot and edit film might get you into freelance work. Being charismatic in front of a camera might get you signed-up to an agency for freelance work. Being able to combine a number of the skills above might get you into a media organization and onto an inbound media team, working in Japan full-time and on your way to an interesting (if at times stressful and frustrating) career in Japan’s media sector. 

Being highly specialized in one of the skills above might prove to be enough in the hunt for media jobs in Japan. However, with budgets tight, resources limited, and the hiring process tiresome it’s more than likely that willing and an ability to turn one’s hand to a variety of the skills and tasks detailed above will be favored over specialization in just one. 

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Inbound tourism and media jobs in Japan: Skills required photo



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