Jun 29 2020 What Drives Highly Skilled Foreign Students to Work in Japanese StartUps

A lot of international students come to Japan to pursue their studies for their bachelor’s, master’s, or even doctorate degrees. According to the latest statistics released by the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO), the number of international students in Japan as of May 2019 is 312,214. Among these, 228,403 are pursuing higher education which was a 9.3% increase versus 2018.

This is a huge opportunity to meet the high demand for highly skilled workers in Japan. The issue is of course whether or not those who graduate and finish their respective courses decide to work in Japan, and if they do what their expectations are.

We recently interviewed a student from The University of Tokyo who is currently taking up his second master’s degree in Computer Engineering. Hedi Sellami, who completed his bachelor’s and his first master’s degree in Engineering from one of the top universities in France, is originally from Tunisia. In April 2021 he will be finishing his second master’s degree, so we asked him about his perspective about his future career in Japan.


“When I was taking my 1st master’s degree in France, I did a 2 months internship in a Japanese startup called 4D Sensor. I worked as an image processing engineer, and I thought it was a really cool experience that’s why I wanted to go back to Japan” -Hedi

Hedi had a 2-month internship experience with a Japanese tech startup, 4D sensor, while he was still taking his first master’s degree. This sparked an interest in him to continue his studies and experience life in Japan. He then enrolled to the University of Tokyo through the MEXT scholarship program and is currently in his last year of his degree.

It suddenly became clear to him that doing an internship versus officially working in a Japanese company are very different. He shared with us that during his stay in Japan he learned more about various Japanese work cultures and the traditional work environment. This negatively affected the way he views his future career in Japan. However, according to him he is more likely interested to see opportunities to work in Japan if the company was a Tech Startup. 

According to him, these are the 3 main factors that come into play when foreign highly-skilled students are deciding whether or not they should join a Japanese company:

1.) The projects are interesting and innovative

For them, they are putting a big emphasis on the projects they get to work on. It’s very important that they are inspired and can stay motivated on what they do, especially if they are doing it a thousand miles away from their home country. They want to work on projects that challenge them and at the same time perk their interest.

2.) The company encourages career development

Routine work and cycle tasks at a certain point are not seen as signs of stability, but rather a lack of opportunity to grow professionally. Opportunities within the company in terms of the position and the projects you are exposed to and are presented with are seen as a source of big motivation for international professionals. 

3.) The work culture is flexible

The work culture is the biggest concern of most international professionals. The overworking culture as well as the strict hierarchy within the company are seen as something that would be difficult to adjust to and they seem unreasonable to many foreigners. Although they understand and respect traditional Japanese work culture, they search for Japanese companies that are more up to date and are a firm believer of continuously developing their work culture towards a better one.

Hedi Sellami in photo

Stability and source of income are not the most important for us anymore; but rather having a job that we can enjoy.”-Hedi

Of course while Hedi definitely has many friends who are looking for a meaningful job, that’s not everyone’s priority. Some want a job with a lower stress level that allows them to focus on their passion, while others want a job with more freedom to develop projects they are interested in.

It’s not to say that big companies do not present the following factors, it is just very common that bigger Japanese companies are more traditional compared to startups that are more flexible when it comes to their business structure. 

For International students who are pursuing higher education in Japan, they mostly believe that there is more to life than just having a high salary and a stable job. Most students think that they can find all 3 factors with Japanese Startups, especially in the tech sector. From an international student’s perspective, Tech Startups are the ones that are more motivated to work on their work culture, especially since a lot of foreigners are also working in the Tech Industry. They find motivation and inspiration from working with companies that they believe in and participating in projects that they know impacts the world for the better.


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