Support for an Aging Society: Work as a nurse in Japan

Japan’s aging population brings about new needs, one of which would be healthcare and nursing for the elderly. The demographic challenge to the country renders favorable employment opportunities for workers in the practice. Supplemented with lighter immigration restrictions, foreign nurses are given the chance to enter the Japanese workforce.

Table of Contents

Demand surge due to demographic shift

By 2060, it is expected that Japan's elderly population will comprise up to 40% of its population. This impending demographic shift that is gradually unfolding entails a change as well on the workforce that will be in charge of supporting it. In the past decades, Japan opened its doors for skilled foreign workers to fulfill the high demands in the industries; now, Japan welcomes a workforce in the healthcare sector. This includes doctors, practitioners, care givers, and of course, nurses.

※ Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, "Long-Term Care Insurance System of Japan," p.1

        The Japanese government anticipated the trajectory of the aging society. From the late 1980’s up to the early 2000s, various healthcare and welfare programs were enacted that would promote the entry of foreign nurses to the country. And such programs are still being improved and enacted today. It is expected that with the entry of this workforce that a comprehensive care system for the aging population is realized. Nurses will be distributed to healthcare facilities such as hospitals and clinics, home-based nursing, and community-based care facilities.

※ World Health Organization, "Japan Health System Review," p. 85-86

Career for nurses in Japan

A nurse is an individual who provides care for a person with injuries and illnesses. They are also tasked to oversee or assist medical treatments provided to the patient. This overall job description encompasses other related roles such as managing the welfare of an aged person. Currently, the surge for demands of foreign nurses in Japan will be tasked especially to deal with the latter job description. On average, nurses in Japan earn an average of  5.25 million yen annually, where an experienced regular nurse licensed by the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare by taking the national exam is paid approximately 5.86 million yen per year and an associate nurse, who has a license from the prefecture,  is paid an average of 4.81 million yen.  However, these numbers of course depend on years of experience and location. 

※ Heikinnenshu, "Nurse's annual salary" 

Prospective applicants can apply through recruiting firms in their respective countries. For example, in the Philippines, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration has a directory of legitimate human resource firms that arrange employment opportunities to foreign countries such as Japan. The designation may vary depending upon the placement by the recruiting firm. Nurses in Japan can work in a hospital, private or public, and other facilities such as aged care residences and home-based care facilities.

However, applicants should acquire the following qualifications before proceeding with the job. Take note that some of the qualifications are contingent on the training period. Japanese law provides a definite requirement for foreigners who intend to pursue a nursing career in Japan.



To begin with, working as a foreign nurse in Japan is demanding. Nurses undergo years of education and training with the field before acquiring the eligibility for licensure. As provided by Japanese law, foreign nurses can enter the healthcare workforce of Japan if they are able to pass the national nursing examination regardless of their license in their home countries.

Japan’s national nursing examination is basically an assessment for the examinee’s nursing skills and nursing terminology proficiency in the Japanese language. The evaluation aims to gauge the capability of the candidate in managing and performing their roles as a nurse in Japan. However, take note that the element of language proficiency evaluation in this exam is different from the Japanese language proficiency test because it is a separate qualification requirement.

Japanese Language Proficiency

Candidates should acquire high levels of Japanese language proficiency. Before applying for the national nursing examinations, prospective applicants should have at least a JLPT N2 accreditation. This language requirement supplements the highly technical terms used in the nursing profession in Japan. This also prepares the candidates for the national nursing examination. Moreover, it would serve as the primary medium for communication in the workplace. However, in order to enter into the nursing training program in Japan, one would have to only have around a N5 or N4 equivalent.        

To obtain such a qualification, it is recommended to undergo a series of Japanese language studies. For instance, candidates may take a 6-month language course in their country of origin and another 6-month language course in Japan before taking the JLPT examination. Afterward, they can proceed with the program to study for the national nursing examination.

Educational attainment and experience

It is a bare minimum for applicants to graduate from a nursing bachelor’s degree before proceeding with the application. As mentioned earlier, their educational attainment in their origin country acquaints them with the necessary background in the nursing profession in general but licensure certifications won’t matter at all.  Also, experience with the profession is another requirement. Employers require a minimum of 2 years of hospital work experience for prospective candidates.        

Additional Information

For visa requirements, nurses fall under the medical services category provided that they already completed the national nursing examination upon the application for a visa. Nurses under this visa category enjoy the privilege of unlimited visa renewal and indefinite stay in Japan. Meanwhile, there is another path by which nurses can enter Japan, and in this matter, they will be considered as nursing candidates. 

Individuals who are seeking a nursing career in Japan can push through under Japan’s economic partnership agreement or EPA. Currently, there are three countries where Japan established an EPA: Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam. Under this agreement, the respective governments can provide nursing and caregiving workforce to Japan by arranging programs that will send the participants to a foreign country. As part of their program, the participants will be given the necessary support for the acquisition of their certifications (JLPT and national nursing examination). Furthermore, participants under the EPA are considered trainees in their preparatory stage for the certification. While studying, these candidates can work as a part-time nursing assistant in various care and medical facilities.

Once these candidates complete their certification requirements, they are guaranteed an unlimited working visa renewal. On the other hand, take note as well that nurses under EPA may opt to continue as a care worker whenever they fail the national nursing examination. In this case, candidates who failed the examinations can re-apply for a specified skilled worker visa and work as caregivers. Moreover, these candidates can only stay for a maximum of 4 years in Japan, with the countdown starting from the start of the program.


Pursuing a nursing career in Japan is a promising endeavor. Considering the high demand for workers and reasonable compensation, there is good reason to pursue such an opportunity. Notwithstanding the fact thatJapan does not settle for mediocrity at all. Provided the arduous requirements to become one such as the national nursing examination and the strict language requirements, applicants will be tested on their skills and competitiveness for the profession. Nevertheless, it is a remarkable accomplishment and fulfilling job after all.

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