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Are you an aspiring accountant, or perhaps a qualified accountant, looking to work in Japan? Starting a career in a different country can be stressful, especially when encountering the unknown. To prepare yourself, learn more about accountancy in Japan and how to establish your career here.
Table of Contents
The accounting field is extremely wide, the broad occupational term “accountant” is insufficient to describe the many specialists within the field. Here are some of the types of accounting positions available in Japan:
A financial accountant has an important role within a company. They overlook the company's financial affairs including expenditures, profits, taxation matters, and more. Familiarity with the company’s financial state is essential to assist the leadership team on how to spend their money wisely.
Also known as a financial advisor, a financial planner helps a company (or individual) in making financial decisions. This may include investment opportunities, budgeting, tax strategizing, and more.
A forensic accountant is investigative in nature. It involves sniffing out fraud and illegal financial transactions like fraudulent insurance claims, money laundering, and embezzlement.
A public accountant is a professional occupation. In Japan, one would need to obtain a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license before being able to practice as a public accountant. Auditing, taxation, financial advice; having a CPA will broaden your career choices. Though the common image of a CPA is to audit and sign-off on financial statements.
Another professional occupation, to be a tax accountant in Japan, one would need to pass the Certified Public Tax Accountant (CPTA ) Examination. Tax accountants are vital to the operation of businesses as they are necessary to prepare and submit financial and tax statements. As a tax accountant, you need to be well acquainted with Japan’s tax laws.
If you’re going to work as an accountant in Japan, chances are you will be looking at financial statements, and eventually probably prepare one yourself. It is never too early to get acquainted with the applicable standards in Japan.
The Accounting Standards Board of Japan (ASBJ) decides on what accounting standards are acceptable in Japan. At present, the 4 applicable accounting standards are:
Japanese Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (J GAAP)
US Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)
International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS)
Japan's Modified International Standards (JMIS)
The IFRS was adopted in Japan back in 2010. Due to the strict eligibility criteria, companies were reluctant to use IFRS. In response, the Financial Services Agency (FSA) amended the relevant Cabinet Office Ordinances to make it simpler to satisfy the criteria in an effort to increase the usage of IFRS.
It seems that the plan worked as according to the EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation, as of 2019 over 30% of companies listed under Tokyo Stock Exchange are using or plan to use the IFRS standard. It is expected that the numbers will continue to increase.
※ The Japanese Institute of Certified Public Accountants, "Accounting Standards" ※ Accounting Standards Board of Japan / Financial Accounting Standards Foundation, “About Japanese GAAP” ※ EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation, “Accounting in Japan”
Unfortunately, if you are intending to pursue an accounting degree in Japan, we regret to inform you that there are no accounting-focused undergraduate courses available in English at present. At most, it would be a business undergraduate course with accounting as one of the subjects or an elective.
This is because generally a Japanese accounting degree implies that the student will be working in Japan.
However, there are English non-degree programmes available for foreigners intending to pursue an accounting career in Japan, like Temple University’s Certificate in Accounting and Finance.
In any case, learning Japanese and taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) will make you more appealing to hiring companies, as well as prepare you for Japan’s CPA or CPTA exams which are in Japanese.
Although it is entirely possible to work as an accountant without these certifications, if you want to become a public accountant or tax accountant, to challenge yourself, then by all means.
Note that the examinations are purely in Japanese, you will require a proficiency level of at least JLPT N2 to be able to understand the content.
To become a Certified Public Accountant in Japan, one must fulfill the following conditions as listed by the Japanese Institute of Certified Public Accountants (JICPA):
Pass the CPA examinations, known as one of the most difficult professional examinations in Japan
Minimum 2 years relevant work experience, like accounting or auditing. This can be done before/after the CPA exams
Completion of 3-years Professional Accountancy Education Program with the Japan Foundation for Accounting Education and Learning (JFAEL)
Pass the final assessment exam consisting of 5 subjects with JICPA
Thereafter, you can be registered as a CPA with JICPA and practice as a full-fledged CPA in Japan.
※ The Japanese Institute for Certified Public Accountants, “Becoming a CPA”
If you want to be a Certified Public Tax Accountant (税理士 Zeirishi) in Japan, you must fulfill the following conditions:
Pass the CPTA examination organized by the National Tax Counsel
Be registered with the Japan Federation of Certified Public Tax Accountants Association as a CPTA
Do note the following:
A lawyer or a certified public accountant is exempted from the CPTA exams
Some of the subjects are exempted if you fulfill certain conditions:
Higher education in accounting or tax law
Long term work experience in the relevant subject
※ Japan Federation of Certified Public Tax Accountants Associations, “Qualifications” ※ Japan Federation of Certified Public Tax Accountants Associations,”Examination” ※ Yamaguchi Takashi Tax Accountant Office, “What is a “Zeirishi” – Japanese tax accountant?”
Other helpful qualifications to jumpstart your accounting career in Japan are as follows:
Vocational course which specializes in accounting
Bookkeeping test Nissho Boki Qualification Test
Now that you know how the accounting field is like in Japan, and how to prepare yourself for it, the next step is where to begin your career. This part will introduce some bilingual accounting firms in Japan, the presence of the Big 4, salary questions, and Visa matters.
Akasaka International Accounting offers comprehensive services like tax filing, bookkeeping, financial advice, company incorporation support, and more. They also cover the human resource side of accounting like payroll, social and labour insurance, year-end tax adjustment, and more.
Multinational corporation Grant Thornton has offices all over Japan with services like auditing, tax management, international tax, financial advice, forensic accounting, corporate governance, risk management, corporate restructuring, market research and more.
HLS Global Co., Ltd
Another multinational corporation with offices in USA, Mexico, India, and Germany. They offer services like accounting (bookkeeping, payroll, social insurance, financial reporting), financial advisory, auditing, legal support & compliance, market entry assistance (market research, business set-up, risk management), tax accounting, and transfer pricing. At time of writing this article, vacancy positions include accounting associate, tax associate, CPA, and CPTA.
If you’re in the accounting industry, you’ve definitely heard of the Big 4 - KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst & Young (EY), and PwC. These multinational accounting giants have offices all over the world, and Japan is no exception. With a large ever growing clientele base, the Big 4 are always looking to hire.
EY has many specialized offices in Japan. For example:
Ernst & Young ShinNihon LLC specializing in accounting, assurance, auditing, and business advisory
Ernst & Young Tax Co. specializing in tax matters including compliance
EY Strategy and Consulting Co., Ltd. specializing in financial planning and management
EY Forensic & Integrity LLC specializing in forensic accounting
They also have non-accounting related offices providing legal services and immigration services. Note that their career website is available in Japanese only.
The Deloitte Tohmatsu Group audit firm was founded in Japan in 1968. Since then it has developed into one of the biggest audit firms in Japan. Deloitte continuously provides quality services like accounting, audit, consulting, risk advisory, tax, legal, and more. Deloitte believes in equal opportunities as reflected in their diverse workforce. For 3 years consecutively, they have won gold and recognized as the top friendliest workplace for the LGBT.
Note that their recruitment website is Japanese only.
※ Deloitte, “Deloitte Tohmatsu Group won Gold Award for 3 consecutive years over “PRIDE Index” –as one of the friendliest companies for LGBT”
Azusa Audit Corporation is the accounting member firm under KPMG Japan. It has around 6,000 employees ready to handle corporate accounting and auditing matters. Aside from KPMG AZSA LCC, they have 6 other member firms, each with their own specialties like tax matters, financial consultation, business transformation, human resource matters, and more.
Note that though their career site is in English, job qualifications require at least business level Japanese proficiency. 2-days or 1-week internships are also available if you would like to experience working in KPMG beforehand.
Just like the other 3 big firms, PwC has offices all over Japan. They provide the same services like accounting, auditing, consulting, advisory, tax, legal, globalization services, international business support, and more. What makes PwC unique from the other Big 3 is their industrial specialization; for example, chemical, engineering, forestry, banking, real estate, and more. They also have a programme called PwC Japan Alumni to establish a professional network even with ex-employees.
Note that some of the career pages are in English only, Japanese only, or bilingual. Business level Japanese proficiency is recommended.
According to official government statistics, in the year 2018 or Reiwa 1, the average annual salary of a CPA and CPTA was approx. 10 million yen.
If working at one of the Big 4, it is expected that annual salary would be around 500,000 yen more than other accounting firms.
※ E-Stat Official Government Statistics, “Basic Survey on Wage Structure”
The visa you require depends on your qualifications:
This visa is limited to foreigners that have achieved the license or qualification to practice in Japan. For example CPA, CPTA, registered foreign lawyer, registered foreign chartered/public accountant, and more. You will have to provide evidence that you hold the qualification, certification, or license when applying for the visa.
It is best to consult with the relevant organization/bodies on whether you are eligible for this visa.
※ Ministry of Justice, “Registered Foreign Lawyer” ※ Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, " Working Visa" ※ Immigration Services Agency of Japan, “Legal and Accounting Services”
This visa is your next option if you do not satisfy the requirements for the legal/accounting services visa. For your information, accounting falls under specialist in humanities.
※ Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, " Working Visa"
If you are able to get this visa, you can enjoy its accompanying perks:
5-years period of stay
Freedom to perform other work activities
Bring family members and domestic worker into Japan
Permission for spouse to work with no time limitation
Can apply for status of Permanent Residence in 3-years instead of 10, or in 1-year if you have earned enough points
Note that you can apply for this visa at any time - you can convert your existing visa to this visa.
※ Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, "Highly Skilled Professional Visa"
If you are intending to pursue an education.
※ Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, "General Visa - Student" ※ Embassy of Japan in the United States of America, "Work (Legal/Accounting Service)" ※ Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, "Work or Long-term stay"
I cannot speak Japanese, can I still get a job as an accountant in Japan?
It is possible if you are lucky enough to be hired at a company with an English team. However, this may limit your career growth and choices as most companies would prefer a candidate to have at least JLPT N2 (business-level) proficiency Japanese.
Is my US CPA useful in Japan?
Yes, even if you do not take the Japan CPA, having an accounting qualification will make you look good in the eyes of recruiters. Not to mention there are a lot of accounting firms that have gone international, so they will need your English communication skills with US CPA certification as an extra bonus. In fact, there are plenty of foreign accountants in Japan that have given up on the Japan CPA and taken the US CPA instead.
Establishing a career as an accountant in Japan is no easy feat, especially considering the language barrier. Even so, if you really want to experience life in Japan, it will be a rewarding experience. As a last tip, keep in mind that some accounting firms support their employee’s growth by covering examination costs if you pass, providing study leave, and book allowances.
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