Sometimes no matter how much we budget or save, we found ourselves wishing we had just a little bit of extra cash here and there. Most foreigners in Japan are able to make a high enough salary to cover their food, rent, and other basic needs. However, wages in Japan are not always enough to allow you to travel as much as you’d like, or to send large sums back home to pay off debts or other financial obligations.
So, if you’re a fresh grad with student loans looming over your head, or you just want to spend a weekend exploring another prefecture, here are 15 ideas I came up with to help you accumulate some additional money.
Some of these ideas require a bit of time investment, but will pay off in the long run. Others are quick and easy enough for you to start making money as soon as you finish reading this!
The key to making extra cash in Japan (or anywhere else for that matter) is to not put all of your eggs in one basket, and instead try to utilize as many different resources as possible.
I’ll start with some of the more common ways foreigners in Japan increase their funds, and gradually delve into the lesser known ones at the end of this article!
1. Teach Private Lessons
Just about the first thing everyone thinks of when they want to make more money is teaching private English lessons. But, why limit yourself to just English? Japanese people travel all around the world, and there is a great demand for other languages. You may come into contact with a housewife that wants to learn French before her family’s vacation to Paris.
A university student may wish to seek your help before studying abroad for a year in Germany. There may be a young aspiring cook that wants to learn from the best chefs in Italy, but is worried about communicating efficiently in the kitchen. The point is, there are other languages that you could teach, and you could make just as much money, if not more, teaching them.
Just make sure your Japanese is at least basic level to help your lessons run more smoothly. Rocket Japanese is a good place to start with.
2. Flip Retro Games and Related Goods
Do you have a love for gaming? Are you knowledgeable about which titles could fetch a high price, but are hard for people living outside of Japan to get their hands on? I have a few friends that regularly scour shops in Akihabara for retro games and systems with the intent of reselling any gems they come across through online stores. Spend a few minutes checking out used goods in stock at shops such as Book Off, Hard Off, or any other equivalent.
Supposedly, this method is becoming more competitive, because retailers have caught on to how much profit their customers are making by marking up the price after snagging them. Some shops are posting rare games and consoles online as soon as they arrive, because they’ve realized how valuable they are to overseas buyers.
It may become harder over time to find good bargains in physical stores, but Craigslist is still a really good resource. Many people often sell games in bundles that could make more money if you’re patient enough to sell each title individually. Also, a lot of people look for trades, so you may be able to get rid of a few games that aren’t worth much or that you’ve grown tired of, in exchange for something worth a higher value.
3. Offer Delivery and Moving Services
Owning a car in Japan is extremely expensive due to inspection fees, parking fees, etc. As a result, most foreigners either can’t afford one, or don’t stay here long enough to warrant spending so much on one. However, people move very often, and look for someone with a vehicle that can help move their belongings from one location to another. This may not even involve heavy furniture or a lot of lifting, but it’s too much for them to take on the train.
You could offer moving services through Craigslist, social media, or forums. You could also offer to play the middleman and deliver goods between people that want to sell or get rid of items, but the buyer has no way of picking them up. I’ve personally paid for someone with a truck to pick up a Muji bed from a woman that was giving it away for free from Craigslist. It was brand new, but she had to leave the country suddenly and didn’t want to pay a disposal fee.
“Sayonara sales” are quite common, and you could make some nice cash just picking up an item from sellers and dropping them off to buyers in situations like this.
4. Sell Your Junk to Secondhand Shops
I already mentioned Book Off briefly for buying and reselling items to turn a profit, but secondhand shops are also a good idea for getting rid of old things very quickly for a bit of pocket change. You probably won’t make as much money as you would if you’re more patient and find a buyer on Craigslist or another online site. However, if you find yourself really crunched for time and need money right away, you can take them right up to the counter in Book Off and they’ll give you an estimate.
5. Make Videos on YouTube
Japan is a very fascinating and unique country, with many exciting things that you could record and share. Making videos on YouTube and getting monetized used to be very easy, and new vloggers popped up almost daily in Japan. Unfortunately, the policy has recently changed, and the number of subscribers and watch time needed to qualify has greatly increased.
Regardless, if you’re going to stay here for a year or two, you might as well record and share your adventures. You’ll reach the threshold for monetization if your videos are consistent and interesting enough. You might not go viral and become super rich, but even with just decent videos you could pull in a couple hundred dollars or so per month.
6. Do Freelance Work
There is always a demand for freelance workers online if you have the time to negotiate with clients and deliver the goods they’re looking for. I’ve seen job postings for translating documents between English and Japanese. There are many websites looking for developers, graphic designers, writers, and other project-specific roles. Upwork is a great place to find freelance work that you can do remotely, as well as GaijinPot.
7. Host Cooking Classes and Workshops
My former roommate is an Italian in Shin-Yokohama that hosts cooking classes on the weekend to make a little extra cash in addition to his engineering income. If you’re good in the kitchen and can introduce a few unique dishes from your home country, then you could potentially make the same amount of money as someone who is offering private language lessons.
There is a lot of investment that goes into buying the ingredients to make the meals, and making sure your home or whatever space you’re using looks presentable. You also have to be very social and confident in your ability to converse in Japanese. If so, this is probably one of the more fun ways to make more money, and a lot of new friends at the same time! Check out Niki Kitchen if you’re interested in giving it a try.
8. Take Commissions for Artwork
Although this kind of falls under the category of freelance work, taking commissions is another good source of side income. I recommend making a portfolio site for your work, and promoting it either online, or by getting business cards to hand to people you meet. This is still a very common practice in Japan, and chances are if you give a business card to someone, they’ll actually keep it!
Make sure to showcase your best work and keep your site up-to-date to refer potential clients to. This is a good option for those who are more creative, and would like to spend less time hunting down people to sell their work to, and more time actually making things.
9. Set Up A Food Stall
I’m sure you’ve noticed the plethora of food stalls at any festival or event in Japan. The majority of them specialize in Japanese street foods, but I’ve seen an increasing number of expats offering some of their local cuisines. Turkish kebabs are becoming quite popular, along with German pretzels, and other foods that can be easily eaten with your hands. You will have to pay a fee and pass an exam in order to get a license to serve food in Japan, but this could potentially become a full-time job if you’re dedicated enough.
It’s rather expensive to buy or rent a stall if you’re considering just doing this casually, so it needs to be something you’re invested in fully to make it worthwhile. Also, it’s very challenging to run a stall by yourself, because you have to prepare the food while also taking orders and collecting money from customers. That’s why this is probably a better idea to tackle with at least one other person if you have a friend that’s interested. You could also discuss splitting the setup costs!
10. Rent Out A Home or Room Through Airbnb
Airbnb is a service that is really changing the way people approach traveling, because it can let them save a significant amount of money compared to traditional hotel and lodging costs. Most Airbnb services in Japan focus on making sure the visitors will have all the information they’ll need about the area they’re staying in, without having to actually communicate much with the host. This means coming up with well written guides, and basic amenities all ready to go and waiting in the rooms for the guests when they arrive.
It’s also quite common for them to pick up and drop off the key without ever having to speak to anyone directly. This requires great organization, but is also a great payoff if you’re good at managing rental properties. An increasing number of apartments and mansions are catching on and cracking down on tenants that are subletting their rooms through Airbnb. Be sure to read the fine print of your contract, before suddenly finding yourself getting evicted.
11. Become a Mystery Shopper
You’re probably familiar with mystery shoppers and some of the interesting stories they’ve had to tell.
Businesses across the world find it valuable to spy on their employees and get an undercover look at how their services are being performed, and Japan is no exception.
Mystery shopping could be a good way to earn a free meal if you’re assigned to a restaurant, and to feel like you’re some kind of secret agent. Afterwards, though, you’ll have to fill out questionnaires and paperwork, and that can be a bit tedious. Most of these forms will be in Japanese, so you’ll have to be really comfortable with reading kanji. This idea is probably suitable for people with at least N2 level of Japanese Language Proficiency.
12. Model for Advertisers
You don’t have to have a perfect face or body, or be a certain age or ethnicity to become a model in Japan! Magazines and commercial producers are looking for more diversity, and they aren’t limited to people that fit the customary runway model appearance. If you’re serious about making extra money through modeling, you’ll need to join an agency.
Alternatively, there are occasionally ads posted in sites mentioned before such as Craigslist and GaijinPot that are looking to hire models for a one-time project. Just be careful, because there are a lot of shady gigs out there. The last thing you want is to unintentionally attend a casting call for an adult site!
13. Do Voice Narration for Announcements
The majority of the trains in Tokyo and Yokohama have announcements in both Japanese and English. Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t it sound like it’s all recorded by the same woman?! As the 2020 Olympics approaches, and the number of visitors to Japan, so does the need for English voiceovers in stores, in elevators, in hospitals, etc. This is great for people who have very clear and easy to understand pronunciation.
Voice narration could be a one day or one year commitment depending on the scope and scale of the project. If you’re good, you’ll more than likely be asked to come back and record more in the future. Imagine how awkward it would be listening to yourself through the speakers on the train though!
14. Participate in Usability Tests
Helping to debug and providing feedback for software and websites is a quick and easy job you can take on from the comfort of your futon! Developers are always looking for people to test out their latest works before launching them, because it helps them to release a more polished product. You can earn enough to buy yourself a beer and a rice ball just from a few minutes of work.
Some usability tests will require you to record yourself so the developers can see your initial reactions and find any hiccups you may run into along the way. This gives them a good idea where their users will probably have difficulty using the product, and ways they could change it beforehand. You can find opportunities over on the subreddit /r/beermoney or through dedicated usability testing sites you can find and sign up for through Google.
15. Do Pet Sitting
Did you know that Japanese people have more pets than they do children? The Japan Times reports that this has been the case since at least 2003.
As the age of the population has increased, so has the number of people that have opted to get adorable kittens and dogs instead of procreating.
Pet hotels are extremely expensive, especially if you’re going on an extended vacation. Offering to watch over their pets could give you the chance to make some extra money while also getting some extra love and cuddles from a cute animal. My current apartment doesn’t allow pets, but this seems like a good excuse to go over someone’s house every day and play with their cat!