(Maureen Stone, for JAPAN Forward)

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during this global pandemic is that nothing is as stable as it seems. I had a great job working for a small mom-and-pop eikaiwa (English conversation classes) in Tokyo, was halfway through my coveted three-year work visa, and had recently moved into a dream apartment. There was no reason for me to believe that life wouldn’t continue down that path.

And then COVID-19 happened. Along with many other economic casualties, the Tokyo branch of my company had to close, suddenly leaving me without a job. How would I find another one so quickly? Who was hiring in these crazy, uncertain times?

Lucky for me, my company had enrolled me in the insurance system, and it was time to put that system to use: it was time for me to file for unemployment in Japan.

Unemployment insurance is one of those things that everyone hopes they never have to use. But, like me, in case you find yourself needing it, read on!

The unemployment benefit scheme in Japan, koyou hoken (雇用保険), exists for people who have paid into the system and need support while looking for their next job. Anyone who has worked in Japan for six months and made insurance payments is eligible for benefits. It is run by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, but to access it you must apply through an organization called Hello Work.

For your first visit to Hello Work, make sure you bring the following items:

  • Rishoku-hyō 離職票, the official “letter of separation” from your previous job
  • Residence card
  • Bank book
  • Hanko
  • Two passport-sized photos, 3 cm x 2.5 cm

Some Hello Work offices offer translation services, but not all. As I was applying from my company’s home base in Kanazawa rather than Tokyo (a situation that would confuse multiple Hello Work staffers), I brought a Japanese colleague along. Even if your Japanese is good, I recommend bringing a fluent friend, as the language of bureaucratic procedures is dense, and Japan loves its procedures.

Coincidentally, the day we went to Hello Work was also the day the state of emergency was lifted in Kanazawa, so it was a bit crowded.

I was the only foreigner present, so we went right to the front of the line for the tiny desk shoved in the back reserved for foreigners working in Japan. My glee at our good fortune quickly dissipated, however, as this desk was not for us to actually register, but for us to register to register.

By - Ben K.