Running a job board in Japan can land you in prison

Photo of Paul McMahon

Paul McMahon

Founder of TokyoDev

Note, new regulations were introduced in October 2022 regarding job boards. While the principles for determining whether or not something is considered recruiting with regards to licensing is unchanged, there are additional requirements placed on job boards.

I started TokyoDev as a side project, and when I first launched it, it never occurred to me that there might be legal repercussions for advertising job postings. However, in Japan, recruiting is a licensed industry, with criminal penalties of up to a year in prison for practicing without a license, and depending on how a job board is run, it may be classified as recruiting.

Initially my clients were small startups, who weren’t even aware of the licensing requirement. However, eventually a prospective client at a larger company was blocked by their legal team because I didn’t have a license. This triggered me to investigate the implications of operating a job board in Japan with regards to recruitment licensing.

Fortunately, the employment security bureau has released guidelines that explicitly address the difference between providing a job board and recruitment (note, these guidelines appear to have been removed with the new regulations regarding job boards). They aren’t the easiest thing to read, even if you’re a native Japanese speaker. I’ve included a rough English translation at the end of this article.

The gist of it is, because all the job opportunities on TokyoDev are public, I don’t solicit specific individuals to apply for jobs, and applications go directly to the companies without me doing any screening, I’m complying with the guidelines and thus don’t need a license. Just to be safe, I was able to confirm directly with the employment security bureau that my interpretation is correct, and I’m operating TokyoDev in a manner congruent with the guidelines. Furthermore, I was able to get some clarifications from them about some of the finer points.

With TokyoDev, I sometimes provide companies with an email address on my domain where candidates can send an application. Applications in turn get forwarded to the company. I confirmed that’s allowed, so long as I don’t change the contents of the emails or screen the applications. I am allowed to filter out any spam though.

I also confirmed that the method of compensation is independent of whether or not I need a license. Whether I was to charge companies a flat fee to post a job, a fee upon successful hire like traditional recruiters do, or even if I was to post jobs for free, it wouldn’t make a difference with regards to licensing requirements.

I still sometimes have companies asking me if I have a license, but since I’ve been able to point them to the guidelines, I’ve been able to move forward with them despite not having one.

Translation of the Japanese guidelines follows. [As of October 2022, the web page we translated no longer exists. However, Business Operation Procedures for Providing Recruitment Information contains similar guidelines.] This translation was done by someone who’s not an expert in the area, and so shouldn’t be relied upon for more than getting an overview of the guidelines.

Guidelines to distinguish between providing information of job seekers and job offers, and employment placement on the internet by a private company

Guidelines to judge whether or not an online job site run by a private company is deemed to be an “employment placement” prescribed by Article 4-1 of Employment Security Law are determined as follows. If a person is going to do a business defined as “employment placement” by these guidelines, he/she needs to be approved by Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare. Each item has a specific example.


1. Article 4-1 of Employment Security Law defines “employment placement” as “to accept job posting and job application and to encourage employment agreement between recruiters and job seekers. Therefore, an online site which only provides information of recruiters and job seekers, and does not accept job applications nor encourage employment agreements is called “information provider” and is not deemed to be “employment placement” with need to be legitimately approved.

2. However, recently, providing information of recruiters and job seekers on the internet has been increasing, and some of them have been changing their roles from just being “information providers” to something more than just enabling to browse information of recruiters and job seekers. This includes enabling mutual communications between recruiters and job seekers as well as establishing a way to automatically send information that matches recruiters’ requirements and/or job seekers’ qualifications. Of course, not all of them are deemed to be an “employment placement”, but there are some cases that are difficult to determine whether or not it should be deemed to be an “employment placement”. This is why these guidelines were created.

Guidelines to determine if an online job site run by a private company is just an information provider, or employment placement

I. These guidelines are to make clear the difference of “recruiters and job seekers’ information provider” and “employment placement” on the internet in order to secure adequate operation of the law.

II. In these guidelines, “providing recruiters and job seekers’ information on the internet” means that an information provider allows recruiters and job seekers to view job information (both includes information that enables people to identify individual recruiter or job seeker such as company’s name and address, job seeker’s name and address, which will be called just “information” hereafter) on its homepage. Besides, it includes providing additional services for job seekers or recruiters, such as providing a convenient way to create and send emails for job application or recruitment.

III. If an online recruiters’ and job seekers’ information provider matches either of following 1 to 3, it is deemed to be an employment placement.

  1. Without objective and explicit search criteria set in advance, information provider chooses and changes the contents of information or who it is providing.
  2. Information provider informs job seekers of job information, or inform recruiters of job seekers’ information. (Example 2)
  3. When communications between job seekers and recruiters are relayed via information provider’s homepage, it changes the contents for the communication. (Example 3)

IV. Besides III, based on the contents of information provider’s advertisement, and/or the contents of contracts between information provider and job seekers or recruiters, if information provider is introducing job seekers to recruiters or recruiters to job seekers, and providing information of job seekers and recruiters on the internet is conducted as a part of it, it is overall deemed to be an employment placement. (Example 4)

Example 2: Information provider itself encourages job applications or hiring

Although when information provider proactively contacts job seekers or recruiters to encourage applying or hiring, adjusts schedule for job interviews, or provides additional information, and it is considered just to assist recruitment successes, it is deemed to be an employment placement.

However, even when all of these are conducted online, it is considered that information provider and job seekers or recruiters only use emails as a substitute communication tool for job interview, telephone, fax or mails. Therefore, it does not influence on judging whether or not it is deemed to be an employment placement.

Example 3: Job seekers or recruiters to apply for a job or recruit people by emails via homepage of information provider, but still information provider is not deemed to be an employment placement

If information provider is only providing necessary email addresses without changing the contents of communications when information provider allows job seekers or recruiters to send emails to recruiters or job seekers via its homepage in order to apply for a job or recruit people directly online, it is not deemed to be an employment placement. Also, regarding the emails, when information provider has a specific form to allow job seekers or recruiters to fill in necessary information and create emails, it is not deemed to be an employment placement.

Example 4: Advertisement targeting job seekers and job recruiters as an employment placement

If information provider recruits job seekers or recruiters by saying something like “we will find a job you are looking for” or “we will introduce candidates who will fit your company”, and provides potential recruiters or job seekers information such as names and phone numbers to job seekers or recruiters on the internet, it is deemed to be an employment placement as a whole.

More about the author

Photo of Paul McMahon

Paul McMahon

Founder of TokyoDev

Paul is a Canadian software developer who has been living in Japan since 2006. Since 2011 he’s been helping other developers start and grow their careers in Japan through TokyoDev.

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