The Japanese labour market

Updated 2020-04-14 07:34

With an unemployment rate below 3%, the Japanese labour market is doing well. As the world's third economic power, Japan - like other major powers - is continuing its economic transition: a little less industry in favour of a more service-based economy. For expatriates, this promising landscape increases the chances of finding a job.

The various employment sectors in Japan 

Gone are the days when expatriates were restricted to the areas of education (language teaching) and tourism. Possibilities and potential within the job market has multiplied in recent years. The ageing population in Japan means that more young workers are needed, and the creation of two new visas accessible to even those without a good level of Japanese hints at a gap in the labour market.

Furthermore, many obstacles to employment have been removed. Japan's real challenge is the decline of its population. The Japanese government intends to attract more than 300,000 foreigners to its territory - and to all employment sectors: construction/building, catering, gastronomy, education, commerce, sales, finance, translation/interpreting, communication, marketing, new technologies, web development, and more.

There remains, however, a particular barrier that expatriates cannot ignore: language. For those who aspire to settle permanently on Japanese soil and make a career there, Japanese is a prerequisite. In addition to all the other required skills, fluency in Japanese increases your odds of employment exponentially. In fact, it gives access to the same offers as those for which the Japanese apply. 

More than "the Japanese labour market", it is perhaps more appropriate to speak of the "Japanese labour markets". The first is accessible to graduates: the longer their experience, the better their CV will be. Here, mastery of Japanese (and usually English too) is a prerequisite. Speaking other languages ​​(in addition to Japanese and English), and offering other skills (computer skills, etc.) adds further value to CVs.

The other market is more subject to the vagaries of the Japanese economy. This is made up of baito (small jobs) which can be precarious and badly paid. Employees in this market are less skilled and less well protected.

Salaries in Japan

As in any country, wages in Japan vary according to sector and location. Most companies offer a fixed amount based on the position acquired, with possible salary increases. Some companies also offer bonuses. There is no minimum wage as such in Japan, but rather a daily minimum wage set for each type of job.

In Japan, it is customary for the company to bear the cost of transportation to and from work for its employees. This is usually a capped amount, varying from one company to another. 

 Good to know:

Note that many Japanese companies automatically deduct items such as income tax, city tax and social security charges from wages.

Work culture in Japan

Japan is known for its strong work ethic and particularly hard-working population (it is sometimes suggested that they may work too hard). The legal duration of work in Japan is 40 hours per week. The Japanese, however, often stay later to work overtime (zangyou), and this work is not always paid. Respect for the rules and hierarchy is strongly rooted in the Japanese system. It's a good system at first glance but can have dubious side-effects: authoritarianism and a tacit obligation for the employee to join in activities outside of work hours - such as extravagant after-work drinks (nomikai).

But things do change. Aware of problems in the work environment, more and more companies are working towards well-being at work. This is theikigai, a move to combine passion, self-respect and kindness to be happy, even at work!

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