Your Japan Employment Questions Answered

The other evening I was sitting in a family restaurant called Joyful, getting some game translation work done and wondering if the employees had incredibly complex relationships behind the scenes like in the Working!! anime. I happened to notice the usual placard on the table saying that the restaurant was hiring, but this one promised a 20,000 yen (US$190) bonus upon employment. When I tweeted about it, my followers wanted to know more, so here’s a second post with your Japan employment questions answered. (My first post on Japan’s work culture is here.)

What’s the unemployment rate?

Currently, the official rate is 2.4%, the lowest rate in 24 years. It reached as high as 5.5% twice over the past two decades, in 2007 and 2001. There are some differences in how Japan calculates this information, resulting in a slightly lower number than would compare in the U.S.

It can obviously be difficult for companies to find enough employees when unemployment is very low, and you often hear of companies closing 24-hour locations because they can’t find enough staff, or offering hiring bonuses, as in the restaurant I was in.

What are wages like?

The average minimum wage is currently 822 yen (around $7.50), but with jobs hard to fill, nearly all companies pay more. The advertised wage at the restaurant I was at was 950-1250 yen ($8.50-$11) depending on how late a shift. I’ve heard that in Nagoya, restaurant owners have to pay workers $20+ an hour or Toyota will hire them away for factory work.

Note that the above wages are converted at the current exchange rate. If the exchange rate moved up or down 10%, we’d perceive this as less or more money, when the actual wage wouldn’t have moved for a person working in Japan.

Are there foreign workers in Japan?

Yes, absolutely, and Japan couldn’t function without them. Workers from Brazil, Peru, Vietnam and all countries do important jobs in various industries in Japan. In cities like Tokyo, it’s a given that 15% or more of employees you encounter will be from various countries.

Whether working in Japan is something anyone reading this would want to consider is more complex. As I’ve written before, Japanese companies are nearly always behind technologically and need skilled workers. The “best way” to work in Japan is to obtain these skills before coming. There are other options, which generally require a 4-year degree.

Almost daily I’m amazed at the jobs I see foreigners doing. Like the beautiful blonde (I took her for Russian) girl working as a cook in a restaurant, I was in. Or a German guy I knew who worked in sales to Japanese clients at a printing company. Foreigners even work in the anime industry, though the salaries are probably not the best.

Is Japan expensive to live in?

Happily not. In Gunma, you can find an apartment for $500, and even in Tokyo, the average rent is $900. This is for a room that’s smaller than Westerners would be used to, but still, Japan can be surprisingly affordable.

Part of this is due to economic history. Japan experienced a huge asset bubble at the end of the 80s which saw the value of Tokyo surpass the entire land value of the United States at its height. The bubble popped, and Japan experienced two “lost decades” of zero growth and zero inflation that’s only just come to an end. The reason the 2008 financial crisis was handled so well is that countries like the U.S. could look at Japan for a model of “what not to do.”

Does Japan still have “lifetime employment”?

Once upon a time, Japanese companies hired employees with the intent that they would be there their entire careers. If layoffs were ever needed, they were done through subsidiaries, allowing the main companies to boast about having never laid anyone off. This ended in the early 2000s when Sony laid of 20,000 workers, and today, no one expects to stay at the same company forever.

How do people find jobs?

Usually apps/websites like Gaijin Pot. J-List finds employees through “Hello Work” which is what the local unemployment office is actually called.

Did you enjoy this Japan employment post? Got any other questions? Ask on Twitter!

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