Driving a Powerhouse Economy: The Most Common Jobs in Japan


Japan’s strong economy is propelled by major industries of the country with their respective shares in the country’s workforce. With an expanded perspective towards the distribution of the Japanese workforce, the most heavily populated occupations can be easily pointed out, and Japan has remarkable qualities in this matter.

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Diversified Workforce

The growth of the Japanese economy for the past decades was driven by three major factors: (i) huge private investment influx; (ii) remarkable workforce shift towards the industrial and services sector; and (iii) the definite utilization of technology for productivity. Each of these factors deserves a separate discussion. However, for the purpose of our topic at hand, let us focus on the second factor, the workforce.

Since World War II, Japan’s industrial structure underwent massive changes that allowed the shifting of the workforce from the primary industry (agricultural sector) towards the secondary industry (industrial sector) and the tertiary industry (services sector). This gradual shift did not happen overnight as the course of the movement took place over more than 6 decades starting in the 1950s.

By 2015, 71% of Japan’s workforce was employed in the tertiary industry, 25% in the secondary industry, and the remaining 4% in the primary industry. Indeed, it is evident that the changes were very drastic because, in 1950, the figures were at 30%, 22%, and 48% respectively. Understanding this would be significant in discussing the most common jobs in the country available to its citizens as well as foreigners. Upon learning this general information, we now move towards the specifics of the most common jobs in Japan.

※ Statistics Bureau of Japan, "Statistical Handbook of Japan 2019," p.29 

Common Jobs in Japan

It would be challenging to specifically point out the exact most common jobs in Japan per se and so we will discuss the most common industries instead. The discussion about the most common jobs in Japan will focus on the general assessment of the top five sectors in the industry that employs the most individuals. Each sector will then be evaluated with their backgrounds and the jobs that fall under their categories. The following are the major sectors of Japan’s workforce with its corresponding estimated figures:

Wholesale and Retail Trade – 10,480,000 employees

Japan is the second-largest retail market in the world. No wonder why such a sector employs the most employees in the country. Wholesale and retail trade refers to the distribution and exchange of goods. Basically, this is the term for businesses of different kinds that involve trading. Goods are made from the factories and wholesale/retail traders are responsible for their distribution to the masses. Jobs in this sector include:

o  Clerical positions

o  Customer service representatives

o  Managerial positions

o  Logistics

※ Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), "Attractive Sectors Retail," p.4  

Manufacturing – 10,400,000 employees

Japan’s manufacturing sector is known for its high-quality products. Examples of Japan’s manufacturing companies are the likes of Honda, Mitsubishi, and Sony. The manufacturing sector includes producing goods, from automobiles to the basic necessities of man such as clothing, food, houseware, etc. Mainly, jobs in this particular sector are located in factories. Here are some of the jobs in the manufacturing sector:

o  Assemblers

o  Engineers (chemical, industrial, mechanical, etc.)

o  Food processing operators

o  Technicians

Medical-related profession – 8,550,000 employees

Facing some major demographic transitions in the past years and the forthcoming future, the healthcare sector remains a crucial feature in Japan’s society. Japan’s aging population and the government’s emphasis on taking care of it provides the sector a relatively significant position in the general workforce evaluation of the country. Although the sector is already considered as the third-largest employer in the country, the figures will continue to grow over the course of time. Here are the common jobs in the healthcare sector:

o  Caregivers

o  Doctors

o  Nurses

o  Technologists

※ Statistics Bureau of Japan, "Statistical Handbook of Japan 2019," p.31

Construction – 4,910,000 employees

A mix of private and public investments for infrastructure and land development projects defined the continuous and promising emergence of Japan’s construction industry. Series of government-initiated infrastructure projects related to the 2020 Olympics would be a good point of reference for this evaluation. Not to mention the increasing investment of the government in various sectors such as energy, healthcare, and tourism that paves the way for construction companies to enter the scene. These are the main jobs in the construction sector:

o  Architects

o  Carpenters

o  Civil Engineers

o  Skilled jobs (electricians, plumbers, and welders)

Services N.E.C. – 4,490,000 employees

The services sector is a general term encompassing various fields of human-related services. However, services N.E.C. or not elsewhere classified are kinds of jobs that are not classified in major categorizations. These are informal jobs, freelancing careers, and part-time positions. This is interesting to note because as we can see, it is the fifth-largest sector that employs most people in Japan. Here are some of the jobs falling under such category:

o  Advertising salesperson

o  Artists (freelance)

o  Brokers

o  Entertainers

※ Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry, "In Fact: The service sector in Japan"

Upon evaluating these sectors of Japanese workforce, we can see the dynamics of the prevalent jobs in the country. These sectors are connected with one another and cannot be fairly gauged without the other. For instance, it can be deduced that the trajectory of the construction sector is partly due to the intensive government projects towards healthcare and the like. The prevalence of these jobs and their respective industrial sectors allows us to understand the current movement and the future trajectory of Japan’s economy.

※ Statistics Bureau of Japan, "Monthly Results -May 2020-," (Table 4 Employed person by major industry)

Heading towards employment

Now, we move towards the prospects for foreign employees in the country. The aforementioned sectors are also rigidly recruiting additional workforce from other countries. However, take note that one of the fundamental reasons for recruitment is not merely to diversify their workforce but to respond to the impending workforce shortage of the country. Experts predict that by 2030, Japan will be facing a 6 million shortage in its workforce, concentrated in healthcare and labor-related sectors (manufacturing, construction, etc.). This is because of the aging population of the country, which will also demand support from the aforementioned sectors such as healthcare. Foreign employees could really establish themselves in the country through the intensive focus of the government in alleviating labor restrictions.

※ Persol Research Institute, "労働市場の未来推計 2030," p.8-9


Changes in the workforce are inevitable through time. As is indicated by the existing market focus of Japan, it operates as well under the premise of economic factors determined by the participation of the people. The prospects of these jobs are extended to foreigners in the Land of the Rising Sun, with both parties gradually becoming interdependent as the drivers of internationalization.


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