Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare reported a number of 1,727,221 foreign workers in Japan. The number of foreign workers in Japan can be said to be increasing year by year. So, what exactly is it about working in Japan that makes it so alluring compared to other countries? In this article, we ask our team members why they chose Japan, and introduce several reasons why you should too.
※ MHLW, “「外国人雇用状況」の届出状況まとめ（令和３年10月末現在）”
Table of Contents
- The Current Foreign Workers Situation in Japan
- Why do people want to work in Japan?
- Be Careful If These Are Your Only Reasons
- Asking Our Team, Reasons Why We Work in Japan
- Advice from Our Team, Some Things to Consider
- Takeaway, Realistic Expectations of Japan
At the end of October every year, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) releases a report of the status of foreign workers in Japan for the past year. This practice began in 2008 when notification to Hello Work whenever a foreign national is employed or leaves employment became mandatory in 2007.
The latest report at time of writing this article was released in 2021. As of the end of October 2021, the Ministry reports there being a total number of 1,727,221 foreign workers employed in Japan. An increase of 2,893 persons compared to last year, a record high since mandatory notice began. Despite the increase in foreign worker numbers, the report notes a much reduced growth rate of only 0.2% compared to last year’s 6.7% and the previous year’s 10.2%. This drop in growth rate is most likely due to the Coronavirus pandemic that has afflicted the whole world since 2020.
More good news, there has been a great increase in the number of businesses that are open to hiring foreigners. The MHLW reports a total of 285,080 establishments accepting foreigner hires, another record high with an increase of 17,837 businesses since the last year.
In terms of nationality, the highest number of foreign workers in Japan are Vietnamese (453,344 persons, 26.2% of total), followed by Chinese from China (397,084 persons, 23% of total), and Filipinos (191,083 persons, 11%).
※ MHLW, “「外国人雇用状況」の届出状況まとめ（令和３年10月末現在）”
There are many people that want to work in Japan and quite a large number that have achieved that dream. But why do people want to work in Japan? Here are some of them.
Foreign nationals that work low salary jobs or cannot get a job in their home country will choose to work in Japan to earn a living and to support their families back home. Compared to regions such as Southeast Asia and South America, Japan tends to have relatively higher cost of living and higher salaries to match. And, if you add foreign currency exchange to the equation, converting Japanese Yen to home country currency may even double the amount you can earn in your home country.
Due to Japan’s declining birthrate and ageing population, job hunting is not as competitive as in other countries. In particular, it is very unlikely for full time employees to be dismissed (unless a very serious criminal misdemeanour) compared to part-timers or contract employees. As a full time employee, you can enjoy job stability and a stable income. For this reason, many people send their wages earned from working in Japan to their families in their home countries.
There are many Japanese companies that have substantial welfare programmes for their employees. The contents of welfare programmes may differ from company to company but generally they offer the same benefits, namely social insurance, commute expenses, and meal assistance.
Additionally, Japan’s social welfare system is really good. Japan has universal health coverage that requires all residents to be registered under a social insurance system. If you are an employee and fit the necessary conditions, you will be covered under your company’s employee insurance. If not, you must enrol for National Health Insurance. The benefit of social insurance is that your medical expenses will be 30% only, with the remaining 70% covered by insurance which will make medical treatments very affordable if you get sick or need to be hospitalised. There are few countries with such great healthcare systems in place which is a great advantage for foreign workers in Japan.
Other social welfare benefits Japanese residents, including foreign residents, can receive include unemployment insurance (that you contribute through labour insurance payments), mental / physical disability services and subsidies, and financial assistance. Welfare services and subsidies may differ depending on the city and prefecture, you’ll need to check with your local municipality office as to what help they can provide.
Some foreign nationals work in Japan because they love Japan and its culture. By living in Japan, they hope to directly experience Japanese culture such as food, popular culture, traditions, and art. In fact, there are a certain number of people who choose to work in Japan purely to support their livelihood in Japan, including experiencing Japanese culture and travelling across Japan.
Many foreign workers wish to work in Japan to acquire specialised skills for their own career advancement or to help develop their home country. For example, working in the manufacturing or construction industry and bringing that knowledge back to your own country to help develop your town or to start a business, which is actually the whole point of the technical intern training programme.
In addition, working in Japan allows you to learn Japanese as a second language as well as deepen your understanding of different cultures. Knowing more than one language is a great advantage when it comes to job opportunities, and having experience working in a diverse working environment also looks good on your resume when changing careers or looking for employment.
There’s nowhere better to learn and improve Japanese than the only country that speaks it as a primary language. Just like there are people that choose to work in Japan for the culture, there are also people that choose to work here because of the language. Joining a Japanese language school is great for beginner and intermediate learners, but once you reach a certain level, taking up a part time job or straight up joining the work sector is the best way to further improve your Japanese abilities, speaking skills in particular.
Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. According to the World Population Review, Japan is the 9th safest country in the world for the year 2022 and has been in the top 10 in the Global Peace Index for 13 consecutive years.
Some foreigners enjoy staying and working in Japan because it is so much safer than their home countries. In some countries, the notion of women taking public transportation and going downtown at night can be unsafe, even going home alone at night after work is downright dangerous. But in Japan, this is an everyday occurrence. In fact, even young children go to school alone and take public transportation by themselves. Japan seems to be an ideal country for foreign nationals looking for a safe and secure country to live in with their families.
※ World Population Review, "Safest Countries in the World 2022"
As great a country as Japan seems, it isn’t perfect and has its own set of problems. Low crime doesn’t mean no crime, unique culture can also mean strange to weird culture, and so coming to Japan with rose-tinted glasses, fueled only by your love for Japanese culture can be a bad idea.
There are many foreigners who come to live and work in Japan only to be confused by the gap between their image of Japan and reality. If you’re thinking of working in Japan for the following reasons, you may want to reconsider.
Some foreigners come to Japan expecting high salaries. It is true that the average annual income in Japan is higher than in other Asian countries, but it’s not so high as compared to Europe and the United States. Even in Asia, there are countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore that are experiencing great economic growth. Whether there is really a huge rise in salary really depends on where you are coming from, your industry, and your potential career growth. Properly evaluate your situation before determining that Japan is the right choice for you.
Some people want to live in Japan because they don’t like their situation back home. It’s great that you have hope and are actively trying to change your situation for the better but know that there’s no guarantee it'll be for the better. It is a huge risk to uproot your entire life and there’s always a chance that things will be worse here. For these people, rather than moving to Japan and starting a new career immediatelly, it is better to experience a short term stay first for a feel of life in Japan. Options include joining an internship, working holiday, working a part time job whilst studying in Japan.
In case you didn’t know, WeXpats Guide consists of a team of foreign nationals from other countries that live in Japan. So why exactly did we choose to work in Japan?
Here’s what some members of our team had to say about their expectations before working in Japan, what they think of working in Japan after actual experience, and what’s so great about working in Japan.
Everybody had very different reasons for wanting to work in Japan.
I wanted to try working in a different culture after working in my own country.
I wanted to learn Japanese hospitality and started studying in Japan before working here.
I thought I’d earn a lot of money.
To earn money and to improve my skills.
Japan carries a unique image, and I got my N1 JLPT qualification already from overseas.
My boyfriend works and lives in Japan. I thought working in Japan would be very difficult. I heard about a lot of overtime and how strict work life would be here.
Some members expectations were reached.
I was touched and impressed by Japanese-level service and hospitality.
It was as I expected. I especially like the part where people took pride in their work and adhered to work rules.
It was as I expected but there are some troublesome rules in Japanese companies.
Some did not.
I earned a lot of money! but I also paid a lot of taxes… Could not save much.
It’s a bit different from what I thought it would be (low salary from the beginning for full time employees, seniority system) but there is a sense of stability in lifetime employment.
And some had a hard time but things got better.
Before joining this company, I worked at a company that was “old-fashioned” and experienced very strict rules.
It was better than I expected but still very tough with strict rules, in the end I left the company. I am pleased with my current company.
The good things about working in Japan.
It’s hard to get fired as long as you don’t do something too bad (criminal act).
I think it’s a place where you can earn good money, learn proper business manners, and the social welfare system is good.
For people from developing countries, you can earn more than your own country after learning skills, manners and the business.
There’s still plenty of room for improvement but I like that I can feel a sense of stability at work where the rules are respected. While it is important to prove your abilities as an individual, there is a strong sense of teamwork as working with co-workers to achieve goals is important in Japanese companies. It’s easier to work because Japan emphasises policies and methods rather than individual personalities.
Can earn good money, exposure to Japanese culture and improve Japanese language skills.
And the bad.
Discrimination against foreigners.
When a customer complained because I wasn’t used to the culture and was unfamiliar with the term in Japanese.
Nothing so far~
When my mental health took a nosedive due to work stress, I quit the job and became unemployed for a few months.
The hard part was the beginning when you’re short on money!
As you can see from the above answers, everyone gave very different responses to the questions. Some people experienced harsh working conditions prior to joining WeXpats whilst some had an overall positive experience working in Japan.
What we can deduce from this is that you cannot expect either a positive or working experience from working in Japan. Instead, whether you end up having a good work experience in Japan all boils down to these factors:
Your personality, stress tolerance levels, and ability to adapt to different situations
The work culture at the company you end up working in
Your motivation to work in Japan, and career goals
We asked our team what advice they would give someone that wants to work in Japan. We also asked about work life in their home country and which is better, Japan or back home.
(or if you could go back in time, to yourself before coming to Japan)
Acquire sufficient Japanese language skills, learn Japanese social manners.
Study Japanese well, especially business terms.
Be realistic about your expectations, and research Japanese business culture.
We cannot agree more! By being prepared, it will make it easier to adapt to a new environment and the learning curve won’t be as steep.
Learn about taxes properly!
Also super true. Many people think they will earn a lot of money in Japan but are then shocked by the amount deducted from their salary for income tax, social insurance, labour insurance, and resident taxes. You may find it very expensive but the great social welfare system in Japan isn’t going to pay for itself. Before accepting a job and the offered salary, it’s important to do the maths and calculate your actual take-home pay.
At first you will be bothered by the culture and environment completely different from your home country but you will soon get used to it and appreciate the merits of working in Japan. Please give it a try!
Unless you personally experience it, you won’t know whether a company is good or bad for you. There’s no choice but to challenge it. Then, if it’s too tough ‘cause the company is black or old-fashioned then just quit! Don’t be tied down to a bad place and don’t give up, find a good company for you.
Different companies have different company cultures, work practices and styles, etc. Just because the first company you joined doesn’t work out for you doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you or you’re not cut out for Japanese work culture, it just means that company is not right for you (or maybe anyone). Options for finding a job with better working conditions include doing due diligence and finding a job yourself or going through a hiring agency.
I think I like it here better. As for my reasons, I can use Japanese everyday, and I can grow quickly by interacting with different people.
I work in Japan because I want to live here. Japan is safe, the seasons are nice, it’s beautiful, and the food is delicious. It's a great experience.
Personally, I find working in Japan more enjoyable. Rather than which is better, I think it depends on where you can do the work you want to do and which country makes it easier to demonstrate the work style that suits you.
Compared to China, it’s easier to form relationships. The average annual income in Japan is also higher.
Personally, my personality is more suited to Japan. Everyone is different and have their own ideas and tastes.
I like Japan better! I feel safe here, there’s plenty of things to do and places to explore, and it’s easy to live here.
It’s great to know that many of our members are enjoying working in Japan!
Looks like there are many foreign workers in Japan because of the high salary, safety, and interest in Japanese culture. Japan is actively hiring foreign nationals and there are many services providing support for international students seeking employment in Japan. There are also support centres for foreigners living in Japan if you need someone to talk to about troubles at work or life.
A good idea for a foreign national when working in Japan is to have a simple understanding about the labour laws here or at least know where to consult if you have any concerns. For those still deciding on whether to work in Japan or not, it is important to have realistic expectations of Japan which can be done by studying about the work culture here. You may find these resources helpful: