Japan is the 3rd world power. Its economy seems solid: full employment, with an unemployment rate of 2.8%. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe even calls for a general wage hike. But this apparent good health hides profound disparities. Tokyo perfectly illustrates this state: the labor market is, in reality, dual.

An economy in slow motion?

Work in Japan

An economy in slow motion?

The overall picture is more than positive, for a Japan that still has the memory of the bursting of the speculative bubble (the 1990s). This was followed by years of recession which led to economic stagnation.
The good times of the 60s and 70s, with a GDP often exceeding 8%, are far away. While experiencing a sharp drop due to the oil shocks, Japanese GDP quickly recovered, without however equaling the record growth rates of previous years. During the 1980s, the GDP fluctuated between 3 and 4%, a growth that was half the size of before, but still honorable. The crisis came in 1991, with the bursting of the speculative bubble: sudden fall in GDP, which fell to -0.52% in 1993. It was the start of the economic slowdown, and deflation (general fall in prices). Wages are also kept down, impacting purchasing power.
On the strength of this observation, the priority for the Abe government is recovery, and recovery through consumption. Inspired by Western policies, Abe encouraged companies to raise wages. Higher incomes, for households, to consume. But growth remains weak, even non-existent, with an average GDP of 0.8% per year.
It is because Japan has gone through a crisis that has shaken the very heart of its economic system. After the recession, a consequence of the bursting of the speculative bubble of the 90s, it is going through a new global crisis: the subprime crisis, leading to the financial crisis of 2008. Japan falters. Symbol of the route: the waltz of the prime ministers, between 2007 and 2012. There will be five successive heads of the country, one minister per year.
Since 2012, Shinzô Abe has taken the helm of the Japanese government, with his “Abenomics” economic policy. If financial analysts consider the results of these measures to be fairly mixed, they note that 2017 marks an economic upturn: GDP drops to 1.5%. In 2018, it was revised to 1.2%. Slow growth, therefore, but constant.
An unexpected factor explains why Japan has continued to enrich itself, at least to maintain its GDP: the decline in population. The reduction in the number of inhabitants contributes, mechanically, to increase the average income per inhabitant. But this factor is also the main obstacle to a more frank economic recovery: there are fewer and fewer workers. More and more elderly people. Japan faces a real demographic challenge

Labor shortage

It is this demographic situation that partly explains the shortage of labor. And the young active people understood it well: they are in a position of strength. The unions are also calling for a revaluation of working conditions.
In Japanese culture, you recruit when you leave university, or even before. In an economy of full employment, students would, therefore, have no difficulty finding a job. Thus, students in the final year would be close to 86% to land a promise of employment (2017 figures).
However, there are great disparities between Tokyo and other cities. The capital attracts many students and young workers. In fact, the other regions are facing a labor shortage: students do not hesitate to refuse offers, preferring Tokyo job offers. According to NHK, the Hokkaido region, in the north of Japan, would have difficulty recruiting: 60% of the positions it offers would be shunned by young graduates (2017 figures).

Sectors that recruit

Due to a shortage, some sectors are, particularly under stress. A boon for ex-pats, who can see an opportunity to find a job in Tokyo.
It is in new technologies that we recruit:
IoT (Internet of Things), or the Internet of Things: it’s all about connected objects; objects using the Internet to act on reality.
E-commerce, online games, mobile applications
IT, web development, artificial intelligence, engineering, cybersecurity
Banking, finance, consulting, management, communication, digital marketing
It is, therefore, the leading sectors that are targeted. Capital information for expatriates. Because if it is easy to get a “side job”, a “bait”, getting a stable job is a more difficult task. In a competitive job market, the expatriate will have to show his added value: speaking Japanese is not considered an advantage. It is a prerequisite. Even to work in an international company, it is better to speak Japanese.
In addition, the more diplomas and experience you have, the better you will be considered.
Again, the company will wonder why you hire ‘and engage in sponsorship’ rather than a Japanese. A solid experience and high degrees are a guarantee of your competence. Here, as in France, Japan favors high degrees, and courses qualified as “exceptional” (renowned university, large company).
On the salary side, they can vary between 5,000,000 ¥ per year, or around 40,000⬠(ex: manager position), to more than 8,000,000 ¥ annually (more than 64,000â¬), for a financier, for example.
Expatriates will also find work in teaching. Schools ‘in particular, language schools’ are mainly looking for teachers of English and French. Note that, very often, recruiters want the language taught to be your mother tongue.
If French is still as popular in Japan, in practice, students seem to prefer English, the first commercial language. There are therefore more posts for English teachers than for French teachers. But French-language schools are, of course, still present, especially in big cities, like Tokyo.
Note that the building sector is also under stress. Tokyo counts a number of building construction sites, renovations and rehabilitation: the Olympic Games of 2020 oblige the capital to review its infrastructures. Transport is clearly targeted by the government, which fears congestion, especially during rush hour.


To fight against the various economic crises, Japan has opted for flexibility. Making it easier for companies to hire and fire workers is to increase productivity. But this flexibility has contributed to the creation of a dual market. On the one hand, regular, qualified jobs, on permanent contracts (at least over the long term), with prospects for career development. On the other, precarious, irregular jobs, the “bait” or “rubato” (from “Arbeit”, work, in German) subjected to market pressure.
It is the other side of full employment. A full virtual job, therefore, because hiding a less glowing reality.
“Freeter” (furiitâ, in Japanese pronunciation). The term appeared in the 80s, with a positive meaning: it designates those young people who choose to work when they want to. They are free, far from the rigid shackles and the model of the salaryman, attached to his business, accumulating over time. Freezers choose to stay in “bait” and do not wish to become a chain (employee) in a company.
However, the term “free” soon lost its original meaning. It is not so much freedom that drives workers to accept the bait, as the impossibility of finding stable work. This is the whole paradox of employment in Japan: part of the population escapes precariousness. The other combines irregular jobs, with no prospect of career development
Baito is therefore not only the preserve of young people. For them, it remains, in fact, a good way to discover the world of work, while earning money. Become big, it is in a “real business” that they will seek to evolve. Although some of these young people will work to earn money. These are the new faces of a Japan that is silently fighting for its survival.
Baito almost becomes a double punishment. Because in Japan, it is still discredited. We always equate it to the little extra job, which we have to leave to really integrate into society. How, then, to consider the thousands of adults in precarious situations? Since 2015, in the private sector, these employees on irregular contracts represent more than 40% of workers (Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Affairs figures).
Women and the elderly are particularly affected by the insecurity of the job market. These women often stopped working when they started a family; even if there are evolutions ‘let us quote, in particular, a questioning of the dominant family model’ the practice still remains. When these women return to work, it is most often part-time. Women raising their children alone are subject to even greater insecurity.
The elderly also hold precarious jobs: taxi drivers, supermarket, cleaning staff, etc. Without these “odd jobs”, it is impossible to ensure daily life. In Japan, one in five seniors still works. Main reason: the low level of pensions. It is estimated that 19% of them would live below the poverty line. In 2018, the Prime Minister directly addresses seniors, at least, civil servants: life expectancy is increasing (83 years, on average), so we are pushing the retirement age to 80 years. For the moment, the measure only targets volunteers. The legal retirement age remains 60 years. But almost no one retires at this age: wages drop, on average, by 30%, if one decides to leave at the legal age. Other measures aim to gradually raise the legal retirement age to 65 for all employees. Initially, only men would be affected. Ultimately, some believe that the legal retirement age will be raised, for all, to 70 years. Or more.
The Abe government also proposed, in 2016, measures to improve the working conditions of the most vulnerable. Because working in bait means enjoying less social security coverage, compared to ordinary employees. Less social protection, therefore, less insurance, and ultimately low retirement. The government’s idea is as follows: the rights of an employee in bait must be the same as those of a regular employee. The future will say whether these measures will make it possible to curb the precariousness of the labor market.
Understanding the duality of the Japanese labor market will help you to develop your own professional project. The languages ​​are spoken (Japanese, English, at the current level, even business), expertise, diplomas, your network, will highlight your potential. It is quite possible to work in Japan, especially when you take with you a baggage that will hit the mark with recruiters.

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