Ultimate Guide to Average Salary in Japan

By Hei Kin Wong | July 13th 2021

Are you living in Japan but can’t decide which industry to enter? Or maybe you are working as an English teacher and want to advance your career in another sector? Or maybe you just want to know what type of job pays well for foreigners. This guide will provide everything you will need to know about the average salary in Japan while answering some of the most common questions that come with it. If you think you have the skills to work in Japan and want to know which industry pays well, then you are in the perfect place. This guide is also suitable for those who want to check whether the salary they have been offered matches the average salary of that industry.

If you wish to know more about jobs in Japan for foreigners, then check out our main page for more information about specific jobs you want to apply for.

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    Finding out Average salary in Japan

    What is the average salary in Japan?

    The short answer is very simple. According to Doda, the yearly average salary in Japan in 2021 is 4,530,000 Yen/ 41,000 USD. The long answer, however, is way more complicated. There are a multitude of factors that contribute to a person’s salary. The industry they work in, the experience they have in that particular field, and the place they work in just to name a few. Of course, the most obvious differentiator is the industry people work in. The industry will also be the main differentiator used in this article. We will also talk about other factors that might contribute to how your salary could change despite being in the same industry. 

    Why is the starting average salary in Japan so low? (compared to the US)

    While there are quite a few reasons as to why the average salary in Japan is much lower than in the US, the main reason can boil down to cultural differences and expectations. In many traditional industries, fresh graduates are not expected to have experience in the field before applying for the job. The company is expecting applicants of lower positions to have little to no experience and they are the ones who will provide training during their first year in the company. The remnants of the concept Shūshin koyō (終身雇用) is still quite popular in some major companies and employers tend to pay employees a lot more for sticking around in the company for the long run.

    While this system will most certainly keep the experienced workers working in your company. This also created a problem for these traditional Japanese companies that led to the starting salary being so low. Since traditional Japanese companies pay a lot more to their experienced workers, that usually means they don’t have enough money to hire and pay younger employees. This creates a negative culture where you will stay around the same level until you have stuck around for long enough to be considered one of the “old guys or girls”. The good news is after the financial collapse in 2008 the system has been slowly deteriorating and now more and more Japanese companies will no longer look down on job changes.

    What are the industries with the highest average salary in Japan?

    While the top-ranking industries fluctuate a bit depending on the year, the top 4 industries have relatively similar average salaries in Japan. Let’s look at some of the industries that pay the best in this country. Since the average salary data for 2021 have yet to be released, we will be using the data for 2020 as a reference.

    IT / Communication (4.44 million Yen/40,200 USD per year)

    This industry have traditionally been one of the best-paying jobs in the market. It also has the highest entry-level salary for both foreigners and Japanese alike. If you have the skills and wish to work in Japan, IT will always be the go-to industry for foreigners. The best-paying jobs within this industry are IT consultant and system integrator. However, both would require a certain amount of experience. The best thing about IT jobs for foreigners is that you are often not required to know Japanese for the position you are applying for. This is especially the case when it comes to foreign companies operating inside Japan. 

    With that being said, it is also true that more opportunities in the IT field would open up to you if you do understand Japanese. Our recommendation is to find an online Japanese class you can attend while working in the industry. Not only can you obtain more experience in the field while studying Japanese, but it also opens more opportunities for your IT career in Japan in the future. Finally, if you are interested in joining the IT field in Japan then I would suggest you check out our Guide to IT Jobs in Japan.

    Manufacturing (4.45 million Yen/40,300 USD per year)

    Along with IT, the manufacturing industry is also one that constantly has the best average salary in Japan. Manufacturing is not only the symbol of Japanese industries but also one with a great variation in salary. If you are working in the tobacco or the electronic industry then you could see your average salary jump to as much as 6 million Yen/54,300 USD per year. On the other hand, if you are working in the textile field then expect your salary to generally be below the manufacturing industry. A general rule of thumb is that your salary would be higher if you decided to work in a technology-related manufacturing field.

    One point of note for the manufacturing industry is that it has a relatively high amount of foreigners working in that field. Around 5% of the industry’s employees are foreigners. This is a good indication that the manufacturing industry has a warmer attitude towards foreign workers and this might be an important factor for those who want a more foreigner-friendly environment. Although in most cases a good understanding of the Japanese language is still required.

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    Banking & Finance (4.48 million Yen/40,500 USD per year)

    Another hallmark industry with a good average salary. While the banking/finance industry generally has good salaries around the world, this is especially the case when it comes to Japan. The idea of permanent employment is still relevant in the banking field and sticking with a single company/bank could get you way more salary in the long run. The optimal strategy if you are still young and a fresh graduate is to enter a financial institute as early as possible and stick around to get more experience. After a decade of work in the field, you will most likely have an above-average salary than most industries. 

    That being said, entering the banking industry still has a few limitations if you are a foreigner. The proficiency level of Japanese required is often quite advanced. The amount of foreigners working in this field is also quite limited. The situation is a bit different in the finance sector. Technologies are now an integrated part of the finance sector and the demand for IT staff is higher than ever. If you have experience in the IT field then it would be way easier for you to land a job in the finance industry.

    Construction / Real Estate (4.18 million Yen/37,800 USD per year)

    This might be surprising for some people but the construction and the real estate industry actually makes similar average salaries compared to industries like finance. Real estate development in Japan is still ongoing and it does require both hard labor and employees with different skill sets. Since more and more companies in the real estate industry are adopting new technologies, it would be much easier for you to land an above-average salary in the real estate sector. Generally, the construction jobs that demand hard labor require less Japanese language skills. However, if you process engineering skills and wish to apply them in the construction industry then a higher level of Japanese (N2 and N1) is required. 

    The construction and real estate industry also has few foreigners working in the field. About 2% of the total foreigners living in Japan work in the construction/real estate sectors and it is unlikely to rise by a significant margin anytime soon. Finally, if you are a foreigner interested in this field then real estate finance would be your best bet at working in the industry.

    Medical (4.26 million Yen/38,500 USD per year)

    Working in the medical industry is another way to get a good average salary in Japan. The medical industry in Japan is quite large and demands a variety of skilled employees. For medicine makers, a degree in biochemistry is most certainly required. The skillset for entering the medical industry is quite narrow and advanced. However, since more and more technical skills are demanded to develop new medical machines, IT personnel, as well as engineers, can potentially find a job in the medical industry today. Similar to the banking/finance industry, the medical industry in Japan has been one of the industries with the highest average salary in Japan and has a similar salary structure. This means that the more you stick around in one company your salary would rise exponentially. 

    With that being said, it would be difficult for a fresh foreign graduate to enter the medical industry. Knowing Japanese would certainly help, but without the appropriate degree, it can be challenging to successfully apply for a job in the industry. The better choice would be to enter the medical industry in Japan as an experienced worker. You will most certainly get a better salary and there will be less requirement on the level of Japanese.

    Average Engineer salary in Japan

    Consultant (5.1 million Yen/46,200 USD per year)

    While the role of a consultant is often reserved for experienced workers, for the past decade more and more companies have started to hire fresh graduates as consultants. This job is also one with a great variety on what your average salary in Japan would be depending on your experiences in the respective field. That being said, most starting consultant positions will have a higher salary than jobs in education or translation. This is a field where foreigners are relatively common compared to other jobs. The required level of Japanese proficiency is also less than other jobs in this article.

    Marketing, PR, Advertising & Communications (4.3 million Yen/38,900 USD per year)

    If you are a good marketer then it is more than likely for you to land a good average salary in Japan. In today’s world, the job of a marketer or a PR specialist is more important than ever. The value of a great marketer cannot be understated. This is also why your pay in this industry could vary a ton based on your experience and your capability as a marketer. Much like a salesperson, a marketer’s base salary could be very low and the commission can be high. This encourages employees to innovate and work hard to achieve the best results. Almost every major company would employ marketers and/or PR specialists to assist the image of their company, allowing you to land a job in major companies if you have the necessary skills. 

    The level of Japanese required also varies based on which industry you work in. If you are marketing for an international or a newer startup company then the requirement for the Japanese level is lesser than usual, vise versa. A marketing agency is also less likely to ask for an advanced level of Japanese proficiency since they also have international clients. 

    The main takeaway from all these sectors mentioned above is that many of them require a particular skill set or staying within the industry for long periods of time in order to get the higher salary you would expect from that industry.

    Here at BFF Tokyo, we have a guide on Marketing Jobs in Japan for Foreigners if you are interested in getting a job in the marketing field. Alternatively, if you are a student who wants to learn marketing in a real environment, then consider an internship position with us!

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    What are the industries with the lowest average salary in Japan?

    So far we have covered most of the industries with the best average salary in Japan. But what about the industries that generally pay less well than the others? Who are they and what kind of salary and work can you expect from each of these industries? Keep in mind that just because these industries have some of the lowest salaries does not mean that you cannot have a successful career within them. If you are interested in these industries then don’t let these numbers discourage you from working with them. One final thing to keep in mind is to be careful of black companies in Japan. These are companies who offer very low wages and extensive working hours to exploit foreigners. Make sure to do adequate research before applying for a position that seems too good to be true.

    Localization, Interpreting & Translation (3.5 million Yen/ 31,700 USD per year)

    Since there are now more foreigners and international companies working in Japan than ever, it is not surprising that the translation industry would become one of the most popular industries in Japan. Since the skills required for translation are arguably less than many other industries mentioned in this list, the pay can be relatively low compared to the industries on this list. That is not to say that you can’t find a translation or localization job that pays well though. The gaming industry, for example, is more than willing to pay above-average salary in Japan to get a team of professional translators to port their game to the west. Major companies in Japan also hire professional translators to assist their communication with other companies.    

    If you are interested in finding a translation job in Japan, then check out our Guide to Translation Jobs in Japan to know more about the industry. One thing to note before going into the translation industry is that getting a degree would most definitely assist you in finding a job and increase your average salary in Japan.

    Tourism (3.5 million Yen/31,700 USD per year)

    At the time of writing this article, the tourism industry in Japan is looking rather grim. Domestic travel has become the core of the tourism industry and normal tourism is not expected to return anytime soon. Therefore, we will be discussing the tourism industry before the pandemic. Although it is one of the less well-paid industries compared to the top jobs, it is also one that shows the largest amount of growth in Japan (at least before the pandemic). To become a certified tour guide in Japan you would also need to go through some hoops before getting a license. Check out this guide if you wish to know more about being a guide in Japan once things are back up and running.

    Education (3.5 million Yen/31,700 USD per year)

    This is one of the most well-known industries with one of the largest foreigner participation rates in any industry. The education industry in Japan has always been one of the go-to industries for workers and students alike. The main topic of discussion here will be teaching languages, although it is also possible for foreigners to find jobs in the education industry that does not involve language education. While the salary one could earn through teaching language is less compared to other industries, depending on the level of education and experience you have it could go way above the average salary listed here. Many foreigners also treat a language teaching job as a stop-gap for staying in Japan while learning/job hunting in other areas.

    Since we will be discussing the average salary of an English teacher in greater detail. This section will be dedicated more to teaching other languages in Japan. Much like English, other Asian languages and even some western languages like Spanish are also demanded in Japan. If you happen to know more languages other than English then it would be a great opportunity to distinguish yourself from the English teaching crowd. Finally, if you have an educational background, then teaching at an international school might not be a bad choice as well.

    How much does an English teacher make in Japan?

    The question almost every foreigner will ask when they look for work in Japan. The shortest answer we could give is about 230,000 Yen/2,000 USD a month. However, many other factors could help increase your average salary in Japan. Let’s start with the most obvious one - experience. If you have prior experience or have worked in language schools, it would certainly increase your salary. Experience in teaching children, in particular, is a big plus for many language schools when they hire foreigners. Furthermore, a degree is also helpful in your pursuit of a higher English teaching salary in Japan. Finally, if you have an education-related degree it would also open up paths to a job in more formal schools in Japan. 

    There’s also a government-run program called JET, where you would take on an exchange teacher position from the Japanese government and come with better pay (around 30,000 yen/270 USD a month). It is also possible to be sent around Japan if you are working as an Assistant Language Teacher dispatch, which would provide you with the opportunity to go to different areas of Japan. If you are about to graduate or have an interest in coming to work as an English teacher in Japan, then check out our Ultimate Guide to Teaching Jobs in Japan for more details on how you could secure an English teaching Job in Japan. 

    If you are thinking about taking on an English teaching job while learning Japanese, why not take some online Japanese lessons on Japan Switch? They provide affordable and flexible teaching lessons for beginner and intermediate level Japanese and are a great option to develop your language skills while working as an English teacher.

    Average salary in Japan for English teachers

    What’s life like under a English teacher's salary in Japan?

    Can you survive with an average English teaching salary in Japan? While living in Japan may seem expensive in some areas, it can also be very cheap if you play your cards right. This is true even in cities like Tokyo or Osaka. For example, our guide on Finding Cheap Apartments in Tokyo tells you how living in Tokyo can be cheap even with the relatively high rent. Your life would not be luxurious nor able to go on a lavish trip every once a year. But if you manage your expenses properly then I guarantee you will live a comfortable life in Japan.

    The more important question to ask yourself is: Whether a life under an English teacher salary is one that you want. If you are looking for a life where you don’t have to track your expenses, then working under an English teacher's salary will definitely not meet your expectations.

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    Can I make a good salary without speaking Japanese?

    Yes, you can have a good average salary in Japan even if you don’t speak or understand Japanese. However, it should be noted that the career opportunity for a foreigner who doesn’t understand Japanese will be significantly limited. In many cases, a professional skill set or degree would also be required if you wish to work in industries that pay well and do not require Japanese. With that being said, let’s look at some of the jobs/fields that get you a good average salary in Japan without needing Japanese.

    IT / Communication

    IT is a unique industry in the sense that the skills required to enter this industry are also one that is demanded in many other industries. As various traditional industries adopt new technologies to market or improve their products. IT skills, whether it is a web design, consultant or even game design are very much wanted in the domestic industries. As demand for more IT personnel increases and the Japanese population continues to decline, Japanese companies find it to be more and more difficult to hire local IT staff. Combined with the fact that the skills required in the IT field demand less communication than other industries. It makes perfect sense why more and more companies are starting to employ IT staff, among foreigners regardless of their Japanese level. 

    While the skills required to enter the IT field might be very specific, there are also more and more online schools and institutes that offer good IT lessons and career support in Japan. Companies like Tokyo Stack are providing online coding lessons in Japan if you wish to advance your career in the IT field. Do check them out if you wish to develop your skills further in IT.

    Recruitment (3.5 million Yen/31,700 USD per year)

    The recruitment industry is one of the largest industries that employ foreigners that don't speak Japanese and pays well. The reason why this industry employs foreigners who don't have good Japanese proficiency goes hand in hand with why the IT industry has been more and more open to foreigners. The need for more IT staff means that the job of a recruiting company becomes ever more crucial. This also means recruiting companies are scouting for foreign workers who are willing to work in Japan despite not having an interest to begin with. Different from the IT industry, recruiting jobs usually do not require any professional certification beforehand, which makes it ideal for people who don’t have specific skills in the IT field. 

    While you could argue the recruitment industry is easier to get into compared to the It sector, it does come with its own caveat. The salary of a recruiter is usually performance-based, meaning that you could potentially earn way more or less than the average. Furthermore, while it does not test your skills in specific areas, it does require advanced interpersonal skills to do well in the industry. If this is something that you find challenging, you might want to reconsider a career in recruitment.

    Finally, we have a Guide to Recruiter Jobs in Japan if you are interested in working as a recruiter.

    Does Gender play a role in average salary in Japan?

    Unfortunately, it does. On average, women make less money in Japan compared to men. But the reason might not be the one you are thinking of. While women and men receive around the same average salary in almost every position, female representation in higher management positions in Japan is seriously lacking. Because of the traditional role of gender and norms surrounding females in Japan, women often work for fewer hours and are not in any managerial positions. Since many females are not in any higher position, they don't enjoy the increase in salary that comes with said managerial/crucial position.  More importantly, since women are not in the decision-making process of managing salary they often don’t have a say in the matter. All these factors combined contributed to the lower average salary women received in Japan.

    Fortunately for female foreigners, it doesn’t affect them as much as Japanese females working in a traditional industry. If you are working in more advanced fields like IT or recruitment, then expect your salary to be around the same level as male. However, because of the deep-seated cultural norms in Japanese society, upwards mobility for females will certainly be a problem if you are working in a Japanese company and wish to advance to a managerial position.

    Will my average salary in Japan increase if I speak Japanese?

    In some cases, yes. You will get paid more if you speak Japanese. In many industries being able to talk with your co-workers and clients in their native language is a big plus for the company. It might directly contribute to an increase in your salary or it might be the crucial factor that gets you the job over your competitors. Here at BFF Tokyo, we have always stressed the importance of learning Japanese even if the industry you wish to enter does not require you to speak Japanese. Knowing even an intermediate level of Japanese goes a long way and is a great way to show your employer that you are ready to adapt to the Japanese work culture. It could also improve your chances at a job interview by demonstrating your ability to communicate in your native language.

    For people who are at work (i.e as an English teacher, we strongly suggest you use some of your free time to take some online or offline Japanese lessons. If money is a cause for concern when it comes to Japanese learning, then you should check out Japan Switch. It offers affordable Japanese language private lessons at around 3000 yen/30 USD for 50 minutes. There are also group classes for about 1500 yen/15 USD at the same time.

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    What factors go into determining your average salary in Japan?

    In our earlier discussion, we have mentioned some of the factors that go into determining your average salary in Japan. Your proficiency in Japanese being one of them. There are also other factors that go into whether you will receive a good salary or not. Let’s take a look at some of them.

    Where you are in Japan - you will earn more in big cities

    This one is kind of a no-brainer. Since the living standard of major cities like Tokyo and Osaka is higher, it goes that their average salary compared to other cities in Japan would also be higher. This is especially the case for Tokyo, where many major Japanese, as well as international companies, are stationed. The average salary in Tokyo is around 3.8 million yen/34,400 USD per year, the highest among Japan’s cities. Furthermore, Cities like Tokyo would also have increased job opportunities for foreigners. This is not only due to the greater number of companies stationed there, but also the fact that a large number of foreigners also live in areas like Tokyo and Osaka. A large number of foreigners creates job opportunities and allows Tokyo to become a hub for companies to hire foreigners from.

    Big companies will pay better wages

    While this is not always true, the bigger the company you're working at, the better your average salary will become. Major companies not only have the ability to use better pay to attract more capable workers, but also provide improved working benefits for them as well. However, don’t expect the starting salary to be way higher than small companies. As we’ve talked about in the previous section, the starting average salary in Japan will be low regardless of the industry you decide to enter. That being said, the opportunity for growth is most certainly more apparent in larger Japanese companies as well as upward mobility. You can also expect a much more stable career if this is a cause for concern.

    Prior experience matters

    By prior experience, we are not only referring to the relevant working experience in the area you are entering but also seniority as well. In general, the more experience you have in the relevant area the better your pay would be. Furthermore, age also matters when it comes to your average salary in Japan. On average, your salary will be lower the younger you are. So a person in his/her 20s will have the lowest average salary while the peak of a person’s average salary will cap out at 50s. Since many Japanese companies' policy is for their workers to retire around the age of 60, they will decrease the salaries for older workers and put them in a state of semi-retirement until 65, where they could receive their pension.

    Do foreigners make less money compared to Japanese workers?

    Unfortunately, we do. In general, we only make around 70% of the average salary in Japan. The average salary for a regular foreign worker is around 2.5 million yen/22,600 USD. This is because a large number of foreigners are working in the service or education sector, where the pay is relatively low compared to other industries. There is also a large number of foreign students working as interns, which also contributed to the low average salary among foreigners. The good news for some foreigners is that if you have skills in the IT field, you could potentially see your salary rise as high as 3.5 million Yen/31,700 USD per year. This makes learning IT (along with taking online Japanese lessons) a good idea while working in other industries.

    Does age matter in the average salary in Japan?

    Yes, it does. To many Japanese companies, age is not only an indicator of your prior relevant experience but also your life experience as a whole. The idea is that the older you are, the better you would be at interacting with your co-workers and understanding the corporate culture better. If you continue to work in Japan it is very possible to see a notable rise in your salary despite being in industries like services and education. There is a cap to how much seniority will get you in the service and education industries, however. This is why you should always consider developing another skill to advance your Japanese while working as an English teacher.

    Which industries in Japan have good average salary growth?

    A general rule of thumb is that the industry that has a good initial salary also has good average salary growth. For example, industries like IT and banking both have good growth opportunities as well as upward mobility. However, the more popular industries like education and services have little growth opportunity and it is very likely you would see your salary caps out in a few years.

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    How much is a “good” average salary in Japan?

    As discussed in our section about the quality of life of an English teacher in Japan, the idea of a good salary depends on the lifestyle you desire to take in Japan. For educated foreigners starting their career in Japan, their salary averages around 2.5 million yen/22,600 USD per year. You can most certainly live a comfortable life with that salary given that you track your expenses. However, if a more carefree life is what you are looking for when you come to Japan, then this might not be a “good” salary for you.

    If you are looking to check whether the salary you have been offered is a good one, the website career cross has a list of average salaries you could check out based on the industry the jobs pertains to. Just keep in mind that the salary of a foreigner will generally be a bit less when you assess whether the salary you have been offered is an acceptable one.

    How will the average salary in Japan change after the pandemic?

    For foreigners, it is possible to see a slight increase in our average salary based on the fact that the new supply for foreign workers will still be limited because of the travel restrictions. However, since much of the data for average salary in Japan remains even during the pandemic, it is unlikely that it will change drastically after the pandemic.

    Final thoughts

    Money matters. This is especially the case for us foreigners when the jobs and industries we can enter can sometimes be restricted. It should also be noted that foreigners generally make less than the average Japanese worker. Knowing the average salary of different industries in Japan helps you make more educated decisions on how you could plan your career and live out the life you want in Japan. As a foreigner looking for a job with a good salary can be difficult at times, which is why we are here to help! Check out our Ultimate Guide to Jobs in Japan for Foreigners for all the information you will need to get you the job you want in Japan.

    Already have a nice job but you're not getting promoted at work? Consider a consultation with John Cunningham - a career coach that can help you move forward in your career! Check out his article on the Ultimate Guide to a Career Coach in Japan to learn more.

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