Hard work yields no rewards; Y4 million salary barrier is impenetrable


When 96% of respondents answer “No,” something is afoot, if the poll has any validity at all. Spa! (Dec 6) surveyed 100 company employees aged 35-49 earning under 4 million yen a year. The question that drew the overwhelming negative response is, “Are you satisfied with your current salary?”

Dissatisfaction is not necessarily a bad thing. It can fuel ambition, stimulate the drive to get ahead. But Spa!’s point is that for the vast majority among the growing ranks of underpaid middle-aged workers, the state of the economy is such that getting ahead is impossible. Hard work yields no rewards; the 4-million-yen barrier is impenetrable; you’re mired in poverty, comparatively speaking, “until death.”

Labor ministry statistics show an average annual salary for employees in their early 40s of 5.75 million yen. A certain “Iwasaki-san,” single at 47 and earning 3.6 million a year, may not be poor in absolute terms, but he works for a struggling company, hasn’t had a raise in 10 years, has no hope of a raise any time soon, and perhaps can’t be blamed if he feels poor.

His company, a metals processor, is too small to cope comfortably with the soaring cost of imported raw materials – a by-product of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Consequent cost-shaving focuses on salaries, which stagnate, and overtime pay, which has vanished. Iwasaki used to earn 3.6 million a year working overtime. Its loss is a significant crimp in his personal finances. He can save nothing, he says, and as for marriage, “I’ve given up on it.” Marriage, he feels, requires a firmer economic base than he can possibly build.

Iwasaki is fairly representative of workers in small and midsize companies, says personnel consultant Shigeyuki Jo. “The domestic market is shrinking,” he explains. “The firms that are doing well are the leading global exporters” – this, adds Spa!, four years after the government’s “Abenomics” reform package went into operation with the declared intention of igniting a more general upsurge. Economy, trade and industry ministry figures the magazine cites show sales for small and midsize companies down no less than 30 trillion yen between 2011 and 2015. From 2009 to 2015, those same smaller companies reduced their payroll costs by 1.6 trillion yen. It’s people like Iwasaki who feel the pinch.

Some feel it much worse. “Mr Imoto,” at 41, seemed to escape one "burakku kigyo" (black company) only to land in another, and then another. A black company is one that exploits its employees shamelessly. Long hours, low pay. Even so, Iwamoto, a software engineer, had worked his way up to peak earnings of 4.5 million a year, but the endless workdays – he’d spend a month at a time sleeping, or rather catnapping, on cardboard spread out on his office floor – took their toll. His health broke down, he took a leave of absence and finally found a less demanding job, but his salary plunged to 3.3 million. He has three children. The family lives in a small house, the kids sleep in one room. That will do for now, while they’re all in elementary school – but when they’re bigger? “We” – the parents – “will have to sleep in the kitchen,” says Imoto ruefully.

Then there’s “Mr Takahashi,” whose father at 73 suffered a stroke that left him half paralyzed and one of an estimated 6.2 million people nationwide who cannot live without more or less constant assistance. Takahashi, 41 and single, is an only child. What could he do? His father was not quite incapacitated enough to qualify for subsidized institutionalization, so the son quit his job and found another close to his father’s house. The convenience does not come cheap. Takahashi now earns 3.3 million a year, 2.5 million less than before. His new boss is understanding and allows Takahashi as flexible a schedule as possible – but the boss’s retirement is approaching and the boss’s son, poised to take over, is known to resent the drain on efficiency. Takahashi sees the axe raised over his head. He doesn’t know what he’ll do when it falls.

© Japan Today

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In the USA... finding actual loyal and hard working employees can be difficult and if you do, you'd better pay them well and take good care of them. I could be a success at almost any service business in the USA if I could import hard working Japanese employees... and they would be paid well.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

Mr Imoto,” at 41, seemed to escape one “burakku kigyo” (black company) only to land in another, and then another. A black company is one that exploits its employees shamelessly. Long hours, low pay

show me a company in Japan that doesn't fit that description and I'll apply for a job there.

1 ( +8 / -7 )

Only a pitiful 4M a year?? Pathetic salary, how does anybody get the motivation to get out of bed in the morning to earn such a pittance?? Unbelievable.

I don't know any foreigners here earning anything as pathetically low as that. I guess they wouldn't come here or stay here if that was the extent of their salary.

-31 ( +7 / -38 )

Nice illustration of the real effect of Abenomics on the majority of Japanese people.

6 ( +11 / -5 )

Japan is becoming more like the US, where the 1% is absorbing more and more of the wealth created by workers, while the workers sink further into poverty. Thank you Koizumi. And people wonder why populism is rising, bringing you Trump.

9 ( +12 / -3 )

Does the term “burakku kigyo” (black company) apply to companies like Dentsu, a company many people want to work for?

11 ( +12 / -1 )

I've always thought Japan is a pretty ideal place to be poor compared to other countries. Few people live in a luxurious home so you don't have to feel any shame about living in a small 1LDK. If you're in an urban area, nobody will raise an eyebrow if you say you don't own a car. If your friends ask why you never go on overseas holidays, you can just say you're extremely busy at work. Owning something like a boat or holiday home is so unusual that it's not even on anyone's radar.

Of course, the only reason everyone wants more money is to spend it in order to get something else. I wonder what that something else is for most of these people earning under 4m. Is it actualy love, respect, a saved marriage, a better relationship with children? I think most of what makes life worth living doesn't require money.

13 ( +16 / -3 )

Sadly these trends are set to continue, its likely going to get worse for your average man/woman on the street.

It seems many realize the traditional path in the same company has been a DEAD END now for at least 20yrs, but there really isn't anything else for most as they are risk adverse & if you fail your pretty much toast in Japan sadly.

I have got lots of ideas where I think Japan can do better BUT its the locals who need to do this, not doing anything HAS consequences, the article describes them quite well.

Japan is in dire need of a RESTORATION, a re-invent of EVERYTHING pretty much, the current WAY, clearly wont cut it, its getting progressively worse over time here.

Japanese need to re-invent themselves when it comes to work(especially!!), play, love life, family & another biggie govt!

But they need to do this, but it will have to get worse I think before any of this will even see a hint of the light of day

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Winner dogs and loser dogs. That is what Koizumi said Japan needed. That is what Japan is getting. The winner dogs are few and the loser dogs are legion. But the loser dogs do not draw a line between their falling status and the LDP that put them where they are. Just like in the USA working people put republicans in power who screw them over again and again. Abemonimcs, smoke and mirrors. But it works to keep in the LDP in power.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

show me a company in Japan that doesn't fit that description and I'll apply for a job there.

As I have often mentioned in the past, I work for one, you could apply, but chances of getting hired are slim to none. People don't quit where I work, and those that retire are replaced with new hires in their early to mid-20's.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

4M yen in regional Japan probably affords a family a reasonable if hardly extravagant lifestyle but I would hate to try and support my family in Tokyo on that income.

It is surprising though that such a low unemployment rate hasn't lead to more wage inflation in Japan than it has.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Even if you make 4 million yen, compare to U.S. dollars, yen has weak buying power. If you compare with the U.S. dollar buying power, the yen probably is worth 25 percent less than the current exchange rate. Very similar to comparing Canadian or Australian dollars to U.S. dollars. Your money doesn't go far. And the amount of hours you have to work for to get 4 million yen, it's a slave work.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I notice something very stranger in Japan cities that does not happen in most. When you travel though the suburbs most houses have no lights on before 9.00pm or later. People should be at home at that time with their family. The nation is time poor, overworked, underpay and over educated. This has been happening for at least a generation. There is less community interaction. But sales of expensive euro cars are up, Wague beef stocks have increased and More expensive restaurant have opened and Japan has increase in total of Michellein Stars by 30 % in the last 2 decades. These are indicators you can check and I won,t be proven wrong. So there are people are excelling. I wonder who.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

4M yen in regional Japan probably affords a family a reasonable if hardly extravagant lifestyle

I don't see how. Places may be cheaper than Tokyo, but not that much cheaper. Schools, orthodontics for kids, car, it all adds up quite quickly. A single guy on 4M yen? Sure, that's doable. But with kids, it must be very stressful. And much, much worse for single parents. Even for that low salary, they can never be home to take care of their kids.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

3 M a year living a decent and comfortable life here in the countryside with 2 kids. House mortgage, 2 cars, once a year holiday abroad. We cook our own food mostly and ocasionally dine out on weekends or oiwai party.

Sports are either free or 100 yen with local sport clubs (susidized local gymnasium). Gyms for weight training only 100 yen. Swimming pool 150 yen. Tons of parks. My son joined sport clubs here for 2,000 yen per year. Phone bills 4,000 yen for 2 Android smartphones on Kakuyasu SIM cards (beats any ote Docomo, Softbank, AU anyday). Internet ADSL for 3,000 yen a month.

House is all denka could go to only 4,000 per month in spring, autumn ( no gas bills), most expensive would be summer or winter max would be 15,000 (that's if we max out yukadanbo, heating carpet, kotatsu for very cold winter). Transportation 8,000 yen on a 25km/ L running kei for work (covered by company).

We could even still save on the side after all the monthly expense. Basic need is food, house, clothes. We don't need to be super setsuyaku but just have to know where you can substitute the things like for a cup of 450 yen coffee in Starbucks I'd rather go for a Cafe Latte 150 yen in Lawson. Rather than spending 10,000 yen on a high end sushi just go to Sushi Ro for 4,000 pretty much stuffed the whole family. Rather than buying 15,000 jacket in branded shop just head out to Shimamura, Uniqlo, Bingoya, you could get 3,000 yen stylish and warm jacket.

A suggestion to all complaining in the article above or having hard time living in the city, consider moving to the countryside, it worked for us at least.

15 ( +15 / -0 )

There is no way the average salary for 35-49 year olds is just 4M yen. That is way too low. The article is just pointing out that the majority of the folks earning that amount are not happy about it. At my work we bring on new employees at more than that.

3 ( +3 / -0 )


show me a company in Japan that doesn't fit that description and I'll apply for a job there.

As I have often mentioned in the past, I work for one, you could apply, but chances of getting hired are slim to none. People don't quit where I work, and those that retire are replaced with new hires in their early to mid-20's.

That's nice. What are the qualifications and experiences you need to apply? What area of expertise is required? If chances are slim to none, I'm assuming the pay is also quite competitive?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

dodosuko:Yes your correct and people are doing that. The article is about standard of living. Like 20 years ago if you practice the controls you have in place now, you could save the partners wage. To that save the other partner wage now, you have to gave up sports and extra classes for the children, gave up at least one car if not both. Bikes would be use often and no sushi ro and second hand cloths. The group mention ( the assumed middle class) is not the largest. the largest is working poor. These are the minimum wage earners. Some are those in the article. Where one does not even leave work and only get pay for 40 hours, not the hours worked. If used maths the worker is working for less the the minimum wage per hour, yet he is class Middle class. The working poor might get some benefits. Take a labour worker with a hire company on minmum wage is hired by Lixil as a line worker. They are on causal wage of Y1100 per hour for 3 months then offered a permiment job on Y650 per hour with the usual benefits. They have take that offered your move on to the next minimum wage job in a different town or city. The Itinerate working poor. I have come across women with families age in their 60 year doing this to support their family.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This is the destiny for all developed countries. Japan's meltdown was 1991. USA and Europe, 2008. Japan is ahead of the curve.

"Free market" or supply-side solutions combined with extensive post-depression deleveraging is a race to the bottom. Except for the 1%.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

John-san : I know a lot of families living with 3 M tedori with no problem at all here in the country side. So if the article mention 4M per year for a single guy in his 40s is considered poverty, what is the actual break down of his expense? Would it include 15,000 yen for a golf game, 10,000 yen AKB48 concert ticket or 20,000 yen to a kebakura? ;)

We go to Daiso for some household appliance or gardening tool, a koro koro roller could be 400 yen in department store, bicycle kit could be 1000 yen, mug cups could be 500 yen but everything is toned down to 108 yen in Daiso or Seria. That's a lot saved if you buy a lot of things on the long run.

Car shaken done in Autobacks or Yellow Hat only took us 50,000 for a kei car, might cost more in shop that will try to rip us off. We asked for mitsumori at Autobacs beforehand and all is well.

Light sickness like cold, cough, flu could be treated with medicine from general drugstore like Wellness, just ask their pharmacist for their recommendations.

For other things there's always online shop like Amazon or Rakuten where we can get things cheaper. Bought my son's bike for around 10,000 yen online as compared to 20,000 yen in a bike shop.

For entertainment we could rent DVDs for 80 yen in GEO for a whole week (or actually Torrent for free online ;)), we sometimes could just hang out for half day in Jusco AEON mall in the weekend (kids playing in the toys section and game arcade, while I check sport goods and bookshops).

In short, so many things that you could cut corners with spending.

Japan is actually much cheaper and affordable than what a lot of people think, that's if you know your way and know where to look.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

The salarymen are probably accepting a lot of bloated expense due to their honour such as bloated appliance repair bills, neighbour charges,....

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Dodosuko: You are correct again and with your attitude should be appalled. I assume your have excepted that last generation was the peck of this era. But Japan have a found themselves in a situation were the working poor (not the example above). Can never get out of provety no matter how hard they work. My Partner is a Uni educated and who can only get a Job paying Y640 a hour/ 1.3 million yen per year before tax, for the Company 3M in Kitakame. Iwate. Benefits are pension pay in and 10 day annual leave and public holidays. She refuse any coin off me. I am back living in Australia after 6 years in Japan. I totally enjoy my work their and my time but Japan has something Australia has not and that is the working poor. My Partner will not come to Australia until she can finance a 3 months stay. Until then I fly back for a few weeks every 3 months. I know that once here she will stay. A lost to Japan and Australian gain

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I have to applaud DODO and M3 for looking beyond the "numbers on paper" of living in Japan. I strongly beleive that the quality of life in Japan has improved by leaps and bounds over the last 30 years. If you want to look at wages, oh boy. Yes they are stagnant, but look at what higher wages gets you in other countries... or lets say wage AMPLITUDE... social unrest, spotty medical care or hugely expensive medical care, crime, ghettoes, drugs, ever-changing social rules and norms, legal conundrums and legal nightmares, .... even, at a bare minimum, poor internet hookup speeds and poor levels of service.

Oh I used to feel differently. Not anymore. I used to think Japan was a horrible place to be poor compared to say, the US, where the parks are nice and museums are appealing. Hey, let's go hiking and biking everyone! I hate to think how long ago that was, and my how things have changed. I can just say it bluntly now. A salary of 40 k dollars in the US is at pucker level at best. A salary of 40 k in Japan can give you a good life with a lot of enjoyment and avenues for enjoyment, and not many unpleasant surprises.

You know, a lot of people can handle a daily grind and even a low salary if they know they are not going to die alone in a gutter. haha. Have a nice day everybody!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

John San: Most people can't avail themselves of the escape to Australia escape route. For every one that does though, it means that there is one less grumbler, one less disaffected person whose presence is absolutely critical to effect change here in Japan. Elites, who would have the most to lose if the downtrodden were to ever get organized, actively encourage them to leave for the greener pastures of Australia or wherever. Choosing to stay and fight, instead of taking flight is the harder option, but choosing it means you get to be part of that critical mass needed for building a fairer and kinder Japan.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Oyatoi; The Japanese are great at organising, but for the disenfranchised working poor. This I can,t not work out. They would be a mass to deal with if they got their act together. I hope the disenfranchised protesting for a $15 an hour minimum wage in America heap rewards like Trump has promise. Then it would be the right time start some sort of ground swell. like a band on working overtime to start with. The last two plants my Partner worked in Lixil and M3 would not keep up orders if not for the overtime they demand of their workforce. If the Japan Government ever approve of a visa system like Australia, where foreign workers from poor Asian counties are allow to stay and work these Jobs on long term contracts. This would put the working poor on the streets with nothing but a few government yen per week to live. They is plenty of the elites who would not give a toss if this happened if it meant a bigger margin. I just hope this does not happen and they the elites start investing in back into the local economy by providing a better minimum wage.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Go on strike

2 ( +2 / -0 )

sf2k: Striking is used only in a last retort. A striking workforce gains no respect from the public effected and with Owners/ Managers and CEO. Workplace bargaining is the best way to go. Government will never bring in on because they don,t employ people on minimum wage. Management will have to be the one to move on the issue. They will never until they are force to come to the table and work place bargaining is the best tool in this case. Middle management in Japan is far overweigh with pass retirement workers, 55 year olds plus with the finance to retired but are holding on because of boredom, if they did.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Well, that's odd, I find it hard to surpass the 2M barrier. rofl

With less than 180.000 a month without any kind of bonuses adding to that, i find it quite easy to survive. But i don't feel bad about it since-

I can eat sort of properly. Plus going out to cheap popular restaurants once or twice a month.

I can get dressed on cold/hot weathers. (gotta love shimamura rofl)

I can have a bike (although i can't use my phones while pedaling :sigh:)

I can pay my rent and bills.

I can get a little sick about once a year and my budget won't be hurt so badly.

Well, that's not a fancy lifestyle, but, it is quite nice.

But what i do feel bad about is that- it's not peaceful as i thought it would be.

I can't get to a gym (it seems that there aren't any around here in Shizuoka-Fukuroi)

I can't get a good night of sleep. (It seems that all the corporations around love to make the employees to work over 10+ hours a day)

I can't socialize. Since i'm not japanese (born-in-japan), and my japanese (language) is remarkably awful. Seems im not quite the sharpest tool in the shed on any friendlist.

But with all the problems, Japan is a nice place to live. Even without money.

(Although the corporate-guys are always trying to take all the peace away with their Zangyo-loving policy)

4 ( +4 / -0 )

4 million a year won't pay my Amex card, it's not even close to what I pay for rent. It is because Japan's salaries are so bad that I went to work for myself. It's too bad that Iwasaki-san and others don't do the same. If more people started more small businesses and companies, we wouldn't be stuck with a glut of under-performing and underpaying zombie companies.

With less than 180.000 a month without any kind of bonuses adding to that,

You have to understand that the pay level mentioned is gross. You need to subtract a hell of a lot of money in taxes, pension payments, healthcare, etc. and what is left over is not much more than what you are getting. Then add the cost of a wife, and perhaps a kid or two, get the picture?

But the culture here is to conform, obey, never complain, and certainly never be audacious enough to say "take this job and shove it!" and find a way to make an independent living. Jumping in front of an express is easier.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I went to work for myself. It's too bad that Iwasaki-san and others don't do the same. If more people started more small businesses and companies, we wouldn't be stuck with a glut of under-performing and underpaying zombie companies.

The vast majority of those new start-ups fail: 85~95% fold within 5 to 10 years. If you have been successful, you are one of the lucky ones.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

4 million a year won't pay my Amex card, it's not even close to what I pay for rent.

You're still only paying rent which means you don't own the place. I'm paying 50,000 yen per month for a 3 bedroom house with huge garden plenty space to play for my kids and park my cars, it will be another another twenty something years but we know we have a roof over our head and place to keep us warm for good. Good luck paying 400,000 yen to your landlord each month in the big cities ;)

Self employed meaning you're paying kokumin nenkin? Good luck receiving 50,000 yen per month when Uehara's getting nearly 200,000 yen with Kosei Nenkin after retiring.

Every life choice is a double edged swords.;)

2 ( +3 / -1 )

and you wonder why the economy is not working. in Japan

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I feel for his work prospects, but he could reduce his costs by moving out a bit. Tokyo property is severely inflated because lower earners refuse to make their life easier and move a few stations down the line yet save 50000 a month on rent

0 ( +0 / -0 )

IronSword, I know right? I too have yet to meet anyone earning those amounts, and i have been all over Aoyama and Azabu-juban (so, pretty much all of Japan). People earning so little probably even have to open their own doors, can you imagine that?!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Some people can spend less than what they earn.

I don't buy things I don't need with money I don't have to impress people that I don't even like. Like a lot of people these days do. Putting their pride over living a real honest life.

By 55 I'm off the hook with paying mortgage loan, while those still paying rent better be off with a lot of nenkin or money saved up for paying 40 grand per month rent upon 65 until their death bed. There's even a house to pass on to the next generation

Something that I wish not do after over 55 when age is catching up. Hopefully could already take it easy, holidaying in SE Asia, take care of grandchildren (finger crossed) and just enjoy the rest of life after receiving nenkin post 60.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I hope this acts as an impulse for people to learn English WELL and get out. No need to stay here. The brain drain is well overdue.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The vast majority of those new start-ups fail: 85~95% fold within 5 to 10 years. If you have been successful, you are one of the lucky ones.

I am not a "start-up," and I dislike the term. A start-up is usually a tech-oriented idea with a catchy four digit name which provides some kind of common service. The creator makes more money from the hype and outside investment than they do from sales. The failure rate is high because any business whose foundation is nothing but a catchy name which provides a common service is likely to fail.

I didn't create a start-up, I created a business. It does not have a catchy name, and there are no outside investors. I provide Japanese products to foreign customers, hardly a new concept here in Japan. I know others who have also created profitable businesses in Japan, and who are doinge very well. It is less the lack of opportunity in Japan than the widespread belief that being a salaryman is the most socially acceptable way to work in Japan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The difference between a start-up and a business is that start-ups are built to be sold, while businesses are built to be long-lived for the builders.

I also built a business, but we've spun off a start-up.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I earn about 4 million working at a Japanese company, but then I go home at 17:10 and earn an additional 4m, so life is just about worth living.

I wouldn't put up with a job that expected me to sit around till 21:00 just to get my meagre wage, or expressly banned me from doing any other work (as many companies still do).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

U got to be kidding, K.K.VINARIUS pays more than 4.5 million a year for operational staffs, with insurance and many benefits, yet staffs have complains. Our working hrs are from 9 am to 7 .30 pm, Monday to Fridays, all public holidays respected. We are a small company and I intend to keep it that way.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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