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What Motivates Foreigners Who Work in Japan?

Results of the GaijinPot Job Satisfaction Survey of Foreign Workers (2015)

Why would any foreigner want to work in Japan? The Japanese workplace has the reputation of being filled with people who work until all hours of the night, and who express absolute devotion to their companies despite suffocating bureaucracies that discriminate against women and foreigners.

Stereotype, or just hype? At GaijinPot, we wanted to find out what working in Japan is really like for foreigners, which is why we started our annual Job Satisfaction Survey of Foreign Workers in Japan in May 2015.

Following are some results and insights from the first survey (with thanks to the 267 people who responded to this particular set of questions).

You might find a few surprises. At the very least, we hope this provokes some thinking in Japanese HR circles about how to improve the motivation, attitude and productivity of foreign employees.

The majority seem just fine where they are

Survey participants were asked to rate their job satisfaction in the following categories. We calculated overall levels of satisfaction based on these results.

  1. Compensation
  2. Working hours
  3. Relationships with superiors
  4. Relationships with colleagues
  5. The Work (job content)
  6. Career development

This year, we are happy to report that most foreigners working in Japan seem to be content with their current jobs. About 60% reported that they were satisfied, including almost 20% who were “Very satisfied.” (See the chart below for details.)

In fact, less than 20% of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with their lots, with 13.64% merely “Somewhat dissatisfied” (indicating there was still hope for improvement).

How do these results compare with the situation in other countries? In its own recent job satisfaction survey of the US market, Right Management, a subsidiary of Manpower, reported that more than half of American workers were not satisfied, including 21% who were “somewhat unsatisfied” and 44% who were simply “unsatisfied.” Although the detailed contents of these two surveys differ in several respects, the GaijinPot survey would seem to suggest that Japan is actually a pretty good place to work for foreigners.

The biggest surprise: Compensation

One result that surprised even the GaijinPot team was related to remuneration in Japanese companies. Although many of the jobs posted on GaijinPot are for entry-level positions offering annual salaries under 3 million yen (about US$25,000, leaving very little indeed for disposable income after living expenses), less than one-third expressed any kind of dissatisfaction with their salaries.


Where you (the employer) can make the most difference

From our survey, we ascertained that the biggest area employers can improve upon is to offer more career development opportunities.

This ties back exactly to one of our other survey questions on why candidates turned down job offers after the interview stage which was due to not being offered enough opportunity for advancement or did not offer a challenge.


GaijinPot is the No.1 employment source for the foreign community and people overseas interested in working in Japan. For more information on our services for employers and foreigners living in Japan, please contact Kevin Holdaway at

[Top photo by gwaar]

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