Working in Japan

How to negotiate a raise in a Japanese company

Want to level up your pay grade? Discover the best techniques to secure that pay increase and further your career in Japan.

You work hard. You pay your dues. You’ve proven your worth. Now you want to be paid what you deserve. But in Japan, that might not be so easy! The issue of salary is a very sensitive topic. If you want a pay increase, it is important to approach the subject delicately. 

Here we list our best advice to help you level up your pay grade!

Is it possible to negotiate salary in Japan?

The possibility of a pay increase depends on where you are in the job market. For example, if you have just graduated university with little to no experience, your negotiation options are slim. You are still regarded as on the same level as every other graduate. 

Also, Japan still has a ‘job for life’ style of thinking. You are expected to be satisfied with the salary you agreed to upon signing your initial contract. 

However, if you are changing jobs, there may be a little leeway to ask for more pay.

Consider the differences in Japan work structures

The chance of a pay rise is also dependent on your type of contract. Permanent contract employees may receive occasional raises. However, in Japan, this is often based on seniority, rather than merit. Again, Japan rewards longevity and loyalty to the company above all else.

Contractual employee salaries are dependent on contractual renewal. It is best to enquire about salary options before a new contract is agreed upon.

Choose your timing carefully

Timing should be a crucial part of your strategy. Asking for raise at the right time can greatly increase your chance of success. 

The best time to discuss salary is when starting a new job. It can be very difficult to ask for an increase after you have signed the contract! But you have two opportunities before you sign the line:

In the final interview.

If the salary amount is a dealbreaker, it is best to let your interviewer know early. But if you are keen to take the job, it is better to wait until the next stage:

After the job offer (内定ないてい)

Job offers are very unlikely to be declined by the employer at this point. Use this favorable moment to make a deal before you sign the contract. 

Budget Cycle

For most companies, budgets are set ahead of the new financial year. Trying to discuss pay matters in after this point may result is disappointment. If there is no room in the budget, there is no flexibility for salaries.

For example, assistant language teachers in Japan cannot negotiate salary after the new school year starts. The salary budget is set in stone by the Board of Education until the next school year. Aim to get ahead of this by starting your discussion in January / February. This gives your employer more time to consider and calculate room for your pay increase.

Who should I ask for a raise?

This may seem obvious. You ask your supervisor / manager, right? 

But in Japan, this is not necessarily the case. Salaries are often ultimately decided by the HR department, rather than management. Also, managers have often worked their way up the ladder by staying with the company for many years. Negotiating pay may not be in their skill set, so they avoid the matter.

If you are unsure, trying asking co-workers on your same level the best route. Alternatively, you can float the idea ‘hypothetically’ to your superiors to gauge the best person to ask.

Prepare your case

Before you present your claim to your employers, prepare some evidence. If you can, try to gather any numerical data as to why you deserve a pay rise. For example, can you provide any cost-savings direct from your ideas or improvements? This type of numerical data can go a long way to prove your worth to the company.

Research the market rate for your position

Find salary data for the same or related jobs. Aim to show your employer that your current salary is below what it should be. There are many job market tools which can help you find the market value online. Midas is a popular market value app in Japan.

Be discreet

How much you earn is a very private matter in Japanese culture. If you are angling for a pay rise, try to keep it to yourself. Don’t make any casual comments about your pay (or lack of!) in front of your co-workers. When you are ready to start salary negotiations, book a private meeting. 

The company won’t give you a raise – Now what?

It is likely that your employer will not accept your request. This may be due to budget cuts, or a range of other economic factors.  But this doesn’t mean you are out of options!
Consider what else are they willing to negotiate on? Maybe they don’t have the financial means to increase your pay. But maybe they could re-negotiate working hours, paid leave, or any other perks? Take the chance to establish your worth to the company. Maybe your pay can be reviewed later.

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