Software Developer Salaries in Japan

Photo of Paul McMahon

Paul McMahon

Founder of TokyoDev

Understanding what software salaries developer in Japan are be tricky. As a whole, software development doesn’t pay exceptionally well: according to a 2022 survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare of Japan found, the average annual salary of software engineers in Japan is ¥5.2 million. This puts it a bit above the overall average salary of ¥4.6 million.

At the same time though, TokyoDev’s own survey of English-speaking international software developers in Japan found that the median salary of respondents was ¥9.5 million. This difference stems from our respondents being anything but typical. For instance, 63% of them worked at a company headquartered in Japan, 82% of them used English frequently, and 86% of them worked on an engineering team where many of the members were non-Japanese.

This makes answering the question of what is a reasonable software developer salary in Japan difficult. If you were a “typical” Japanese software developer with three years of experience, a salary of ¥4 million may sound reasonable. And yet if you ask the international developers on TokyoDev’s Discord if the offer is reasonable, you’re likely to be told it is on the low side and you can probably do better.

So with that in mind, I think it’s important to get an overview of the market both for exceptional English-speaking international software developers, and typical Japanese ones. This article will compare TokyoDev’s own findings about software engineer salaries, with that of other Japanese sources.

Since the first comprehensive survey TokyoDev conducted in 2019, salaries have been trending significantly upward, with the median increasing from ¥7.0 million to ¥9.5 million (a 36% increase) between 2019 and 2022.

One factor that may partially explain this is a small but noticeable drop in the number of respondents working for Japanese headquartered companies, from 70% in 2019 to 63% in 2022. As we’ve found that international subsidiaries and companies without Japanese entities tend to pay better, a higher percentage of respondents working for them should boost the median compensation of respondents.

Year Median Compensation
2022 ¥9.5 million
2021 ¥8.5 million
2020 ¥7.5 million
2019 ¥7.0 million

Comparison: The Wage Structure Basic Statistical Survey

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare of Japan conducts the Wage Structure Basic Statistical Survey annually. While this survey is not without flaws, it does collect data on a massive scale, having most recently collected approximately six hundred thousand respondents who are classified as “software creators” (defined as those engaged in specification determination, design, and programming work for software creation).

The survey found that the average compensation of software creators increased from ¥4.8 million to ¥5.2 million (an 8% increase) between 2020 and 2022. While it is not as striking as our findings, it suggests that the market overall has been moving to increase the pay of software developers.

Year Mean Compensation
2022 ¥5.2 million
2021 ¥4.8 million
2020 ¥4.8 million

Unfortunately data from 2019 and before isn’t directly comparable, as there was no “software creator” classification, only a “programmer” one. As the mean compensation for programmers in 2019 was ¥3.9 million, it seems likely that the respondents themselves are quite different. Traditionally in Japan, the word “programmer” has referred to someone who’s job it is to take a specification and turn it into code, without doing anything else (think the way software was written in the punch card days), so by that definition, it is no wonder they were paid less.

Salary by Experience

Experience is one of the most important factors in determining your salary as a developer, and so looking at it can be a good place to start when you’re trying to judge your value in the market. We found that among junior developers (less than two years of experience), the median compensation was ¥5.5 million, while among senior developers (eight or more years of experience), the median rose to ¥12.5 million.

Experience Median Compensation
Under 2 years ¥5.5 million
2 - 3 years ¥6.5 million
4 - 5 years ¥7.5 million
6 - 7 years ¥8.5 million
8 - 9 years ¥12.5 million
10 - 11 years ¥12.5 million
12 - 13 years ¥10 million
14 - 15 years ¥13 million
16 years and over ¥13.5 million

Comparison: The Wage Structure Basic Statistical Survey

The Wage Structure Basic Statistical Survey found that the mean compensation of software creators with no experience was merely ¥3.0 million, and even among those with 15 or more years of experience, the compensation was only ¥6.1 million.

Though their figures aren’t quite analogous to ours, as they don’t include compensation for overtime, and are mean as opposed to our median values, they do highlight just how different the “typical” compensation for software developers in Japan is compared to that of international developers.

Experience Mean Compensation
0 years ¥3.0 million
1-4 years ¥4.3 million
5-9 years ¥4.8 million
10-14 years ¥5.6 million
15+ years ¥6.2 million

Comparison: Qiita’s Engineer White Paper 2022

Qiita is a service that is popular among Japanese developers to record and share knowledge. Their Engineer White Paper 2022 is based on a survey they conducted of their users, and has over 2,700 responses.

Their data is interesting as their audience is fairly analogous to TokyoDev, with the exception of being from Japanese not international developers. The kind of people who use their site are likely motivated engineers who care about their craft, and not just people who are doing it because their company decided they should do software development (Japanese companies have a history of assigning employees to be software developers regardless of interest or aptitude).

As their report shows what percentage of respondents fit into a given salary range, it is a bit hard to compare with our data. But it is apparent that their respondents made less than ours. For instance, while we found 42% of our respondents made ¥10 million or over (across all experience levels), only 11% of their respondents with 10+ years of experience did.

Experience Under ¥3M ¥3M - ¥4.9M ¥5M - ¥7.9M ¥8M - ¥9.9M ¥10M - ¥14.9M ¥15M - ¥19.9M ¥20M+ No answer
<1 year 42% 44% 6% 1% 2% 0% 0% 5%
1-2 years 22% 52% 18% 1% 0% 0% 0% 7%
3-4 years 12% 47% 30% 6% 1% 0% 1% 4%
5-9 years 7% 33% 42% 9% 4% 2% <1% 2%
10-19 years 4% 18% 45% 19% 9% 1% 1% 4%
20 years+ 6% 18% 41% 20% 9% 1% 1% 5%

Salary by Age

In Japan, there has traditionally been lifetime employment, and as employees could expect their compensation to increase with seniority, it was also essentially tied to their age. When I first came to Japan, I heard the typical formula was age x ¥10,000 per month. So as a 23 year old, a salary of ¥230,000 per month would be typical.

At least among the kind of companies employing TokyoDev respondents though, I have the impression that age has less of a bearing than experience. I’m including our data for salary by age primarily as a way to compare with other Japanese sources.

Age Median
20 - 24 ¥5.5 million
25 - 29 ¥7.5 million
30 - 34 ¥9.5 million
35 - 39 ¥10.5 million
40 - 44 ¥10.5 million
45 - 49 ¥12.5 million

Comparison: Forkwell

Forkwell offers a platform for Japanese software engineers looking to change jobs. They’ve released a report that analyzes the data of 10,000 registered users, including a salary breakdown based on age.

Age Median
20 - 24 ¥4.2 million
25 - 29 ¥4.7 million
30 - 34 ¥5.3 million
35 - 39 ¥6.0 million
40 - 44 ¥6.5 million
45 - 49 ¥7.0 million

Again, our respondents consistently made more than theirs. The gap was least pronounced among the youngest respondents, with ours having a median 31% more than theirs, but among the 30-34 year old respondents, the median salary of our respondents was 79% more than theirs.

Salary by Gender

We found that across all experience levels, women were compensated worse then men, and that the percentage of respondents that were women decreased with experience, while the wage gap widened.

Experience Men Women Women Respondents Wage gap
Under 3 years ¥6 million ¥5.5 million 15% 8%
3 - 5 years ¥7.5 million ¥6.5 million 12% 13%
6 - 8 years ¥10.5 million ¥8 million 9% 24%
9 years and over ¥12.5 million ¥9 million 5% 28%

Furthermore, we found that women developers rated themselves as less satisfied with their job then men. That being said, from talking with female developers in Japan, we’ve found that many of them do have fulfilling careers here.

Comparison: The Wage Structure Basic Statistical Survey

The Wage Structure Basic Statistical Survey provides a breakdown of compensation by experience and gender.

The wage gap between men and women was relatively small among unexperienced respondents, perhaps owing to how Japanese companies offer standardized compensation packages to new grads. The wage gap continued to widen, till it reached its peak at 5-9 years of experience. After that in continued to shrink again.

While 30% of software developers with less than a year of experience were women, the percentage that was women shrunk with experience. Among respondents with 15+ years of experience, only 12% were women.

Experience Men Women Women Respondents Wage Gap
0 years ¥3.0 million ¥2.9 million 30% 3%
1-4 years ¥4.5 million ¥3.9 million 23% 13%
5-9 years ¥5.1 million ¥4.0 million 22% 22%
10-14 years ¥5.8 million ¥4.9 million 16% 16%
15+ years ¥6.3 million ¥5.4 million 12% 14%

My theory is that the reversal in the wage gap and the sharp drop in the percentage of women respondents is connected. Women who are poorly compensated compared to their male counterparts are more likely to leave the industry. So through attrition only the better compensated women remain at higher experience levels.

Comparison: Forkwell

Forkwell worked with bgrass, an organization working to close the gender gap in tech, to conduct a survey of 311 male and 126 female engineers. The survey measured “theoretical annual income”, calculated by deriving the hourly wage of an engineer from their average annual income, the number of working days per week, and the working hours per day, and then converting it into an annual income figure assuming full-time work.

Their data paints a similar picture to The Wage Structure Basic Statistical Survey, where women in the middle of their career have the biggest wage gap. Only 27% of women with 5-9 years of experience made more than ¥5 million, while 47% of men did.

Experience Under ¥5M ¥5M - ¥8M ¥8M plus
Women Men Women Men Women Men
1-4 years 91% 88% 9% 9% 0% 3%
5-9 years 73% 54% 24% 41% 3% 6%
10+ years 30% 31% 48% 51% 21% 18%

In addition to experience, they also explored how the kind of company a women works at affects the wage gap, and found that outsourcing companies had a particularly large gender gap when compared to those that made their own IT/Web service. In these outsourcing companies only 11% of women made more than ¥5 million, while 39% of men did.

Industry Under ¥5M ¥5M - ¥8M ¥8M plus
Women Men Women Men Women Men
IT/Web service 55% 48% 37% 39% 8% 13%
Outsourcing 88% 61% 9% 34% 3% 5%

Salary by Type of Company

One reason why our respondents have such higher pay than other sources is the type of company they worked for. Notably, 26% worked for a subsidiary of an international company, and 8% for a company without any legal entity in Japan. It seems obvious to me that it is much higher than that for the overall market for software engineers (though I didn’t find any data to back this).

This is significant as we found that the median compensation of respondents at internationally headquartered companies was almost twice of that of domestically headquartered ones!

Company Type 2022 2021 2020
Company without Japanese entity ¥11.5 million ¥8.5 million ¥10.5 million
International subsidiary ¥14.5 million ¥11.5 million ¥9 million
Japanese company ¥7.5 million ¥7.5 million ¥6.5 million
Sole Proprietorship ¥7 million ¥6.5 million ¥8.5 million

Companies headquartered in Japan paid developers a median of ¥6.5 million per year in 2020, and ¥7.5 million in 2022. On the other hand, over the same time period, Japanese subsidiaries of international companies went from paying ¥9 million to ¥14.5 million. So they went from paying 38% more to 93% more in a period of two years!

Our latest survey was conducted in October 2022. Since then, there have been mass layoffs at many US tech companies, so it will be interesting to see how this changes with our next survey.

Salary by Employer Size

We found that with the exception of the smallest employers, salaries increased with the number of employees at the employer. Respondents at companies with 10-19 employees had a median compensation of ¥6.5 million, while those at 10,000 or more had a median of ¥13.5 million.

Employees Median Compensation
2 to 9 employees ¥7.5 million
10 to 19 employees ¥6.5 million
20 to 99 employees ¥7.5 million
100 to 499 employees ¥7.5 million
500 to 999 employees ¥9.5 million
1,000 to 4,999 employees ¥10.5 million
5,000 to 9,999 employees ¥12.5 million
10,000 or more employees ¥13.5 million

Comparison: The Wage Structure Basic Statistical Survey

The Wage Structure Basic Statistical Survey also found that compensation increased with employee count. Respondents at companies with 1000 employees or more made on average 47% more than those at companies with 10 - 99 employees.

Employee Count Average Compensation
1000 employees and over ¥6.3 million
100 - 999 employees ¥5.0 million
10 - 99 employees ¥4.3 million

Salary by Role

We found that respondents who worked as Senior Executives or Engineering Managers were had the highest compensation. This can be explained in part by them having the most experience. Respondents who had the Designer role stood out as they had among the lowest compensation while having above average experience.

Role Median Compensation
Blockchain ¥12.0 million
Cloud infrastructure engineer ¥10.0 million
Data or business analyst ¥10.5 million
Data scientist or ML specialist ¥8.5 million
Database administrator ¥8.5 million
Designer ¥6.5 million
DevOps specialist ¥10.5 million
Developer, back-end ¥8.5 million
Developer, desktop or enterprise ¥8.5 million
Developer, embedded ¥7.5 million
Developer, front-end ¥8 million
Developer, full-stack ¥7.5 million
Developer, game or graphics ¥6.5 million
Developer, mobile ¥10 million
Developer, QA or test ¥8.5 million
Engineer, data ¥9.5 million
Engineer, site reliability ¥11.0 million
Engineering manager ¥13.5 million
Product manager ¥8.5 million
Senior executive (C-Suite, VP, etc.) ¥15.5 million
Security professional ¥12.5 million
System administrator ¥8.5 million

Comparison: Robert Half

The recruiting company Robert Half publishes a salary guide for software engineering positions in Japan, and weren’t so significantly different than ours. As they target bilingual people working for higher paying roles, this isn’t surprising.

Role Median compensation
Back End Engineer ¥8.3 million
Blockchain Engineer ¥8.3 million
Cloud Engineer / Architect ¥8.3 million
CTO / VP of Engineering ¥13.5 million
DevOps / SRE Engineer ¥9.3 million
Engineering Manager ¥12.5 million
Front End Engineer ¥8.3 million
Full Stack Engineer ¥8.3 million
Machine Learning / NLP / AI Engineer ¥10 million
Product Manager / Software Architect ¥9.4 million
QA Engineer / Tester ¥7.3 million
Solution Engineer ¥9.3 million
IT / UX Designer ¥7.3 million

Salary by Educational Background

While having a computer science or related degree is helpful for getting a visa in Japan, it doesn’t seem to be so relevant in terms of compensation.

Experience Coding bootcamp Bachelor’s degree Master’s degree
Under 4 years ¥6.5 million ¥6.5 million ¥7.5 million
4-7 years ¥9.0 million ¥8.5 million ¥8.5 million
8-11 years Insufficient data ¥13.5 million ¥13.5 million
12 or more years Insufficient data ¥12.5 million ¥13.5 million

A Master’s degree may lead to a bump in salary over having just a Bachelor’s degree, but when considering the opportunity cost of picking up a couple years more experience, it probably isn’t a worthwhile investment from a compensation perspective.

Salary by Japanese Ability

We found that low Japanese ability correlated with high compensation. Respondents who had no Japanese ability had a median compensation that was 40% higher than those who spoke it fluently.

Ability Median Compensation
None ¥10.5 million
Basic ¥9.5 million
Conversational ¥8.5 million
Fluent ¥7.5 million
Native ¥10.5 million

At first, this is depressing to anyone learning Japanese. But I think something else is going on. There’s a lot fewer opportunities to get hired as a developer in Japan if you don’t have any Japanese abilities, and these opportunities tend to be setting the bar for technical excellence high. So while the pay for these positions does tend to be higher, it’s much more competitive to actually land one.

This means that while learning Japanese won’t necessarily lead to better paying opportunities, it will lead to more opportunities. We found that respondents with higher Japanese ability also had less professional experience, implying that you can start your career earlier in Japan if you pick up the language.

Salary by Programming Language

We found that respondents who used Rust, Kotlin, or Scala had the highest compensation, while those using PHP were paid the least.

Language Median Compensation
Bash/Shell ¥10.5 million
C ¥8.5 million
C# ¥8.5 million
C++ ¥8.5 million
Elixir ¥7.5 million
Go ¥11.5 million
HTML/CSS ¥7.5 million
Java ¥11.5 million
JavaScript ¥8.5 million
Kotlin ¥12.5 million
Node.js ¥9.5 million
Objective-c ¥7.0 million
PHP ¥6.5 million
PowerShell ¥8.0 million
Python ¥9.5 million
Ruby ¥9.5 million
Rust ¥12.5 million
SQL ¥9.0 million
Scala ¥12.5 million
Swift ¥10.5 million
TypeScript ¥8.5 million

Comparison: Forkwell

In Forkwell’s report, they broke down salary by programming language and age. They found that Go developers consistently made the most, and PHP developers made the least.

Age Go Ruby Python Java PHP
20 - 24 ¥5.2 million ¥4.7 million ¥4.9 million ¥4.8 million ¥4.5 million
25 - 29 ¥5.8 million ¥5.4 million ¥5.3 million ¥5.1 million ¥5.0 million
30 - 34 ¥6.8 million ¥6.1 million ¥6.2 million ¥5.7 million ¥5.6 million
35 - 39 ¥7.2 million ¥6.7 million ¥6.8 million ¥6.3 million ¥6.2 million
40 - 44 ¥8.6 million ¥7.4 million ¥7.2 million ¥7.0 million ¥7.0 million
45 - 49 ¥8.6 million ¥7.8 million ¥8.0 million ¥7.4 million ¥7.1 million

Comparison: Qiita’s Engineer White Paper 2022

In Qiita’s Engineer White Paper 2022, they found that 35% of Go developers and 40% of Rust developers make ¥8 million or more per year. Conversely, only about 12% of PHP developers do.

  Under ¥3M ¥3M - ¥4.9M ¥5M - ¥7.9M ¥8M - ¥9.9M ¥10M - ¥14.9M ¥15M - ¥19.9M ¥20M+ No answer
JavaScript 18% 23% 24% 15% 3% 1% 1% 15%
Python 16% 19% 23% 21% 4% 1% <1% 15%
PHP 21% 27% 25% 12% 0% <1% <1% 15%
Java 16% 24% 27% 20% 0% 1% <1% 12%
TypeScript 13% 18% 29% 20% 0% 1% 1% 18%
Go 8% 16% 27% 27% 6% 1% 1% 14%
Rust 9% 17% 26% 30% 9% 0% 2% 9%

Anything missing?

I’m getting ready to conduct the next edition of the developer survey, so if there’s something else you’d like me to look into, let me know.

More about the author

Photo of Paul McMahon

Paul McMahon

Founder of TokyoDev

Paul is a Canadian software developer who has been living in Japan since 2006. Since 2011 he’s been helping other developers start and grow their careers in Japan through TokyoDev.

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