{tokyodev}

International Developers in Japan

2020 Survey Results

In November 2020, we collected the experiences of 362 international software engineers living in Japan to help paint a picture of what the typical foreign developer life is like.

Takeaways

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Key Takeaways

Demographics

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Residency Status

For the survey, we were intentionally vague as to what defines an international developer, as we didn’t want to exclude anyone who considers themselves to be one. 7% of respondents were Japanese citizens. However, having Japanese citizenship doesn’t preclude someone from being international, as they could have obtained citizenship by naturalizing or be a citizen who grew up outside the country.

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Where in Japan do developers live?

The Greater Tokyo Area, consisting of Tokyo itself, along with the neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa, remains the hub for international developers, with 86% of respondents living there.

Outside of the Greater Tokyo Area, the other prefectures that had more than a couple of responses were Aichi (4), Fukuoka (6), Hyogo (4), Ibaraki (5), Kyoto (7), Okinawa (5), and Osaka (5).

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Age

The average age of respondents was 33 years. The youngest respondent was 22 years old and the oldest was 62 years old.

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Professional software development experience

Only two respondents indicated they had less than a year of experience. As to be expected, pay scaled with experience.

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Gender

11% of respondents were women. To put that in perspective, a report based Japan’s 2015 census that indicated 14% of software developers were women, and Stack Overflow’s 2020 developer survey indicates women made up 8% of respondents globally.

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Better gender balance for developers at the beginning of their career

While 12% of respondents overall identified as women and non-binary, among those respondents who had less than two years of experience, 32% respondents were members of these gender minorities.

Gender Minorities by Experience

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Language ability

Only 30% of respondents spoke Japanese at a fluent or native level, indicating many international developers get by with relatively modest Japanese abilities.

Work

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Employment Status

95% of respondents were employed at least part-time.

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Company type

Japanese companies tended to pay worse than other types of companies.

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Nationality of colleagues

Respondents tended to work in companies where the engineering team was international, but the rest of the employees were Japanese.

Engineers

Non-Engineers

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Remote Work

Even before COVID-19, it seems that remote work was picking up traction in Japan, with 33% of respondents working remotely at least one day per week. However, with COVID-19, we saw that number skyrocket to 88%, with 68% of respondents working fully remotely.

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Company size

While 20% of all respondents worked for a company with 10,000 or more employees, among those who work at subsidiary of an international company, that number rose to 49%. Larger organizations tended to pay better.

Worldwide Employee Count

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Language usage at the office

68% of respondents reported using both English and Japanese at the office. Frequent English usage correlated with higher job satisfaction.

English

Japanese

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Overtime

Only 22% of respondents worked at least one day of overtime per week, demonstrating despite Japan’s reputation for excessive overtime, it’s possible to have a job where overtime is the exception.

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Programming Languages

56% more respondents selected Python as a language they use than those who selected its made in Japan “competitor” Ruby.

Developers using Swift tended to have the highest job satisfaction, whereas PHP developers tended to be the least satisfied. Developers using Scala were paid the best on average, whereas those using PHP the worst.

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TypeScript users tend to be at the beginning of their career

Languages that were developed as a successor to another languages tended to have users that were earlier in their career. For example, if we look at Kotlin versus Java, TypeScript versus JavaScript, and Swift versus Objective-C, the newer language always has users with a lower average years of experience.

Programming Languages By Experience

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Role

Respondents were asked to select a single title that best describes their current role. 73% selected a developer role, with full-stack positions being the most popular. Engineering managers had a much higher salary than other positions.

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Disliked Things About Job

While some people disliked that they faced a language barrier at work, others wished they could use more Japanese. Similarly, some reported that they didn’t like to work remotely, whereas others wanted their company to allow it.

Satisfaction

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Job satisfaction

Respondents reported how satisfied they were with their current job on a scale of one to ten. The average score was 7, and 47% of developers chose 8 or above.

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Developers making less than ¥5 million per year unsatisfied with job

Respondents with an annual salary between ¥3 and ¥5 million reported an average satisfaction of 6.0, compared to 7.1 for those making between ¥5 and ¥10 million, and 7.4 for those making ¥10 million and above.

Job Satisfaction by Salary

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Swift developers most satisfied, PHP developers least satisfied

With the exception of a few outliers, programming languages didn’t strongly correlate with job satisfaction. As respondents who used PHP also had the lowest salaries, this could in part explain their low satisfaction. On the other hand, neither Swift nor Objective-C correlated with exceptionally high salaries, indicating that there is more to this correlation than it just being a proxy for salary.

Job Satisfaction by Programming Language

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Despite low salary, game developers satisfied with their job

Despite the Developer, game or graphics role correlating with the lowest average salary, they had slightly above average satisfaction. The high satisfaction mobile developers had could explain why developers using Swift, Objective-C, and Kotlin were the most satisfied.

Job Satisfaction by Role

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Job satisfaction increases with English usage

Respondents who frequently used English at their job had a higher average job satisfaction. It’s possible that this correlation was the result of the higher salaries that are associated with English usage.

We didn’t notice a strong correlation between a respondent’s language ability and job satisfaction, beyond those who didn’t speak any Japanese having a slightly lower job satisfaction.

Job Satisfaction by English Usage

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Shocking no one, developers who work less overtime more satisfied

While there was no strong correlation between frequency of overtime and salary, there was a clear correlation between the frequency and job satisfaction.

Job Satisfaction by Overtime Frequency

Salary

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Salary

While the majority 55% of developers made under ¥8 million per year (before taxes), the average salary was ¥8.5 million per year, and 28% of respondents reported making over ¥10 million per year.

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Salary takes a big jump at 5 years of experience

At five years of experience, we saw a big jump in compensation, with a developers who had four years of experience averaging ¥6.5 million but those with five years averaging ¥8.9 million.

Salary by Experience

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Engineering managers paid considerably more than other roles

Engineering managers stood out as being considerably better compensated than other roles. Part of this was because they tended to be more experienced, with an average of 11.7 years as opposed to 8.3 years for non-managers.

However, as Developer, game or graphics, the role with the lowest compensation, also had above average experience at 9.4 years, it’s not only experience influencing salary.

Salary by Role

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The larger the company, the better it pays

Average salaries scaled with the count of worldwide employees.

Salary by Worldwide Employee Count

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Japanese companies pay worse than other entities

Developers who work for a Japanese company had an average salary of ¥7.5 million, versus ¥10.8 for developers working for a different type of entity.

Salary by Company Type

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Scala pays best on average, PHP worst

Respondents who said they used Scala were best paid, though this could just be due to our relatively small sample size of 13 respondents who indicated they used it.

Salary by Programming Language

English Software Developers Jobs in Japan

Get notified about jobs for English-speaking software developers in Japan. Most positions require no Japanese skills, and many are open to overseas applicants.

About tokyodev

tokyodev is a site dedicated to helping international developers start and grow their career in Japan. We do this through a job board for English speaking software developers in Japan, articles about finding a job here, a forum to discuss life as a developer in Japan, and the stories of international developers working here.

Team

Paul McMahon

Paul McMahon runs tokyodev, which started off as his personal blog about being a developer in Tokyo. He's also the founder of Doorkeeper, one of Japan's major platforms for events.

You can reach him on Twitter at @pwim or via email at paul@tokyodev.com.

Tom Coombs

Tom Coombs does Product, UX and Data. He founded and runs Man Woman & Child, and co-founded Lendstreet Financial. He focuses on complex, data-rich systems.

Mathieu Mayer

Mathieu Mayer is a designer and developer based in Kyoto. He helps companies of all size with Design Systems and CSS. He also contributed to redesigning doorkeeper.jp and tokyodev.com. At the moment, he works with the folks at fundbook.jp to produce, organize and maintain their products and components library.

And also...

A special thanks to everyone who helped giving us feedback on early versions of the survey and results, and helped to promote it, including Ben Watanabe, Paulo D'Alberti, Clement Chidiac, Tutti Quintella, Mustafa Dualeh (Dev in Japan), and Women Who Code Tokyo.

Further reading

Tom's written an article about building the charts with d3.