The status of salary rates for Japan-based devs

I often hear the paradigm of software engineers being paid low-income salaries and sometimes even minimum wage in Japan. I think it is strange considering how high-paying and competitive wages can be for developers in the States.

I want to hear from Paul and the active Japan devs here, is it true? If yes, do you guys have any insight as to why things are this way, and are they suspect to change, or is there no hope? Is it a matter of your company being primarily Japanese versus a company that is foreign-owned? What are salary figures like and what have your experiences been like if you have done development work for Japanese software companies?

Humor me.

Salaries are all over the place. The lowest salaries for developers are about ¥3 million per year, and on the high end, I know of developers making ¥25 million plus per year.

Historically, Japan hasn’t seen software development as a skilled profession. Companies would hire university students based primarily on their university name (not degree), and assign a certain percentage of them to be developers. After hiring the new grads, they’d spend about three months educating them on how to program.

As you can imagine, this meant the average skill level of developers in such companies was pretty low, as the majority had no interest or aptitude for it. Wages reflected this, and developers were paid the standard salaryman wage (your age * ¥10,000 per month).

Since then, things have started to change. Some companies have awakened to the fact that not all developers are interchangeable, and having skilled professionals can make a big difference. With this comes a rise in salaries.

You’ll probably find the highest salaries at companies that both value developers and are highly profitable. That’s why companies like Google and Facebook pay well, as do things in the financial sector.

For talented developers, based off anecdotal evidence, decent but not exceptional salaries are ¥5 million for just getting started, ¥7 million for several years experience, and ¥9 million up for someone more experienced.

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Well thank you for sharing Paul, this definitely gives me hope! Just one more question of thought— You say that historically, Japan doesn’t view software development as a skilled profession. Is this perspective being changed at all?

I feel like Japan seems to adapt slowly to modernization.

Yes, things are starting to change. When I first came here most developers, even talented ones, were working for outsourcing companies. Now most talented developers are working for product companies. Developers change jobs a lot more than other Japanese, with it not being common for someone to change a job every couple of years. This is driving companies to start competing for talented developers and conditions are improving.