By on August 6, 2011

Japan’s automakers face a problem not seen for a long time: Unfilled job openings. “Automakers and other manufacturers are struggling to fill positions at their domestic factories as they ramp up output to make up for production lost since the March 11 disaster,” says The Nikkei [sub].

And that while automakers threaten to leave because of the high yen. And intervention by Japan’s Central Bank brought the Japanese currency to 80 to the dollar, which is still considered way too high

Job placement agencies say labor shortages get worse by the day. Toyota and Honda are seen offering wages of 1,200 yen to 1,300 yen per hour ($15.30 to $16.60), unchanged from pre-2008 levels. Some job placement agencies say wage hikes are inevitable.

Two explanations are given for the sudden shortfall of able bodies.

1.)    Surprise: A lot of manufacturers looking for a large number of workers at the same time.

2.)    Laziness: Considering high jobless rates among the young, “the lack of desire for work amid generous unemployment benefits may be one of the reasons why manufacturers are having difficulty filling factory positions,” an executive at a staffing agency told The Nikkei.



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29 Comments on “Thousands Of Job Openings Unfilled In Japan...”

  • avatar

    3.) Perhaps if the Japanese were more welcoming of foreigners, especially their own ancestor this would not be a problem.

    • 0 avatar

      How welcoming Japan is to foreigners is different based on if its a low-skilled factory job or a higher-pay white collar.

      Its different experience if you’re a European working in Tokyo versus a Brazilian working in a factory out in the countryside, just the way its different if you’re a European working in Manhattan versus if you’re an immigrant Mexican worker. In the same note, America isn’t incredibly welcoming to immigrant workers these days as well.

      Then again, from a social level a migrant Brazilian is going to face more prejudice in Japan merely due to the homogeneous nature of that society, but in the same note, migrant low-skill workers do get paid as much as their Japanese counterparts. They are paid that same ¥1200-1300 plus bonuses. Its a significant amount of money to be sending home especially with the strong-yen.

      The greater problem is that immigrant workers stay in Japan is completely based on working-visa status. Meaning that when those temp jobs are cut, and they are always the first to be cut, there is no way to legally stay in Japan. Its the same in every country, but for a homogeneous island country like Japan it makes it difficult for other cultures to take root, and when they do they tend to exists as a micro-cosmos in and of themselves.

      But from a bureaucratic standpoint the Japanese government is actively seeking migrant workers. There is a network of programs setup across the world, but those programs are set up to bring migrant jobs to Japan, both skilled and non-skilled, not for these migrants to setup a long term life in Japan. It might be a time for Japan to change their approach, but immigration is a tenuous issue anywhere in the world.

      • 0 avatar


        I like how guys like you pull “facts” out of your tailpipe, so to speak. High skilled industries in the US are flooded with foreigners. Mostly Indian and Asian, but in my field we have guys from Pakistan, and Latin America too. Same goes for doctors. So on and so forth.

        Competent high skilled Mexicans would be snapped up to, just like every other ethnicity. BTW, West Indian blacks have a higher average income than US whites. They are darker skinned than African Americans on average (the British worked their slaves to death and imported new ones to replace them unlike the Americans). Plus they have to overcome a language barrier.

        Why the difference? It’s cultural and Economist Thomas Sowell has a good explanation as to what the differences. Read him.

        Also the BS about Americans not being willing to take the jobs the Mexicans do is nonsense. I used to flip burgers and my mom picked cotton. In fact, I’ve done lots of manual labor. I’m currently clearing a field and making a stone wall with the rocks I remove. I can certainly hire some Mexicans, but why should they get all the fun.

      • 0 avatar


        Not sure where the vitriol originates from, as my original comment has little to do with the US migrant labor market and focuses almost entirely on the Japanese labor market.

        Also I never mentioned ‘Americans not being willing to take jobs that Mexicans do’. Either that is Freudian-slip of your subconscious or its something concocted entirely from your imagination.

        To reiterate, both the US and Japan, and every other developed nation, aims to get high skilled labor. Every developed nation has immigration system in place to accommodate these individuals. Yes, they can be from India, Asia, or even Mexico; as long as they posses the required skill-set. As a country you want to take the best-and-the-brightest from around the world, educated on someone else’s taxpayer dime, to contribute to your economy. Japan’s goes through extraordinary lengths these days to attract high-skilled labor.

        For Japan, the problem, as reported on this story, is that they cannot fill low-skilled labor jobs. These jobs do not qualify for worker visa category in Japan (unless you use a loop-hole). These jobs can be either filled via change in Japan’s immigration system or by moving the factories overseas (which is in fact what is happening).

  • avatar

    This is a common problem in Japan. Its very difficult to fill and retain unskilled labor jobs. This is not just a problem for factories but also for restaurants and other service industry jobs.

    Japan’s unemployment rate is 4.7%, still more than double the 2.1% it used to be in the 90s, but considered good by developed world standards.

    The problem for auto manufacturers are two fold. These days you can get near ¥1200-1300 working in a restaurant in Tokyo or Osaka, which has plenty of vacancies, instead moving out to the countryside of Aichi or Mie to work at a Toyota or Honda plant.

    Furthermore, Japan has a large job filling infrastructure at the local, regional, and national levels, like Hello Work and Job Cafes. in a constricted labor environment like Japan, it means that regional prefectures are competing to retain young workers. Just as importantly, most Japanese don’t want to take low-skilled labor jobs, its higher-skilled/higher-pay labor jobs that they need in a deflationary economy.

    This is in fact Japan’s largest problem, not the loss of a bunch of factories to Thailand and Mexico. Japan’s population is aging rapidly, and Japan’s birth rate is incredibly low, the labor pool is rapidly shrinking.

    • 0 avatar


      Japan’s aging population is going to drive even bigger labour shortages in the long run.

      It’s a problem throughout the developed world, but the lack of immigration to Japan exacerbates the problem.

      It will be really interesting to see how China deals with this in a few years, when the effects of the “one child” policy start to be felt…

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, it is a common problem in Japan, and not just with the labor segments. It affects the higher level skills as well, including investment banks.

      One of my sons spent eight years in Shinjuku working for one of Japan’s largest banks managing and supervising the American transactions division of that bank. There simply weren’t enough knowledgeable Japanese nationals available for hire for that specialty and financial segment, which required an intimate knowledge of the American financial investment system and at least an MBA in Financial Institutions.

      Japan’s aging population is not helping to remedy the situation since younger Japanese often yearn to emigrate away from Japan to America for a better life, as did my newly-gained (Japanese) daughter-in-law, when my son transferred to the California branch of this Japanese bank in 2010.

      • 0 avatar

        High skilled jobs can always be a challenge to fill, especially if it requires specialized knowledge or skill set. This is challenge anywhere and Japan, like most countries, are welcoming to skilled labor.

        Most countries do compete for skilled labor, Japan is no exception. This is particularly true for the banking sector. But Japanese working visa is based on occupation; entertainer, researcher, etc. There is no immediate regulatory deficiency in this department, though it can be argued that Japan lacks the charisma to ‘brain-drain’ labor from other countries.

        Low-skilled labor is completely different. These jobs by nature can be filled by anyone. Japan does have a regulatory deficiency regarding this area. There is no working visa status available for laborers in these jobs. Which is why only Brazilians/Peruvians of Japanese descent are allowed in due to their “nikkeijin” status. The only other loop-hole is Technical Internship Training Program (TITP) which allows, mostly Chinese, low-skilled laborers to work in Japan. While the term ‘internship’ is used, its primarily just a legal loop-hole for low-skilled labor to work in Japan.

        America in comparison has the H-2A/B visas, which allow seasonal agricultural workers and meat packers from Mexico to work temporarily. Obviously, while the US would never allow foreign low-skilled labor to work in an automotive factory job, UAW would not allow it, and these visa programs are seen to be deficient in many ways, Japan too needs a formal legal method for low-skilled labor to be filled by foreign workers (at least temporarily).

        The other option is merely to move these low-skilled manufacturing labor jobs that can’t be filled domestically overseas (which is what is happening in Japan anyways due to the high yen), and shift the labor market upwards. This is the better option, what people seem to forget in the jobs debate is that it isn’t just about the volume of jobs, but rather the quality of jobs.

      • 0 avatar

        That was good background material – I was not aware of the disparity in ‘unskilled’ vs ‘skilled’ jobs in Japan. I thought my son’s position was a hiring free-for-all open to everyone with the right quals, back then. Good money, too! Better than US pay, any day.

        It also explains a lot, and why so many Japanese people choose to come to America – look no further than the Japanese-American farms and ranches owned and operated in California and other states, who have relatives from the old country working alongside the Japanese-American relatives who own and operate the farms and ranches.

        It also explains why prior to WWII (and after) so many Japanese people chose to get their education and enlightenment in the US rather than Japan, as was the case with the Japanese grandfather of my Japanese daughter-in-law.

        A most interesting character, this guy, who got his HS and College education in California while staying on his uncle’s farm prior to WWII. It was because of the freedoms of education and experiences afforded in the US vs the rigorous planned-career paths forced upon the youth in Japan, at that time.

        He even completed ground school and flight school while still in HS in the US as part of a curriculum chosen by him to support his interest.

        Imagine the divided loyalties then, experienced by him and other US-educated Japanese nationals, when he was summoned to come ‘home’ to Japan in the late 30’s to be drafted as a naval aviator in service to Japan.

        He survived WWII, although physically damaged and scarred, and worked until this death in 1982 at Fuji Heavy Industries as a planner and project manager. Because of the rebuilding of Japan required after WWII the philosophy at that time was to take unskilled people and train them with a specific skill set and take care of them from cradle to grave.

        It appears that things have changed. It is astounding that a developed and advanced society such as that of Japan should find that there is a shortage of labor since there is a lot more to Japan than just building high-quality automobiles.

  • avatar

    Toyota and Honda may luck out. Right now, the eurpoean banking system might collapse. This may happen as early as next week. Worldwide auto sales will go into a deep freeze. Toyota and Honda may be fortunate they emptied their inventory across the globe.

    In the meantime, the mean spirited detroit automakers and the UAW, who looted taxpayer dollars ( yes, you too Ford ), gloated when the Japanese people suffered an earthquake, and snickered when the US government decided to go on a Toyota recall attack on behalf of detroit and the UAW, may get destroyed with massive amounts of inventory. The US government, who owes Toyota an apology, just let the issue go quiet. GM, Ford, and Chrysler lots are full of cars in my neck of the woods. I hope detroit eats these cars.

    This is true social justice.

    • 0 avatar

      Be careful of what you wish for other people. Your livelihood could go down the drain as well.

    • 0 avatar

      I have never been a supporter of Jap cars of recent but would never wish negatively to any business. Cars built here are sourced by the same companies that build parts for everyone else build cars here. Toyota shot itself in the foot the the sticking pedal as tier 1 supplier also makes parts for Honda and Nissan. They just cheapened out on requirements and got caught. Avoiding recalls for floor mats then internal documents show money savings is another shot in the foot. Even Consumer Reports had to red flag the SUV when they didn’t have proper stability program. Prius software for braking had to be changed, and the many failures of the truck program that rust the underbody away which led to Toyota buying trucks back that had rusted frames. The saga continues…

      If it was just US doing the recalling I see your point. But Toyota has recalled vehicles world wide not just here. And have done so in record bumbers making them the most recall auto manufacturer ever.

    • 0 avatar

      This guy is nuts!

      • 0 avatar

        I noticed many detroiters who praise detroit metal do not know what is going on in the world. The Italian bond market, third largest in the world, is on the brink of collapse. If the central banks are not able to stop this problem THIS WEEK, we are looking at the greater depression. It seems the left leaning Obama loving and Toyota bashing media in the US does not mention this epic story often. The media knows if the public becomes aware of this risk, consumer spending stops, the economy slides, and the democrats swept out in 12. On wall street, last week, analysts were discussing that lean car inventories might be a huge win for Toyota and Honda, while fat inventories may be a Detroit nightmare. For the record, the Tel Aviv market was opened and shut 3 times this morning because of limit down issues.

        I tried to include some links for must read articles floating around wall street this morning, but this forced comments into moderation. So, no reference material.

        Bottom line is this bailout mentality that swept the US under obama and europe under a number of socialists may backfire soon. We should of let a number of wall street banks and Detroit fail. Now, we may all suffer. Something has gone wrong in the once great captialistic America when failures get government support.

    • 0 avatar

      As if the Japanese car companies aren’t looting the Japanese government?

  • avatar

    @oldandslow….Good advice, though keep in mind “jimmyy aka “jj99” is a hungry troll. Most of us here try not to feed him.

  • avatar

    Why Japanese companies do not move factories abroad? American companies would do it in heart-beat. It is a rhetorical question I actually know the answer. In my previous company we had a joint venture with one of Japanese big companies and wanted to open factory in China because it made more sense from financial point of view. But Japanese insisted the factory to be open only in Japan and under their full control. Later we sold our part to Japanese because it was lowering our profit margins. Japanese explained that they want to keep advanced technologies under control and it also helps engineers to be close to production and prefer to employ fellow citizens. Americans do not care about this romantic stuff and would rather let Chinese to steal technology and hurt fellow Americans and make quick buck.

    • 0 avatar

      Nationalism. But that primitive mentality is falling away in Japan and more companies are moving business to prosperous markets. Money will always trump Nationalist stupidities…Eventually.

  • avatar

    I’m sorry, but Carlos Ghosn is working as hard as he can to move Nissan production out of Japan. Mazda said that a US dollar below 70 yen means no more Hiroshima plant, and Mitsubishi Motors’ president said something similar.

    The Japanese don’t want to move production out of Japan, but they feel they will be forced to do so.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    As others have pointed out, Japan has a massive demographics problem. The population is rapidly aging, dying and shrinking.

    Just a few years ago, Japan was summarily sending migrant workers of Japanese descent back to Brazil and other countries when there was no work for them. How many of those workers or their associates want to go back to Japan as second class residents once again? Not very many I suspect.

    If demographics is indeed destiny, Japan is in for a very long and difficult road in the decades ahead.

    • 0 avatar

      This is a fairly narrow-minded viewpoint.

      There is no lack of migrant low-skilled labor willing to move to developed countries for higher-pay. They follow the money.

      As I’ve mentioned above, the reason Brazilians of Japanese-decent are allowed into Japan to work is due to a legal loop-hole. The Japanese visa system is ancestry-based, which means that if you can prove you are of Japanese ancestry, along with a bunch of other things (i.e. no criminal record), you can get a Japanese visa.

      Japan, like any developed country that pays a high-wage, has no lack of low-skilled immigrants willing to move there. Simply modifying their work visa or ‘trainee’ system would mean a flood of migrant workers into Japan (primarily from other parts of Asia). The strong-yen also means that a more significant amount of money can be sent home (which is the main goal of migrant laborers).

      • 0 avatar

        And that is a wake-up-at-night-screaming nightmare for the most xenophobic country in the world. It’s necessary, but politically impossible. The Japanese will go broke and collapse into a third-world state before they let in enough foreigners to save their economy. They are masters of burying their heads in the sand in the face of disaster.

      • 0 avatar


        While I’m tempted to find humor in your xenophobic accusations which are in itself xenophobic. I think your perspective is a common one; misguided though it may be.

        What I find tragic is that chest-thumping nationalism, which so easily finds faults in others, seems to be amaurotic to their own respective national deficiencies. The unfortunate reality is that nearly all developed countries handles policy regarding low-skilled migrant labor very poorly. Be it Brazilians in Japan, Mexicans in America, Turks in Germany, or North Africans in France, every country has significant flaws in how they deal with the lower-echelons of migrant labor.

  • avatar

    Just as EPA regulations (even now dissed by auto “enthusiasts”) forced manufacturers to really understand engines, resulting in 300 hp, 30 mpg Chevy V-6’s better than the best of 1970 V-8’s, the unskilled labor shortage in Japan will force them into advanced automation, resulting in a future competitive edge. This process will eventually result in no market for unskilled labor and a preciously small (and international) one for the skilled.

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