Living & Working in Japan

Which industries in Japan are most dependent on foreign workers?

As we discussed in a previous article the Japanese government recently announced that it would create a new visa category to open the doors to 500,000 new foreign workers starting in April 2019.

This represents a major policy shift because the law would create a new work visa status for lower-skilled workers and lower the bar on the level of Japanese required for workers applying to enter the country. Many industries in Japan are suffering from a severe labor shortage, but five in particular were chosen for this new program: construction, agriculture, lodging/hospitality, nursing care, and shipbuilding. For more information about the new visa status, please see: Japan to open doors to 500,o00 new workers by 2025 to alleviate labor shortage.

Currently, industries where non-Japanese workers are very visibly employed to alleviate the labor shortage include retail (convenience stores), construction, and agriculture. It has also been reported recently in the Japanese press that industry associations (from other than the five chosen) have lobbied the the government to consider measures to allow more foreign workers into their industries, as well.

In the tables below we summarize some of the key data from a study published by the Nikkei Shinbun in collaboration with Mitsubishi UFJ Research that looks at the degree of dependence on foreign workers, as measured by the ratio of foreign workers to the total number of workers employed in the industry.

Top 50 Prefectures x Industries Ranked by Highest Ratio of Foreign Wokers

The charts below rank the top fifty prefectures by industry in terms of the dependence on foreign labor. “Dependence” is measured by the ratio of foreign workers to total number of workers employed in the industry. The chart also shows the top three countries whose nationals are employed in that particular industry. A few key takeaways from the data:

  • Workers from China, South Korea, the Philippines, Viet Nam, and the Brazil dominate the top 50 industry rankings because they represent the top five countries with the most resident foreigners in Japan. For detailed data on this, please see: Why do foreigners come to live in Japan?
  • The fishery industry is the most dependent on foreign labor, as measured by the ratio of foreign workers to total number of workers. Not shown in the table below, but mentioned in the original data set is that in 2017, one in seventy-three people employed in the fishery industry was a foreigner (compared to 1 in 391 in 2009). This represents a more than five-fold increase in the last eight years.
  • Across Japan, the manufacturing industry is highly dependent on foreign labor, although manufacturing was not chosen as one of the five industries that will be receiving workers through the new visa program.
  • A western country (the United States) does not place first (in the terms of the number of workers) in the the ranking until number 37: in Tokyo (in the fields of education and learning support). Although in this category, workers from South Korea/North Korea and China come in second and third. The US does appear in third place for number 27 (in the Okinawan fishing industry), but there are only a total of 74 foreign workers employed in the entire fishing industry in Okinawa.

Selected Industries: Ratio of Foreign Workers

The charts below show the ratio of five selected industries from the total data set of nineteen industries.

Education & Learning Support

The “Education & Learning Support” industry (which would include foreign language schools) is dominated by workers from the United States, South and North Korea, and China.

Educational Research/Technology Services


In the finance and insurance industries, workers from China, South and North Korea, the United States, the Philippines, India, Indonesia, and the United Kingdom seem to top the list.

Lodging & Food Service

The lodging/hospitality was one of the five industries chosen by the government to receive additional foreign workers under the new visa status. In Tokyo, 1 in 27 workers working in lodging and food service are foreigners.

Wholesale & Retail

This category would include workers working for convenience stores, for example. An NLI Research Institute report has found that about 7% of the 35,000 people working at 7-11 convenience stores throughout Japan are of foreign origin.

You may also be interested in: Record number of foreigners living in Japan: 2018 government survey