Updated February 16, 2024

Overtime in Japan: How Bad Is It Really?


Japan Dev Team

Japan Dev contributor

Japan is notorious for its work culture. 

In TV shows and movies, we often see people working late into the night or even sleeping at their desks. This culture of long hours is often blamed for the country's high burnout rate, but is it really true?

Well, not entirely.

Many modern tech companies and young startups nowadays are leaving the old, traditional ways behind. Besides, the working hours are limited by law, including the amount of overtime work, which serves to protect employees. That said, some employers take advantage and have them work overtime without proper compensation.  

Let’s begin by taking a closer look at working overtime in Japan and explain how the overtime system works.

Is Working Overtime in Japan Common?

In Japan, the word "karoshi" is used to describe death from overworking. 

This may sound like a harsh thing to say to introduce the topic, but it’s actually an accurate description of the old-school, traditional Japanese culture. The work culture in Japan used to be a tough one. 

It includes antiquated ideas such as staying at the office until the boss leaves or putting in long hours as a sign of loyalty to the company. Moreover, with the country's aging population, there are fewer people to do the work, which further exacerbates the issue.  

Fortunately, the Japanese government has been trying to tackle the issue of karoshi and other similar problems regarding the work culture. There are new legislations to protect employees and the overtime working hours in Japan nowadays are more humane.

Of course, it all varies depending on the industry and the company. Even the position can make a difference, as you may do very little overtime in a desk job, while the warehouse employees at the same company may frequently be doing overtime work.

Thankfully, finding a company that has humane overtime practices in Japan is no longer a dream, especially if you’re a developer. 

This is part of the reason why I started Japan Dev — to help people find companies with little to no overtime. I wanted to showcase work environments in Japan that are genuinely good. You can head over to the company list on the Japan Dev website to see our personally vetted catalog.


According to the Japanese Labor Act, employers can only work their employees 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week in total as part of a regular employment contract. This means that anything more than this is considered overtime.

When you get a job, you’ll most likely have to sign something called a 36 Agreement along with your contract. A 36 agreement simply refers to Article 36 of the Japanese Labor Standards Law. The agreement is officially called a “Notice of agreement regarding overtime and holiday work.”

Article 36 limits the working hours and overtime, and it protects the employees from exploitation. According to Article 36, employers that violate this rule will be punished by a jail sentence of up to 6 months or a fine that can go up to 300,000 JPY.

All in all, Article 36 restricts the amount of overtime to 15 hours weekly and 45 hours monthly. In any case, the amount of overtime you’ve done in a year can’t exceed 360 hours, either.

How Much Overtime Can I Expect on Average?

This is not the answer you want to hear, but the average amount of overtime you’ll get depends entirely on the company and your title. 

Some companies are strongly against overtime and prohibit their employees from working any longer than they’re contractually obligated to. Others, like black companies, approach it differently and may act as if they own you now that you’re working for them. I talked about this in more detail in my blog post explaining the black companies of Japan

Nevertheless, if we take a look at the statistics, it looks like the average monthly overtime in Japan is 24.3 hours. The amount seems to have increased in the infrastructure and transportation industries, while people who work in consulting and mass media are working less overtime.

However, these reports and analyses are based on anonymous data and can be deceiving. It’s estimated that employers underreport overtime, so the actual numbers are probably higher. 

How Does Overtime Work in Japan?


Before I go into detail about how overtime payment works, I want to talk about the types of overtime you’ll come across in Japan. Some of these terms may not be official, but you’ll frequently stumble upon them when you’re looking for a job. 

Officially, there are two different types of overtime work in Japan: regular and limited overtime. Let’s start by explaining these two, and then we’ll move on to some unofficial common terms that are used to describe overtime.

Regular Overtime

This is the most basic overtime form. Basically, anything that goes over the 40-hour legal limit of work is considered “regular overtime.” 

For this type of overtime, employers must pay the employee 25% more than their hourly salary for each hour. If you happen to work late-night hours, you’ll get paid even more. I’ll explain this in detail below.

Limited Overtime

It’s easy to mix up regular and limited overtime, but the main difference is the legal limit of work. As I explained above, 40 hours is the weekly limit set by the Japanese Labour Standards Law.

However, you might enter into a contract where your working days are 5 hours long. Since that’s below the legal limit, any extra time you work in a day after the 5 hours (as long as it doesn’t exceed 8 hours) will be counted as “limited overtime.”

For limited overtime, you’ll get your regular hourly rate for each hour of extra work instead of the increased rates of regular overtime.

Predetermined Overtime

When signing a contract for a new job, don't be alarmed if there’s a predetermined overtime clause in your contract. This is perfectly legal, but of course, that doesn’t mean that it’s in your best interest to accept.

Companies can set predetermined overtime when you start working, and this system is called “Minashi Zangyo.” This means that your overtime hours are set in advance in addition to your regular working hours. 

Many companies use the Minashi Zangyo system to avoid paying overtime wages — 25% more than your regular hourly wage. The employer just assumes that you’re working during the predetermined overtime hours, and you don’t get overtime pay unless you exceed those hours. 

The nice thing is that you get paid for the predetermined overtime hours even if you don’t work during those hours. It’s not necessarily a bad system, but it’s open to exploitation. 

In any case, you should be careful about these companies. Pay extra attention to the fine print in any job offer that boasts above-average pay. There’s a good chance that it’ll include loads of designated overtime hours. 

Try to find out how much overtime is generally expected for your position.  

Take-Out Overtime

You may not like the overtime systems I mentioned above, but at least they were all legal. Now we’re going into illegal territory. 

Take-out overtime (Mochikaeri Zangyo) is one of the terms you want to run away from as soon as you hear it. It’s a part of the traditional Japanese work culture, and it’s an exploitative practice involving unpaid overtime.

Basically, take-out overtime is the work you bring home with you. Of course, the work you do at home doesn’t count as overtime, but you’re expected to do it because your colleagues are doing it too. 

Unfortunately, it’s a common practice in old-school workplaces, where everyone is afraid to lose their jobs, and the employees are rivals with one another to be favored by the boss. If a company has take-out overtime, or service overtime, which I’ll get to, chances are that it’s a toxic work environment in general. 

When you’re looking for a job, it’s best to look up a company’s reputation online first or go through platforms like Japan Dev, where all featured companies are vetted.

Service Overtime

The last type of overtime I’ll cover here is service overtime, also known as “Sabisu Zangyo,” and it’s another illegal practice you should be wary of. 

Service overtime is similar to take-out overtime because you don’t get paid, and everyone’s doing it to avoid being the odd one out or getting fired. This time, you don’t do the overtime at home, but you stay in the office after official work hours for a few more hours instead.

These overtime hours are labeled as “self-improvement time,” but in reality, you’ll just keep working without getting paid. Although the practice is illegal, Japanese authorities aren’t taking serious action to enforce the law, as it’s still a very common practice in Japan.

How Much is the Overtime Pay in Japan?


The overtime wages in Japan depend on when you do the overtime. There are different fixed rates for different types, and the rates can add up if different conditions are met at the same time. Let me explain.

If you keep working after you finish your regular hours for the day or for the week, you’ll get paid 25% more than your regular hourly wage. The same applies if you work late night hours between 10 PM and 12 PM. The fixed rate of 25% will be applied to your hourly wage.

Let’s say you stay after work until 11 PM. If the regular working hours are done at 6 PM, you’ll get 25% more for hours between 6 and 10 PM. Since the one hour between 10 and 11 AM is considered late-night, you add both numbers up, which means that you’ll get paid 50% more for that one hour.

However, there’s a different fixed rate if you do overtime on national holidays. Your extra work on these days will get you 35% more than your regular hourly wage. Also, if you work overtime during late night hours on holiday, the overtime rates add up, and you get paid 60% more. 


I tried to share everything I know about the overtime culture in Japan. It should help you get a general idea of what to look for and what to be wary of. As I close today’s post, I’d like to note a couple more things that I think you should know about the overtime system in Japan. 

Firstly, although it’s not that common anymore, remember that the unpaid overtime culture is still alive in some companies in Japan. The warning signs are there if you know what to look for, and I advise you to be cautious and do your research about the company before you accept a job offer. 

However, it’s not all bad. I talked about this in my post, where I explained how to find a job in Japan as a software engineer, and it may be helpful in giving you a general idea of what the job hunt is like in Japan.

Lastly, keep in mind that some companies require you to request overtime for certain hours from HR, or through an online system. If you don’t do this, you risk not getting paid for your overtime work. 

You can learn more about the Japanese workplace culture in my recent blog post titled “The tricky parts of navigating a Japanese workplace.”


Japan Dev Team

This post was written by our Japan Dev editorial team.