TOKYO -- Demand for Chinese-speaking workers is skyrocketing among Japanese retailers ahead of the Chinese New Year holidays in February, leading some to offer pay comparable to professional translators.
The average hourly pay for retail staff was 1,363 yen ($11.44) as of November, according to Japanese job-placement company Recruit Jobs. But Chinese-speaking temporary employees are currently being offered around 1,400 to 1,700 yen an hour in Tokyo, as retailers prepare for a surge in tourists during the holiday season. Temporary Chinese translators generally earn about 2,500 yen an hour in the city, but could be paid less than 2,000 yen, depending on their language skills.
Foreign luxury brands, clothiers and electronics retailers have traditionally sought Chinese speakers, according to Temp Holdings. The trend is now spreading into drugstores, for example, which are looking for cosmetics salespeople who speak the language.
"Requests for Chinese-speaking temps are still increasing," said a source at Inter Belle, a recruitment agency specializing in apparel workers. It is looking to place several dozen workers in the heart of Tokyo alone.
But finding people with both the expertise and language skills has proven to be a challenge. "We know having staff that speak foreign languages will boost sales," said a source at the Japan arm of Sydney-based fashion brand Helen Kaminski. "But it's hard to find those workers even when we post listings."
"There's almost no one who has specialized knowledge in beauty care on top of language skills," said a source at Kanebo Cosmetics Sales. The makeup brand has instead decided to pay more for Chinese translators placed through a recruitment agency. The number of such employees has quadrupled since 2012, when it first began using the service.
Some recruitment companies see the trend as an opportunity. Imagine Plus began placing temporary Chinese-speaking retail staff in January. Temp Holdings launched a special team supporting Chinese apparel workers last April, providing counseling on differences in the countries' cultures and work environments.