$1M salaries for top AI talent? Absolutely, says Japan

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(Bloomberg) -- Japan is joining the global hiring frenzy for technology engineers, as the nation known for modest pay and lifetime employment competes for cutting-edge talent with China and the U.S.

Start Today Co., which operates popular online fashion shopping site Zozotown, posted new job offerings Monday seeking up to seven "genius" tech experts, offering annual salaries of as much as 100 million yen ($944,000). The listed company, worth $8.4 billion by market capitalization, is looking for workers in fields ranging from artificial intelligence to cryptography and robotics, according to a blog post.

It’s an unusual move in Japan, where workers often take lower pay in exchange for secure employment. That’s evident even among the relatively well-paid IT professionals, with top software engineers earning on average about $113,000 a year, compared with $250,000 in the U.S., according to hiring firm Robert Walters.

“There’s no precedent for this,” said Tomokazu Betzold, head of tech hiring at Robert Walters Japan. "There’s a long-standing stigma that Japanese companies don’t pay competitively. So this is a really positive development."

Dizzying salaries for tech talent are becoming the norm in China, where compensation at one of the nation’s largest startups can exceed $3 million. In the U.S., one engineer at Alphabet’s self-driving unit made more than $120 million, surpassing the nose-bleed figures offered to some top Wall Street traders.

"As a developer in Silicon Valley you’ll get a chance to earn more than in Tokyo,” said Betzold. “But Japan can still be comparable depending on the position.”

Bloomberg News