The rising percentage of nonregular employees in Japan's workforce, or conversely, the falling ratio of regular employees to the total, has long been a topic of discussion in this country.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry data, the share of nonregular workers in all employees (excluding self-employed people) increased from 16.4 percent in 1985 to 20.9 percent in 1995 and 32.6 percent in 2005. It has been roughly flat since 2014 but remains at 37 to 38 percent. Generally speaking, nonregular employees get lower wages and other benefits than their regular full-time counterparts, and are also believed to face disadvantages in on-the-job education and training. This situation is deemed to cause a declining quality of employment.

References to "regular" or "nonregular" employees are peculiar to Japan and are not necessarily clearly defined. In general, regular employees are full-time workers whose employment is not limited in duration except for the mandatory retirement age. On the other hand, the duration of employment for nonregular workers is limited — either for a short term or an intermediate term. They can work either part time or full time. These terms came into common parlance relatively recently — it is believed they first became widely used in the 1980s.