A steady rise in what is called ‘non-regular employment’ is the most notable change in Japanese working life since at least the 1980s. Such workers accounted for nearly 40% of all employees by 2015. This paper focuses on the results of the turn to non-regular employment and identifies its distinctive aspects in the context of a long history of various forms of precarious employment. A historical perspective shows that newer forms of second-tier status, including some that can be termed ‘non-regular regular’ employment, have come to overlay continuing older ones. Important new elements include not only a far greater absolute and relative number of non-regular workers but also their far greater presence in the service sector. In addition, today’s non-regular workers differ in social characteristics such as age, education, and gender. The relative decline of social movements is a notable impediment in seeking reform, while the move away from seeing gender as a natural axis of differentiation offers some potential for addressing the issue.