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Domestic migrant workers traveling to areas in Japan where the pay is good

By Michael Hoffman

Japan is on the move, the nation is reconfiguring, workers are migrating – go north young man/woman, to Hokkaido, to Niseko; or south, north, east or west to Kyoto, Tokyo, Saitama, wherever, opportunity knocks, no or few skills required, drift here and do this, there and do that, and go home in weeks or months – years maybe – if not rich at least better off than you would have been had you stayed put. In a word, domestic dekasegi (migrant work) is surging, says Spa (April 2).

Niseko is a good place to start. Aging locals recall it as a ski resort in a sleepy – or peaceful if you see it that way, or stagnant, some might say – rural setting Its marvelous powder snow was famous nationwide. Why not worldwide? Foreign real estate developers, mostly Australian, saw huge untapped potential. They came, they tapped it. Hotels and restaurants sprang up, then condominiums, shops, day life, night life, winter sports, summer sports, hot springs – it’s all here, and tourists from all over the world pour in, to the point where the Niseko Tourism website calls it “Asia’s premier year-round resort,” and English overwhelms Japanese as the local language.

What does this mean to the Japanese migrant worker? High demand and good wages, says Spa, introducing “Yoshiie Honda,” 29 (all names in this story are pseudonyms) as exhibit A. A licensed chef, he sticks most of the year to his regular job, cooking part-time at a Tokyo izakaya pub for 1450 yen an hour. January and February, though, find him, thanks to an online job search site, at Niseko, in a hotel kitchen, earning 6000 yen an hour. “I’ve no special skills,” he says (if he had he’d probably be making much more) but he does speak English – a must. His employer provides dormitory accommodation, and in spring Honda returns to Tokyo, flush.

The yen is cheap; so is Japan if you’re traveling with foreign currency, and foreign travelers have been quick to notice. They’re here in droves. Landing at Narita Airport, what’s first thing they need? A taxi. Where to? The heart of Tokyo. The fare? Roughly, 20,000-30,000 yen. Drivers are few, their ranks still thin from the Covid crisis. Among them is “Yoshiaki Takada,” 55, originally from Hokkaido but why stay there when the golden Narita-Tokyo taxi route beckons? He earns 120,000 yen daily, easily – four trips and it’s done.

Where else do foreign tourists flock, seeding the local economy with their money? Kyoto, of course – where migrant workers (locals too of course) can earn 1600 yen an hour as convenience store clerks, against a national average of 900 yen; or 2000 an hour as hotel cleaners.

Not all foreigners are tourists. Some are entrepreneurs. Ask “Sanpei Mizutani,” 36, who works eight months a year in Nagoya as a call center operator for 240,000 yen a month, then migrates to a Saitama prefecture dismantling yard owned, run and largely staffed by Kurdish immigrants, where he spends four months of the year taking apart junked machinery and the like, salvaging saleable component elements and disposing of disposables, asbestos among the latter, toxic in the long term but meanwhile he earns 20,000 yen daily – against which, perhaps, the hazards are not worth mentioning. Spa, in any case, does not mention them. Why does Mizutani go back to the call center? Why not adopt the more – much more – lucrative trade all year round? He must have his reasons. We’re not told them.

It’s not all, of course, money, sweetness and light. There is an underside, too, to the migrant worker trend. Spa cites two instances of moral ambiguity: drug trafficking and the brand of sexual servicing known as deriheru, from “delivery health,” “health” a euphemism for sex, “delivery” a contrastingly blunt expression suggesting house calls.

A window of opportunity opened in Okinawa when the yakuza last year eased out of drug sales. Filling the vacuum, Spa says, are Okinawans living on the mainland and migrating back home when the spirit moves them. Their range of wares is said to extend from marijuana through stimulants up to LSD. Spa worries about the consequences of commerce with clients not yet out of high school.

“Narimi Kimura,” 31, represents deriheru for Spa. Trade in her home prefecture of Gunma languished during the pandemic and has yet to fully revive. It’s otherwise in Tokyo, so there she migrates, servicing foreign visitors from as nearby as China or as far away as South America. They have this in common, she says: while Japanese tend to prolong the encounter as long as possible, the foreigners “are ready to wrap it up after two hours,” allowing her a high enough turnover at high enough rates sthat two weeks in Tokyo see her back home to Gunma with 700,000 yen to show for her venture.

It’s April now, peak of the migrant season. You might picture Kimura packing her bags for Tokyo even as you read this.

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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In a word, domestic dekasegi (migrant work) is surging

This is untrue.

A big reason the Expo has all its troubles is that it cannot get workers. It'll be planning stages now, but when lots of folks in Noto start rebuilding their houses, there'll struggle to get enough tradesmen.

The reason a few people in Niseko have to pay 6000 yen an hour to a cook is that it cannot get workers. It needs to pay 6000 yen to get one to turn up. Twenty years ago, they'd have got a snowboarder working for 1500 yen an hour, room and board, and a share of a lift pass. Ski resorts really struggle to get seasonal workers now.

If you ask people who use other forms of seasonal work, harvesting time for tea, tree fruit like apples, etc. it'll be the same.

It is the lack of workers causing the presented-as-high wages in the story. Nobody would pay cleaners 2000 yen an hour if "Japan is on the move".

6 ( +8 / -2 )


I second that,and would also add that the lack of affordable accommodation in Niseko may drive up the hourly pay.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

I wouldn't mind working a few months in a ski resort with the great benefit of being able to ski and improve in my free time.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Who would take a taxi from Narita to central Tokyo for ¥30,000?

The train would get you there in half the time for a tenth of the cost.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

Who would take a taxi from Narita to central Tokyo for ¥30,000?

Guess you're fortunate enough to have not missed the last train due to a flight/airport delay.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I usually take a taxi from Haneda to my home in Tokyo and it is usually between 7000-9000. The range depends on the honesty of the taxi driver.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Guess you're fortunate enough to have not missed the last train due to a flight/airport delay.

Happened to me during covid when limited number of hotels were available,

Almost 40k.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

*Domestic migrant workers traveling to *areas in Japan where the pay is good

Nagatacho? The yakuba?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

*Domestic migrant workers traveling to **areas in Japan where the pay is good

Nagatacho? The yakuba?

Lol, good one.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I always wonder if these articles from Spa are not at least partially made up. They always seem to make a trend of some regular phenomenon and present examples that seem made up to fit the story.

That being said though I am sure that Niseko, like most other ski resorts around the world, function partially because of migrant labour.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Guess you're fortunate enough to have not missed the last train due to a flight/airport delay.

Had a delay once and a taxi but ANA paid the fare.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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