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Few Japanese benefit from living their 'Shanghai dream'

28 Comments

“Ms A,” having worked in Shanghai for the past five years, is on her way home -- not because she wants to return to Japan, but because she’s afraid not to.

She’s in her mid-30s, single, and fluent in Chinese. Her field is finance. She went to China in the first place because she wanted to make living use of the second language she’d acquired. She did well and her future looked bright. Japan, meanwhile, was mired in recession. What was there to come home to?

Nothing much, and yet there was a nagging fear: The longer she stayed, and the older she got, the harder it would be for her to land a job in Japan if ever she did grow seriously homesick, or if circumstances in China turned sour. The time to act was now, she decided. Fortunately, her boss in Shanghai was able to introduce her to a Japanese firm, which hired her.

Few Japanese living the “Shanghai dream” are that lucky, warns consultant Kiyomi Sasaki, writing in Shukan Economist (June 2).

She doesn’t tell us how many Japanese have surrendered to the lure of Shanghai, but evidently it’s a promising venue for business people who speak or are studying Chinese. You can spend a few years there perfecting language skills and deepening professional experience, and then either remain in China for the long term or come home with an enhanced resume.

It’s a good idea, but there are risks, warns Sasaki. The most dire is of being treated the way temp workers often are at home -- dismissed abruptly as “redundant.”

She cites three categories of Japanese working in Shanghai. There are the long-termers setting up their own businesses, traditionally restaurants, more recently consultancies.

Then there are company employees sent from Japan to work in Chinese branch offices. These tend to be well taken care of by their employers, who provide housing, subsidies for the children’s schooling, and “hardship allowances” -- the “hardship” consisting in nothing more than the necessity of living in a foreign environment.

The third and newest category is made up of young Japanese, many fresh out of school, who come without jobs in the hope of arranging employment on the spot. They are encouraged by the proliferation of Japanese companies in Shanghai, and not overly discouraged by the relatively low salaries -- on average, 141,000 yen a month for non-Chinese speakers and 212,000 yen for those speaking the language well enough to work in it.

Why should they be discouraged? Though Shanghai compares to Tokyo in terms of size, the cost of living is scarcely comparable. A 2LDK apartment in Shanghai, for example, rents for as little as 21,000 yen a month.

Sasaki does not say the “Shanghai dream” is hollow, only that it has pitfalls -- -as “Ms B” found out the hard way. She arrived in Shanghai seven years ago as a student. Her studies done, she stayed on and took a job with a trading company. The Japanese economy at the time was in the doldrums. Why not wait out the recession while gaining overseas work experience?

The problem, she tells Sasaki, is age. She suddenly woke up to the fact that she’s nearing 40. She fears she’s too old to get a job in Japan, and knows she’s vulnerable to sudden dismissal where she is now. She feels trapped. “She lives in Shanghai,” Sasaki sums up, “plagued by anxiety.”

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

28 Comments
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I don't know why she would want to come back to Japan. I'm not a big fan of China, but for the current and longer term she will have a lot more opportunity there and will be respected more there than back in Japan. Once she arrives back here, none of what she has done will have any meaning and unless she finds a small to medium sized company that will respect her work and language skills (Which most don't as they would probably hire Chinese people for a lower cost) then she will be left with a very narrow choice. This is the same for men also.

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Thank God for the young. Out exploring new worlds. Never a waste.'Shanghai dream'...would love to see it.

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so filled with anxiety she feels trapped ! but still working safely in Shanghai.. poor woman. Its easy to think the sky is falling on your head instead of embracing the wider world...where there is a will there is a way..she just hasnt found it yet.

when you grow up living in a box its hard when you discvover the lid comes off!

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Yes...so...what's the point of the article ? Could be any country.

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For many people, working in a foreign country for a while is a resume builder, not a big risk. It seems strange that this wouldn't also be the case for Japanese. I've never heard of this problem for Japanese who have worked in Germany, France, UK, or US for a few years.

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This sounds eerily similar to the story of many foreigners who come to Japan. As one approached 40, issues arise such as aging parents in your home country, WTF to do about getting a pension, educating kids, etc.

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but evidently it’s a promising venue for business people who speak or are studying Chinese.

maybe because it's in china ?

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It's a dream to work in a country where you have the freedom to buy what you want but not say what you want? Whats next a gap year in Pyongyang?

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I've never heard of this problem for Japanese who have worked in Germany, France, UK, or US for a few years

either they were lucky, very senior or you didn't probe enough. it's well known that returning employees are treated with suspicion

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The women in the article keep mentioning age as a barrier in Japan, but they seem to be forgetting that their being women is a double-whammy in Japan. I wonder whether China is actually better when it comes to sexual equality at the workplace. I know that places like Singapore and Hong Kong are years ahead compared to Japan. In fact, many women go to HK because they have better prospects there.

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The problem, she tells Sasaki, is age.

Unfortunately, too true. Whatever you do, make sure you are male, 28, went to a good university and have about 12 years experience in your field.... preferably in one company.

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Japan makes no allowance for those who dare to leave the hive. Japanese children who go to school overseas while their parents are stationed abroad have a notoriously hard time reintegrating. A Japanese friend once told me that her school had a special section for these kids because there were so many of them due to the fact that she lived in an area with a large number of Toyota employeees. In her words, they had to "be taught how to be Japanese". Same with anyone who works for a foreign company abroad. They're inevitably viewed with suspicion. I recently returned home after 7 years in Japan, and was able to land a good job in my field. While I was interviewing for positions, my overseas experience was generally viewed as a positive by various hiring managers. One of them even kept me 30 minutes after the interview just to chat about it. In my new position, they've already made use of my experience with Japanese business culture since the company is considering partnerships over there in the future. It needn't be viewed as a bad thing.

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Age discrimination in Japan is pathetic .

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That applies to the American dream as well. All of my Japanese friends who were working in the States have returned home for some of the samme reasons as well as wanting their Children to grow up in Japan with the grandparents and cousins and such.

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J Rock: I'd say it depends on the company as to how they are treated upon return, no hardships in my circle of friends. As for the kids maybe it's personality or where you lived. My kids are half and started school in the states. They really had very little problem adapting to school and making friends upon returning to Japan. Maybe Kyushu is just a little better place.

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There are 3 kinds of ppl in this world:

=> Those who make things happen. => Those who watch things happen. => And those who wonder, "what's happening?"

;)

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This news feature has no quotes. Weird.

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As one of the legions of foreign temporary workers in Japan, my heart weeps for the poor dear. We are plagued by constant anxiety, find it difficult to marry, get a mortgage or settle down properly. The lucky few who do manage to get a permanent employee position with a Japanese company soon hit a glass ceiling. Regardless of Japanese language skills, these lucky foreigners in Japan rarely become managers and get stuck doing English-language related work forever. Most leave for foreign companies or leave the country. The Japanese dream rarely lasts for those wishing to progress their careers.

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Well, let's put things into perspective. If she had stayed in Japan, would her life have been so much better? This is not a great time in the economy, and nobody, even those who have stayed in Japan doing what they are "supposed to do," is free from worry. This person still has some decent options open. Many Japanese women her age do not.

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I also sometimes wonder the same about my own career: can I ever return to a proper country after so many years in Japan?

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For many people, working in a foreign country for a while is a resume builder, not a big risk. It seems strange that this wouldn't also be the case for Japanese. I've never heard of this problem for Japanese who have worked in Germany, France, UK, or US for a few years.

I know some japanese who wanted to go to work some years in USA but decided otherwise because they feared the same as stated in the article.

I told them it would be a positive thing to have experience abroad, but that was my "foreigner's opinion. Things don't work like that here".

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Time spent as a temporary worker in japan or anywhere is just wasted time unless it leads to a good secure permanent job or you start your own company. But japan doesn't usually allow mere foreigners to have permanent jobs as it prefers to use the constant anxiety of a temporary position as a form of control. And surprisingly foreigners just go along with this situation

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"Time spent as a temporary worker in japan or anywhere is just wasted time unless it leads to a good secure permanent job or you start your own company."

Security is an illusion. People, who seek security, are actually furthest away from it.

"Regardless of Japanese language skills, these lucky foreigners in Japan rarely become managers and get stuck doing English-language related work forever. Most leave for foreign companies or leave the country. The Japanese dream rarely lasts for those wishing to progress their careers."

Nobody ever becomes rich, or gets ahead in life working for other people.

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Male, 28, with 12 years experience in your field

Are there a lot of 16-year-olds in Japan starting their careers?

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Every Japanese guy I knew in the US made sure his family moved home before the kids got very far in school. One friend of mine from Ebina got posted to China over the winter, he left the family behind because the kids can't leave school and then get back in a few years later. It is tough to leave Japan and come back later. You have to be really sharp and preferably single to pull it off.

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As management, I can relay that I rarely hire those highly skilled in English or that have worked for extended periods overseas for positions in Japan. Those who are skilled in those areas should be seeking work where their talents will be utilized. The market in Japan is for Japanese and foreign marketing, sales and production is best left to people from that country. What a laugh to watch my friend that works in marketing in a mid size Japanese company struggle to put together web and print marketing for overseas English markets ;) The preeminent skill for work in Japan is Japanese communication. That leaves those 'tweeners' stuck in limbo with jobs of marginal responsibility and matching marginal paychecks. That does not mean that good positions for those jobs dont exist for people that live outside the box, it is just far more likely to be with a small company which brings with it little security and no prestige.

Mrs. A? she should marry a Shanghai yuppie n make the best of it there. Young Japanese? Study your asses off n get into a good school and dont waste your time with English beyond 650 on the toeic. If you want to broaden your horizons, get out young and burn your bridges and be committed to succeeding in the country of your choice. Coming back after 10 years is a fools game.

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My experience has been that once you work for a foreign company overseas, it is impossible to go back to Japan to work in Japan Inc. I spent 15 years witha foreign bank and the sthought of working away in a Japanese financial company is torture. A Japanese friend who worked with me in HK and London found it impossible to fit in even with Nomura and deceided to work for a good old bulge bracket firm. There are its pitfalls. He got laid off last year after three years back in Japan for a US i bank. that said, he's never regretted it and has made enough. The morale of the story is that Japan Inc is a difficult place to work even for Japanese who have spent years understanding what its like at the other side of the fence.

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Here is the trick if you are wanting to do business in any country and be successful. You need one foot in your country of origin and one foot in whatever country you are doing business in. There is no doubt that knowing the language is going to help you but only if used in the right context. You look at the most successful people in the world and it wasn't from them sitting around and hoping something would happen. It was from those you were able to bridge the gap and bring skills in which best suited those markets.

If you are a foreigner and plan on doing this by yourself forget it. Blue collar workers never get that far in any country especially if you don't have anything to offer or provide. Japan is really not all that different then the US in that respect. Just having a skill doesn't mean anything unless you know how to market that to the masses and in a way that will benefit everyone.

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