“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