They come from all over – from China, India, Vietnam, Nepal, Uzbekistan, and many, many other countries – some 40,000 foreigners staffing Japan’s 58,000-odd convenience stores. The humble konbini seem an odd magnet for such a large influx. What’s the attraction? asks Weekly Playboy (Aug. 27).
The magazine surveys 100 “konbini foreigners” from 31 countries. “Do you like your work?” Very much, say 39; more or less, say 41. Only seven claim not to like it at all.
“Do you like Japan and the Japanese?” Again, the response is positive. Very much, say 42; more or less, say 39, with only three expressing outright dislike, though 16 say their overall impression more unfavorable than favorable.
Twenty-seven say they want to work in Japan for life; 15 say they do for 10 years or more. “And what,” asks Weekly Playboy, “do you think of Japan’s future?” It looks good to 40 and not bad to 30; 18 think it will go on pretty much as it is now; the remaining 12 are pessimistic.
Labi, 26, is from Mahendranagar in Nepal. “It’s very hot there – but not as hot as Tokyo!” Konbini work beats factory work, she says. She’s been in Japan two years and has her sights set on a job in IT.
Nguyen, 24, hails from Danang, Vietnam. Japan’s been good to him – he met his Vietnamese girlfriend here. He’s been here a year and seven months, and hopes one day to make it into a Japanese university.
Yo, 26, a native of Qingdao in eastern China, is a relative newcomer, with eight months under his belt. A Japanese anime fan, he’s looking ahead to a future in the trading sector.
All three, like most konbini foreigners, are studying Japanese. Japanese language schools are mushrooming to meet the new demand. There’s a good side and a bad side to that.
The language barrier is a challenge. Yo, being Chinese, would seem to have an advantage when it comes to reading Japanese. Not so, he says. All three reminisce over blunders made while deciphering address forms for takuhaibin delivery services – mixing up Miyagi Prefecture with Miyazaki, Yamaguchi with Yamanashi, Aichi with Ehime, and so on.
Nguyen stumbles over whether to pack chopsticks or spoons and forks with his customers’ orders. Soba: chopsticks. Spaghetti: fork. Fair enough. But what about wafu (Japanese-style) spaghetti?
Yo hasn’t yet got over his surprise at Japanese adults’ fondness for sweets that in China, he says, would be considered more for children.
Weekly Playboy asks its survey respondents what they like and dislike about working in a konbini. What they like is the chance to use Japanese and the overall friendliness, of customers and Japanese staff alike. What they dislike are the long hours of late-night work after a full day at school and drunk customers. A 25-year-old man from Turkey adds, “I hate it when I’m unable to answer a question and the customer says, ‘Well, call a Japanese.’”
Why are konbini, specifically, attracting so many foreigners? One answer is Labi’s – that working the cash register is easier than factory work. Then, konbini are multiplying seemingly without end. Twenty-five years ago there were roughly 20,000 nationwide. Now there are close to 58,000. With the young Japanese population waning, the staff must come from somewhere. Japan’s working-age population (15-64) peaked in 1995 at 87.16 million. By 2020 it will be 73.41 million, a decline equivalent to the population of Tokyo.
Suddenly Japanese language teaching is a booming sector, with all the good and bad points that implies. On the plus side is the economic stimulus. As of now, says Weekly Playboy, there are some 680 schools nationwide – 200 more than five years ago – serving 310,000 foreign students. Tuition is not cheap. Two or three classes a day can end up costing close to 1 million yen a year. As with any suddenly proliferating industry, the quality is variable. Some schools are reputable and honest. Others, the magazine warns, may not be. Let the buyer beware.© Japan Today