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The wide world beckons – to Japanese job seekers

20 Comments
By Michael Hoffman

“Japanese workers to the world,” headlines Spa (Oct 11-18) in English. The yen falls and falls, the population ages and ages. Young Japanese look into the future and see what? More of the same, no end in sight. The wide world beckons – less to tourists, lately, than to job seekers.

Meet “Toru” – in Bangkok; or “Mr Seki” – in Singapore; or Yuji Yoshida – in Australia. We’re not told their ages. They look young – Toru a business executive, Seki a sushi chef, Yoshida a farm worker. The oldest among the overseas Japanese workers Spa speaks to – whose age is given, though not his name – is 67, working as a barber in Canada. In Japan, the magazine says, he’d likely have been nudged into retirement years ago.

When Toru moved to Bangkok in April 2021, the coronavirus pandemic was at its height but opportunity knocked. An agency connected him with a Japanese medical equipment firm. There were management vacancies in the Bangkok office, starting monthly salary 50,000 baht (200,000 yen) with the prospect of raises beyond anything likely in Japan – to 60,000 baht now and presumably steadily upward. The relatively low cost of living means he saves the equivalent of 70,000 yen a month. Spa notes an ironic twist: Not long ago rich Japanese came to Thailand to spend money. Now working Japanese come to earn a living.

We’re not told what initially drew Seki to Singapore when, but we can guess as to the former: a sense – fulfilled – of potential unlimited. Japan is constricted not only by its narrowing economy but by its tendency, only partly shaken off, to keep the restless individual within traditionally sanctioned bounds. For all the anxiety – or maybe because of it – occasioned by the widening gap between rich and poor, “Japan still lacks a culture of rewarding ability,” says global and domestic employment researcher Tatsuo Moriyama.

Sushi, like sumo, is old and dignified enough to be weighed down by custom. It’s a crowded field, besides, whereas in Singapore a trained chef can open a restaurant with the feeling of being a pioneer in a new frontier. The restaurant Seki opened is called “At Twenty” and nets him a monthly income of 8,000 Singapore dollars (800,000 yen). Well-healed Singaporeans, he says, know their sushi, think nothing of laying down the equivalent of 50,000 yen for a meal, and are convinced, moreover, that only Japanese chefs can offer the real thing.

Seki gives the resulting “boom” another 10 years. Already aspiring sushi chefs are training in Japan; they’ll come home with Japanese skills, and Japanese nationality will count for less if anything.

Yoshida felt himself drawn to Australia – strange, perhaps, given that he knew no English, but a working holiday program offered at least 12 months of whatever happened to come up, and what did was farm work – why not? The owner of what would likely be a vast tract by Japanese standards grows bananas. Yoshida admitted up front his English was severely limited – it’s not something you can keep to yourself, after all. “Well,” said the owner, made the more agreeable perhaps by COVID-related dearth of immigrant farm workers, “we’ll give you a job you can do alone” – propping up sagging trees, 9nine hours a day, four days a week. It’s minimum wage labor, but Australia’s minimum wage, the equivalent of 2,000 yen an hour, is at least twice Japan’s. We’re told nothing of Yoshida’s future plans. Maybe he doesn’t have any. Let the future take care of itself; his photo shows him looking young enough to be thinking.

The unnamed 67-year-old barber in Vancouver, Canada, works for a hair-care and skin-care establishment named “Oo” – “founded,” says its website, “on the principles of Japanese gold standards of beauty and wellness.” Here “the Japanese art of skin care and hair grooming” is combined with “the spirit of Japanese hospitality, or omotenashi.” Not all the employees are Japanese. One is Iranian, but his supple fingers seem to have been trained in Japan, and as long as the fingers remain supple and the hospitality sincere, age seems no barrier. Japan, it seems, will have to level a few of its own barriers if it wants to keep its most able and venturesome workers home.

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

20 Comments
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No shame in honest work.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Most of them will lose money and have a worse lifestyle. Because Japan’s cost of living is so low, moving to any other developed nation will see your living costs surge by 3x to 5x on rents alone

-9 ( +5 / -14 )

So many Japanese are apprehensive about working overseas because they have been taught it is dangerous and dirty compared to Japan and that they don't have the wherewithal or skiils to do it but I know many Japanese working overseas, mainly in Australia and SE Asia and very few look back on their work and lives in Japan with much fondness. Sure, rent in Singapore is 3 times what you'd pay in Tokyo (but often with garden, pool and gym too) but so are wages, meaning you still save, while, salaries are mostly better for Japanese in Bangkok but prices, including rent, are much lower, again with good amenities. For any enterprising Japanese of any age considering taking the plunge, do it. You will be rewarded and you will likely feel freer than at any time in Japan.

3 ( +10 / -7 )

Good on 'em.

Must be extremely hard to break free of the herd,and take the risk.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Australia's MW twice that of Japan? Big difference. Hell, I'd even pick bananas too.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

It isn't just Japanese finding jobs overseas. I had a boss who was an escapee from North Korea. He and his wife had it hard, what with no family to help them, but I was very impressed with his intelligence, morality, and work ethic. I have often wondered what became of him. Have lost touch over the years.

At Uni I took a course from a Chinese teacher who had escaped from Communist China. His was one of the most popular courses on campus. Who knew of what he spoke. He had so many personal stories to tell that he kept us enthralled. The history books do not tell the whole story.

Also had a wonderful teacher from Sweden at Uni. Later, while in Europe, dropped in and visited her at Lund, and had a wonderful time.

I literally can't count the number of fascinating people from other countries I have met here in South Cal. One of the wonderful things about living and working in a cosmopolitan area. We have had doctors from China, Iran, Israel, and Vietnam, and very impressive ones they have been.

I am a little surprised that I do not personally know any Korean Americans, as there is a very large colony of them here. I have spent a lot of time observing them, and am impressed at their sociability.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I didn't mention knowing Japanese Americans over here. Grew up with them. Have Nisei in-laws. They were interned at Manzanar during World War II, and one of them fought in the 442nd Nisei and Hawaiian regiment, in Europe. Again, very educated and hardworking, family oriented, and successful. We are big fans of Japanese cuisine. Getting too old to hold chopsticks anymore, so reduced to eating sushi with a fork.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

moving to any other developed nation will see your living costs surge

You've never seen migrant workers have you ? They live in dorm, eat cheap to send their money home.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

This is very true... people are starting to leave Japan and look for work where they can get better pay and higher standards of living, which is becoming more and more as the population drops and the current government continues to ensure a black hole for Japan's future. Vietnamese construction workers, who used to come here in droves to try and get jobs (many through the government's human trafficking program, or whatever it's called) but now they can actually make more as construction workers in Vietnam, and some Japanese are even going there.

Wasn't too long ago that people fled Japan for a better life in nations like Brazil (why you have so many second/third generation Japanese there, and likewise a high number of Brazilian-Japanese in Japan). They could make way more farming coffee in the early 1900s than working in Japan. We are seeing a return to that, but with people saying they don't want to come back to Japan to retire, but stay in those other countries, pointing out how there will be nothing left for pension except paying into it, no social welfare systems left in place, no retirement, forced overtime, etc.

-2 ( +5 / -7 )

It is ironic that Japanese people start leaving Japan for a better life. A repeat of workforce export during the Meiji-Taisho era was when Japan exported its workers across the world to gain profits. However, almost all of this workforce later ran away to escape the harsh pressure of gaining foreign currencies sent back to Japan, and they assimilated into the locals completely (don't even care about Japanese heritage). This was why you see there is a sizeable population of Japanese-related people in Brazil or Mexico.

Japan is always at odds with the expatriate population due to cultural differences and xenophobia. Japan can't efficiently rally the power of Japanese ex-pats to aid the nation in economic recovery in the past decades because Japanese nationals can't forgive the fact that overseas Japanese people becoming impure. Additionally, almost all overseas Japanese leaders are irrevocably against Japan's LDP fascism and love of imperial Japan.

Since the weak Yen, we witness a good thing that Japanese xenophobes finally shred their feelings of superiority to search for prosperity outside of Japan. Meanwhile, wealthy Asians will buy out assets in Japan to treat the island nation as an international resort destination.

Yoshida felt himself drawn to Australia – strange, perhaps, given that he knew no English, but a working holiday program offered at least 12 months of whatever happened to come up, and what did was farm work – why not? The owner of what would likely be a vast tract by Japanese standards grows bananas. Yoshida admitted up front his English was severely limited – it’s not something you can keep to yourself, after all. “Well,” said the owner, made the more agreeable perhaps by COVID-related dearth of immigrant farm workers, “we’ll give you a job you can do alone” – propping up sagging trees, 9nine hours a day, four days a week. It’s minimum wage labor, but Australia’s minimum wage, the equivalent of 2,000 yen an hour, is at least twice Japan’s. We’re told nothing of Yoshida’s future plans. Maybe he doesn’t have any. Let the future take care of itself; his photo shows him looking young enough to be thinking.

Japanese people used to mock Chinese and Vietnamese trainees working on farms in Japan. Now, the weak Yen is driving Chinese, Vietnamese and other foreigners from coming to work in Japan.

We see Japanese workers becoming overseas blue-collar foreign workers themselves!

-8 ( +3 / -11 )

There were management vacancies in the Bangkok office, starting monthly salary 50,000 baht (200,000 yen) with the prospect of raises beyond anything likely in Japan – to 60,000 baht now and presumably steadily upward.

Wow! So now the starting monthly salary in Thailand is the same as Japan AND the prospects there are better as well. Just wow.

The relatively low cost of living means he saves the equivalent of 70,000 yen a month. Spa notes an ironic twist: Not long ago rich Japanese came to Thailand to spend money. Now working Japanese come to earn a living.

It’s minimum wage labor, but Australia’s minimum wage, the equivalent of 2,000 yen an hour, is at least twice Japan’s. 

When I was working in demolition in Japan, I was paid by the day. 8000 yen per day to work 12 hours from 7am-7pm. I quit soon after. Shortly afterwards, when I went to Canada I was told by family that if I worked in construction I could make up to the equivalent of 4000 yen per hour and if I worked the night shift it was OVER 5000 yen per hour.

After reading this, one cannot help but think Japan has had its time in the sun. It is now the land of the setting sun.

So many Japanese are apprehensive about working overseas because they have been taught it is dangerous and dirty compared to Japan and that they don't have the wherewithal or skiils to do it

They're only being lied to in order to make them stay here since Japan has no young people left.

Here “the Japanese art of skin care and hair grooming” is combined with “the spirit of Japanese hospitality, or **omotenashi.”**

More BS about the spirit of Japanese hospitality, or omotenashi. That does not exist.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

when I went to Canada I was told by family that if I worked in construction I could make up to the equivalent of 4000 yen per hour and if I worked the night shift it was OVER 5000 yen per hour...The average cost of a home in Canada is $800,000. The average cost of a home in Japan is $300,000. I bought a lovely 4 bedroom home in Saitama, 50 minutes from Ikebukuro for the equivalent of $150,000 CD. The same home would have cost me more than 10 times that in my native Toronto. It's a good thing the wages are high there...the government takes half of them, and what's left you can't buy half of what you can in Japan

1 ( +3 / -2 )

The average cost of a home in Canada is $800,000. 

If you ONLY insist on Vancouver Toronto or Montreal. The rest of Canada is the same as Japan and cheaper.

I've checked.

It's a good thing the wages are high there...the government takes half of them,

They take more than that in Japan. You've got city tax, If you own a car like me Road Tax, Highway tolls, You pay 30% of the hospital bill here AND that's with Shakai Hoken... I could go on. Like you I also am a homeowner here just because we couldn't get working permits in Canada. If you are happy here good for you.

I'll take Canada ANYDAY

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

"If you ONLY insist on Vancouver Toronto or Montreal. The rest of Canada is the same as Japan and cheaper." Those are "national" averages and include Toronto, Vancouver and Tokyo...as well as Thunder Bay, Saskatoon and Chichibu. Canada's combined federal and provincial tax rate is between 20.05% and 53.53%. Canadian families who earn an average income of $65,522 will pay an aver- age of $6,627 for public health care insurance. Canada's health care used to be the envy of the world...now it's in a shambles due to mis-management. It's not unusual to have to wait up to a year for an MRI in Canada. I've had three operations in Japan, each of which I had to wait less than a week for an MRI. From diagnosis to operation for each took less than 3 weeks.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

The average cost of living in Canada ($1832) is 56% more expensive than in Japan ($1171). Canada ranked 14th vs 43rd for Japan in the list of the most expensive countries in the world.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

"If you ONLY insist on Vancouver Toronto or Montreal. The rest of Canada is the same as Japan and cheaper." Those are "national" averages and include Toronto, Vancouver and Tokyo...as well as Thunder Bay, Saskatoon and Chichibu

Averages are always skewed because those three cities raise the prices of the homes everywhere. Go to Alberta go to the prairie provinces and territories it’s so much cheaper

. Canada's combined federal and provincial tax rate is between 20.05% and 53.53%.  Canadian families who earn an average income of $65,522 will pay an aver- age of $6,627 for public health care insurance.

Yes but if you want to live the same lifestyle as you live in Canada in Japan you’re gonna be paying a lot more in taxes than that. It’s like I told you before there are tons of taxes that you do not factor in such as Highway tolls and road tax and what not and that’s just for the car

Canada's health care used to be the envy of the world...now it's in a shambles due to mis-management. It's not unusual to have to wait up to a year for an MRI in Canada. I've had three operations in Japan, each of which I had to wait less than a week for an MRI. From diagnosis to operation for each took less than 3 weeks.

That’s because the MRIs in Canada are not as expensive as the ones in Japan. They make you take the MRI because it is an actual expense that you pay out of pocket. It’s the same with the United States. If you go down to the United States and they’re willing to pay for your MRI then you won’t have the long wait. You have a long wait because of the fact that you’re not paying out of pocket in Canada

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

The average cost of living in Canada ($1832) is 56% more expensive than in Japan ($1171). Canada ranked 14th vs 43rd for Japan in the list of the most expensive countries in the world.

Like I told you before, the average is skewed in Canada because of the extremely high cost of Toronto Vancouver and Montreal. The average does not always give you the big picture. Canada’s costs are extremely different depending on where you live.

There is One more thing you have not factored in which is very important. When you buy a house in Canada it’s value appreciates. You can sell it for profit. Try doing that here in Japan. You buy a house in Japan and it depreciates. Not to mention houses here require a lot more maintenance than houses in Canada because of the way that they are built.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

The average cost of a house in Vancouver is $1,155,300, in Toronto it's $1,110,700, in Tokyo (excluding surrounding prefectures in Kanto), Japan's most expensive city, it's $603,000). "There is One more thing you have not factored in which is very important. When you buy a house in Canada it’s value appreciates. You can sell it for profit." This is an issue that has greatly contributed to home-ownership having become out of reach for working class Canadians. Those who have money or who have inherited homes have had the luxury of being able to flip homes for profit, driving up costs and making it impossible for those who haven't been so lucky to actually buy a one. "When I buy a house" is not a statement many Canadians can imagine making. As for the reason one has to wait for an MRI in Canada...who cares if you have to wait a year to find out you had stage 2 cancer which could become stage 4 by the time you get around to getting it diagnosed?

1 ( +3 / -2 )

The average cost of a house in Vancouver is $1,155,300, in Toronto it's $1,110,700, in Tokyo (excluding surrounding prefectures in Kanto), Japan's most expensive city, it's $603,000). "There is One more thing you have not factored in which is very important. When you buy a house in Canada it’s value appreciates. You can sell it for profit."

This is an issue that has greatly contributed to home-ownership having become out of reach for working class Canadians. Those who have money or who have inherited homes have had the luxury of being able to flip homes for profit, driving up costs and making it impossible for those who haven't been so lucky to actually buy a one. "When I buy a house" is not a statement many Canadians can imagine making.

What makes you think it’s any different over here? Do you really think that most Japanese are buying houses here? They’re not. Most Japanese are making less than C$2000 a month. Factor in the fact that 40% of the population does not even have public health insurance. (shakai hoken)

They have to pay for everything out of pocket. It’s very similar to the United States. I get the Canada’s healthcare system is not perfect. I have family in the healthcare industry and I know it’s shortcomings. But only 60% of the population of Japan have what they call shakai hoken. And believe me if you’re not on that, you’re pretty much almost in the same boat as the Americans. So you can’t tell me that the healthcare system in Japan is any good whatsoever. It is if you are a full-time worker or your job offers you that. But That’s no different than in the United States

As for the reason one has to wait for an MRI in Canada...who cares if you have to wait a year to find out you had stage 2 cancer which could become stage 4 by the time you get around to getting it diagnosed?

You are also aware that there are private health clinics where you can go and get those done in Canada. Problem is you have to pay a lot of money for it. Japan makes you pay for the MRI regardless. Whether you need it or not. Because it’s a business. So if you wanna pay for an MRI which is what you do in Japan then it’s no different than Canada. The problem is people in Canada want their MRIs free. I promise you you can get an MRI in Canada anytime you want if you’re willing to pay for the way you do here in Japan

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

All readers back on topic please. Please do not get fixated on Canada.

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