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What motivates Japanese to move overseas?

36 Comments

“Why am I living this way?” Ayumi Tomita kept asking herself.

It wasn’t only her. Work in Japan seems to leave a person no energy or time for anything else but sleep.

She vacationed in Guam. The sun shone, the sea beckoned, time seemed to stretch wide enough for all kinds of possibilities. “Should I?” The idea pecked at her brain: Why not live here?

A lucky break followed. She met someone who knew someone who owned a fashion shop she wanted to sell. “Should I?” There were ample reasons not to. She was an office worker, had never run a business. She’d need a work visa, a business license. It would also would mean giving up everything she had for everything she wanted but couldn’t be sure of acquiring, even on a tropical island.

She was 30. It was now or never. She took the plunge.

That was 10 years ago. “Any plans to go back?” Spa! (Aug 27) asks her. No, she says – not quite without hesitation. She thinks of her aging parents, and of herself should she happen to get sick. Japan does call her – but not very loudly. The shop is a success, her non-working hours are non-working hours, as they so often are not in Japan, and for the foreseeable  future she’ll stay where she is, thank you very much.

It’s a trend and picking up speed, Spa! says. More and more young people are asking what the Japanese grind has in it for them – and answering, in effect, “Nothing.” Masahiko Habano (a pseudonym), knew even as a student that he wanted to work abroad. Three interests claimed him: work, family and soccer. In Japan, he knew, work barely allows time for family, let alone a hobby.

He’s 30 now, and settled in Poland (the magazine doesn’t mention the city, oddly enough) – married, a father, and a member of a local soccer club.

Working hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Overtime is rare. Evening finds him on the soccer pitch. Dinner-time finds him home.

A key point in his job-hunting after graduation was: Does the company have overseas branches? The company he chose, a metal processing plant, was choiceworthy precisely because it did. Six years ago it transferred him to Poland. He married there, bought a home, and though making no more money than he would be in Japan, feels he’s living a much richer life. “Politically, economically, Japan seemed to stop dead about 10 years ago,” he says. “I felt it all the more with the birth of my child” a year ago.

Hiroyuki Nishimura, 42, would probably agree. Settled comfortably in Paris for the past four years, he says, “Looking at Japan’s economy and politics from overseas, what I see are low salaries and little time off. Few children are being born. Major changes are called for, but nothing’s happening, no one’s doing anything. The whole society seems to be  consumed with trivia.”

He considers himself “80 percent satisfied” with life in France. He doesn’t speak the language but gets by. He works mostly at home online, but when he does have to go somewhere it delights him that the city is small enough to be negotiable by bicycle. No packed commuter trains, as in Japan. Then there’s the food. You don’t have to dine at restaurants to enjoy restaurant dining. You can do it at home; the supermarket food is that good.

Things aren’t perfect. He’s Japanese to the core in one sense: punctuality matters, and it bothers him that the French don’t seem to mind keeping people waiting. The home delivery service arrives late, and the driver doesn’t even dream of apologizing. There are occasional power outages. Once an airport-bound train stopped dead for some reason, and he missed his plane.

Is that a reason to go back to Japan? Not a chance. “Look at people five years older than you,” he says, “and see what they’re earning. If you’re content to earn that in five years, then Japan’s the place for you.” Not for him.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

36 Comments
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I get people want something different, a different balance.

I wish they felt like they could help change Japan for the better from Japan, or maybe come back with a different outlook after their time away.

Good luck to them.

13 ( +14 / -1 )

@NZ2011, I appreciate your view on the topic. A true balance comes from personal desire and fortitude, not to mention that 'balance' thing. For Japan to be better, the entire culture of the nation has to change. That won't happen for at least a hundred years - three more generations of no, or next to no, children.

I've seen it everywhere I've traveled around the country in the past nine years. And it's a pity.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

This article is too sweet. I know several women who just saw they couldn't make it in Japan. One went to Canada & has a marketing job. It isn't easy but going abroad opens many more doors for women. It's better if you know the local language.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Japanese artists frequently have to move overseas to achieved their art. Some return, some never.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

being allowed to be themselves and not forced into a pigeon hole could be a start.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

We had inlaws who came from Japan. They have long ago passed away, but I think they were happier here than they would have been in Japan. One pair volunteered to be repatriated to Japan during World War II, but once the war was over they came back to the States.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Japan had this coming. all people Japanese who seeks happiness leaves Japan and never come back.

Nothing is new here.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

All countries that allow people to leave freely have citizens who find the grass greener somewhere else. For example, a number of American black writers including most notably James Baldwin found Europe, especially France more congenial than the United States.

Foreign nationals who find Japan more congenial than their home countries are far from unusual.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

"Foreign nationals who find Japan more congenial than their home countries are far from unusual." And that's why the people on this forum never complain about life in Japan, right?

0 ( +5 / -5 )

And that's why the people on this forum never complain about life in Japan, right?

I pay taxes, and for my state pension and state healthcare, and it's a ton of money. I have the right to complain.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

I think the horrible hot and humid summers/autumns are enough to make anyone consider emigrating.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"Foreign nationals who find Japan more congenial than their home countries are far from unusual." And that's why the people on this forum never complain about life in Japan, right?

This forum is hardly representative of all English speaking foreign nationals let alone all foreign nationals in Japan.

Saying that there are foreign nationals who find life in Japan more congenial than their home countries is not the same as saying all foreigners find Japan congenial.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I suppose the vast majority of people who leave Japan do so because of professionel reasons, others might have that "the grass is greener on the other side of the hill" mentality which for some of them will indeed appear to be true.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I may be wrong, but my 30+ years here tell me that there are far more Japanese desiring to move to Western countries than Westerners desiring to move to Japan, for many of the same reasons given in this article.

I do sympathize with the sentiments of the Japanese quoted in the article who left. It is a very strict and at times suffocating country. I love it though.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

@expat

"Foreign nationals who find Japan more congenial than their home countries are far from unusual." And that's why the people on this forum never complain about life in Japan, right?

I come from a Eastern European country with lack of laws, people not giving a flying one about anything, dirty roads/cities, laughably horrible infrastructure, etc etc. In comparison with not only my country but a big variety of other potential countries I could move to, including "MVP" places like the US and many other Western European countries, Japan is modern, extremely efficient, with a great infrastructure, super clean, a joy to have a walk its capital (rush hours and being with tons of people don't bother me), always uses/has some of the latest technology (as a Technophile and a Japanophile this means a lot), has great, high quality food damn near EVERYWHERE, I can go on.

Life in Japan isn't for everyone. But that can be said about any place in the world.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

"What motivates Japanese to move overseas?"

Assorted varieties of dissatisfaction of one kind or another. Elite, university-educated women tend to cite gender discrimination which isn't as severe (from their perspective, the one that matters) in some of the other OECD countries. Some Japanese who have a lot of money don't care for the tax laws of Japan and relocate to places like Singapore for that purpose.

Then there is simply the odd freedom and liberation one can feel while living as an ethnic and/or racial minority for the first time ever. Clearly this is hugely appealing for many of the white people who live in Japan, and I'm sure some Japanese who live in countries where basically no people around them are Japanese feel the same way. I know some whites who almost feel as if the atmosphere in Japan is spoiled for them if they see other white people walking down the street. Suddenly they don't feel so special and unique. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that some Japanese living overseas feel the same way about seeing other Japanese walking around (though I doubt any Japanese relocating to Guam is trying to get away from Japanese people; likely they're just trying to get away from the Japanese work environment).

1 ( +3 / -2 )

What motivates Japanese to move overseas?

This is an easy one. Japanese society.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Part of the appeal of living overseas will be the disconnect with the place you're living. I bet a lot of NJ in Japan feel more passionate about problems and politics in their home countries than those in Japan. Since most news is bad news, life is not fair, not getting involved and doing your own thing will generally make you happier. If you don't like Abe, its easier to think of him as "their" leader, not yours.

Just my personal experience, but I think I liked Japan more before I had kids. Having kids sucked me into society more. Its problems became my problems.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

More and more young people are asking what the Japanese grind has in it for them – and answering, in effect, “Nothing.”

These Japanese are mirrors of the real Japan, not some youtuber who is banking on naive views, telling lies about how wonderful it all is. Ive always respected these Japanese. Few Japanese do have hobbies or escapes, I dont think they really know how to because everything the society offers is group tennis, group gym classes, group dancing, everything is done as a group. Very weak DIY community because if you want to learn something, you learn at the company, somebody must teach you. Its a sort of crushing sick society. It doesnt have to be that. Japan is safe, very beautiful countryside, and people.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

 Clearly this is hugely appealing for many of the white people who live in Japan, and I'm sure some Japanese who live in countries where basically no people around them are Japanese feel the same way

that wears off very fast.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

 I know several women who just saw they couldn't make it in Japan

I tell people if they want a Japanese partner, choose somebody who has lived abroad. Once the cultural fascination and initial romance dwindles and reality takes its place, you want somebody who understands you.

Japanese who have lived abroad understand the challenges of being a foreigner, and also the shortcomings of their own culture and how it will affect their partner.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

He considers himself “80 percent satisfied” with life in France. He doesn’t speak the language but gets by. He works mostly at home online, but when he does have to go somewhere it delights him that the city is small enough to be negotiable by bicycle. No packed commuter trains, as in Japan. Then there’s the food. You don’t have to dine at restaurants to enjoy restaurant dining. You can do it at home; the supermarket food is that good.

Unless you speak the language and just getting by, I suspect you are just enjoying exoticness still.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The #1 reason is Japan's crushing work attitude - and it's the most dominant factor by a long, long way. For women, I would love to know what the weighting of the factors are, but I would think it's the work attitude and the sexism. I live in America, which is one of the bigger destinations for Japanese who want to get away. Virtually all of them say work-life balance and, for the women, they also mention the sexism. The third problem that many stated was that there was no real change/hope for change and far too much 'shoganai' about the work situation. The expatriates knew it wasn't going to change so they basically said 'I'm outta here.'

However, given how fluffy this article is 'it's a trend, says Spa!', it's very difficult to see just how big a trend it is. I can tell you the trend for Japanese students to get their graduate degree in America or abroad has declined dramatically by 30%. So, this is in direct conflict with this story here. Apparently, young students in Japan do not want to go abroad. Notice how this article actually gives numbers.

https://www.studyinternational.com/news/numbers-japanese-international-students-declining/

Granted, 20% decline in the # of students overall, but that still means another 10% decline in the number of students going abroad. Now, what I would like to know is how that 10% decline in both % and sheer number corresponds to the number of Japanese who've decided to live abroad/leave Japan.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Funny, as an american I’ll choose hand over fist to live in japan over America. My life here is much more relaxing and better for the family. Being self employed helps but not having to worry about crime and drugs for your kids is a wonderful thing.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

My life here is much more relaxing and better for the family. Being self employed helps but not having to worry about crime and drugs for your kids is a wonderful thing.

America is like 50 individual countries in one, with hundreds more counties and cities. not every state has poverty or drugs in every county and city.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I met a Japanese woman recently who lived in the Northern part of the US, she wanted to go back but could not get a visa and she hated Japan. Everyone who I have met who lived and worked in the US (and I know many) hate living in Japan and want out.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

He works mostly at home online, but when he does have to go somewhere it delights him that the city is small enough to be negotiable by bicycle. No packed commuter trains, as in Japan.

If he worked online in Tokyo, he could just say the same 'I go by bike'.

the trend for Japanese students to get their graduate degree in America or abroad has declined dramatically by 30%. 

Compared to the 1990's , it is much more difficult to obtain the visa in the US. And anywhere, the cost is much higher (comparing with Bubble Era and favorable yen/currency rate).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese who live overseas for extended periods naturally get homesick, but eventually realise that they do not want to return to an overworked, claustrophobic culture. As a male you spend the best years of your life chained to a desk and as a woman you probably spend those years cowering in fear of the neighbourhood obatarian following some confusion over gomi collection.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Japanese who live overseas for extended periods naturally get homesick, but eventually realise that they do not want to return to an overworked, claustrophobic culture.

I don't think a blanket statement can be made. For example, I was talking to a girl I know who has lived out of Japan for 15 years now, and she's recently considered moving back, feeling like she'd like that comfort of home. They're really no different from us. How many of you have had a friend who has been here 15, 20 years, then suddenly decided to go back to their homeland? It happens. Others never go back.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My J-wife lived in London for several years mostly to learn English but asked if we would return to Japan which we did about 25 years ago.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My J-wife lived in London for several years mostly to learn English but asked if we would return to Japan which we did about 25 years ago.

My husband is the opposite, one day he wants to live in London for good.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Luddite

My husband is the opposite, one day he wants to live in London for good.

So why wait just go plenty of good work for Japanese speaking people. Problem with "one day" if you are not careful it never comes.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

For career-minded Japanese women, certainly an overseas workplace would seem to be a better situation.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I pay taxes, and for my state pension and state healthcare, and it's a ton of money. I have the right to complain.

exactly!, complaining protesting forces change, unfortunately Japanese are too conditioned not too, which is why nothing changes. I cant vote in Japan yet I pay more taxes than the average Japanese salary so Ill complain whenever TFIW

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I know I am generalizing but I somehow have the impression that Japanese people are so immersed culturally that they are less likely than people of other countries to feel comfortable navigating life in a different culture than there own. There are plenty of exceptions of course but it’s not like in the US where half the citizens believe America is irredeemably racist and so dreadful as to be fundamentally flawed - as if none of the same problems existed elsewhere in the world.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Grass is always greener on other side of the fence. I love seeing japan and hope to live there.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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