“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