Chinese, Korean workers gaining full-time positions at convenience stores: Nikkei

Any self-respecting Kanji reader will have noticed that Japanese convenience store workers have been less and less Japanese in the Tokyo area starting some time around 2004 or so (or even earlier?). Now, according to the Nikkei, the convenience store corporate headquarters are bringing in Chinese workers in “full time” positions:

Monday, November 19, 2007

Convenience Stores Boost Foreign Hires To Aid Expansion, Fight Labor Squeeze

TOKYO (Nikkei)–The falling birthrate and overseas expansion plans are spurring major convenience stores to increasingly hire foreigners for full- and part-time positions.

Lawson Inc. (2651) has already accepted nine Chinese and one Vietnamese for full-time positions starting in April next year. It is the first time for the company to hire foreign workers on a full-time basis.

The foreign hires will account for about 10% of all new employees accepted for full-time positions starting in April. The company plans to increase the number to 30, or about 30% of the total new workforce to be hired for jobs starting in April 2009.

This fall, Lawson created a work manual for Chinese part-timers as part of its efforts to increase its ratio of foreign employees amid the falling birthrate. With the number of foreign customers at its outlets also growing, Lawson felt it necessary to hire foreign staff on a regular basis to supervise non-Japanese part-timers. The presence of these employees in supervisory positions will also help the company in its future efforts to open overseas outlets.

So apparently the chains need to hire Chinese managers to help manage their increasingly foreign workforce.

I am tempted to say the Nikkei is really late in covering this (and as usual they don’t really dig very deep), but I haven’t reviewed the whole archives and at least I think I remember them making the point that there are lots of foreign convenience store workers in some New Years series of “make Japan more internationally competitive” editorials.

Some questions come to mind:

1. I would love to see how they train the Chinese workers because they do an amazing job. I’ve only very rarely had communication difficulties with Korean/Chinese convenience store workers.

2. Why no non-Japanese franchise owners? I wouldn’t expect there to be a copy of America’s population of Indian and Korean convenience store owners, but these convenience stores are pretty profitable and you’d think that they’d be tempting for an ambitious foreigner. Wouldn’t at least some of these student-workers feel like going into business for themselves?

3. Since I have come to Tokyo, I have seen a lot of South Asian people working at a lot of different chains, particularly McDonald’s. Is there any reason why the hiring patterns are different?

14 thoughts on “Chinese, Korean workers gaining full-time positions at convenience stores: Nikkei”

  1. I’m on a holiday today(working on the weekends).

    1)They are mostly ex-students of Japanese school,but not from the school that can give you a diploma to get into the bigger firm.They are also probably ex-albeit who had worked in convinis.

    2)First you have to achieve real estate to be the owner of the franchise. There could be some Zainichi Korean or multi generations Chinese owner but other foreigners who became rich enough to have an estate would probably do something more profitable things with that,like restaurant.

    3)There are two Mongolians are currently working in Mosbuger shop in Musashisakai.I think making first food is a lot more easier for there are less paper works to be done.Convenience stores jas more than thousand goods to sell and also deals with things like telephone and electirc bills.You just have to be more fluent in the language and advanced literacy.

  2. In interviews, Lawson actually emphasized the last point in the Nikkei article about recruiting the staff to help expansion in Asia. However, they were coy on the details of how this can work since it seems to rely on the staff voluntarily asking to go home and wanting to work for them on lower wages. Alternatively, they get transferred on their Japan salaries which would make them expensive. I wonder whether the argument about helping in Asia isn’t just something they needed to tell the immigration authorities when applying for visas. It seems much more likely that they want this pool of labour for their Japan operations to help manage the increasing numbers of non-Japanese part-timers. Immigration, though, is apparently reluctant to grant visas to retailers and restaurant chains for that reason and Hatoyama certainly isn’t the kind of minister to favour a instituting a more liberal policy.

    I remember seeing a white American working in a Yoyogi Uehara Lawson. It took a great effort to stop myself pulling out a camera and taking a picture in a “Gaijin da!” moment.

    Ace, you are in good company with your Fast/First. Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing (ファーストリテイリング) was supposed to be First Retailing but was romanized incorrectly by owner and Waseda graduate Tadashi Yanai.

  3. I’m a Keio graduate.Mulboyne.

    “Immigration, though, is apparently reluctant to grant visas to retailers and restaurant chains for that reason and Hatoyama certainly isn’t the kind of minister to favour a instituting a more liberal policy.”

    While I don’t think many Chinese nor Korean would find working as convini clark as a carrer move,this job could be interested by the Brazillians.There are thousand of out-of job Japanese-Brazillian kids in Japan.And you would definitly needs Portuguese speaking ability in some towns in Gunnma like Oizumi or Oota.There are a few of them buying houses in there and thinking about settling there for life.

  4. “Fast food,not first food,damn it.”

    I used to frequent the ファーストキッチン burger place near my high school and was never sure if it was First Kitchen or Fast Kitchen….

    Anyway, while I never use konbini, I do see a lot of non-Japanese working the checkout at my local Jusco. Koreans and Chinese, plus a Thai today. All Asians, no whites or blacks or anything, but that fits in with the demographics here.

  5. Musashi Sakai has had furriners working in the shops for years. Comes with the territory, having ICU and the American School nearby; lots of kids looking for an arubaito spot.

    I have yet to see a lot of South Asians working anywhere but Shinsei Bank, which is right next to my office. There’s a whole division of number-crunchers who spent their youths learning the times tables up to 17×17, or whatever amazing feats Indian education is now being touted as enabling. Me, I have trouble with the spam protection math at the bottom of this comment page.

  6. Not related with Konvini at all.But Indians have their small little India in Edogawa ward,espeially around Nishi Kasai.,mostly IT related people.There are lots of diamond dealers working around Okachimachi,mostly Jainists from Mumbay.Pakistani’s are living around Toubu Isezaki line.

    The influx of these South Asians brought unexpected byproduct.Rise of Cricket in Japan.If you go to the site of Japan Cricket Society,it is evident.
    Japan Cricket Society Kanto Area map
    There is a

    A blog of research on zainichi Indian community.

  7. Lots of Asian students doing baito around Oita and Beppu because of Ritsumeikan Ajia Taiheiyo Daigaku. Saw one Indian / Pakistani working kitchen at McDonald’s. Must be a great way to improve your Japanese.

  8. In Kyoto I recall several Chinese college students working part time at conbini, and one at a Yoshinoya. I believe I’ve yet to anyone besides an E. Asian of some sort working at a conbini or fast food joint in Japan. Of course, I barely know what’s going on in Tokyo.

    While I was doing my undergrad study abroad, quite a lot of the Asian students got jobs in restaurants, partly for money and partly to get opportunities for more interaction. One French exchange student also got a job as a waiter in an Italian restaurant in Isetan.

    When I was in Taiwan, there were also several foreign students I knew working in restaurants, except they were all Japanese working in Japanese restaurants, and it was all illegal, just like in New York.

  9. In Ikebukuro, Tokyo which is near to where I live, it is impossible to find any convenience store, supermarkets without Chinese, Korean and south east Asian workers. I even saw an African.

    The doutour coffee shop near to my home is run by a very kind and cheerful South Korean lady (she is the Manager).

    Several months ago I visited a small Italian café on a Sunday afternoon in Ikebukuro. There were 4 or 5 other customers. At first glance, I thought that they were all Japanese (some of them spoke outstanding Japanese). Soon I recognized that I was the sole Japanese customer in this café.

  10. Wow we probably saw each other – I used to go to the Lawson in that building all the time before my company moved (and there are Korean workers there too!)

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