Japanese expats

This chart on Japanese living abroad from Nikkei was too good not to share. When I was going to school in Washington and living in Bangkok, I had a fair amount of experience dealing with Japanese expats. I knew mostly students in DC, so these were by and large people who just wanted to learn enough English to either help them in their get a job after graduating from a Japanese university or earn some promotion points at their companies back home, if they were older.

Bangkok, however, was a different animal entirely. Perhaps because I was looking for work, I had the chance to speak with a lot of recruiters and translation agencies. Many of the Japanese people I met came to Bangkok with long-term plans to stay. For some of the younger people, working as a local employee of a Japanese company was a way around the shukatsu system, while some older men apparently just fell in love with the country (and probably its women as well), not so different from the throngs of British/European men with Thai wives that are common in the city.

There was another recent article in Asahi about how young Japanese are flocking to Shanghai for the job opportunities. I can certainly understand the draw. A big city in a fast-growing, developing country like Bangkok and Shanghai can be very exciting. Bangkok was bustling, full of interesting people from all walks of life, loud, had great food, and was just a treasure trove of new experiences, sights, and smells (some better than others). Add to that a well-paying job and for many it won’t compare to life back home. Compared to that, Tokyo can seem downright dull.

Chart source: Nikkei.com (sub req’d)

31 thoughts on “Japanese expats”

  1. Well, I bet it works no better for them than for the rest who tried it. The Japanese way: do it wrong and do it harder to prove your ‘spirit’. (Having a bad day, sorry.)

  2. Just remembered, a few months ago, Asahi did a report on young Japanese men living in Thailand. The content was pretty much spot on with Adam’s analysis here.

    Hijack in the interests of a continuing discussion of tangential relevance to this post. In the past, we have written a lot about the declining Japanese enrollment at US schools. This post gives solid evidence for one of the frequently made points – a turn to Canada and Australia and Asia by Japanese going abroad for study. As part of our study discussion, we’ve also talked about the number of US students studying Japanese and whether Japan Cool or whatnot might keep Japanese relevant. Well, the Modern Language Association has released its first detailed numbers since 2006 and it seems that Japanese is still ahead of Chinese. Japanese is fifth overall, and student numbers are growing at a significant clip with Chinese not looking to pass until around 2017. Japanese was completely flat through the 1990s and has increased by just shy of 75% in the 2000s, I think this points to a direct influence of Japanese popular culture. More students studying Spanish than all non-European languages combined, however.

  3. Well, I bet it works no better for them than for the rest who tried it. The Japanese way: do it wrong and do it harder to prove your ‘spirit’. (Having a bad day, sorry.)

    Pretty sure they’re making money off it, in contrast to the “GRAR I CAN HAZ MOAR FREE NEWZ” model which hasn’t.

  4. b,b,but I thought that all recent Japanese youth were so inward looking, shy to go abroad, staying in the old good japan.

    Joke aside, good analysis. As M-bone said, the recent report in west media about the more inward looking Japanese is just ridiculous. It just shows that US and Europe is not THE other option anymore, but just one of them, aside of Asian countries or others.

  5. Why don’t they have stats on Taiwan? There are probably almost as many Japanese there as in China, despite China being 100 times larger.

  6. Taiwan is listed at 20,373 and falls just out of the top 10.

    In connection with Adam’s post – most of the Japanese in Thailand are men while women are in the majority in Canada, the US, and Australia.

  7. The Nikkei article itself was something of a throwaway. Didn’t say anything that isn’t in the chart.

    It does run counter to the inward-looking losers theme seen so often in the media. It’s funny because so many more Japanese people are interested in the outside world than Americans, by a long shot.

    Of course you should retire in Malaysia – it’s truly Asia.

  8. Of course, there are also indications that Chinese grads are having trouble getting jobs and shifting to places like… Japan.


    Shocking, really, how someone at the forefront of information movement like Kyung Lah can still be stuck in the 1980s “globalization as zero sum game” pap. Osmosis of people between closely connected economies in East Asia will lead to the formation of a regional cosmopolitan community who are comfortable moving around for employment and lifestyle. It will only be great for Japan when a Thai manager with 20 years experience in Tokyo goes to meet a Japanese manager with 20 years experience in Bangkok to make a deal.

  9. “Osmosis of people between closely connected economies in East Asia will lead to the formation of a regional cosmopolitan community who are comfortable moving around for employment and lifestyle. It will only be great for Japan when a Thai manager with 20 years experience in Tokyo goes to meet a Japanese manager with 20 years experience in Bangkok to make a deal.”

    Yeah and Gandhi will resurrect and create world peace and flowers will bloom in the Sahara.


  10. I didn’t say that governments still wouldn’t be a problem. Or do you see some kind of beef between Thailand and Japan in the future instead of increasing trade, tourism, etc. ? Any reason?

  11. I’m not sure that basic diaspora statistics shed much light on the inward/outward-looking question raised by the earlier discussion of overseas student numbers.

    A few years ago, there was a number bandied around that about 10% of Britain’s population lived abroad, some six million people. I’m sure I’ve covered this ground before on MF but it’s fair to say many of these Britons are quite ambivalent about the home country.

    British expats are rarely as well organized as, say, the Irish overseas. They don’t send money back home like Filipinos. Don’t vote in home elections to the same extent as Americans etc etc. Each nation’s diaspora is different and its characteristics can change over time.

    If Japan’s diaspora increases, it might be a sign of the country’s greater engagement with the global community. However, if many of these individuals have in some sense washed their hands of Japan, then the home society might not necessarily see any benefit. The raw numbers don’t tell us enough for anyone to draw satisfactory conclusions about what this says about Japan’s global presence.

  12. While this discussion has to be speculative because we don’t have access to detailed information about what the Japanese community in Thailand is doing Adamu’s original piece and the TV report that I mentioned above (both subjective, I know) played up the point that many are trying to get jobs with local Japanese companies. The earlier model, in the first stages of what is now casually called globalization, was for an often reluctant Japanese career man to be sent overseas for a limited time and work more or less as if at home, cut off from the locals in many cases. This was when Japan could rely on selling superior Japanese products, competitively manufactured. It can’t be the same way now and human resources seem to be more important than ever.

    There is also the matter of money overcoming any ambivalence that might exist about the home country. If we have bi or tri lingual Japanese working in local firms, they can still be recruited as part of diversification or expansion strategies. Lah seems to paint the Japanese woman going to China to work as a “loss” for Japan. In 10 years, even if she doesn’t particularly care for Japan, she could be contracted by a Japanese multi-national or a firm that is partnered locally for a “win” – with her bringing Japanese language and general knowhow with foreign language skills and experience.

    In my (limited) understanding of the UK situation, there are some differences. Many seem to have gone overseas for a better climate in retirement. In addition, individuals can work in English by “default” and many in Hong Kong, the Mid East, etc. aren’t picking up local language but are rather working as part of the sort of English-speaking cosmopolitan neo-liberal manager class that I think has a chance to form in East Asia (or can already be seen, to some extent). This is generally okay for the UK as it is not trying to sell its popular culture, consumer products, and so on to the same degree as Japan. There are also, as I understand it, several hundred thousand English teachers across various countries. No Japanese equivalent there. Finally, there is the group that has gone to Australia, Canada, or the US to start over – given that those individuals can often simply walk out of a job in the UK and into a similar one elsewhere in the English speaking world (at least this is how NZ, Australia and Canada have recruited), and it doesn’t seem realistic for Japanese to be moving to Thailand in quite the same way.

  13. “Osmosis of people between closely connected economies in East Asia will lead to the formation of a regional cosmopolitan community who are comfortable moving around for employment and lifestyle.”

    I thought this fits your lifestyle spandrell,for you were supposed to be leaving for China for good.

    Back in the 80’s,Japanese school in Bangkok was one of the largest in the world.I believe most of the expats there are sent from companies.But there seems to be a trend among young Japanese to move to Thailand for six months and spend another six working in convenience stores.The former has merit,the latter,I have no idea.
    But as M-bone said,there are increasing numbers of Japanese and Chinese living in both countries and making some kind of economic community.I met a Korean Chinese woman working for second hand factory machine trading house in Aichi.What she does is buying second hand Japanese factory machine from Korea and sell them in China.Quite few Korean Chinese are being hired in these small trading house for most of them are polyglot.There’s even a Japanese site dedicated for Korean-Chinese expats in Japan.


  14. The other side of the coin is that Japanese companies are recruiting Chinese kids to come work in Japan.


    Note the math: Chinese kids stand to make the equivalent of 37,000 yen a month as new grads at a local Japanese-owned company, but if they take a similar job in Japan they get 200,000 yen a month. They take the Japan job, wide-eyed at the difference in pay — but do they really understand how their standard of living would differ?

  15. In the Middle East, accordingly to approximate numbers given to me by people at METI/JETRO:
    UAE: less than 4,000 (Dubai is under 3,000, Abu Dhabi is under 1,000)
    Saudi Arabia: 1,500 (Riyadh: 800; Jeddah: 200; Dammam: 400)
    Jordan: 800
    Lebanon: 600
    Bahrain: 500
    Qatar: 400
    Kuwait: 200
    Oman: 200
    Iraq: 100
    Syria: 100

  16. “The other side of the coin is that Japanese companies are recruiting Chinese kids to come work in Japan.”

    Yeah, this is also a big assumption in that hopeful formula that I tossed out there earlier. I really don’t see why Spandrell is so pessimistic as what I described already seems to be happening.

    This isn’t a “we are the world” platitude of Ghandi and daisy necklaces – people move for money, companies want that borderless money. Nationalism isn’t going anywhere but neither is capitalism.

  17. Japanese companies are recruting Chinese kids because:

    they’re cheap
    they are useful to open the Chinese market.

    Japan relations with its neighbours are not getting better. Probably not any worse, but not any better. And there are huge language/cultural barriers. Japanese companies are recruiting cheap Chinese labor, but only as a way to open the Chinese market, I don’t see a Chinese in Panasonic going very far in the corporate ladder.
    Its one thing for a Brit or a German to work in the US, another for a Japanese to move to Bangkok. We all know Japanese people are quite insular.

    I’m not of commie persuasion but right now Capitalism isn’t in the best shape. And Nationalism in Asia has only been getting stronger lately.

  18. Spandrell, capitalism is in great shape, it is economies that are in awful shape. Capitalism is in such good shape that nobody can even imagine an alternative. Capitalism doesn’t mean market fundamentalism (which has taken some knocks) and there has never been a period of totally private ownership of the means of production. There is also the matter of so much of what gets called socialism these days being carried out by government at the behest of the big political donation capitalist class.

    I think the problem here is that you read my original post as “we are the world” – I didn’t say anything about waning nationalism, or even about Japanese as not being insular (which I think is a bit of a generalization, talking to Japanese overseas often gives a very different impression) – I really mean just what you say about Chinese. Companies will find “multi-national” individuals to be useful. A trans-national knowledge industry will demand individuals who can cross cultures. It doesn’t matter if the capital behind this is aiming for base exploitation of “human resources” and “markets”, people will still be moving around, talking, and counting on each other to bring in the bacon. Globalization, after all, isn’t about trusting our better nature for a peaceful future vision, it is about trusting our greed.

  19. I understand your point, but Japanese companies hiring Chinese workers doesn’t mean a global workforce is coming. Chinese workers just happen to be incredibly mobile, so they are expanding everywhere. I’ve been the last year in Europe and the chinese population has increased 10-fold. Having multicultural white-collar workers from each SEA country would be neat, but where’s the evidence?
    I don’t know how useful they will turn out to be in Japan, it may all turn out to be a big fad. The Chinese market is quite hard to get access to. As hard as Japan in its heyday.

    There aren’t that many “multinational individuals” anyway. We all here could be called that, and I guess we would all like to embody the future awesomeness that’s just arriving.
    But I don’t see it.

  20. “I understand your point, but Japanese companies hiring Chinese workers doesn’t mean a global workforce is coming.”

    Notice again that I said “community” and “class”. Again, I think that we are talking about the same thing. By no means do I refer to a construction worker with a punch perm in Sendai trading places with a day laborer and his 7 kids from Qinghai. I mean there will be a mobile creative or managerial group that might be tens of thousands, might be hundreds, or might be millions. I’m not making a call on the numbers but I don’t see them decreasing.

    The Chinese market might be hard to get access to, but China is still Japan’s largest trading partner and that isn’t likely to change. Be it selling to China, making your products in China, or trying to get a better deal in China, Chinese employees are valuable.

    I’m actually in a minority among the bloggers and regular commentators in that I’m not particularly employment mobile. Y’all can take my reading as a complement if you want, but I’m not stoking my own ego here.

  21. Chinese workers just happen to be incredibly mobile

    I would amend that statement to read: “Workers who can’t make much money at home are incredibly mobile.” People of all nationalities are migrating in droves these days. It helps if your home country has a developing economy, or if you are on the wrong side of a moribund developed economy.

  22. “a day laborer and his 7 kids from Qinghai.”
    Have you forgotten about China’s one child policy? There’s no way a day labor could afford all those fines!

  23. For Qinghai you should have gone with ethnic Tibetan or Hui. Even minorities in rural areas are still only allowed 3 or 4 children though, I think.

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