“Overcapacity and excessive competition haunt domestic Japanese industries that are battling for a shrinking economic pie,” said Takumi Fujinami, senior economist at the Japan Research Institute, a research organization affiliated with Sumitomo Mitsui Bank. “That exerts perennial pressures to reduce costs. Japanese companies can’t cut off existing employees on the lifetime roster, so they are squeezing the younger workers ever more tightly.”
Some overseas Japanese workers, like Ms. Natori, are not unhappy with their jobs, despite the low salaries. They say their lives abroad have given them a new sense of liberty.
Ms. Natori, who was recently promoted from call operator to a supervisory position, said she saved more money in Thailand than she would in Japan.
“If you are willing to live off local Thai restaurants, you spend only 30 baht for rice with eggs, vegetables and meat,” she said. “My rent currently is only 6,000 baht, and utilities are at most an additional 500.” She lives in a roomy studio in a condominium in central Bangkok with security and a swimming pool that is open 24 hours. Life is better in Thailand, she said, because she is free from some of the social and workplace pressures that ate into her private life in Japan. “The moment you step outside, you are in a foreign country here,” she said. “That allows me to have separate workplace and private lives. I am actually able to concentrate on work better because of the clear separation.”
Ms. Natori said her parents and friends often visited her in Bangkok, so she did not miss Japan too much, nor did she have a definite timetable to return home.
Misuzu Yara, 34, realized in early 2008 that job opportunities in Japan, especially in her native Okinawa, far from the Japanese main island, were diminishing. So when an acquaintance at Tempstaff invited her to join the new division in Jakarta as a local hire, she agreed.
“The salary as a local hire in Indonesia wasn’t very different from what you’d get in Okinawa, actually,” she said. “Considering how important Asia is going to be for Japan, I figured it would be a good opportunity.”
Now, she helps find jobs for Japanese workers in Indonesia. Japanese companies in Indonesia generally offer Japanese local hires minimum take-home pay of $1,500 a month, plus a vehicle and sometimes housing.
“The number of inquiries grew markedly during 2008-2009 from young Japanese workers who had difficulty finding jobs in Japan,” she said.
But local hires do not have the same sense of job security as workers in Japan do, Ms. Yara said. “There is a sense that each and every moment at your job determines your chances of keeping it.”
While Transcosmos executives recognize that some Japanese have sought work in Thailand because they could not find employment at home, they say that the job performance of their Thai-based operators is superior to that of counterparts in Japan.
“It is possible that workers in Thailand are able to perform well because they have fewer things to worry about in life,” said Hiroyuki Uchimura, general manager of business process outsourcing services at Transcosmos in Tokyo.
With the Japanese population aging and shrinking and more Japanese companies seeking avenues of growth overseas, job opportunities for Japanese abroad are likely to grow, said Kazuyuki Ichikawa, chief operating officer of Pasona Global, which helps its clients find Japanese workers overseas.
While Japanese companies could save even more if they hired only locals overseas — some experts say locals could be hired at half the cost — the preference for Japanese nationals is likely to endure, Mr. Ichikawa said.
“You say one thing and Japanese employees will understand three things,” he said. “In Western cultures, you might be straightforward with what you want your staff to know, but a Japanese manager would want you to understand it without having to say it.”