The Great Commute

The Great Commute

With the general grinding down of the Japanese economy, more and more senior foreign managers, particularly expats, are getting their pink slips and wondering what to do next. Of course, the natural first reaction is to get back out there in the market and find another position. But things really are getting tight at the top and expat staff are being targeted for extermination in most companies.

Thus, if you have a family, things could look pretty glum, and it doesn't take long for most people to arrive at the conclusion that they should return home. Normally that would be the end of it, but recently I'm seeing an interesting trend. Many of these expats, especially if they've been in Japan for a while, speak pretty decent Japanese and have excellent connections. They realize that going back home is a waste, and that there has to be a better answer.

The answer, it seems, is what I call "The Great Commute". I've lost track of how many foreign friends I've talked to recently who have installed their families overseas (little disclosure here, mine included) and are commuting back to Japan to do business. Almost all of these individuals are in business for themselves, either representing new market entrants from their home countries, or are working relationships built during their corporate days to provide consulting and other services.

I'm not sure that the Great Commute is the best answer in building a family - but it certainly eases the family finances and the transition to a new life in a new country. And for those Japanese acquaintances doing it, there is a certain cultural acceptance of the Tanshin Funin concept - although of course it's supposed to be one of the parents who are reassigned away for the hometown, not the family!

International commuting opens up all kinds of interesting opportunities in personal financial planning, such as deciding which country you would like to be resident in and which country taxed in. Certainly, keeping your family away from Japan means huge cost savings and probably a much better education for the kids.

The negatives of the family living apart is of course the psychological impact of a parent being away and what that means for growing children. The answer, then, is for one to ensure that they aren't away for too long too often. Someone I had lunch with today spends 10 days a month in Tokyo and the rest of his time in his native New Zealand. Another friend spends 20 days a month in Tokyo and the rest of their time in Australia. Personally, I think this ratio is a good one and is compatible with running a business. Clearly, to have this kind of flexibility, one has to either be the owner of their business, or have a very good understanding with the CEO (highly possible if you're capable).

So, now you see how the "Great Commute" gets its name. It involves a lot of time in the air and getting used to jet lag. From the various people I've talked to, it appears that most people use this time to catch up on correspondence, thinking, and other fairly low-level activity.

The cost of commuting like this can be quite reasonable. You can get return airfares out of the US West Coast now for less than $500. One trick of the trade is to order up economy seats, then upgrade every now and again to business class by using up points earned on your credit card. Most of the people I've talked to maintain a small apartment in Tokyo, and where possible share it with someone else who is also commuting. One guy commuting from the States has a company apartment that others in the business share with him - because they have half a dozen people flying in to Tokyo every month.

As always, my contact details are simply:

terrie.lloyd@daijob.com

Looking forward to getting some enquiries...

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