Why Tokyo? Part I

Why Tokyo? Part I

I frequently get e-mail from people who have recently decided with
their Japanese spouse to return to Japan to live. Given that only
25% of Japanese live in and around Tokyo, there is a good chance
that the spouse is from somewhere else. And given that the
motivation of many returning Japanese is to be near their family
again, the decision is usually made to head for the hometown area.

Now this is all well and good if the foreign partner is a Japanese
speaker and wants to be a bar owner, impromptu English teacher, or
work in the export-import department of a manufacturing company
(Japanese manufacturing is actually surprisingly widely dispersed
geographically). But what if you have other career ambitions?

The unfortunate fact is that outside of Tokyo, and perhaps Kobe,
foreigners are not taken seriously by Japanese companies as
prospective long-term or senior employees. The reasons for this
are many and varied, but probably the leading one is quite simply
that foreigners are harder to fit in to a traditionally run Japanese
company. Foreigners tend to think for themselves instead of taking
instructions, they do "unpredictable" things, they take holidays, and
they have funny ideas about pay reviews. There are many
exceptions of course, but in almost every case I've seen, the
foreigner has earned his/her respect the hard way, with many
years of self-sacrifice and good profits. I take my hat off right
now to any foreigner who has made it to Kacho or Bucho level in a
Japanese company!

So, that means most foreigners, sooner or later, need to look at the
more cosmopolitan job market of Tokyo - where more commonly
skills have a higher value than obedience and devotion. And when I
talk of "Tokyo" actually I mean greater Tokyo: comprising the
various cities in Chiba, Saitama, Tokyo, and Kanagawa, which
collectively form the largest metropolis in the world (according to
Wikipedia.org). About 33.5 million people live in this massive

I would guess that 95% of the 5,000 officially foreign-capital
firms in Japan are based in Tokyo. If you don't speak much
Japanese, or if you do but you've been languishing in a Japanese
regional company for 2-3 years with little prospect of promotion,
then a foreign company in Tokyo offers very real salvation. Right
now, foreign companies are still hiring foreign staff with Japanese
corporate work experience and good language and domain
(professional) skills, as well as (although to a lesser extent) non-
Japanese engineers and sales staff.

Now this is NOT to say that there are lots of jobs available in
Tokyo, there aren't. Companies are still hurting from the 13-year
recession, and thus are gun-shy and really only hiring staff who
can extend the company's profitability or help with cost
reductions. There is very little expansion going on - in any
industry. But there are a lot of restructuring projects happening,
and thus opportunities to help at some level in one of these. The
outsourcing and temp staffing companies are experiencing
increasing demand for people for projects, and this is driving the
whole employment market more positively.

Most jobs for foreigners are inside the Yamanote Line, as they have
traditionally been. This means that if you are considering a move to
Tokyo, unless you want to spend JPY200,000 for a modest 2-room
apartment, you will need to think about where to base yourself. The
approach that I recommend is that you travel in from whatever
regional center you're located in, for 2-3 day spells - doing
interviews and finding out just where you might work. Then, AFTER
you get the job, find an apartment on a train line that feeds into or
near to the place of work. The last thing you want is a 2 hours
(each way!) standing commute from Funabashi in Chiba to Shibuya
or Shinagawa in Tokyo.

Terrie Lloyd is the founder of DaiJob, Inc. He also writes a weekly
newsletter for entrepreneurs and business people about business
and political opportunities in Japan. You can find the newsletter at

For further contact with Terrie, email him at