Why Tokyo? Part II

Why Tokyo? Part II

I'm not sure why Tokyo-based Japanese companies are more
enlightened about employing foreigners than their regional
counterparts. Maybe it's the close proximity with some of the
world's best foreign firms, which are now active and increasingly
successful competitors. Or, maybe it's the fact that most of the
trading firms are based here; doing business with the "outside" is
more prevalent and many company staff have done stints overseas
and are therefore comfortable working with foreigners.

Or then again, maybe it's because there is simply a good base of
international skills to pick from (10% of the population of Minato
Ward in Tokyo is comprised of foreigners), such as high-level
engineers and finance people. A friend of mine got a job in a senior
and trusted M&A/Investment position in a major Japanese
electronics company because he really knew the business while the
existing internal management did not. This kind of appointment is
quite common - needless to say he has excellent Japanese speaking
skills and did an apprenticeship in a smaller Japanese company

The first choice of most foreigners in Tokyo is to work for a
foreign multinational, where values and rules will be familiar and
logical from a Western point of view. Commonly, the next priority
is to work for a Japanese multinational that is headquartered in
Tokyo (although this should be your first choice if you're recently
arrived, since the experience will be hugely valuable later), such as
a trading firm or multinational IT company. After that is a local
services vendor, which looks after foreign firms or which has a
strong international business component. Such companies are a
good stepping-stone, or sometimes offer a place to build a career
as a future manager and possibly co-owner of the firm.

My guess is that there are about 2 million people, 95% Japanese, 5%
foreign, working in either international companies (750,000 or so)
or in Japanese ones (1 million plus) that are trading internationally
in some way. So the employment prospects are clearly much better
in the international business space than with purely domestic
operations, which is good news given this is where foreigners
actually want the opportunities to be.

Why are most of the foreign firms based in Tokyo? Mostly for
historical reasons: Japan's banking and trading center has long been
Tokyo and so it was only natural that the first Western
multinationals wanted to be near their customers/suppliers and
picked Tokyo and Yokohama in which to set up shop. Thereafter, the
availability of shopping, foreign-style apartments, and services
(such as English-speaking doctors and day-care centers) has
created a clustered, self-sustaining community here. Facilities
such as the Tokyo American Club in Toranomon, the YCAC club in
Yokohama, and a selection of over 50 international schools and
kindergartens make living in greater Tokyo hugely more attractive
to foreigners than elsewhere in Japan. With the exception of Kobe,
no other area in Japan has ever really achieved the critical mass
needed to produce a similar community. Although, of course, places
like Fukuoka do have an active foreign community, they don't really
have the facilities.

Now, I KNOW that there are perfectly good opportunities outside
Tokyo for foreigners. But if you think about it, you'll see a
recurring pattern: almost everyone who has done well outside of
Tokyo, especially if they've been living in Japan for more than 3-5
years, has started their own company or gone into partnership with
a Japanese person. If you want short-to-mid-term employment in
Japan, then Tokyo will be your overwhelming choice.

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