Why Japan's young workers are looking for opportunities abroad


Several factors explain why the prospect of working abroad is so attractive to Japan's young people. Photo: AFP

Japan's workers seem convinced that the grass is greener elsewhere. While unemployment accounts for 2.5% of the country's active population, many workers are looking to move abroad in search of better pay and working conditions.

Springtime is synonymous with "shunto" in Japan, the spring wage offensive. This term describes the annual wage negotiations that have been part of life for Japanese workers for decades.

Indeed, these pay talks are essential in a country where wages have not increased much since the 1997 Asian financial crisis. But Japan's young workers are not waiting for shunto to try to earn more.

A growing number of them are seeking to move abroad to improve their standard of living.

The Indeed platform recorded a record number of searches from Japanese people looking for a job abroad, according to The Economist.

In addition, applications for working vacation visas for Australia more than doubled in 2022 compared to previous years.

Several factors explain why the prospect of working abroad is so attractive to young people in Japan, including the sharp decline of the yen. The Japanese currency has weakened against the US dollar, now standing at almost 134 yen to the dollar.

But the low salaries in the archipelago remain the most plausible explanation for this phenomenon. The average annual salary stagnates at around US$39,700 (RM175,550), according to The Economist.

This is well below the average for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which stands at US$51,600 (RM228,460).

Losing its attractiveness

Japan's young people are also tempted to move abroad in order to experience a professional world that is less rigid and stifling than that of their native country.

Indeed, Japan is known for its very particular relationship with work, which pushes Japanese employees to never take their foot off the gas.

Many of them work more than 49 hours a week and sacrifice paid leave foreseen in their contract, in addition to many evenings, to be viewed in good light by their manager.

This culture of productivity is not without consequences for the mental and physical health of workers, as evidenced by karoshi and takotsubo syndromes.

The former refers to a chronic stress that gradually leads to exhaustion, and literally to "death by overwork", while the latter refers to a heart condition linked to severe stress.

This movement of expatriation is a cause of concern for Japanese companies, which are already facing a labour shortage.

For decades, the number of available workers in the country has been steadily shrinking as a result of the rapid ageing of the Japanese population and a birth rate that has been falling since the 1970s.

Some experts fear that Japan is beginning to lose ground to neighbouring countries such as South Korea and Taiwan, which are also trying to compete in what has become a global race for talent.

"Japan is losing its attractiveness as a place to work," Noguchi Yukio, professor emeritus at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, told The Economist. – AFP Relaxnews

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