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Is Japan experiencing an expat exodus?

With job cuts, depressed hiring levels and a widely anticipated reduction in bonuses in Tokyo’s financial services sector, foreign bankers could be excused for deciding to cut their losses and get out of Japan.

On the IT side, Tokyo has already seen something of a rush for the door as a combination of redundancies and dwindling opportunities has driven many foreign IT professionals to try and further their careers in Hong Kong and Singapore instead.

One finance recruiter, who wishes to remain anonymous, says she has spoken to a number of bankers recently who are considering relocating to Hong Kong, but most have been young and single. She adds that such bankers are looking to Hong Kong predominantly as a result of some foreign banks moving functions such as IT and operations to the territory. “It is quite natural for people to consider relocation if their next career-step within their current company has been moved,” she says.

But despite the gloomy conditions, it seems many bankers are happy to stay put in Tokyo. James Graham, co-country manager at T2 Tokyo, says although he is seeing some people leaving Japan, he doesn’t believe there is a widespread expat exodus going on in Tokyo. “But if you have been laid off, you may need to go elsewhere, especially if you have limited Japanese ability,” Graham believes.

Had a financial crisis as severe as today’s hit Tokyo 20 years ago, Graham thinks we would have seen a host of foreign bankers heading for Narita with one-way tickets, but with many expats now having strong ties to Japan, people are more willing to stick out the crisis here.

“A number of senior bankers have already left Japan in the last couple years, as well as recently. Those of us that remain might have fewer global options, and staying in Japan is one of the better ones for many different reasons: Japanese family, kids in school, being comfortable in Japan, studying Japanese intensively. Home is no longer home and Japan might be better off than most places,” adds Graham.

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