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Revenge of the nerds: IT jobs take off in Tokyo

After a mostly grim 2009, demand for candidates to fill IT banking roles in Tokyo has come back with a vengeance.

James Kikuchi, associate director of information technology at Robert Walters Japan, says the recovery started in the latter part of 2009, with a surprisingly busy Q4. “That has continued this year. It has been amazing the way the industry has just bounced back, and we expect it to continue,” he adds.

Demand is particularly buoyant in roles related to e-trading, as well as for people with Java backgrounds.

Not everything, however, is rosy: despite the influx of vacancies, many of Tokyo’s current IT expats are more interested in moving their careers to Singapore or Hong Kong. But why?

Will Feint, a former Tokyo-based recruiter who is now a principal consultant at recruitment firm Confero’s Singapore office, says the city state’s low tax rates are a major attraction for Tokyo’s finance tech professional.

“Taxation is definitely a major reason for choosing Singapore. If you are in IT and earning, say, S$200k (about 14m yen), you are only paying a total of about 12 or 13 per cent tax,” he says.

But Feint adds that the appeal isn’t purely financial. “Singapore might not be as culturally attractive as Tokyo, but it is slap-bang in the heart of Asia, which is another appeal. And the work-life balance compared to Tokyo is another plus. In general, people are expected to put in less working hours, unlike the usual 12-hour days bankers do in Tokyo,” he adds.

Kikuchi says firms in Singapore and Hong Kong also have less demanding language requirements than those in Tokyo, where Japanese skills are often just as crucial for IT staff as technical skills and business knowledge.

That though might be changing. “Some of our clients now have relaxed language requirements, so they are now open to candidates without Japanese ability – from Singapore, Hong Kong, Europe or the US – and are willing to take a chance on candidates who have excellent technical skills and business knowledge,” Kikuchi says.

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