Foreign exodus leaves its mark on Tokyo
In the Roppongi entertainment district in Tokyo, the biggest American sports bar and a neighbouring British-style pub are sometimes known as “gaijin corner” – the colloquial term for foreigners. On Friday nights the two bars, their television screens blaring US baseball and European football, usually heave with expatriate office workers.
But on a recent weekend, the crowds at Legends bar and the Hobgoblin, part of the same chain, were half their usual size – and mainly Japanese. Business has been down about 35 per cent since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan's north -east coast.
“Sales are recovering a bit now but the decline is definitely due to expats leaving – you can see it,” says one staff member.
In many respects, Tokyo life has returned to normal. The aftershocks have stopped, shops are fully stocked and schools schedules are regular again – although student numbers are down 20-25 per cent at international schools.
For a section of Tokyo's large foreign community, however, life is far from normal. Many fled the city after the disaster and, while most have returned, a second exodus appears to have started, particularly among those with young families.
As schools prepare for the summer vacation and property contracts approach renewal deadlines, some foreign professionals are deciding to leave Japan, according to recruitment firms, relocation companies and estate agents.
About 80 per cent of expat professionals left Tokyo immediately after the disaster, says Sakie Fukushima, chief executive of G&S Global Advisers, a Tokyo recruitment advisory firm. Of those, about four-fifths came back while the rest asked to be reassigned. Ms Fukushima says she thinks more are preparing to leave. Their fears are being fanned by the unresolved crisis at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which suffered severe damage in the tsunami.
東京招聘顧問公司G&S首席執行官橘福島咲江(Sakie Fukushima)表示，外派的外國專業人士中，約有80%在災難發生後立刻離開了東京。其中約五分之四的人回來了，剩下的要求調離。橘福島表示，她認為有更多外國人正準備離開。在海嘯中嚴重受損的福島第一核電站(Fukushima Daiichi)的危機仍未解除，令他們的恐懼不斷增加。
“There is particular concern among foreign residents with children,” she says. “And on the professional level, some are worried about the economy and their employment situation.”
Such concerns have driven fresh demand for skilled expatriate staff in Tokyo, according to headhunting firms Hays, Egon Zehnder, Michael Page and T2 Tokyo. Professionals in information technology, legal, banking and accountancy are in particular demand, according to Christine Wright, managing director of Hays Japan, although she adds that her company is “seeing candidate shortages in all areas”.
獵頭公司Hays、億康先達(Egon Zehnder)、米高蒲志(Michael Page)和T2 Tokyo指出，上述擔憂促使東京對有專長的外國外派員工有了新的需求。 Hays駐日本的董事總經理克里斯廷•賴特(Christine Wright)表示，信息技術、法律、銀行和會計等行業對外國專業人士的需求量最為突出。不過，她補充表示，Hays“發現所有行業都面臨人才短缺的狀況”。
For those unfazed by safety concerns, there are rewards. Some companies are likely to pay more for such talent, says Hideaki Tsukuda, managing partner of Egon Zehnder in Japan. However, there is a growing trend to replace expats with locals, he adds.
Estate agents dealing with rental properties for expats in Tokyo say business is down significantly from a year ago. “March and April were really devastating. Probably about 50 per cent cancelled their contracts – particularly Europeans,” says Dave Koyama, manager of the foreign section of Ken Corp.
東京經營外派員工租賃業務的房地產中介表示，自1年前開始，生意顯著變差。 Ken Corp.外國部經理小山潤一郎(Dave Koyama)表示：“3月和4月的業績真是慘不忍睹。大概有50%左右的客戶取消了合同，其中主要是歐洲人。”
There are some signs of recovery: “Good properties are moving and some new people are coming to Japan,” he says. But agencies see a shift in the type of customer seeking homes. While expat families are leaving their big, four-bedroom homes , which are let for more than Y1.5m ($18,700) a month in upmarket areas, new tenants tend to be couples without children and single people.
With record demand from foreign residents wanting to leave Japan, the relocation business is booming. Economove, a midsized moving company that deals mainly with foreign clients, says business is nearly 50 per cent up from a year ago.
“June is always busy, due to the end of the school term. But we are now working seven days a week just to keep up,” says Shinichi Shima, the manager.
“Many Germans, French and Australians are leaving Japan – they're all worried about radiation and earthquakes . . . Many are going to Singapore or Europe.”
A British mother sums up the concerns: “People are still unsettled. They're worried about radiation, whether they should buy local food or drink tap water,” she says.“If you have children, you really worry about them.”
The exodus has given rise to informal opportunities. Amid the wave of invitations to farewell parties and garage sales, one stands out. At National Azabu, a supermarket popular with expatriates in Tokyo's Hiroo district, one sale notice ended: “If you don't want to buy it, come and take what's left on June 5 free – we have to leave.”