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Japanese workers are seeking higher wages overseas

AShihara Pier, a 25-year-old man from Kanagawa prefecture near Tokyo wants to travel the world. Last April, she jumped at the chance to immigrate to Australia through the government’s “working holiday” scheme, which offers one-year visas to people under 31. She worked for four months on a farm in eastern Australia and now works as a barista in Sydney. The original venture has found economic logic. Ms. Awara’s minimum wage is A$21.38 ($14.9) an hour, double that in Japan. Even in a part-time job, she makes more money than she did as a low-level female clerk in Tokyo.

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Ms Awara is one of a growing number of Japanese drawn to work abroad. The number of Japanese applicants applying for Australian working holiday visas has more than doubled by 2022. A recruiting platform called Indeed reported an all-time high in searches for overseas jobs.The study abroad agency started promoting the word Izuki Ryugaku (“Earn money while studying abroad”). “You can do the exact same job in another country as Japan, but earn twice as much,” said Junichi Hirado, a career consultant. “More and more young people are interested in making money with a strong currency.”

A historically weak yen may have contributed to this trend. Even more troubling, then, is the long-term problem of wages in Japan, which have seen little growth in 30 years.The average annual salary in Japan is US$39,700, which is much lower than OECD Average $51,600. In Japan’s seniority-based employment system, fresh university graduates can expect to earn around 220,000 yen ($1,670) a month.

Young Japanese are understandably pessimistic about their prospects. In addition to low salaries, many are growing dissatisfied with Japan’s rigid, punctual corporate culture. Only 14 percent of young Japanese think their country’s future will “get better,” according to a survey by the nonprofit Nippon Foundation. “Many people are struggling because wages are so low,” said Furusawa Yuta, 21, who recently moved to Canada to work and save money.When Tsuyuki Sho, 29, at it, noting how much higher wages in his industry are compared to other rich countries, he feels a “sense of crisis”. He moved to the United States for work in 2019.

Japan’s declining population and severe labor shortage mean it cannot afford any brain drain. With growing numbers of young Japanese increasingly frustrated, with increasing foreign-language skills and a generalized risk aversion among many, a larger exodus may be imminent. Some experts worry that Japan may meanwhile start losing out to neighbors such as South Korea and Taiwan in the race to attract migrant workers from Southeast Asia. “Japan is losing its attractiveness as a workplace,” worries Yukio Noguchi, a professor emeritus at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.

Life in Japan is still attractive in many ways. Its recent inflation rate has been much milder than elsewhere in the rich world, and its housing is also cheaper. “I came to the US hoping to save a lot of money, but at one point I spent all my income,” recalls Mr. Tsuyuki. He believes no country “can beat Japan in terms of liveability”, including safety and cleanliness. He also misses trips to Japanese fast-food chains that serve tasty meals for pocket money.

Affordability, however, is the flip side of the country’s economic stagnation. Since the bursting of the country’s bubble economy in the 1990s, Japan has been mired in a “deflationary mindset,” with companies reluctant to pass on higher prices to consumers. Public frustration with the resulting stagnant wages has finally become apparent, thanks to tame inflation fueled by a weaker yen and higher import costs.

Ochiai Yuri, 24, who moved to Australia a year ago, is also passionate about things back home: “Everything in Japan is organized and well maintained. The trains are always on time and the customer service is great.” But she no longer considers going back to Her old job in Tokyo – poorly paid waitress – a no-nonsense choice.

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