When Takashi Araki, 39, who runs an apartment rental business in Osaka city, and his wife, Motoko, 34, started thinking about which school to send their children to, they came to an unexpected decision: "We'll be moving to Malaysia."
In June 2012, they broke the news to their neighbors, who were, naturally, momentarily stunned. With perplexed looks on and wished the family a safe journey.
That summer, the couple and their 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter relocated to Johor Bahru, a city on the border with Singapore. There they rent a four-room house for 2,500 ringgit (around 73,000 yen, or $830) a month, where they live with their two dogs.
The Arakis are joining the growing number of Japanese families who go abroad not for travel or work, but for their children's education.
The city where they lived in Osaka has one of the largest concentrations of "juku," or cram schools, in the Kansai region. When the couple began to consider which one they would send their children to for preparations for junior high school entrance exams, Takashi and Motoko discussed what they would ultimately gain from taking part in the long and competitive exam process.
In the end, they decided that if they were going to send their children down a different path, the time to act was now.
The percentage of university graduates finding work had slumped to 60 percent. News of political and economic meandering in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 was anything but encouraging. Takashi wanted his children to have the option of choosing from schools and career paths the world over.
That being said, neither Takashi nor Motoko had an aptitude for English, and they were also worried about the psychological stress that a move overseas would cause their children. But Takashi felt that relocating to a nearby Asian country would be emotionally and physically possible. The personal relationships that their son and daughter would build in a developing country could prove beneficial for their futures.
The family made use of the long public holiday in May to travel to Malaysia, where they visited five schools. They decided on Fairview International School, which offers students the chance to study at universities around the world after graduation. But despite the low cost of living in Malaysia, the school's fees are by no means inexpensive--15,000 ringgit a year (440,000 yen, $5,000).
At Fairview International, just a 10-minute drive from their home, only 40 percent of the students body is Malaysian. Fittingly for a multicultural nation, English, Malay and Chinese can be heard bouncing around the school's classrooms, and calls of "Good morning!" "Selamat pagi!" and "Ni hao!" greet the students.
The Arakis' son was unable to communicate in English when he first transferred to the school in September, but in three months' time he had made fast friendships.
Takashi has left the day-to-day running of his business to a management company, so there is no need for him to be in Japan, and his mother and grandmother now live in the family's old home in Osaka. He intends to take his family back to Japan for two months during the school's holidays, and his Japanese resident card remains registered with his old local government office in Osaka.
Recently, he has started a blog aimed at other parents with concerns about the future of their children's education. Like the Arakis, more Japanese are moving their families to Malaysia, especially web designers, the self-employed and others whose skills are in demand overseas and who have a degree of financial security.
The Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, a 45-minute plane journey from Johor Bahru, is an easy place for them to live, with its Japanese supermarkets and bookstores.
Yosuke Yamazaki, 45, who manages four chicken restaurants in the inner city, moved here last autumn with his wife, Miwako, 36, their 2-year-old daughter, and Miwako's parents. Yosuke returns to Japan on business for only 10 days or so out of every month, so they have made a new home for themselves in metropolitan Kuala Lumpur.
The inspiration for their move came from a television program they saw in autumn 2011. It introduced Malaysia's warm climate and orderly society, as well as its welcoming attitude to foreigners as a multicultural nation.
"I'd love to live in a place like that," Miwako said at the time.
"I was thinking the same thing," Yosuke replied.
Just two months later, the couple paid a visit to Malaysia with their daughter, and made up their minds to live there. They also invited Miwako's parents, residents of Sapporo, to join them.
"In Japan, I thought our only goal was getting our daughter into a prestigious university, but I feel as if we've broadened our outlook on life, and our daughter's future," Miwako says.
In some cases, Japanese mothers are taking up residence in Malaysia with their children for educational reasons.
In August 2012, a 34-year-old woman from Tokyo moved to Johor Bahru with her daughters, aged 5 and 3, so that her eldest could attend the Malaysian offshoot of Marlborough College, a distinguished British school from which Princess Catherine graduated. The woman's husband, an office worker, stayed behind in Japan so that he could continue to support the family financially.
Marlborough offers education from preschool through to high school, and 60 percent of its students have British citizenship. Even its preschool fees, the least expensive in its system, total 1.2 million yen ($13,600) annually, making it among the most expensive international schools. The woman said she would like to send her second daughter there, too, but the financial burden would be too great.
Despite the educational advantages, living in a foreign country also has many drawbacks. When her eldest daughter caught an infectious disease last November, she had to rush her to a hospital in Singapore with a Japanese doctor on staff.
"When we first came here, I felt so alone and cried all the time," she said. "Even so, when I reminded myself that I was doing this for my children's sake, I found the strength to persevere."
The blog she writes about her daughter's schooling and their daily life receives more than 1,000 visits per day, and she is increasingly being contacted by others who want to see Malaysia for themselves.
AN INVITING VISA SYSTEM
Malaysia offers a long-term residence visa called MM2H for by those with a regular income and a certain amount of money deposited at a Malaysian bank. In 2011, 423 Japanese nationals acquired this visa, more than any other nationality (the second-largest group was Chinese, at 405).
"In the past, the majority of applicants were individuals or couples in their 50s," says Malaysian Ministry of Tourism Deputy Secretary-General Junaida Lee Abdullah. "Lately, there is an increasing number of families, including couples in their 30s and 40s."
In 2011, people in their 30s accounted for 4 percent of MM2H visa holders, but as of September 2012, that proportion had risen to 10 percent. The MM2H visa has no residency obligation, and low-cost airline carriers offer one-way direct flights to Malaysia in the range of 20,000 yen, which has made life easier for a growing number of families where only the mother and children reside there.
In 2012, Tokyo-based company AER World helped around 100 clients obtain visas to move to Malaysia, the United States, and Australia to live or study.
"Concerns regarding the future of the social security system and Japan in general seem to be a factor, but the most common motivation is children's education," says managing director Kenji Omori.
ONE MILLION JAPANESE LIVING OVERSEAS
After World War II, the number of Japanese living overseas continued to increase along with the nation's economic growth, rising from 325,000 in 1968 to 378,000 in 1974. Many of these new emigrants during were employees of trading companies and manufacturers, and their families. Their ranks grew from 30,000 to 80,000. There was also a sudden increase of students and researchers living abroad during that period, from 2,000 to 25,000.
As the yen continued to appreciate as a result of the Plaza Accord in 1985, more companies began shifting their factories from Japan to areas of Asia where production costs were lower. The number of employees sent by these companies to their overseas ventures also grew rapidly, and in the 1980s, long-term overseas residents—students, company employees, and others living outside of Japan for over three months—came to exceed the number of foreigners living in Japan with permanent residency status.
Even after Japan's asset-inflated economy collapsed and the country entered a long recession, the number of Japanese residing abroad kept on growing. In 2005, it broke the 1 million mark for the first time in postwar history. It increased by a further 26 percent in the 10 years from 1991 to 2001, and by 41 percent from 2001 to 2011. This coincides with the rise of the Chinese economy and Asia's strengthening presence as a market and center of production.
In the aftermath of the Lehman Shock of 2008, Japanese companies' direct investment in Asia did not decline to the same degree as that of their European and American counterparts, and investment in manufacturing started getting back on an upward trend as early as 2010.
In 2011, the year of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the number of Japanese living overseas increased by 3.4 percent compared to the previous year's total, the largest increase in the previous three years. The sharp strengthening of the yen and supply chain restructuring are seen to be the factors fueling the accelerated expansion of Japanese companies into Asia.
Hosei University Graduate School professor and economic policy specialist Takao Komine also points to the emergence of a new employment paradigm.
"The pattern of companies branching out into Asia because of the strong yen may be the same as the one we saw in the '80s and '90s, but in addition to the 'corporate warrior' work style, in which an employee's movements are tied to the company's endeavors, there is also an increasingly prominent 'optional' style, in which working in Japan or working in Asia are considered equally viable choices, especially among young people."
Local hires who work for Japanese companies in other Asian countries could be said to be prime examples of this optional work style. However, their reasons for choosing to work overseas are many and varied.
"With the worsening employment situation in Japan, companies that previously recruited staff in-house are now outsourcing them instead, and are no longer taking on the risks of employment themselves," says Wako Asato, an associate professor specializing in immigration research at Kyoto University's Graduate School of Letters. "(This optional work style) is probably consistent to a degree with global economic trends, and the needs of young Japanese who find themselves in a precarious position in their home country but want to break free from the status quo."
While the majority of Japanese residing abroad are company employees, there are also parents who have moved overseas for the sake of their children's education, seniors enjoying their golden years after retirement, and wealthy individuals aiming to minimize asset risk, which points to an increasing diversity among the 1 million expatriates.
The ease of obtaining information on life in other countries via the Internet and the greater accessibility of travel due to the emergence of low-cost carriers are just some of the factors contributing to the growing range of options available to Japanese when choosing where to live.
By Eri Goto
Source: Asahi Shimbun - http://goo.gl/5lGeg