Wall Street Journal joins in bashing alleged NJ “fly-jin exodus”: “Expatriates tiptoe back to the office”


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Hi Blog.  Here we have the Wall Street Journal joining in the NJ bashfest, publicizing the word “flyjin” for the Japanese market too (making one question the claim that the pejorative is restricted to the English-language market).  Gotta love the Narita airport photo within that is deftly timed to make it seem as if it’s mostly NJ fleeing.   “Good-natured hazing” is how one investment banker puts it below, making one wonder if he knows what hazing means.  Anyway, here’s another non-good-natured article about how the aftershocks of the earthquake are affecting NJ.  Arudou Debito


Wall Street Journal March 23, 2011

Expatriates Tiptoe Back to the Office



TOKYO—Life in Japan is showing tentative signs of returning to normal, but a fresh challenge may be facing the expatriates and Japanese who left and are now trickling back to their offices: how to cope with ostracism and anger from their colleagues who have worked through the crisis.

One foreigner, a fluent Japanese speaker at a large Japanese company, said that his Japanese manager and colleagues were “furious” with him for moving to Osaka for three days last week and that he felt he was going to have to be very careful to avoid being ostracized upon returning to work in Tokyo.

Survivors’ Stories

Japan Quake’s Effects

See a map of post-earthquake and tsunami events in Japan, Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast.

The flight of the foreigners—known as gaijin in Japanese—has polarized some offices in Tokyo. Last week, departures from Japan reached a fever pitch after the U.S. Embassy unveiled a voluntary evacuation notice and sent in planes to ferry Americans to safe havens. In the exodus, a new term was coined for foreigners fleeing Japan: flyjin.

The expat employees’ decision to leave is a sensitive cultural issue in a country known for its legions of “salarymen”: loyal Japanese employees whose lives revolve around the office, who regularly work overtime and who have strong, emotional ties to their corporations and their colleagues.

“There is a split between [the Japanese and foreigners] on where their allegiances lie. In Japan, the company and family are almost one and the same, whereas foreigners place family first and company second,” said Mark Pink, the founder of financial recruitment firm TopMoneyJobs.com, based in Tokyo.

The head of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, at a news conference Tuesday, expressed his disappointment that so many foreigners—from the U.S., France, the U.K., China and Hong Kong, among others—had been urged to leave the country by their governments and by worried families. Their flight was at least in part due to the more alarmist tones the foreign media took in coverage of the disaster, compared with the local news that emphasized how problems were being addressed.

“Many countries arranged for planes to bring their people back home. In some embassies, they sent messages to their nationals in Japan that the situation is very dangerous, while at some companies, top executives have come to Japan to provide reassurance,” said Atsushi Saito, head of the TSE. “It may be part of TSE’s role to put down rumors and to transmit to foreign nations what a great country Japan is.”

One expat in Tokyo, who runs his own small business, decided to go to London last week with a business partner. “It has been the right thing to do from a work-productivity point of view, as we have a big deadline to meet at the end of the month,” he said. “That said, I don’t feel very good about leaving and I’m sure people will perceive it as cowardly, and I won’t object to that.”

European Pressphoto AgencyPassengers, among them foreign nationals, checking in for flights departing from Narita International Airport, near Tokyo, on Sunday.



Those foreigners who return will find life in Tokyo is largely back to normal, with trains crowded during rush hour and men in suits packing restaurants during lunchtime in the city’s main financial district. But signs of disruption linger: Many shops close at 6 p.m. to conserve electricity and many stores are still out of basics such as milk and toilet paper.

One foreign investment banker in Tokyo says he wasn’t surprised that so many employees left. “We don’t hire people into the financial industry to risk their lives—this is investment banking and we hire investment-banker types,” he said. “We are trying to avoid ostracism for those who come back—there is no upside in that—but there is good-natured hazing.”

To be sure, most foreign senior-level managers leading teams in Tokyo stayed in the capital or relocated their entire offices to other locations in Japan, according to several managers interviewed Tuesday. In most cases, the expats who left are stay-at-home mothers, their children and those workers who don’t have staff reporting to them and can work remotely from Hong Kong and Singapore. Some Japanese, of course, also left Tokyo, though mainly women and children going home to their families in other parts of Japan, while their husbands stay in behind to work.

“If I had left as the president, my role as a leader would have been diminished,” said Gerry Dorizas, the president of Volkswagen AG’s operations in Japan, who has been in that role four years. “We’ve been very transparent.”

VW Japan has moved all its staff, including 12 expats and 130 Japanese staff and their families, to Toyohashi in Aichi prefecture.

Boeing Co., which has operated in Japan for more than 50 years, says the majority of its 30-strong staff in Tokyo have remained, despite an offer to work in Nagoya, or for expats to take a home leave.

Christine Wright, managing director of Hays in Tokyo, one of the country’s leading recruitment firms, said: “I saw no reason to leave; if you have a commitment to your staff, you stay there.”

Some said the expats would likely find local colleagues to be more understanding than expected. They say a decade of deflation and economic hardship has changed the Japanese mindset. “I think the Japanese had more of the group mentality decades ago, but not so much now,” said Shin Tanaka, head of PR firm Fleishman Hillard’s operations in Japan. “I think most [Japanese] people are staying because they think there is little risk.”

A Japanese employee at a foreign investment bank said he wasn’t bothered by the fact that some of his colleagues left last week. He felt the gap was narrowed by technology, anyway, allowing some who left to do their share. “It hasn’t really been a problem,” he said. “They’re working remotely out of other countries in Asia.”

Still, the return of the “flyjin” to Tokyo and other areas of Japan will likely be an issue for management to grapple with one way or another in the coming weeks.

“Most companies are trying to give some space to people on both sides to adjust: the people who feel they were abandoned and the foreigners who are coming back and feeling some initial tension,” said Mr. Pink. “Within a week or so that may resolve itself.”

—Alison Tudor and Kana Inagaki contributed to this article.


  • 2011年 3月 23日  10:45 JST



Bloomberg News成田空港でチェックインを待つ人たち(17日)

避難する外国人(「外人」)が目立ったのは東京のオフィスだ。先週、米国大使館が自国民間人を他の安全なアジア地域に航空機で退避させるための準備を進めていると発表した後、日本出国が最高潮に達した。出国する外国人を表す”flyjin”(fly + gaijin)なる言葉まで登場した。














記者: Mariko Sanchanta


18 comments on “Wall Street Journal joins in bashing alleged NJ “fly-jin exodus”: “Expatriates tiptoe back to the office”

  • The article seems to be fair piece of reporting, simply gathering the range of opinions of both Japanese and NJ. While a few people (such as Christine Wright) quoted in the article are clearly not pleased that some left, others (such as the foreign investment banker) defends those who left. “Good-natured hazing” surely doesn’t mean literal hazing, and he wasn’t defending it either. The article is presented here as NJ bashing, but the content of the article just doesn’t fit that.

  • John (Yokohama) says:

    I have asked my Japanese students (and Japanese co-workers) at my school to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, given a hypothetical similar situation with them in the US, and almost to a person they all said they would come back to Japan.

    Hypocritical to criticize those for leaving when you would do exactly the same.

  • I find blatant statements like “…foreigners place family first and company second” (even if it is a quote) irresponsible for reporting any kind of information. Besides the word ‘foreign’ being completely subjective, it also doesn’t describe one community. I’m not Japanese, but I stayed in Tokyo and I know plenty of Japanese (foreign to me, by the way) people who ran away. Isn’t this just something to report on the news like the ‘foreign crime wave’. When you have a group of people defined as different, then things that they do are news.

    If anything the scrambling away from Tokyo says more about how Japanese society treats *other* than anything about all the cultures represented by the exodus.

  • A Man In Japan says:

    This whole “flyjin” thing is so hypocritical that it’s just unbelievable to me. Japanese people living in the radiated areas are getting out, but if we do the same thing we get called every name under the sun. And does anyone know how many Japanese fled when a disaster happened in other countries? It would be good to know, because then we can show their hypocrisy to them. It would also give us a moniker for Japanese people who left in a crisis. “Flaps”

  • “…foreigners place family first and company second”

    At last someone points out the unique wierdness that is Japan’s corporate inhuman twist on Neo Confucianism; that the COMPANY and not the family is the most important thing. Here in Hong Kong anyone will tell you that the family is more important than some job, especially in what looked like radiation reaching Tokyo. Hey, on March 24th in Kawaguchi City, just north of Akabane, Tokyo, tap water had reached dangerous levels, according to one source (I ll find it if you want it).

    So there was a threat and it is only with hindsight that the “hazing” makes the flyjins seem cowardly as opposed to prudent.

    And as Jay says above, the flyjins just show that they don’t have much loyalty to, or trust in Japan-especially the authorities-because it doesn’t inspire much loyalty by excluding them.

    Those who are excluded are excused early.

    — Re: Tap water. I always want links if you are referring to a source, thanks. Just repost this entire blog post with source link included.

  • Mark Hunter says:

    A Man in Japan….just yesterday CBC here in Canada carried an interview with a Japanese man who had left to stay in Canada and another story in a major newspaper here told of a Japanese executive and his family who has taken up residence in Toronto with a friend for 6 months. (Sorry Debito, I looked for the article and couldn’t find it, wasn’t thinking ahead yesterday. I’ll keep looking.)

  • What a load of BS. Every single NJ I know working in Japan stayed in Japan, with the exception of those actually made homeless by the Tsunami, the fact that they stayed was warmly welcomed by their Japanese colleagues and friends. The number of NJ who left Japan must be pretty small and probably consists mostly of those on short assignments who had few ties to or understanding of the Japanese or what was going on. It’s a real injustice this coverage…

  • What is also not publicised are the “conditions” or rather terms of contract that many of these foreign companies have with their employees. (Real ones unlike Japanese companies).

    For example, one friend I know could not travel too Japan a few weeks ago on a pre-planned biz trip. Why?..because of her Govt.’s foreign office statements advising them to leave or at least make plans to leave. What this meant for her, was that all her travel insurance would be null and void. She would be travelling on her own risk. She said she wouldn’t mind, but company policy would not allow her to travel with such advice by the foreign office which invalidates her travel insurance.

    She is planning to visit on her own, on vacation soon anyway, her risk. It hasn’t put her off visiting.

    So, I wonder how many NJs working for foreign companies have some sort of insurance and/or health plan that is linked to the advice issued by their Gov.t’s. I suspect more than we know…hence, if they stayed, they are no longer covered.

  • If have yet to see anyone say this but you can bet that if this was taking place in another country and the Japanese embassy advised their citizens to leave that they would be gone just as quick as the “flyjin”. This is name calling is meaningless. Humans will do what they feel they must do to survive.

  • @chris B
    The number of NJ who left Japan must be pretty small you say.

    161 000.

    and probably consists mostly of those on short assignments who had few ties to or understanding of the Japanese or what was going on.

    Err, how about me? I lived in Japan since 1990, I speak Japanese.
    Or when you say “the Japanese” do you mean the workings of the Japanese mind?
    I think I understand the denial and lies of Tepco all too well from the past (Ibaraki 1999), so we left.

    — Follow the Hoofin link I provided, please, which disputes a number that high.

  • Tap water in Saitama source- not this one but it probably comes from this article by Mari Yamaguchi, see it here or elsewhere http://www.scsun-news.com/ci_17678798?source=most_viewed

    March 23-Tokyo officials reported Wednesday that radioactive iodine in the city’s tap water was above levels considered dangerous for babies. New readings showed the levels had returned to safe levels in Tokyo, but were high in two neighboring prefectures—Chiba and Saitama.

    The same article then goes on to say what we have heard before:

    But tap water in Kawaguchi City in Saitama just north of Tokyo showed 210 becquerels of radioactive iodine, Shogo Misawa, a Health Ministry official, said Thursday. Tap water in another area next to Tokyo, Chiba prefecture, also showed high levels of radiation in two separate areas, said water safety official Kyoji Narita.

    The article I originally read may have taken it slightly out of context and printed just “dangerously high levels” but without the “for babies” part. A slightly more alarmist sounding summary (though splitting hairs, or atoms, no doubt).

  • The “flyjin” is having an effect. Almost all of my co-workers even the ones who usually refuse to acknowlwedge me are asking me if i “went home for my vacation”(i didnt i went to the coast 4 times in relief efforts)? i was interviewed by …local radio about the tsunami and all the announcers were suprised to hear that “a majority of foreigners” i knew were actually staying i’m not sure if “bashing” is the correct word. but the picture of foreigners in this crisis that the Japanese media is painting is that of leaving and not of staying and helping….. it is an incorrect potrayal.. and fairly hypocritical to criticize foreigners for leaving after the fourth worst earthquake in history and a nuke disaster that will probably be the worst when it is all over. Japanese leave in flocks and then ban overseas programs about every other year in light of 9-11, london bombings, SARS, h1N1, etc. they are bad… but a walk in the park compared to this mess…..i dont blame the foreigners who leave

  • Someone needs to say that the reason some of the flyjins decided to throw in the towel and leave is that they didnt particularly feel “loyalty” to the country, because they were treated badly or inappropriately over time. Perpetual outsiders tend to feel more comfortable outside when it hits the fan.

    But it will be an uphill struggle to do so against the stereotypes of Japanese kindness to tourists that the Japanese Embassy in NY, for instance, are so prone to peddle.

  • A letter from the person who notified me of this article to the article’s author:

    March 24, 2011


    The below comment is in regards to the below piece, first being the English version, second being the Japanese version.

    Expatriates Tiptoe Back to the Office


    On Loose Descriptions of People

    Would it be too much to ask to describe people not purely on their ethnicity, ignoring all factors of class, and circumstance?

    Would it be possible to use words more descriptive than “Expat” and “外国人(Gaikokujin)” / “外人(Gaijin)”, both of which loosely refer to citizenship and residecy, but more commonly refer to how a person looks, regardless.

    Both are inexact, confusing, and, in this context, offensive, and borderline, if not squarely, racist.

    On Piece Content

    Content recognized Ethnic Non-Japaese but not Ethnic Japanese
    Saying that “Black people eat chicken.”, when clearly white people also eat chicken, is clearly one-sided.
    However, due to this piece and others like it, which focuses completely on Ethnic Non-Japanese evacuees, and not at all on ethnic Japanese, ethnic Japanese now regularly ask me why I am still in Japan,

    You may have not been aware that in addition to great numbers of Ethic Non-Japanese evacuating, quietly there are vast numbers of Ethnic Japaese who left Tokyo and went to the Kansai area, those that evacuated prefectures surrounding Fukushima for prefectures farther away, and “legions” of Japanese who wanted to leave, but simply were not able to.

    Ethnic Japanese and Ethnic Non-Japanese — most people want(ed) to evacuate.

    Why didn’t more people leave?
    The main reasons that more people did not evacuate has NOTHING to do with not wanting to be ostracized or their loyalty to their company, but their inability to do so.

    1. The lower and middle class, Risk of losing income

    Many of the people that evacuated Tokyo to Kansai or Outside of Japan were relatively well-off people (Ethnic Japanese and Non-Japanese), as most lower paid people work for companies that do things that cannot be offsited, ie. cooks, cleaners, bank tellers, garbage men, etc etc, or for companies that are of a size such that they do not have the infrastructure to allow their employees to work remotely, ie. mail order companys, call centers, etc etc.

    2. The upper middle class, Risk of losing wife’s job & children’s daycare

    Wives in Lower & Middle Class Jobs
    Even in the upper middle class, many wives are working now, and many wives make significantly less than their husbands, and work for companies that may or may not have the ability to allow their employees to work remotely, from home or from wherever (As in the above, lower and middle class jobs).

    Working Wives and Daycare Points
    If the wife is not working, then you lose a significant number of points in the Daycare Point system. There are so few daycare center slots, that Japanese wives in many cases are willing to risk the family’s health (not evacuating) for fear of losing their children’s slot in daycare!

    So evacuating, for wives & mothers, amounts to the possibility of losing their job, and subsequently losing their childrens precious slot in daycare.

    Please Remember…

    Please remember that Ethnic Non-Japanese have to live with the negative stereotypes and misconceptions that are reinforced by the media.

    Please be careful not to sow seeds of contempt & racism for Ethnic Non-Japanese.

  • there is this new site, take with pinch of salt though this is according to the Justice Ministry, they say,

    Flyjin Population for 1st Month Post-Tohoku Earthquake (Exclusive of Shinkanjin): 229,000
    April 17, 2011

    Kyodo News has released figures from the Justice Ministry documenting the number of flyjin over the first month following the Tohoku earthquake.


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