AS REGULAR readers of the Variety business page already know, one of the most popular new business books in Japan is entitled “Escape from Japan.” Published by Asa Publishing, the book focuses on all the reasons why Japanese might not want to stay in Japan much longer, and how they can relocate overseas.
Ten or 20 years ago, such an idea would have been unthinkable for anyone but a few wealthy iconoclasts. In the wake of last year’s triple disaster, however, a lot has changed. Now, more and more middle-class, working-age people, especially those with young children, are said to be considering an overseas move.
Continued fear of radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, and lack of confidence in the government – both to effectively deal with the situation, and to honestly inform its citizens about the real extent of the problem – are two major reasons why so many Japanese are now thinking the unthinkable, but there is more to it than that.
Recent reports indicate that more and more Japanese are becoming quite pessimistic about the current state of their country’s economy, and its chances for significant improvement. Many are said to fear that their country lacks the leadership needed to overcome problems such as its massive public debt, an aging population, low economic growth, deflation and the need to reinvent the electrical power system.
For those who do choose to go, one of the most popular destinations is Malaysia, which, in an effort to attract foreign capital, makes it easy for those who invest in a home there to get a residence visa. Other attractive points are that the cost of living is low compared to Japan, it has good international schools, and the climate is warm all year round. According to a recent Reuters report, Japan passed Iran last year as the country with the most applicants for Malaysian second-home visas.
So how about Guam? Is this a good time for Leo Palace to once again ramp up its sales effort and see if it can get some Japanese people to invest in its condos? Should those who overinvested in up-scale homes for the buildup be looking to our neighbor to the north for potential buyers?
Having made just such a move myself a year ago, let me list some of the positives and negatives a potential immigrant from Japan might find.
On the plus side, Guam is very accessible from Japan. A three-and-a-half-hour flight and you’re here. Heck, even one-day business trips to Tokyo are quite doable. It’s the perfect overseas location if you are still trying to do business in Japan, or if one person is still working back home while their partner and kids are living overseas.
Of course, the beaches, water sports and golf are all great. The people are friendly, and they’re used to dealing with the Japanese. For such a small island, there always seems to be a lot to do. If you like warm weather year-round, the climate is good. The price of real estate is reasonable by Japanese standards, and you’re in the USA, not a third world country.
On the downside, however, it can be much more difficult to get permanent residence status in the U.S. than in countries like Malaysia. Also the overall cost of living on Guam can be shockingly high ... even by Japanese standards. For a Japanese homemaker, the selection of fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood is likely to seem woefully lacking, and what is available very overpriced.
Without anything like the excellent Japanese national health insurance system, the healthcare costs for families not covered by a company plan would seem incomprehensible to most.
To be honest, the level of service and attention to detail here can be quite a bit below what most Japanese expect. This could be an especially big stumbling block to those who might be thinking about starting a business on Guam.