Photo/IllutrationVaruni Madapur, who works for an information technology firm in Tokyo’s Roppongi district, said she brought spices and other food ingredients from her native India. (Yukiko Oga)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

With the Tokyo metropolitan government seeking to attract more highly skilled professionals from overseas to help revitalize the economy, Varuni Madapur fit the bill perfectly.

Madapur, a 26-year-old Indian, landed a job last autumn with an information technology-related company in Japan, where she is developing software.

She graduated from one of the Indian Institutes of Technology, a group of elite schools of global renown.

Madapur said she speaks English to communicate with her Japanese, Chinese, Indian and American colleagues at her workplace.

“I wanted to start a career overseas by way of an adventure,” she said. “ I believe my experiences here in Japan will turn out to be useful when I return to work in my home country someday.”

The central government in 2015 created a new status of residence for non-Japanese to give favorable treatment to highly skilled professionals. The measure was aimed at attracting more foreign nationals with specialized skills and knowledge such as Madapur.

A growing number of non-Japanese nationals are now living in Tokyo to engage in work that requires their specialized knowledge and skills, such as in IT and finance: the number was up 46 percent over five years through 2017.

However, it remains to be seen if Tokyo will be perceived as an attractive market by the target population.

Madapur commutes to her office in the posh Roppongi district of Tokyo from a women-only share house in the capital’s Meguro Ward, where she moved in through her employer. Three of the 12 occupants there are non-Japanese. Madapur said she sometimes goes to a cafe with her fellow occupants on holidays.

Madapur said it’s nice to live in the house, as it allows her to interact with various people.

Madapur’s residence is one of the more than 50 share houses operated by Interwhao Co. for both Japanese and non-Japanese occupants in Tokyo and Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba prefectures.

“Our residences are popular with non-Japanese, partly because we provide life support through our workers with language skills,” said Takashi Miyagi, the 57-year-old CEO of the Yokohama-based share house operator. “Many Japanese also want to live in our properties for the purpose of developing their language skills.”

An official with Real Estate Economic Institute Co., a market research firm based in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, said a growing number of share houses in Tokyo appear to be accepting non-Japanese occupants.

According to the Justice Ministry, some 106,000 non-Japanese were staying in Tokyo as of June 2017 to engage in work that requires their specialized skills and knowledge. The number was up about 34,000 from the end of 2012 and accounted for 20.4 percent of all 521,000 or so foreign residents of Tokyo, the ratio being higher than the national average of 11.9 percent.

“That is typical of Tokyo, with its concentration of companies with cross-border operations and research institutions,” a metropolitan government official said.

NEED TO PROMOTE ENTREPRENEURSHIP

The Nishi-Kasai area of Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward has a community of IT engineers who came to Japan from India to deal with the Y2K bug, which was feared could cause computer malfunctions at the dawn of the year 2000. Edogawa Ward is home to 3,811 Indian residents, the most of all municipalities in Tokyo.

Indian restaurants and food shops line the streets around Nishi-Kasai Station.

The area offers convenient transportation to the Otemachi and other office districts of Tokyo. Reasonable housing rents in the area also made it a favorite with Indians, sources said.

Jagmohan Chandrani, chair of the Indian Community of Edogawa, has been assisting his compatriots visiting Japan, where he came to live in 1978.

An increasing number of Indians are coming to Japan for business purposes, Chandrani, 65, said, noting that India’s first high-speed rail line will be built and operated by using Japanese Shinkansen technology.

Indians are interacting with the rest of the local population during festivals and on other occasions, Chandrani added.

Along with offering the new status of residence for non-Japanese highly skilled professionals, the metropolitan government also began providing free counseling services, such as on how to find business partners, in hopes of attracting more overseas companies to the Japanese capital.

As a result, more than 500 entities set up operations in Tokyo in fiscal years 2012 through 2016. The metropolitan government’s ongoing target is to attract 400 foreign companies between fiscal years 2017 and 2020.

The metropolitan government is also eager to have more businesses started up by non-Japanese individuals in Tokyo.

“We will develop an attractive business environment so there will be a lot of 'unicorns,' ” Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told an audience of about 70, including foreign nationals, when she attended a seminar on entrepreneurship the metropolitan government organized in May in the Roppongi district.

“Unicorns” refer to privately owned business ventures with extremely high valuations.

“In the face of a drop in the working-age population, we need to attract new technologies and services and increase the productivity of Tokyo’s businesses through partnership,” a metropolitan government official said.

Startups, however, accounted for only 5.6 percent of all companies in Tokyo in fiscal 2015, far below the corresponding figures of more than 10 percent in the United States and Britain.

Ayumi Minamida, a chief researcher with Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting Co., has her own viewpoint on measures for attracting more non-Japanese entrepreneurs and foreign businesses. Simplifying official procedures, expanding scenes where English can be used, improving living environments for non-Japanese and other similar steps will be effective in attracting them, she said.

“There is a need for a paradigm shift from the thinking that companies will continue coming to Japan as before,” Minamida said. “Measures should be taken in quick succession.”

(This article was written by Yukiko Oga, Miki Aoki and Yuichiro Oka)