Research Features
Is Migration Not Just an Option for Now or After Retirement? Overseas Migration as a Lifestyle

There are plenty of people in the current generation, not just retirees, who dream of living abroad. In recent years, it seems that even for average families, the number of people who move their base of living from Japan to an overseas location has increased. What does overseas migration really mean, what is appealing about it, and what are some of the issues that exist? We spoke to Professor Jun Nagatomo, who researches immigration and emigration and has long-term experience with living in Australia, to get his thoughts.

Jun Nagatomo
Professor, Kwansei Gakuin University School of International Studies

After working at an electric company, obtained a Master’s degree (Intercultural Studies) and a doctorate degree in Sociology (Ph.D., University of Queensland). Joined Kwansei Gakuin University in 2010. Has served in his current capacity since 2018. Major research topics include the migration process to Japanese migrants to modern Australia and the settlement process, how migrants’ lifestyle values change and migrant connections, and Ama-cho in the Oki Islands of Shimane Prefecture. Major books he has written include “Migration as Transnational Leisure: The Japanese Lifestyle Migrants in Australia” (published by Sairyusha) and “Learning About Culture and Society in a Globalizing Age: New Basic Education for Cultural Anthropology/Sociology” (published by Sekaishisosha).

• As people’s values have shifted from “social success” to “self-actualization,” the nature of migration has changed, as well.
• It is expected that domestic “lifestyle migration,” caused by shifting values, will continue in the future.
• Examining your true nature is key for migration, as well as planning your life.

By acting strategically, it is possible to acquire a permanent resident visa through means other than international marriage.

What is the basis for referring to movement as migration? How does this differ from taking a long-term trip for an extended period of time? As Prof. Nagatomo explains, “In truth, the meaning of migration is murky, and different researchers perceive it differently. The term ‘migrant’ refers to people who move somewhere and live in that place. More broadly, international migration can be seen as referring not just to permanent residents who live in a local community, but to people with student or working holiday visas, as well as people with visas longer than three months who are stationed somewhere for the long term. Of course, we couldn’t say that someone who lived in a place for less than three months had migrated there. However, if they were to repeatedly use three-month tourist visas to live in places over the course of a year, that wouldn’t be tourism, but having residences in multiple places. We could call that a form of migration. As dual residency and remote work have gained attention amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become difficult to make clear distinctions.”

While people acquire visas for various purposes when living somewhere over the long term, for permanent resident visas, international marriages are the first thing that spring to mind. What other means for acquiring visas exist, and can anyone acquire those visas? Thinking about those questions again, we don’t know the answers at all. “By fulfilling certain conditions, it is possible to acquire a permanent resident visa through means other than international marriages, but the systems and conditions vary from country to country. In Australia and New Zealand, my research specialties, if people acquire permanent resident visas, they typically acquire ‘skilled independent visas’. Applicants for this visa receive points based on factors such as their work experience, educational background, age, and English ability, and those who score more than a certain number of points can gain permanent residency. Each year, the list of desired occupations for that selection process is updated, and point values are increased depending on which occupations have a labor shortage. I lived in Australia for a total of six years, and immigrants took up a variety of occupations. From doctors to plumbers, immigrants are working in all fields. Even among Japanese people, there were quite a few people who attended vocational schools such as furniture craftsmen, beauticians, and pastry chefs in order to get jobs with a high point value. If you act strategically, it’s not that difficult to acquire a permanent resident visa.”

Points are also awarded for having a family and increasing the population in Australian society, so the younger you are, the more points you get. Having this point system for permanent residency is not necessarily special. As Professor Nagatomo tells us, "Although it is not well known, Japan actually has a point system. However, the system in Japan is set up to admit elite immigrants, and it is difficult to say that it functions well. We could call the models in Canada, Australia and New Zealand successful examples of point-based systems. Australia used to be a society with a ‘White Australia policy,’ which chose immigrants by race. However, after shifting towards multiculturalism in the 1970s, it began to choose immigrants for their skills. When Australia introduced its multicultural policies, it merged the Ministry of Immigration and the Ministry of Labour, and positioned immigrants as a means of filling holes in the labor market. As a result, immigration by Asians greatly increased in the 90s, which was met by antipathy from locals and caused social problems, but now they have completely blended into society. It is clear that immigrants contribute to the economy, and people who grew up in an environment where it was normal to work with immigrants now form the backbone of society."

Prof. Nagatomo says, “It’s not particularly difficult to acquire a permanent resident visa in Australia”

At the overseas destination you migrate to, it is your personality, not your language ability, which will be tested.

Many people have vague admiration for the idea of overseas migration. However, what is the actual appeal of doing so? With regard to Australia, as Prof. Nagatomo recalls, having a good work-life balance is a major benefit. “Really, everyone leaves early. Some people may imagine that Aussies are lazy, but that’s not the case. They work from about 7:30 in the morning, then go home around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. In the evening, you can smell barbecue cooking in the neighborhood. Isn’t that great? At the elementary school where my child went to school, the teacher left at 3 PM, just like the kids. I felt that each of them enjoyed their personal time, and that Australia is a society where people live abundant lives."

In Australia, every park has a free BBQ area and shaded places to play

In Australia, which has a robust social security system, if you have permanent residency, it is very possible to live on a part-time salary. However, this also raises the question of what points to be aware of when actually migrating overseas.

"Some migrants will avoid socializing with other Japanese people living in the area, but you should work to have relationships with people you get along with. For young people, they may be eager to keep their distance, but you will also deal with many problems living abroad, and depression can sink in. When that happens, it’s immensely valuable to have people whom you can talk to in your native language. I myself was truly saved by the Japanese family that lived two doors down from me at my first residence in Australia. After that is your approach to English. No matter how proficient you become, English will always be your second language. I think it’s important to brush that off. Local people will not care about whether your English is fluent or not. Rather, they will look at your personality, such as whether you can communicate with a smile.”

Certainly, in Japan, we don’t care about foreigners’ Japanese fluency. On the other hand, the idea that ‘people will look at your personality’ strikes a chord. According to Prof. Nagatomo, “I have observed Japanese migrants through field work, and many of them carry baggage from when they lived in Japan. Not a few of them speak boastfully about how they worked at so-and-so company or were involved in this sort of project in Japan. However, those stories don’t resonate at all with Aussies. People immersed in Japanese corporate society have this habit, so you should be careful. Rather, Aussies look at the essence of people, such as whether they can talk about rugby, introduce Japanese fishing, or talk deeply about life while drinking beer."

Migrants tend to range from somewhat affluent retirees to middle-class people who are raising children.

According to data from fall of last year, there are 1,340,000 people with Japanese nationality who are living overseas. Broken down by country, about 32% of them live in America, while about 8% of them live in China, making up roughly 40% of the Japanese migrant community. Australia is in third places, followed by Thailand and Canada. “While there are also many businessmen on long-term visas in America, not just permanent residents, the population of Japanese migrants in China is overwhelmingly businessmen. There are almost 100,000 Japanese living in Australia over the long term, not limited to permanent residents and those on business. The number of Japanese people migrating overseas, which had been trending slightly upward over the course of many years, has shrunk by 1-2% due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the groups which have been decreasing in number are those which make up about 60% of the overseas migrant community, namely businessmen, people on working holidays, and exchange students. The number of permanent residents is slowly growing, as it has in the past.

The slight increase in the number of permanent residents appears to be mainly due to visas obtained through international marriages. Many of them are women, and a greater number of women take working holidays and join study abroad programs, which can also be catalysts for international marriages. In Australia’s case, Prof. Nagatomo says, “65% of Japanese permanent residents and long-term residents are women.” This trend in recent years has been called the ‘feminization of migration.’ What other trends exist in migration, and how have these trends changed with the times? As Prof. Nagatomo explains, “Before World War II, the people who crossed the seas to go to Hawaii and Australia were trying to seek their fortune; so-called ‘economic migrants.’ However, in the post-war domestic labor market, the demand for workers increased, so the number of economic migrants decreased. From then on, through the period of rapid economic growth and the bubble economy of the late 80s and early 90s, an increasing number of people in their 50s and 60s, who were not necessarily wealthy, but who were somewhat affluent, migrated to Australia and other countries for retirement. Afterward, there was an even greater shift in the mid-90s. There was an increase in the number of people who were raising children, and migrated in their thirties or forties. These people were in the middle of the social ladder; people in quite ordinary households.” One of the reasons for this shift was that a growing number of people gave up on migrating as retirees due to the collapse of the bubble economy.

This is not difficult to imagine, but according to Prof. Nagatomo’s analysis, a larger aspect of the shift was a change to people’s values. “With the collapse of the bubble economy, the value system of ‘living your life while sticking to a single company’ became unworkable. A movement for people to try and live life in a way true to themselves became conspicuously apparent. Graduating from a good university and joining a company does not necessarily mean an untroubled life, and more and more people are finding value in jobs where you can see the results of your labor. You could also say that people’s values shifted from “social success” to “self-actualization.” Cases of middle-class ‘lifestyle migration,’ where people migrate for reasons other than financial purposes, such as wanting to enrich one's life or wanting to expand the education of their children overseas, are growing in number. Some of them have moved overseas to countries such as Australia, and for some, it has led to I-turn migration in Japan and having dual residence."

A graph based on the 2022 edition of the “Annual Report of Statistics on Japanese Nationals Overseas” by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2020 and 2021 had decreased numbers due to the impact of COVID-19)

Can you find an axis for your life outside of work, which is merely one part of your life?

While it has become hard to go abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic, domestically, I-turn migration and dual residence are showing a surge. Prof. Nagatomo believes that going forward, lifestyle migration due to changing values will continue to happen. “After conducting interview surveys, I learned that people who migrate overseas and people who migrate domestically have similar mindsets. There are changes which have become more apparent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as people living increasingly diverse lifestyles and returning to rural areas from cities. Values in urban cities of winning competitions, achieving results and earning profits, are being reevaluated, and values centered on how to enrich one's life are becoming typical.” Do you have your own essence without the name of the company or other organization to which you belong, and your job title there? Prof. Nagatomo says that he considers it important to reconsider himself in a light other than work.

"I always think, 'If you quit your job, you'll just be an old guy.' That’s because a job title means absolutely nothing for talking to old guys every week at a local fishing spot. I always tell students who are about to find a job, ‘Search for an axis to your life.’ They tend to decide where they want to work based on their image of the industry and the name of the company, but when they start working, they realize that the life part is important. Work is merely a part of your life. The values of Aussies had an effect on me, as well.” Getting fulfillment from your job and achieving self-actualization through work is important. However, if you consider what will happen after you retire, the future is hazy. “If you think about yourself in a light other than work starting your thirties and forties, you won’t be shocked after retirement,” Prof. Nagatomo says. When reevaluating our own true nature, we feel we gained a broader view that perhaps overseas migration—which we previously regarded as a special option—could be an option for a better lifestyle.

For Prof. Nagatomo, time spent fishing is important for enriching his life