Organized Panel Session
Amidst social and demographic changes in the globalizing Japan, foreign labour play an increasing role in both Japan’s economic development and the transformation of society. This paper examines the multiple dimensions of mobility for a specific group of the foreign workforce, young European white-collar employees in Tokyo. Based on four years of ethnographic research, I argue that the case of the highly-educated Europeans accentuates Japanese firms’ and society’s struggles to embrace changes introduced by the foreign work force. The foreign employees face a variety of barriers to career development and integration into the team of co-workers. They adopt a range of practices and strategies at the workplace to render their life in Japan more satisfactory. The most common pattern the group displays is organizational mobility. Many of the young employees change jobs, type of organization and occupational industry repeatedly in order to enhance their career opportunities and secure their status as foreigners in Japan. Findings reveal their questionable social and career mobility which results in another significant pattern: continuous geographical mobility. Despite the young Europeans’ high investment in the Japanese language, many migrate onwards. The next destinations are other global cities, among which Asian hubs like Singapore seem to absorb the highly educated foreign labor more successfully. The paper concludes with assessing these foreigners’ social and geographical mobility trajectories in Japan and beyond over the years and discusses the implications which success or failure to incorporate foreign workers into society could have for the country’s future.