In Japan, Chinese take jobs to serve Chinese visitors

By Beixi (Bessie) Xu

When you walk on Tokyo’s street, it is not surprising to see store signs in Chinese, hear a Chinese accent or see Chinese names on the name tags of waiters or store clerks. In nearly every store one sees Chinese clerks who speak Mandarin to help Chinese shoppers pick out their favorite products.​

Chinese signs in the shopping area near the Shibuya subway station.

There were 674,879 Chinese living in Japan last year, ten times as many as in 1984, according to Japanese government data.

Yan Lu, a 27-year-old from Hebei province, works in Zoff, a glasses shop near the big Omotesandou subway station.

She earns 200,000 yen [$1,755] a month and rests at least one day a week, eight times a month. Her apartment rent is 50,000 yen [$438], one third of her salary.

Yan Lu, a 27-year-old from Hebei province, works in Zoff, a glasses shop near the big Omotesandou subway station.

“In Japan, the living standard is higher than China, for example, you can rent a house by yourself here, and your money is totally enough, but in China the rent is so high that you can only rent a room,” said Lu.

Lu went to college in China, and studied Japanese. She got her master’s degree in Hokkaido University, majoring in sightseeing. After graduation she hunted for work for half a year and finally got a job in Tokyo. This year her company hired 85 new clerks, 10 of them Chinese.

Lu returns to China once a year. Her parents support her working in Japan, but they still hope she can come back to China in the future. Lu said she likes Japan and she enjoys traveling with her friends during vacation. Perhaps she will apply for another master’s in the U.S or in a European country.

Yan Lu (center) has several Chinese friends who also work in Japan.

Qiuyue Zhu, from Anhui province, works in Big Camera near the Shibuya subway station.

Qiuyue Zhu, from Anhui province, works in Big Camera near the Shibuya station.

Zhu works five days a week and she plans to transfer to a big food company, because her major is food and production. Like her, many Chinese work in Japan, and her company employs 60 Chinese. She earns 220,000 Yen [$1,931] a month and every clerk gets the same salary in her company.

Qiuyue Zhu works for Big Camera in this electronics shopping mall.

Zhu graduated from Kyushu University in Japan. She learned Japanese during college, and practiced Japanese while working part-time. Now she serves both Japanese and Chinese customers. She said the working opportunity in Japan is limited and she plans to stay in this company longer. In Japan, employees need to stay in a company for at least three years if they want to transfer to a new job. Zhu still prefers to go back to China in the future.

Xuebing Chen, a waiter in Fengshen ramen restaurant.

Xuebing Chen makes noodles in Fengshen ramen restaurant.

Chen comes from Fujian province, and he’s been working in Japan for eight years.

Fengshen ramen restaurant near Shinagawa Station.

Unlike foreign students who study in the U.S., international students in Japan can take jobs, for a maximum of 28 hours a week.

“Most of my classmates get 80,000 yen [$702] per month for the part time, if we work for 28 hours a week, we can get 110,000 yen [$965] per month,” said Xinxin Chang, 24, an Aichi International Academy student who formerly worked two part-time jobs in a convenience store and a restaurant. Her living expenses in Japan are 30,000 [$263] to 50,000 [$438] yen per month, and her annual tuition fee is 600,000 [$5267] yen.

Xinxin Chang is having dinner with her boss and friends after work.

“I like doing part-time jobs, on the one side, I can earn money to cover my tuition fee, and ease my parents’ burden. Most importantly, I can practice my Japanese, it is really beneficial,” added Chang.

Chang worked in a Korean restaurant, and her Korean boss was very nice to his employees. He cooked dinner for them to celebrate Chang’s birthday. She said working in the restaurant was enjoyable, and she made new friends and had fun during her part-time jobs.

Xinxin Chang is celebrating her birthday with a cake baked by her Korean boss in his restaurant.

Ailin Shi, a 26-year-old master’s degree student, who studies Welfare in Nagoya University, also works two part-time jobs.

Part-time waitress Ailin Shi (center) with her boss (left) and a friend.

One of her jobs, in a restaurant, takes her nine hours a week and another one is in a pharmacy, which takes her 15 hours. Shi earns 100,000 yen [$877] a month and she spends most of her money on traveling and daily routine.

“The tuition fee is free in public school, so I don’t need to ask my parents to sponsor me, now I can use the money to do whatever I want,” said Shi. “Nowadays, I only spend two and half days a week to do these part-time jobs, because I want to focus on my master’s study and make a good balance between them.”

Ailin Shi (left) and a classmate in Nagoya University.

When asked whether she will get a full-time job after graduation in Japan, Shi replies she doesn’t want to stay here, because she has no sense of belonging. She wants to finish her studies and find a job in China.

​Photo at top: Ailin Shi (right) and her boss in a cosmetics company.(Beixi Xu/MEDILL)​