Japan’s ageing population means its workforce is shrinking, but thanks to the founder of Gaijin Bank, Tokyo is hiring more foreign employees. Meet the man on a mission to internationalise Tokyo’s employment culture.

After peaking at just over 128 million in 2010, the past decade has seen declining numbers in Japan’s total population. Yet, within the same time period, the number of foreign workers has doubled, reaching almost 2.5 million. It’s a shift being recognised at a national level. The Japanese government implemented an immigration reform on 1 April 2019, allowing foreign nationals to apply for a five-year visa in 14 sectors, including nursing, construction, and hospitality alongside a new system ruling pay parity between foreign and local Japanese workers. Entrepreneur and ex-banker Naosuke Sugihara was one of those who saw this shift, becoming an early advocate of the mission to internationalise Japan. In early 2016, he founded Gaijin Bank, an employment agency to not only help foreigners find jobs but also modernise his country’s working culture. He tells us why, for him, the future of Tokyo is rooted in diversity.

Gaijin Bank

Having studied in both the US and the UK and started his career in the financial industry trading foreign bonds, Naosuke was well aware both of the benefits of an internationalised workforce, and of the difficulties those international workers had on entering Japan. “While the Japanese government is trying to get more and more qualified foreigners into the country, there is a real issue about communication due to the language and cultural barriers between companies and foreigners,” he states, seeing a system where, much of the time, jobs just didn’t find their way into foreign hands. From his perspective, however, there is an urgent need to change. “We cannot survive with the current way. Japan has to change and I believe Japan has to be more diverse to do so.”

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This is where Gaijin Bank and its parent company MTIC, ‘Make Tokyo an International City,’ come in. “Most of the Japanese employers who have not hired foreign workers believe in bad stereotypes. We try to eliminate those ideas and correct them,” insists Naosuke. Foreigners looking for work find Gaijin Bank through various social media platforms or organically via Google. After registering on the website, Gaijin Bank tries to help them find appropriate work. “This financial year, we placed more than 550 people in industries ranging from education to nursing, hospitality to engineering,” says Naosuke proudly. “Japan’s society requires more blue-collar workers and those who are willing to work in those industries need more support to fit into Japanese society and work environments,” he explains. Throughout the employment process and after, Gaijin Bank also helps with translation. In the future, they are also looking at including services such as help with real estate and documentation for immigration and tax, as well as trying to forge a community encouraging integration into local communities and Tokyo life.

Creating a company like Gaijin Bank hasn’t been an easy task, but Naosuke believes he is moving with the tide. “At the end of 2017, 1.3 million foreigners were working here, but there will be more than 3 million in 2025,” he explains. “MTIC will be scaling up with this good industry momentum and will go into Asian and African markets.” If the future is international, this entrepreneur is determined to be a part of it.


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