Counting the Flyjin

A topic I wanted to get off, this week, but there’s a bit of a debate going on. Flyjin, as you recall, is the name being to non-Japanese in Japan who’ve left the country since the March 11 disaster (“311” maybe). They have been portrayed by some as people whose commitment to Japan is particularly weak. Painted, pretty much, with that same broad brush.

I’ve concluded that the number of expats who’ve permanently left Japan is rather small, and mostly comprising those whose commitments from “Japan” weren’t that great. It doesn’t make any sense why someone would stay if their hosts, so to speak, only intended them to be there for a fixed period anyway.

So here is the debate:

The number 140,000 has been put out as an estimate of the Flyjin. That number feels extremely high, because you’d be seeing all of these job ads popping up—and not just for English teachers, the most likely Flyjin. Suddenly, that over abundance of back-packing twentysomethings from the Anglosphere countries would have turned into a scarcity, and the major feeder firms like Eikaiwa chains and Dispatch ALT companies would go begging.

Hasn’t happened.

Another reason a six-figure number is too high is that it disregards flows of people that occur naturally throughout a typical Japan year. For example, about 35,000,000 people travelled through Narita International Airport in a recent year. That’s an average of 673,077 a week. Maybe mostly Japanese, but many, many foreigners.

Haneda International, Asia’s busiest, also has overseas flights, and maybe about 60,000,000 going through, but let’s put the international flights all in Narita.

On March 18th, the Japanese government reported that 20,000 non-Japanese in Japan had applied for re-entry permits to leave (and return) to Japan. Remember, you don’t need a re-entry permit to leave Japan permanently. The re-entry permit allows you to keep the visa status you have, and not void the visa when you leave. If there are 2,000,000 foreign residents in Japan, and about 800,000 are not the “special permanent resident” Koreans and Chinese [or other permanent residents], you are going to have 20,000 people want to leave and come back even in typical times.

Moreover, other reports have 161,000 foreigners having left Japan as of March 25, compared to a mere 20,000 (coincidentally) in the period the year before.

Therefore, 161,000 people, less the 20,000 who normally leave in a typical March (like last year maybe) would be Flyjin: 141,000.

But to me, the real amount of Flyjin are the 161,000 who left who weren’t part of the transient, in-and-out traffic of Japan anyway. As I said, 600,000+ people are going through Narita in a typical week. Isn’t it possible that most of the 161,000 were on their way home sooner or later in any event? And is it a “gross” number, or a “net” number? Is it net 20,000? Net 161,000? Net 161,000 is easily explained: few people were travelling to Japan. Inbound traffic is going to be artificially low for the next several months, at least.

I don’t dispute that people have left Japan. But the idea that even 100,000 foreigners left Japan is a little extreme–when, as I said, there are maybe 800,000 in the category.

One of the internet hecklers I caught, on something, suggested that not everyone works as an English teacher. But it’s inconsistent with the idea that 100,000 people left. Which is it?

The number, whatever it really is, isn’t very big.

[Update 4/6/11: Japan Today (Kyodo) is reporting that the number of tourist visitors to Japan is considerably lower than the same period in March 2010.]