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.]

22 thoughts on “Counting the Flyjin

  1. Nice analysis, but don’t see the point of the re-entry permit section. Most people who get one just get a multiple-entry re-entry permit, valid for three years. Not sure where this would show up in the stats…

    1. I hadn’t considered the multiple-entry situation, where, Ben, you are right that you don’t need to go down to Immigration. The one permit is good for multiple flights.

      I hope you are managing well in Sendai.

  2. Hoofin, I know this will not change your wrong-headed thinking on this one bit, but it is simple:

    Immigration counts the numbers of foreigners coming into and going out of Japan on a daily basis. They keep records of these numbers.

    Last year, during the period in question (March 11 through March 25), about 20,000 foreigners left.

    This year, during the same period, about 161,000 foreigners left.

    These numbers are departures only. Foreigners only. Stop confusing yourself with “Is this net? What about the 600,000 people who use the airport every week anyway? Yadda yadda yadda…”

    The answer is very simple: 141,000 more, as in additional, foreigners left during that 2 week period. You can explain some of that by tourists who had just shown up and did a quick U-turn, sure. But there is no way you can explain all of the 141,000 number that way.

    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?

    Huh? How are these inconsistent? You seem to be basing your argument on the (very) faulty logic that there is not an increase in help wanted ads. Most foreigners don’t use, and for a simple reason – they don’t speak English. Using an (almost purely) English-language help-wanted site aimed primarily at folks looking for AET work is no way to figure out how many people bolted for the door after March 11.

    1. Well, first “LB”, we need to set a few things straight.

      I don’t appreciate your going over to somebody else’s site and saying a number of negative things about me that weren’t true. You and your pal who keep on Dave Aldwinckle maybe think you’ve got something going as, like, the know-it-all wiseasses of the Japan expats, but I have low tolerance for that kind of shit. Your commentary is all over the internet, and the number of times where you’ve just been flat-out wrong in your assessments isn’t like it’s something no one could quantify.

      This is you on Japan Probe in July 2009, about the arrest of an American in Shinjuku, which actually did happen:

      You know, so think twice before you hit send. You, and your buddy Senor Science. People let me know who you are, because even though I’m not read like Debito, I do get read.

      Now on to your concern:

      When I say “net”, I mean that the people being counted were residents of Japan when they got on the plane. You are interpreting that number to mean that 161,000 people (less some 20,000 other who had left in the March 2010 period) are people who were foreign residents who left.

      That’s nonsense. Look at your own source, which is the article I linked. It’s also telling you that 33,400 foreigners came into Japan during the March 11 to 22 period. So 33,400 in, less 161,000 out is 137,500. Tourists? Residents? It’s not clear.

      Now, same article, same source. We’re told that last year’s entrants in the period was a number, where 33,400 is 60% less. So, algebra. How do we figure it? 33,400 / (1-.6) = 83,500. That is how many people came into Japan in the period March 11 to 22 last year.

      137,500 left Japan this March period, but 63,500 (83,500-20,000) came into Japan in the same period last year.

      It isn’t simply the fact that this large number went out, it’s the fact that this number, whatever it tracks, has some pretty wide swings. Am I to conclude that 63,500 foreigners, of whatever nationality or native language, were hired in Japan during March 2010? I was there. I didn’t see it. Did you? Where was the talk about all the IN-jin?

      Now, you then say that Gaijin Pot or the ACCJ E-central mail list would not be evidential. Companies that lose employees to the exit door at Narita would not be looking to hire replacements? Really? Seriously? 140,000 resident foreigners (not tourists) allegedly left Japan. We’re not going to see any effect in the expat employment market?

      You know, when your little crowd around Tepido gets its act together and starts producing something original, you might have something to say. But right now, LB, you just seem like someone who likes to twist things and pick fights over the internet.

      1. Something is telling me that there are a LOT of reporters out there who aren’t getting their facts straight.

        Bloomberg quoted the same immigration official and came out with completely different numbers.

        MOJ also has some numbers that don’t agree with EITHER of those: 384,348 foreigners IN versus 343.323 foreigners OUT of Narita (on a full monthly basis for 2010 but that won’t extrapolate out.)

        1. I really think the numbers going around are apples and oranges. Thanks for your links, Chuckers.

          What you say about whether the reporters are getting it right or not, I wonder a bit, too. Part of the blowback I got on a Mutant Frog post, was that I didn’t stick around for the part where the people were discussing whether Japanese had been using the term Flyjin. I simply assumed that two reporters, for major newspapers, both got it right. (Why lie or embellish?) They could have easily said, “expats staying in Japan have coined a term for those who have left.” They’re reporters, after all. It would be like a lawyer deciding to make up a case site that didn’t exist.

          Bottom line is that I just don’t think 140,000 resident foreigners left Japan.

  3. You are hand-waving over a lot of numbers without sources and a lot of those numbers appear to be incorrect at best.

    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?

    That is a complete non-sequitor. You are heavily implying that the only people that left are English teachers. That is obviously false.

    In 2009, there were 2.1 Million registered foreigners. Of those, 409,000 were “special” permanent residents.

    18,400 or so were on “official” teacher visas and another 69,000 or so in Humanities.

    1. Chuckers, taking what I said:

      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?

      Nowhere am I saying that there are 100,000 English teachers, or only English teachers left. What I’m strongly implying is that if there is a Flyjin phenomenon, you are going to see it in specific industries. I think that’s a very good conclusion, in fact.

      I see you linked to Ministry of Justice numbers, but I want to use 2007 numbers from the Japan Times instead. There, they are showing 580,000 special permanent residents, and it looks like in my original post I confused permanent residents with special permanent residents. I think the number of people on renewing visas is something like the 800,000. It may be more, but not much more, and the point is to say that of the category that is like to pick up and go, 140,000 of even 1,000,000 is a lot. 14%. How? How? Elsewhere, I have already discussed that hundreds of thousands of travelers go through Narita each week. These are obviously not residents, special PR, PR or renewable visa. They are travellers.

      People that want to say that this six-figure number of foreigner residents picked up and left Japan because of the spinach, I don’t know what to say. I’m not convinced. I think the number is much, much lower.

      Unless you want to tell me that a lot of Chinese and/or Koreans who were farm laborers in Tohoku left. Yes, maybe. But why are they being picked on by some as “Flyjin”?

      1. Elsewhere, I have already discussed that hundreds of thousands of travelers go through Narita each week. These are obviously not residents, special PR, PR or renewable visa. They are travellers.

        I hope that is just a poorly constructed set of sentences rather than a complete logic failure. Residents, special PR, PR, or those on renewable visas can be travelers too. And they will, as situations warrant, use Narita and will be counted in those numbers.

        The JT numbers you used are also about 5 years out of date and it does specifically say:

        Statistically, however, their numbers are declining yearly as the elderly pass away and younger Koreans opt to become Japanese citizens.

        1. To me, the sentence says that there are these hundreds of thousands of people going through Narita, not in the category of residents.

          There are obviously residents of Japan who fly out of Japan. I was referring to the part of the 35,000,000 or so (2007 estimate) who are bona fide travellers to (and then from) Japan.

          Chuckers, I like the JT article because it’s in English (which is the language I’m using), and it has the nice graph. The number of special PR may be as low as 400,000 now. The idea is that out of the 2 million, there is a sizable percentage for whom Japan is a permanent home. My estimate was 60%, or 1.2 million, leaving 800,000 as those for whom Japan is just one places of several that the different people may call home.

          Having 140,000 of them just leave Japan is quite remarkable, if true. Even more remarkable is if 140,000 is coming from the 2 million overall, since it means a number of PR and SPR called it quits.

  4. The whole question of this post is being overlooked and getting lost in the number reports. Where are all the job openings in specific markets if everyone left? Let’s just wait for all the articles in the Japanese media in the coming months about how exactly foreigners leaving has affected Japan to settle this.

    And perhaps the real place you should be looking is the gaijin registration numbers. How many gaijin cards got turned in at the airport in march vs last year? 100,000? Doubt it.

    1. You don’t have to turn in a gaijin card if you have a re-entry permit. Maybe this mass wave of 100,000+ are people just sitting it out until things settle . . .

  5. So how does that qualify them as fly-jin? And in that case would they have even quit their jobs? Plenty of people took vacations in March, and frankly that HELPED things. It means less demand for food and water and electricity from the areas that need it. Why would anyone criticize a temporary leaver? I thought the whole flyjin thing was people leaving permanently. Those are the numbers people should give a shit about (and report accurately or not at all).

    1. Good points. I don’t know how they get to be flyjin. Are they hyphenating flyjin now, by the way?

  6. So lets find out how many alien registrations were returned at airports in March compared to last year. That should shut people up.

    1. No, it won’t prove anything. Hoofin himself, in this very post, wrote about the thousands of people applying for re-entry permits. Hell, I know people in the past who left permanently using re-entry permits so they could keep their gaijin card as a souvenir.

      I would speculate that most of the flyjin left using a REP so that if the shit didn’t reach the fan, they could come back and perhaps pick up where they left off (or so they would expect. Hi boss, I’m back! Nothing’s changed in my situation just because I bolted for a week and left you guys in the lurch, has it?)

  7. I have not looked at the stats because that doesn’t interest me too terribly much, however…today I spoke to staff at my company and they have all their little fingers and toes crossed hoping that people will be back before the start of the new school year. Many teachers are still MIA, and they have not posted job listings etc. They are just praying that these people come back.

    In addition, I have friends, not in the education racket that have been promoted due to open positions in their respective companies. The former position holder took off and the corporate world seems less willing to wait and hope-hope than the English pimps.

    Also, several people I know are gone, with no intentions of coming back in the near future.

    The figures, I am unaware of and have no interest in but, it is clear a significant amount of people left.

    1. Gaijinass, I appeciate your input. I am still in the camp that says the phenomenon is small. But others “on the ground” are saying, no, it’s bigger than small.

      Nice also to see that you didn’t change to be Flyjinass.

  8. Thanks for filling in so well while was on vacation this winter, Hoofin. Much appreciated. Also congrats on getting the creator of the pejorative “flyjin” to comment to your site. Shows your audience takes you seriously.

    I’ve sourced your blog in today’s blog post.

    Thanks for the discussion on the subject, and engaging the hater commenters so assiduously. Bests, Debito

  9. I started the new semestser on Monday and was suprised that four out of the nine p/t time gaijin J-uni teachers were absent. Two of the gaijin teachers who did show held “flyjin” status and had left Japan for a few weeks following the disaster. I`m sure sure what`s going on but I was surprised at the number of gaijins that were a no-show for the first day.

    1. Is this typical to have so many p/t uni teachers out? It sounds like p/t meant little commitment from the school.

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