Indian tech workers are incompetent, inexperienced and SME leeches. Stay
the course, Japan. Keep them out.
In many ways, Yogendra Puranik is an immigrant success story.
Mr. Puranik, 45, joined the initial wave of Indian tech workers who went
to Japan in the early 2000s. He became a Japanese citizen and in 2019 won elected office in Tokyo, a first for anyone from India. This year, he was hired as the principal of a public school.
Now, though, as Japanese companies scramble to lure more highly educated Indians like Mr. Puranik to fill a yawning shortage of IT engineers, he is under no illusion about the challenges that Japan, and those it attracts, will face.
Recruiters call it a crucial test of Japan’s ability to compete with the United States and Europe for increasingly sought-after global talent. But lower pay and steep language and cultural barriers make Japan less attractive for many. Rigid corporate structures can frustrate newcomers.
And Japan, which has long been ambivalent about the presence of
foreigners, lacks an established system to integrate them into Japanese life.
“These foreigners are coming, and there is no communication between the Japanese and foreigners,” Mr. Puranik said at his home in an Indian neighborhood in eastern Tokyo. “There is no inclusivity happening.”
As it rapidly ages, Japan desperately needs more workers to fuel the world’s third-largest economy and plug gaps in everything from farming and factory work to elder care and nursing. Bending to this reality, the
country has eased strict limits on immigration in hopes of attracting hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, most notably through a landmark expansion of work visa rules approved in 2018.
The need for international talent is perhaps nowhere greater than in the tech sector, where the government estimates that the shortfall in workers will reach nearly 800,000 in the coming years as the country pursues a long-overdue national digitization effort.
The pandemic, by pushing work, education and many other aspects of daily life onto online platforms, has magnified the technological shortcomings
of a country once seen as a leader in high tech.
Japanese companies, particularly smaller ones, have struggled to wean themselves from physical paperwork and adopt digital tools. Government reports and independent analyses show Japanese companies’ use of cloud technologies is nearly a decade behind those in the United States.
India produces a vast pool of 1.5 million engineering graduates each year who could help Japan play digital catch-up. When Indian workers do answer the call, many speak admiringly of the cleanliness and safety of Japanese cities, and say their salaries allow them to live comfortably, if not lavishly. Those who have studied Japanese language and culture can be effusive in their praise.
“As it happens to anyone who comes to Japan, you fall in love,” said Shailesh Date, 50, who first went to the country in 1996 and is now the
head of technology for the American financial services company Franklin Templeton Japan in Tokyo. “It’s the most beautiful country to live in.”
Yet the Indian newcomers mostly admire Japan from across a divide. Many of Japan’s 36,000 Indians are concentrated in the Edogawa section of eastern Tokyo, where they have their own vegetarian restaurants, places of worship and specialty grocery stores. The area has two major Indian schools where children study in English and follow Indian curricular standards.
Nirmal Jain, an Indian educator, said she founded the Indian International School in Japan in 2004 for children who would not thrive in Japan’s one- size-fits-all public education system. The school now has 1,400 students
on two campuses and is building a new, larger facility in Tokyo.
Ms. Jain said that separate schools were appropriate in a place like
Japan, where people tend to keep their distance from outsiders.
“I mean, they are nice people, everything is perfect, but when it comes to person-to-person relationships, it’s kind of not there,” she said.
Mr. Puranik said fellow Indians often called him for help with emergencies or conflicts — the wandering father with dementia who ends up in police custody, the daughter mistakenly stopped by border agents at the airport.
He once even fielded a call from a worker who wanted to sue his Japanese boss for kicking him.
His own son, he said, was bullied in a Japanese school — by the teacher. Mr. Puranik said he repeatedly talked to the teacher, to no avail. “She would always try to make him a criminal,” he said, adding that some teachers “feel challenged if the kid is doing anything differently.”
A similar dynamic can sometimes be found in the workplace.
Many Indian tech workers in Japan say they encounter ironclad corporate hierarchies and resistance to change, a paradox in an industry that
thrives on innovation and risk-taking.
“They want things in a particular order; they want case studies and past experience,” Mr. Puranik said of some Japanese managers. “IT doesn’t work
like that. There is no past experience. We have to reinvent ourselves
The majority of Indian IT workers arrive in Japan without much knowledge
of the language or culture, said Megha Wadhwa, a migration researcher and Japanese and South Asian studies expert at the Free University of Berlin
and author of the 2021 book “Indian Migrants in Tokyo.”
That can hinder their careers while their peers are making strides back
home or in the United States or Europe. They soon start to explore their options and often end up moving elsewhere. In the United States, average tech salaries, by some estimates, are more than twice those in Japan.
“After the pink glasses are removed, they will know the real situation, and they will feel stagnant in Japan,” said Dr. Wadhwa, who lived and worked in Japan for some 15 years.
Still, Japanese companies have made decisive moves in recent years to tap into the pool of Indian engineering graduates, either by bringing them to Japan or employing them in India.
Japanese companies like Rakuten and Mercari, both e-commerce firms, have
set up operations in India. The Japanese government has funneled aid into India to support the expansion of technology education.
Kotaro Kataoka, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology
Hyderabad, acts as a matchmaker between Indian students and tech
companies. He said Japanese recruiters had gotten off to a slow start in India by focusing instead on East Asian countries like Vietnam and China that are considered more culturally similar to Japan.
But Indian recruits, he said, offer the independent, out-of-the-box
thinking that Japanese companies need to kick-start their innovation efforts. “They do whatever they want, but sometimes that randomness and out-of-control aspect of Indian talent nicely works,” Professor Kataoka said.
Many Japanese argue that it’s a tall order for a country with historically low levels of immigration to match the flexibility and diversity of countries in North America or Western Europe.
Big-name American tech companies have recruited aggressively in India, offering immigrant-friendly work environments, surging compensation
packages and sky’s-the-limit career advancement opportunities. Google, Twitter, Microsoft and Adobe have all had Indian-born chief executives.
Still, there are efforts to bridge the gaps in Edogawa. Mr. Puranik runs
an Indian cultural center in his home where Japanese students take yoga lessons, and Indian and Japanese students gather for percussion lessons on the Indian tabla from a Japanese teacher. Mr. Puranik often hosts Japanese college students for talks on Indian culture or immigration.
Japanese officials also provide venues and assistance for Indian cultural festivals attended by the wider community. Mr. Puranik said that such symbolic gestures were nice, but that it was more important to provide expanded Japanese language training and cultural instruction.
“There has to be more interaction,” he said. “Summer festival and Diwali
festival, yes, one-off in a year you can have that, that’s a bonus. But you cannot say that bonus is your salary.”
At the same time, many Indians in Edogawa say that newcomers could do more to fit into Japanese life.
Mr. Date, the technology head at Franklin Templeton, said he and a few friends wanted to counter the growing reputation of Indians as being noisy — a pet peeve in a crowded city of thin-walled apartments — and a widespread belief that they are reluctant to conform to Japanese ways.
So their running group, the Desi Runners of Tokyo, decided to have members donate 10 yen for every kilometer they run. Last year, they donated
400,000 yen, about $3,000, to a charity in Edogawa, he said.
“We all agreed: We are living here, we are earning money,” Mr. Date said.
“Maybe it’s time to give back to Japan.”
Japan needs Indian tech workers the same way the U.S. needs Indian tech workers: they don’t. Japan has a significant youth unemployment problem. Train and hire Japanese workers and Japan will be better off.
Comparisons are being made to the US, but it's important to remember that the US has no comparison. Interracial marriages have hit 20% in America according to a Pew Research poll. Nothing like that is happening anywhere else in the world.
Japan is changing but you'd have to live here for 30 years to see the difference. English-speaking ability is increasing and with it a
willingness to integrate more with the rest of the world. Exchange
programs are more common. My son will travel to Australia next year as
part of a cultural exchange his public school does annually.
Outside of Tokyo, foreigners do integrate - mainly because they have
little choice but to. You will struggle to perform daily tasks if you
cannot communicate in Japanese. And the international schools described in the article are quite expensive versus the mostly free public school
system and therefore out of reach for most folks.
The bigger challenge is the tight grip the ruling elite have on the political and media infrastructure which affects Japanese and foreigners alike. Change is unlikely to happen when politicians don't change. Japan's ruling party has been in power for nearly every year of the postwar
period. As long as they remain in control Japan will continue it's slow backslide.
Britain had a higher proportion of interracial marriages three decades
ago. France has a pretty high rate too. So does Brazil.
One has to be very careful before making overarching generalizations.
"Japan, which has long been ambivalent about the presence of foreigners, lacks an established system to integrate them into Japanese life."
A review of the racial supremacy underpinning East Asian countries offers
a useful perspective on that societal ill as it exists in our country.
Were there a measure for the issue, East Asia would peg the meter, and the U.S. wouldn't come anywhere close to that level of racism.
Expat in Japan
I agree with you but should point out that Japan is very bad in this
regards even by East Asian standards, since it lags other countries like South Korea in its treatment of immigrants and foreign workers.
The Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) is the definitive measure of the how well countries integrate immigrants. It gives a score of only
47/100 to Japan.
In the MIPEX report, Japan’s approach to integration is categorised as Immigration without Integration. According to it, Japan’s current policies encourage the public to see immigrants as subordinates and not their neighbors.
Furthermore, the report underscores how Japan is one of the only countries still without a dedicated anti-discrimination law and body. It goes on to say that Japan is in the bottom three countries for anti-discrimination policies, critically lagging behind the standards in South Korea, Europe
and many other countries.
While other East Asian countries have been making some progress recently, Japan has been standing still.
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Thank you for cleaning up the disaster of the 2008-2017 Obama / Biden fiasco, President Trump.
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The World According To Garp. Obama sold out heterosexuals for Hollywood queer liberal democrat donors.
President Trump boosted the economy, reduced illegal invasions, appointed dozens of judges and three SCOTUS justices.
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