Vol.3, January 1, 1994, Num 11
The U/I-Turn Phenomenon
Radical Changes in the Work Environment Over the Past 10 Years
The New Tide
We have seen more and more U/I-turns in the past two years, a tide which can be interpreted as follows.
Worker mobility has been on in the increase in Japan for the past ten years. The latest figures show that some 3.24 million people are changing jobs annually, double the figure ten years ago. It should be noted, however, that the direction has shifted abruptly from mid-bubble to post-bubble. Before the collapse of the bubble, people were converging on Tokyo and Osaka, whereas after the bubble they have been flowing towards the regions and small- and medium-sized enterprises. The current U/I-turn phenomenon can therefore be classed as a new tide recycling people out of large urban areas and towards smaller companies. Job magazines quick to grasp the implications of this trend are Recruit's B-ing U-Turn Special Edition, Gaten and the New Lifestyle/Job Guide.
What the Figures Show
This new tide can also be confirmed in the figures. The job offers/seekers ratio for areas outside the three major urban areas is far higher than that in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. The ratios for prefectures such as Kagawa (as of September 1993 1.39), Nagano (1.34), Shimane (1.33), Fukui (1.31), Gifu (1.23) and Yamanashi (1.20) are especially high against a national average of 0.69. Fully 40% of workers from regional prefectures working in the major urban areas show a desire to return to their home prefectures (U-turn) or move onto new prefectures (I-turn) (Chart 1), with workers under 35 showing an even higher propensity for U/I-turns. Over 10% of workers born and raised in Greater Tokyo also show a desire to move out (Chart 2). The same trend can also be seen in the Osaka/Kobe area.
Why the Move to Escape Metropolitan Areas?
It is not only changes in mentalities and values that are behind the increase in U/I-turns. The regions' self-perceptions are also changing. Recruit recently started publishing its New Lifestyle/Job Guide, which is targeted at workers and employers who have already changed, or want to change, their values.
Changes in Worker Values
How have worker values changed? In a word, for those who place more emphasis on lifestyle, Tokyo no longer necessarily provides any advantages in terms of housing, commuting, children's education, individual hobbies, or the cost of living. Specific changes in values have been identified below.
Firstly, the collapse of the large company myth has started people thinking about finding work that really suits them among small and medium-sized employers.
Secondly, the surplus of white-collar workers has made people look afresh at what may be more satisfying, manual work and has also triggered a return of workers to these sorts of jobs.
Thirdly, worker lifestyles are starting to shift from the work axis over to a personal axis which emphasizes nature, health, relaxation, family, friends and hobbies.
Fourthly, workers are starting to shift way from being merely employees to citizens, and see their jobs not in terms of a vertical labor/management relations, but more in terms of a horizontal partnership.
A small shift in outlook today makes a much more fulfilling existence possible. In my job, I meet many workers who have made the change, and all of them speak of their lives with pride. There used to be the stigma of failure attached to those leaving Tokyo, but now we see a complete about-face.
Case 1: Couldn't Take Advantage of Tokyo Living, but Acquired a More Agreeable Lifestyle Doing the Same Job for a Regional Employer
A-san is in his thirties and worked as a crane operator for one of Japan's leading ship builders. A one-way commute used to take 90 minutes and he had no time to pursue his hobby of fishing. His house in Yokohama was also too small for his family of three and he suffered from chronic stress. Realizing he was not reaping any of the benefits of living in Tokyo, he decided to move out and joined a ship building company on the Inland Sea. His job is the same, but his lifestyle has changed completely. Now his commute is a ten-minute walk, his house is large and he goes fishing every day, often cooking the catch for dinner.
Case 2: Tokyo Banker Joins Regional Furniture Manufacturer in Search of More Meaningful Work
B-san, in his twenties and born and raised in Tokyo, used to work for a financial institution in Tokyo. Now he and his wife live in a small country town in Mie Prefecture where he makes furniture for a local firm. His motivation for the move was a sense of emptiness in his deposit-taking job at the bank and a desire to create something with his own hands. Neither he nor his wife had any previous connection with Mie, his decision being triggered by an advertisement on a Tokyo train.
Case 3: More Families Come to Job Fairs
The number of workers attending the job fairs sponsored regularly by Recruit has been increasing every year since the fairs were initiated. While some 6,000 people attended the 4-day fair held in 1992, 7,200 attended the 2-day fair held in 1993. An interesting change is that whereas workers used to come alone, an increasing number are now coming with their families or fianc*(e)s. While the usually male workers tend to ask about work conditions etc., their wifes want to know about housing, hospitals, shops and schools. This is quite a change from the days when workers used to sneak in without a word to their families.
Regional companies are also changing dramatically. As has already be seen, Tokyo has become a large recruitment market for regional companies and we are seeing a number of towns and companies emerge who base their appeal on the fact that they are not mini-Tokyos or exact replicas of Tokyo companies. On the other hand, we often hear about the dearth of information in regional areas, but companies like Just System in Tokushima Prefecture bridge this gap by having workers fly up to Tokyo to gather information and publications on an intensive basis. The reduction in the temporal distance between these regional companies and Tokyo has increased their competitivity.
Q & A
What lifestyle characteristics do you see in the U/I-turnees?
Many workers in their twenties and early thirties are thinking about moving out, the main reason being a desire to raise their children in a better environment (which includes housing). Conversely, young singles in their early twenties seem to want to enjoy Tokyo, while those in their late thirties and early forties already have children at school, so it's not so easy to move.
What are the U/I-turn possibilities for dual-income couples?
Some couples have started up franchise shops, but it is still true that regional companies are really only catering for male workers. They will also have to start being more serious about U/I-turn possibilities for women, especially career professionals.
How do U/I-turnees choose their destinations?
Recent trends show that they are not so concerned with where they will go. They seem to be making their choices in terms of whether the job and the local community suit their lifestyle. The increase in regional job opportunities is also increasing the leeway they have when choosing a region.
(This article was compiled from a presentation by K. Tanaka, Editor of B-ing, in November 1993.)
Contact ĽK Tanaka, Editor, B-ing, Recruit