Migration and Diasporas
The Global Financial Crisis has recently made transparent how dependent the wellbeing of contemporary societies is on high levels of employment. Japan has never fully recovered from its own financial crisis in the early 1990s, and the economic stagnation and neoliberal deregulations have reduced job security, welfare benefits and retirement savings. In this context, some ageing Japanese men have moved to work in Dalian, a provincial city in northeastern China whose economic growth has long relied on exporting goods and services to Japan. Based on semi-structured interviews with 21 Japanese workers in their late fifties to late sixties, this paper examines labour migration and its relation to gender, identity and the role work plays in constructing a meaningful life. Using their technical expertise and experience in Japanese business culture, the men transferred knowledge and trained local workers in manufacturing and IT industries. Their encore careers enabled them to make the kind of social and economic contributions they were proud of making as the valorised male wage earners in the heyday of Japan’s economic expansion. Central to their joy and fulfilment throughout their long careers were close and caring relationships they developed in their capacity as working men. I argue that the neoliberal practice of global outsourcing is fuelled by not only migrant workers’ economic needs or the gendered expectation for breadwinning, but also their desires for social connectedness, cooperation and intimacy—which are antithetical to entrepreneurial individualism and competitiveness associated with the ideal neoliberal subject.