Women head to China in search of a better life

Communist country seen as a land of opportunity as sun sets on overpriced, overworked Japan

by and


Photographer Tamako Sado, 40, said she elected to live in Beijing because of the dramatic changes sweeping China.

After studying at Beijing University, Sado moved to China 3 1/2 years ago to pursue her career further. “Just as Japan used to be, a developing country has an uplifting feeling, youthful energy and a feeling of vitality.”

Sado is reportedly one of an increasing number of Japanese women who have tried to find a new way of life in China, a country once closed off by the “bamboo curtain” but now becoming an ordinary place for most Japanese, its people living better in a waning socialist atmosphere.

In Japan, Sado was a photographer who climbed the ladder as an apprentice and later free-lancer specializing in advertising.

As she progressed, however, she started having doubts about whether taking pictures was what she really wanted to do.

After arriving in China, she immersed herself in photography and became better able to express herself. She has published two photo books in Japan featuring pandas, and plans to stay in China until 2008, when Beijing hosts the Summer Olympics.

Dr. Akiko Yamashita, 38, of a foreign-affiliated hospital in Beijing, came to China after marrying Liu Shiqiang, a 45-year-old Chinese doctor.

Yamashita first met Liu in China during a short-term training program on Chinese medicine. Liu was an interpreter.

“I like Chinese people because they are . . . active, unfaltering and have vitality,” she said.

Japanese these days can freely visit China for business, vacation or study. And in Shanghai, its economic center, more Japanese women are making inroads than in the ancient capital of Beijing.

According to 36-year-old Mika Sudo, a freelance writer living in Shanghai, the majority of Japanese workers in local companies are women. Their number has been growing since 1997 and now totals 300.

Most have studied in China, lured by job offers and the low cost of living.

“Although the salary is low, I’m better off than in Japan, because prices are low,” said Ai Kanamori, 29, who works at a Japanese-affiliated consulting firm in Shanghai. Kanamori had studied there for two years.

Fumi Matsumura, 35, who works at a manpower supply company located in a skyscraper in central Shanghai, left Japan for China because her country couldn’t give her what she was looking for.

Fed up with life as an office worker, Matsumura quit her life insurance job six years ago and went to Beijing and Singapore to study.

“Feeling stalled with no way out of a life being an office lady, I came (to China) with the intention of finding myself,” Matsumura said.

Compared with her previous job, she puts in more overtime and takes home a smaller paycheck.

But the job is worth it, she said.

“Now, (the company) lets me do jobs regardless of my sex. I can realize achievement. It’s thrilling and interesting.”

Asked why more Japanese women are heading for China, Sudo said it might be because the communist country’s image is changing from a land of mystery to a land of opportunity.

“A major reason is that China is no longer seen as a terrifying country visited only by unusual people,” Sudo said. “There are many more Japanese women who have given up on Japan, where they feel they no longer have a future.”