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Supporting foreigner’s relocating to Japan

Interview - December 18, 2019

Japan’s demographic shift is one reason for the growing demand for foreign workers, but not only white collar expats in the metropolitan areas. With the impact of the ageing population mostly felt in rural areas, the nation has also opened its doors to blue collar workers and low-skilled laborers. In this interview, Hiroyuki Goto, president of GTN, discusses the range of services his company offers to foreigners of all classes that are relocating to Japan.



The Japanese society is changing with an increasing number of foreigners coming to Japan. Last year, Japan has seen this number increase by 6.6%, reaching a total of 2.73 million foreign residents. Could you give us an overview of the situation in Japan today and in the coming years?

Amongst this number of people, there is an influx of 400,000 mid to long-term foreigner residents coming to Japan every year, and between 170,000 and 180,000 people remain long term. We have seen a drastic increase in the last three years, which we see as a consequence of the Abenomics policy started in 2013, a certain stability of the economy and a compensation for the aging population.


Due to the aging population issue in Japan, the government recently approved a decree to facilitate the immigration of a foreign workforce in sectors such as construction and restaurant. What can be the impact of this new regulation?

Until recently, Japan was focusing its efforts on welcoming highly specialized workers. However, the situation of the country has changed and the profile of immigrants is changing too, especially since last April. Japan now opens its doors to unqualified laborers. The aging population phenomenon is even more problematic in rural areas and the government aims to send foreign workers first and foremost to these areas.  As a consequence, the real estate market in rural areas is expected to prosper in the coming years.


As a result of an increasing immigration, the Japanese society is changing and this situation can sometimes be difficult to accept for its population. On the other side, the foreigners coming to Japan have to face certain difficulties in adapting to this new country with a very specific culture. In-between those two sides, GTN’s role is to smoothen this process of adaptation. Can you tell us more about your company’s mission?

We started the company in 2006 with the objective to make it easier for the foreigners to find an apartment in Japan. At this time, it was very challenging for a foreigner to rent an apartment because the property owners were reluctant in renting their place to a foreigner, as they thought it would bring unwanted difficulties. Since then, this image has slightly improved and we believe that our work contributes to changing this negative image. We are now a guarantor for 140,000 people, and yearly, we solve 60 to 70,000 troubles. The job market is also slowly opening up to foreigners especially in services, such as izakaya or convenient stores. As an example, a mega convenient store chain employs more than 30,000 foreign workers in their Japanese shops today. Things are changing and our company supports this trend. The projected number of babies to be born this year in Japan is of 900,000; as a comparison, this number was about 920,000 babies last year, and 950,000 the year before. During the baby boom in Japan, about 2.6 million babies were born yearly. The demographic pyramid is reversing and the average age of the Japanese population is expected to reach 50 in 2025, compared to about 20 years-old in ASEAN countries. In the Philippines for example, there are too many children and not enough jobs and the average population is 25 years-old. From this situation, we can expect an influx population coming from these regions towards Japan to balance the effects in both places.


The foreigners coming to Japan have to face many issues when it comes to finding an apartment: language barrier, cultural differences, need for a guarantor, key money, and many more. How do you help them in the apartment rental process?

For any person in the world, the three basic elements that we need are: Clothing, Food and Shelter. When it comes to clothing and food, these situations can easily be solved through an exchange of money. However, when it comes to shelter, there is also an element of trust that needs to be taken into consideration. To our understanding, trust was the key element that we needed to solve in order to help the foreigners finding an apartment in Japan. In the real estate market here, it is absolutely necessary to know somebody in Japan who can be a guarantor. However, most immigrants do not have any relatives nor friends that they can ask to be a guarantor when coming to Japan. Therefore, the first mission of our company was precisely to serve as a guarantor for those people. By providing this service, we are able to be a bridge between the owner and the resident and protect both sides, provide information and increase common trust. Today, we provide our services to more than 10,000 leasing firms and as a result, we are able to offer various types of apartments to our customers.

Since then, we have extended the range of our services to the foreigners, because those difficulties can be experienced in other aspects of their daily lives. We are the best company that can really accompany the foreigners in setting up their lives in Japan through services such as cellphones and banking. Japanese phone companies all have strange rules around their contracts and put the cellphone on a loan basis and then, it becomes difficult for the foreigners to terminate the contract. To help with this situation, we launched our phone service company called GTN mobile, with which we are able to provide cellphone services for foreigners. Last year, 12,000 people subscribed to our cellphone service and this year (NB: until the end of October 2019), we have already reached 35,000 subscribers. This service is becoming more and more popular. Finally, we also started a banking service up to 1 billion Yen fund, and we are able to provide to the customers coming from Asia with a zero-interest student loan to help them start their career in Japan.


You have also opened branches in countries such as Mongolia and Vietnam in order the future immigrants to have face-to-face interactions with your staff before coming to Japan. Are you planning to expend your network in new countries in the future?

Yes, we are looking to extend the number of our offices overseas to 30 by 2030, not only in Asia but also in Europe, including the UK for example, because we think that this kind of services is very helpful before coming to a new country. It is also a good way for family members and friends to follow up the immigration process of their relatives. It is only rational and logical to continue focusing on this strategy. In a way, we are serving as ambassadors for Japan. The local real estate agencies do not have the resources nor a strong will to go and meet their potential customers abroad. This is our role to do so and we believe it is a necessary step to attract talented students to our universities and workers to our job market. Next year, Japan is already expecting 40 million visitors and airports are starting construction works to increase their capacities. We are actually planning to open an office at Haneda airport to provide solutions to our clientele before and as soon as they land in Japan.

Our company has a very international staff, with employees coming from 21 different countries and our local branches are all run by local people sharing the same GTN’ DNA. We aim to continue being the top total solution provider to foreigners.


If we had to take this interview again in 10 years, what dreams would you like to have achieved by then?

We want to continue providing solutions for foreigners coming to Japan but also extend our activities to foreigners emigrating to other countries. The topic of migration is universal and the challenges that people face when moving to Vietnam for example are equally difficult to overpass. Each year and for example, around 20,000 Japanese and 200,000 Koreans imigrate to Vietnam for personal or professional reasons. In this situation, we believe we also have an important role to play. By 2030, we hope to have 30 to 40 offices overseas and we want to create an environment in which mobility becomes easier for individuals. We also hope to be a listed company in the renowned international markets such as in Singapore and on NASDAQ by then. I also want to share that our overarching mission is to create a more harmonious society where different people can coexist together and we believe this is a direct way to contribute to eradicating discrimination and bringing world peace.