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Md Mizanur Rahman & Kwen Fee Lian
Journal of International Migration and Integration ISSN 1488-3473 Volume 12 Number 3 Int. Migration & Integration (2011) 12:253-274 DOI 10.1007/ s12134-010-0158-0
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Int. Migration & Integration (2011) 12:253–274 DOI 10.1007/s12134-010-0158-0
The Development of Migrant Entrepreneurship in Japan: Case of Bangladeshis
Md Mizanur Rahman & Lian KwenKwen Fee Lian Fee
Published online: 28 October 2010 # Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010
Abstract One of the visible but often neglected outcomes of international migration in Asia is the emergence of immigrant-run businesses. Drawing on the experiences of Bangladeshi migrant entrepreneurs in Japan, this study examines how migrants reposition themselves from the rank of irregular workers to that of entrepreneurs under conditions of temporary migration. It highlights both the opportunity structure and the ingenuity of migrants in entrepreneurship. Unlike traditional migrant businesses, Bangladeshi migrant entrepreneurs engage in transactions in ethnic and non-ethnic products and are driven to adopt innovative strategies to make use of available technology in communication and transport and the globalization of markets. In doing so, they maintain multiple orientations in cultivating both the ethnic and local markets and developing a transnational and/or multinational dimension in growing their businesses. Keywords Migrant entrepreneurship . Bangladesh . Japan . Migrant business . Ethnicity
Introduction The emergence of migrant businesses has been a part of the urban landscape in some relatively developed countries of East and Southeast Asia in recent decades. While the outcomes of international migration have affected many aspects of the lives of immigrants and their receiving societies, one of the visible but often neglected outcomes of international migration in Asia is the development of immigrant-run businesses. There has been comparatively little work on migrant settlement and
M. M. Rahman (*) : K. F. Lian Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore, Kent Ridge, Singapore, Singapore 117570 e-mail: email@example.com K. F. Lian e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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community formation in Asia. Hirano et al. (2000) cite two main reasons for this: first, most intraregional movements are fairly recent, so that settlement processes are not yet far advanced; second, policy-makers and public opinion are not ready for such settlement and are largely unwilling to accept that it is occurring. The lack of interest in migrant entrepreneurship also stems from the belief that, unlike their European counterparts where temporary migrants became permanent setters in the 1970s, Asian migrants are regarded as sojourners and are unlikely to establish successful business ventures. Among the East and Southeast Asian countries, Japan is a case in point. A diverse immigrant population with significant numbers of migrants from South, Southeast, and East Asia has evolved in Japan since the late 1970s (Tsuda 2006; Goodman et al. 2003; Komai 2000). In the early 1980s, South Asian migrants, mainly Bangladeshis, entered Japan as tourists and overstayed their visas. According to Mahmood (1994), between 1985 and 1990, 33,573 Bangladeshi entered Japan. Other sources report that the cumulative number of overstaying Bangladeshis between 1990 and 2000 was 73,016 (Watanabe 1998). Therefore, it is likely that the number of Bangladeshi migrants in the 1980s and 1990s was more than 100,000. These migrant workers experienced severe problems in settling in Japan. Halal food, ethnic goods, and services were almost unavailable. Realizing the demand for halal food and other ethnic goods and services, some Bangladeshi migrants opened businesses in Japan to serve mainly the migrant population of South Asian origin in general and Muslim migrants in particular, and subsequently many expanded into trading in Japanese products internationally. The literature on immigrant entrepreneurship has mainly developed in the North American context (for a review, see Portes 1995; Thornton 1999). The questions traditionally investigated in migrant entrepreneurship research are why some immigrant groups are more likely than others to engage in entrepreneurial activity and what specific outcomes entrepreneurship yield for immigrants and their countries of origin (Zhou 2004). The making of an immigrant business is a central but somewhat neglected aspect of entrepreneurship (Waldinger 1994). Most recently, there has been some attempt to address the development of Asian migrant labor and businessed in the major cities of Europe (Spaan et al. 2005). However, the development of migrant businesses under conditions of temporary labor migration, which is a central feature of contemporary intra-Asian migration, is a neglected issue. In this article, drawing on the experiences of Bangladeshi migrant entrepreneurs in Japan, we address the following questions: Who are these migrant entrepreneurs? How do migrants, who were mostly irregular and involved in low-skilled occupations, circumvent restrictions imposed on them in operating businesses in Japan? What makes them entrepreneurs and propels them to take risks either to start or expand their enterprises? As described later, unlike South Korea and many other low-skilled migrant-receiving countries, migration of Bangladeshis to Japan has not taken place under any government-run temporary migration scheme; it has been predominantly a clandestine single (male) migration with an overwhelming economic motivation. Although the numbers involved in Bangladeshi migrant businesses are modest, their emergence provides an opportunity to explore little known aspects of the development of migrant businesses under conditions of temporary and irregular migration. Bangladeshi migrant businesses also provide early insights to the unfolding processes of settlement and community formation.
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We argue that the repositioning of migrants from workers to migrant entrepreneurs is a complex process, and it needs to be understood in light of several issues. In doing so, we highlight the significance of cultural conditions, opportunity structure, innovative practices, and transnational linkages in the development of migrant businesses. Our focus on Bangladeshi migrant worker businesses in Japan not only provides an understanding of migrant entrepreneurship but also sheds light on the way in which such entrepreneurship emerges under conditions of temporary migration. After describing the data sources and the trends and patterns of Bangladeshi labor migration to Japan, we examine the opportunity structure that prevails in Japan for the rise of such businesses, the path to entrepreneurship, innovative practices that they adopt to reach ethnic and non-ethnic clienteles, and finally, the extra-territorial link that adds to migrant businesses a transnational and multinational dimension.
Theoretical Issues There are a number of theoretical contributions that help us understand why immigrants participate in entrepreneurial activities and the outcomes of such activities for migrants and their host countries (Light 1972; Goldberg 1985; Li 1976; Bonacich and Modell 1980; Wilson and Portes 1980; Portes and Zhou 1992; Kloosterman et al. 1999). Broadly, theories that explain the development of migrant or ethnic entrepreneurship in advanced economies fall into two schools: cultural and structural (Chan and Hui 1995). The cultural approach points to the supply side of entrepreneurship or class and ethnic resources and the structural approach stresses the socioeconomic contest, the demand side of the entrepreneurship (Light and Rosenstein 1995). A common objection to cultural analysis is its lack of attention to the context in which entrepreneurship thrives while a common objection to structural analysis is its lack of attention to the cultural properties that propel entrepreneurship (Waldinger et al. 1990). In the 1990s, theoretical development shifted to integrating the cultural and structural determinants of immigrant entrepreneurship. For instance, Waldinger et al. (1990) introduced the ideas of opportunity structure and group characteristic, thereby combining structure and agency. In this approach, the demand for business and the supply of skills and resources interact to produce ethnic entrepreneurship. Engelen (2001: 211) is critical of Waldinger et al. (1990) on two issues, the “economic assimilation thesis” and “enclave spatial logic”. Engelen argues that the economic assimilation thesis lacks insights on the process of innovation and that spatially oriented strategies are relevant to some entrepreneurs but not to others. For example, the latter may be applicable to retailers but not for wholesalers and manufacturers as we will argue. Engelen (2001: 211–212) suggests that the development of innovative marketing and distributing strategies in tapping new markets can be viewed as a move away from the “spatial logic” argument, as we will highlight in this paper. Given the nature of some migrant businesses in East and Southeast Asia, we have argued elsewhere that the analytic notion of “spatial logic of the ethnic enclave” does not fit well in the context of contemporary migrant businesses in Asia (Lian and Rahman forthcoming). Engelen (2001) highlighted the significance of innovation in
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ethnic and migrant entrepreneurship. Migrant entrepreneurs employ different innovative strategies to access a wider clientele and penetrate new and lucrative markets in Japan and beyond. However, studies of ethnic business overlook the importance of innovation (Aldrich and Waldinger 1990). Engelen (2001) suggests that this is probably due to the marginal character of most ethnic and migrant businesses. In our view, Engelen has overstated the importance of innovation. Schumpeter (1934: 66–69) argues that the essence of entrepreneurship lies in “employing existing resources in a different way, in doing new things with them, irrespective of whether those resources increase or not”. Hence, one is an entrepreneur by doing any of these: introducing a new good, a new method of production, opening a new market, discovering a new source of supply of raw materials, and reorganizing an industry. These may be described as innovative strategies but no more than what an entrepreneur does in order to expand his or her enterprise. Innovation, in Schumpeter’s view, is indistinguishable from entrepreneurship. Further, he emphasizes, the ability to recombine and redeploy resources in order to initiate change depends on the availability of credit. The migrant enterprises in our study notwithstanding their marginal characteristic have prospered because of the resourcefulness of individuals and their willingness to innovate in order to tap larger markets, domestically and internationally. The globalization of technology in communication and transport has had a considerable impact on the diversification of migrant entrepreneurship in recent decades. Migrant entrepreneurship has so far been examined in relation to the national and spatial limits of the host country; transnational and even multinational dimensions now need to be taken into consideration. Transnational entrepreneurship is primarily explained from the immigrant (country) perspective (Portes et al. 2002; Faist and Özveren 2004), as a way to maximize the “human capital returns of immigrants and to convert the meager wages earned in developed countries to material gains and social status recognition in immigrants’ country of origin” (see for details, Zhou 2004: 1054–1060). However, we argue that migrant business activities are not only confined to their home countries but also extend to other countries with high market returns, a trend that the current literature on transnational entrepreneurship does not take into account. For instance, Bangladeshi migrant entrepreneurs selling Japanese used cars in Bangladesh and other countries in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, North America, and the former Soviet Union or Japanese herbal products in Bangladesh, Europe, and North America are more than just transnational entrepreneurs. The international recognition of the quality of Japanese products has resulted in lucrative global markets for these migrant entrepreneurs. We have argued elsewhere that the theoretical and conceptual tools developed and hypotheses tested in connection with immigrant entrepreneurship in North America and Europe have some limitations in explaining recent developments of migrant businesses in Asia (Lian and Rahman forthcoming). It is not only because of varying levels of economic development but also the absence of liberal immigration and settlement policies, the nature of migration which is predominantly individual (male or female) migration, and the transient nature of migration. We point to the fact that the making of migrant entrepreneurship is a complex process, and it demands an appreciation of the globalization of markets and the migration experiences of the
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successful Bangladeshi entrepreneurs. Hence, while we accept that cultural circumstances provide the necessary conditions to facilitate ethnic and migrant businesses initially in the host country, the opportunity structure—a confluence of the uncertainty of migration status and the globalization of migration—is critical to the development of Bangladeshi entrepreneurship in Japan. What is striking about such entrepreneurship is its orientation toward domestic, transnational, and multinational markets.
Data Sources The study focuses on contemporary Bangladeshi migrant entrepreneurs who are living in Tokyo but their businesses extend to different cities of Japan and other parts of the world. There is no available and reliable data on the number of Bangladeshi migrant entrepreneurs in Japan and corresponding areas of businesses. To understand the various types of Bangladeshi migrant businesses and their development dynamics, this study attempted first to locate major types of Bangladeshi migrant businesses and then to identify Bangladeshi migrant entrepreneurs in each type of businesses so that all major migrant businesses are represented. Information regarding major types of businesses was collected from Bangladeshi residents who were living in Japan for long and their ethnic online portals and ethnic magazines (printed and online) that regularly advertised different types of migrant businesses targeting the Bangladeshi community. Such portals and magazines provide valuable information on the nature and extent of such businesses and the initiatives and activities of the migrant community. From these, we identified the respondents for the study—representing the major businesses such as retail, service, wholesale, used cars, and tires, car parts, phone cards, and the export–import of other items. In addition to interviews of migrant entrepreneurs, we also interviewed Bangladeshi community members to have a broader idea about the development of Bangladeshi migrant businesses in Japan. The data collection methods included questionnaire survey, participant observations, in-depth interviews, and informal focus group discussions. The fieldwork was conducted between September and October 2008. The duration of the fieldwork was limited by financial and time constraints which precluded more in-depth fieldwork. We interviewed 25 migrant entrepreneurs from all the major migrant businesses. Interviews were conducted in the Bengali language, mother tongue of Bangladeshis, and later translated into English. The profiles of migrant entrepreneurs are provided in Table 1. Of the 25 respondents, 20 were first married to Japanese women, two were single, two were married to Bangladeshi women, and one to a Burmese woman.1 Most respondents were aged between 40 and 45 years. Most of them had 12 years of schooling
This migrant entrepreneur is actually a Rohingya Muslim from Myanmar. He migrated to Bangladesh and took up Bangladeshi citizenship and then moved to Saudi Arabia for work in early 1990s. Later, he migrated to Japan from Saudi Arabia. He married a Rohingya Muslim woman. It is important to note that many Rohingya Muslims go to Saudi Arabia for work via Bangladesh.
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including 11 cases who were graduates from colleges in Bangladesh. Most have been in Japan for some time, 15 migrated in the 1980s while eight in the 1990s. All respondents had legal status in Japan holding long-term visas and permanent residence. A few also held Japanese citizenship. Fourteen respondents employed Japanese nationals in their businesses along with Bangladesh and other Asian nationals. The businesses of 13 respondents extended outside of Japan and were international. Most of the migrant entrepreneurs were engaged in more than one business.
Bangladeshi Migration to Japan Japan, once known as an emigrant country in the early twentieth century, became an immigrant country in the second half of the twentieth century with the settlement of Korean immigrants after World War II (Iguchi 2002, 2009; Tsuda and Cornelius 2004). Japan first experienced labor shortages in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Nevertheless, it was able to meet its labor demand through increases in labor productivity and greater use of untapped labor (for details, Mori 1997; Tsuda and Cornelius 2004). Yoko Sellek (2001) maintains that the influx of foreign workers since late 1970s can be divided into three different stages. First, the initial stage (late 1970s to mid 1980s) mainly involved irregular female migration from East and Southeast Asia, especially the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and South Korea. They were brought in to work in the entertainment industry. The second stage between mid-1980s and 1990 is characterized by irregular male migration from South Asia, Middle East (mainly Iran), Southeast Asia, and other parts of the World and female migration from East and Southeast Asia. The primary source of cheap labor during this period was foreigners either working illegally without work permits or those whose visas had expired (Komai 2000). The third stage, the implementation of the revised immigration control act in 1990 facilitated the regular flow of skilled, semi-skilled, and the descendants of Japanese emigrants to South America (Sellek 2001; Komai 2000). Registered foreigners constitute 1.6% of the population (OECD 2008). Japan strictly controls unskilled migration from the Asian countries. The official rationale for not accepting unskilled labor stems from the fear that unskilled foreign workers from ethnically diverse societies may lower wages and worsen working conditions (Tsuda and Cornelius 2004). Apart from these, there is also a widespread fear that the influx of low-skilled foreigners may increase the rate of crimes and threaten public safety in Japan. Japan has been a desirable destination for Bangladeshis since the early 1980s.2 Due to the absence of any formal recruitment procedures (such as trainee programs), Bangladeshi migrants resorted to unauthorized channels to live and work in Japan in the early phase of migration in the 1980s. The influx of Bangladeshi migrants increased after 1985 and reached a peak in 1988, but the number of entries then suddenly dropped because the Japanese government moved to stem the flow by suspending the waiver of visa requirements for Bangladeshis on January 15, 1989
In addition to Bangladeshis, other South Asian groups like Pakistanis and Nepalese also migrated to Japan clandestinely for work in the 1980s.
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(Higuchi 2007). After the suspension of visa-waiving status, most Bangladeshis initially entered Japan legally using tourist, student (language school), or other types of nonworking visas though their actual intent is to seek employment. Many of them used Thailand or Singapore as springboards for their migration to Japan in the early phase of Bangladeshi migration to Japan (Lian and Rahman 2006). Bangladeshi official statistics suggest that between 1999 and 2008, 694 migrants went to Japan for work.3 The central bank of Bangladesh reports that Bangladeshis from Japan remitted US$ 384.91 million between 1991 and 2003.4 This discrepancy in the total number of recorded migrants and inflow of remittances to Bangladesh suggests that a large number of Bangladeshi migrants live in Japan and has not been reported in the official statistics in Bangladesh. In addition to migrants, around 10,000 Bangladeshi students studied in Japan between 1991 and 2004.5 In total, based on available data and fieldwork in different places of Japan, we estimate that there may be as many as 40,000 Bangladeshi migrants including students, dependents, regular, and irregular migrants who are living in various parts of Japan. They constitute a strong base for the development of Bangladeshi migrant businesses.
Bangladeshi Migrant Businesses in Japan The businesses of Bangladeshi migrants in Japan can be broadly categorized into two types: atypical calling card, used car, electronics, and ethnic magazines and typical halal food enterprises, restaurants, and travel agencies. In the following discussion, we will turn to each of the businesses to explain their determinants and impact. Halal Food Trade The demand for halal food grew with the inflow of South Asian and Iranian Muslim migrants in the early 1980s. Pakistanis first initiated the halal food trade in the early 1980s, but with the increase in the size of the Bangladeshi migrant population in the mid 1980s, some enterprising migrants came to supply halal food to the community mainly on an informal and irregular basis. However, by the late 1980s, two leading halal food retailers and suppliers emerged to serve the Bangladeshi and other Muslim population in Japan. Several other halal food retailers came on to the scene in the 1990s, but the two established halal food retailers continue to be the main suppliers and retailers of halal food in Japan. Although they are known as halal food retailers by name, they provide a variety of ethnic products, for instance food items (meats, fishes, spices and powders, rice, flour, sweets, pickles, dates, etc.), clothes (male and female apparel from South Asia), print and music products (Bangladeshi and Indian books, magazines, videos, CDs, VCDs), and phone cards (different
http://www.bmet.org.bd/Reports/Flow_Migration.htm accessed on June 22, 2009 http://www.bmet.org.bd/Reports/remittance.htm 5 http://web-japan.org/stat/stats/16EDU61.html accessed on 14 November 2005
Table 1 Profiles of Bangladeshi entrepreneurs in Japan Year of Nationality of wife migration 1995 Multinational Japanese PR National 35 Status in Japan National/local/ international No of Nationality/origins employee of employees Japanese, South, Southeast Asians, Iranians Japanese B’Deshi PR PR PR Local and National National National 1 1 – 8 B’Deshi B’Deshi – Japanese and South Asian International 45 Japanese and Bangladeshi and others Working visa PR Local Local National 1988 First Japanese later B’Deshi PR National 4 3 75 Nepali and Bangladeshi Japanese and South Asian B’Deshi
No of case 12 years of schooling
Business activities (single/multiple businesses)
Calling Card Producer, Japanese Herbal 37 Exporter, Used Car, Used Laptop and Used Scrap, (Annual Turnover US$ 34 million or ¥3300 million) 12 years of schooling 1988 First Japanese Later, B’Deshi Japanese First Japanese later B’Deshi Japanese Single PR National 4 12 years of schooling Graduate 12 years of schooling Masters 2002 1987 1986 1992
Retailer: Entertainment Products (Music), Clothes and Leather products
Halal Food and other ethnic products for daily use
Halal Food Shop and other ethnic products for daily use
Jeweler Shop with music products
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Travel Agency, Telecom (Calling Cards), Halal Food Shop, IT service (software) Development 12 years of schooling 12 years of schooling 2005 1986 Japanese Single 12 years of schooling Graduate 1982 First Japanese and (later B’Deshi) Citizen
Long-term National visa International
Used Car (US$ 70 million yearly turnover); (around 1000 car export per month)
Restaurant (Indian Food)
Restaurant (13 restaurants), Budget Hotel (2 hotels), Stock Exchange (first business)
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Halal Food retailers (including other ethnic products)
Table 1 (continued) Year of Nationality of wife migration 1987 1996 Vietnamese 5 B’Deshi, Nepalese, Indonesian, Thai and Sri Lankan B’Deshi, Nepalese and Indian Japanese B’Deshi Fiji 10 years of schooling Master Graduate Graduate 1998 Japanese 1988 Japanese 1986 Japanese PR 1984 Japanese PR Local and National Local and International 6 3 3 12 Japanese and Bangladeshi Japanese and South Asian Japanese and B’Deshi Japanese B’Deshi Africa and South Asia PR PR Local International 1986 Japanese Local Market – 4 Japanese and B’Deshi – B’Deshi Long-term National and visa Multinational Long-term National visa PR Japanese (citizen) International 30 Local 6 13 Japanese, B’Deshi First Japanese Later B’Deshi PR Multinational 3 B’Deshi Status in Japan National/local/ international No of Nationality/origins employee of employees
No of case Graduate Graduate
Business activities (single/multiple businesses)
Calling Card (Producer), IP-Phone, Used Laptop, Bengali Bi-monthly Magazine, Japan 10 years of schooling 12 years of schooling Graduate 1988 Japanese 1987 First Japanese later B’Deshi 1997 Burmese
Family Store (Halal food, Music and other ethnic products)
Restaurant (2 Restaurants)
Used Car (around 2000 car,exports monthly on average), Restaurants
The Development of Migrant Entrepreneurship in Japan
Car Export, Restaurant
Use Car business but now, mostly Used Tier Business
Long-term International visa Long-term Local and visa National and International
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Calling Card (Producer), Food Staff, Electronics
Used Tier Car (50 to 60 car export on average monthly)
10 years of schooling
Car Businesses (local market for foreigners e.g. students, working visa holders) Graduate 1981
Travel Agency (worked for travel agency for long)
B’Deshi and Indian
Table 1 (continued) Year of Nationality of wife migration 1988 Japanese (wife left and living alone) B’Deshi PR Citizen Local but based on international source 4 International 2 Japanese PR Local, National, Online 3 B’Deshi Status in Japan National/local/ international No of Nationality/origins employee of employees
No of case Graduate
Business activities (single/multiple businesses)
Editor of Bengali Bi-Monthly Magazine (also work for a restaurant full time) Graduate Master 1988 1991
Japanese and B’Deshi Japanese and South Asian
Clothes (2 clothe shops in Japan: clothes are brought from South Korea and China)
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brands of prepaid calling cards). In addition to Bangladeshi immigrants, migrants from other Asian countries are also in their list of regular clienteles. Started in 1989, Padma halal food is one of the pioneering Bangladeshi halal food retailers and suppliers in Japan. It imports all kinds of freshwater fish, halal meat, vegetables, spices, oils, rice, sweets, and other food products from Bangladesh, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Australia. As an importer of halal food and ethnic products, it also supplies these imported products to other halal retailers. However, halal retailers do not rely on a single source of supply. They bank on other Indian, Pakistani, Middle Eastern, and even African suppliers to meet the demand from customers of different origins. These wholesalers play a major role in supplying a variety of products to the market. Along with the regular wholesale entrepreneurs, there are also some irregular wholesale entrepreneurs who supply Indian products to the market. As one unauthorized Indian wholesaler said, “I know the demand for Indian products in the local market; I tell my friend in India to send a container of relevant products. I do not invest money. Once the container reaches Japan, I contact my local suppliers who take the responsibility to deliver the goods to local retailers. Within a few weeks, I get cash. I take a commission and the rest I remit to my friend in India.” Calling Card Trade Critical to the lives of migrants is their ability to maintain contact with family members left behind. The quickest and most efficient means of communication is the telephone. However, the cost of direct calling is expensive and these migrants incur costly bills when they talk to relatives. The early Bangladeshi migrant entrepreneurs seized this opportunity to establish calling card businesses in Japan. It is the Bangladeshis who dominate the calling card trade since its emergence in the late 1990s. We identified three major calling card companies that control, as they claim, almost 70% of the market. However, this claim could not be verified through officially published statistical data. Given the various types of calling cards and their market presence (availability of these cards in ethnic stores and online purchase), it is understandable that Bangladeshi manufactured cards are widely sold in the market. The educational background and business motivation of three leading Bangladeshi calling card traders—Ryo International, ILP Japan, and Sadiatec— reveal that they were exposed to information technology before their move to Japan. One of the respondents disclosed that he was involved in IT business in Bangladesh and when he moved to Japan, he explored first the business niche in calling cards. This respondent’s calling cards can be used to talk from computer to landline and mobile and his clienteles include even those soldiers from South Asia who are deployed in UN peace-keeping missions in African countries. Another respondent, who first migrated to Canada as a tourist and later moved to Japan with his Japanese wife, cited his involvement in the calling card trade: When I first came to Japan, I could not talk to family regularly. Telephone call charge was very high. You know, all migrants are living alone here, far away from their families and they all want to talk to their loved ones back home. Whatever I earned from working in a restaurant in Tokyo, I spent a good
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portion of it on telephone bill. Later, when I decided to do business, I thought I should do a business that would help other migrant workers. So, I decided to do calling card business. A Calling Card Trader, Tokyo, September 2008 Bangladeshi calling card traders manufacture and market a few hundred types of calling cards for local and international calls. Some of the popular calling cards that they market have names like “for you,” “good communications,” “my love,” “minare-Pakistan,” “new twin tower,” “the best,” “Africa,” “you and me,” “original calling cards,” “sonar Bangla,” “Africa Green card.”6 Some of these companies have also opened up branch offices outside Japan such as Malaysia and run their calling card business there. These companies are mainly producers and wholesalers of calling cards. Retailers collect calling cards from them to sell to customers for a fixed commission, in addition to maintaining online shopping facilities. The customers of calling cards are both foreigners and locals.
Used Car Trade Japanese cars are renowned for their reliability, efficiency, and innovativeness. They are available in most countries in the world. As new models of Japanese cars are expensive, lower-income groups cannot afford new cars; hence, the demand for used cars in both the developed and developing countries. This demand for used cars is usually met through the internal resale market in the developed countries. However, customers in the developing world are forced to depend on imported used cars if they want to drive a Japanese model. To tap the huge market, many enterprising individuals have opened up used car businesses in Japan, buying and exporting them to the developing countries for a fixed commission. In general, used car traders from the developing countries contact the used car traders in Japan for wholesale purchase. Some Bangladeshi migrant entrepreneurs became involved in the used car businesses in the mid 1980s and expanded their businesses beyond Asia. They export the cars to the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, South, East, and Southeast Asia, and Russia. One advantage of getting into the used car business is that only minimum venture capital is required so long as the right buyer from the other country is found. Furthermore, the whole official procedure from buying to shipment in Japan can be completed online. What is necessary to run this business is to be familiar with the formalities involved in the online transactions. Once one has acquired the relevant technical know-how, the business can be expanded quickly. The commission for each used car ranges between US 200 and 800 dollars and profitability depends on the volume transacted. Given the profitability of the business and home-based operation procedures, many migrants involved in calling cards, ethnic groceries, halal food, or in paid jobs also participate in dealing in used cars by providing information about potential buyers, auctions, and shipment procedures.
6 http://www.ilpjp.com/profile.html; http://www.ryointernational.com/calling_cards.html; http://www. sadiatec.com
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Given the home-based nature of such businesses it is not possible to provide an exact number of migrants involved in the used car business. However, it is believed that a few hundred Bangladeshis are currently involved in the used car business in Japan. Bangladeshi entrepreneurs who started early are currently leading the used car trade in Japan with monthly exports of 1,000–3,000 cars to Latin America, North America, Africa, Middle East, and various countries in Asia. The two leading used car traders of Bangladeshi origin are B.J. International and N.K. International. N.K International7 exports used cars to about 50 countries in the world. In addition, Bangladeshi migrants export used tires and car parts. Some trade used cars in the local market, especially to professionals and students. However, the increasing involvement of small migrant entrepreneurs in this business has led to higher competition, and profit margins have fallen sharply in recent years, resulting in diversification such as selling Japanese used tires in the international market. The sale of used tires is now more profitable than used cars. Despite the substantial presence of Bangladeshi entrepreneurs in the used car trade, it is mostly dominated by Pakistanis. It is widely believed that it is the Pakistanis who first started the used car business among immigrant groups in Japan. Some Bangladeshi used car traders even learnt the technical know-how from the early Pakistani used car traders. However, the leading Bangladeshi used car traders who migrated mostly in the late 1980s had their own stories relating to taking up the business and gaining success over time. Both Bangladeshi and Pakistani used car traders compete with each other in used car auctions and market penetration. In addition to these South Asian communities, some Iranian immigrants are also involved in the used car trade, but their presence is minimal.
Ethnic Restaurants Unlike halal food and calling cards mainly required by the ethnic and migrant populations, ethnic restaurants have emerged to meet the demand for South Asian food in general and Indian food in particular among the local population. The taste for South Asian food among the Japanese has created a lucrative market for exotic goods. Selling ethnic food offers a fruitful opportunity to migrants to invest and expand a business. Immigration policy allows the employment of foreign cooks, necessary to the success of ethnic restaurants. Since the owners hire mostly ethnic personnel to run the business, they can offer their services at relatively low prices. These restaurants serve mainly Indian dishes, at least by name as it is not easy to distinguish South Asian dishes from each other. The restaurants are decorated in Indian style, screen Bollywood movies and play Hindi music, and showcase cultural products and pictures of South Asian (Indian) political and cultural personalities to present a truly Indian ambience. All these suggest that migrants make every effort to convert both the content and the symbols of ethnicity into profit-making commodities.
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Other Businesses In addition to the various types of main businesses discussed, we also identified various migrant businesses that serve both migrants and locals, such as travel agency, jewelry shops, budget hotels, IT services, used electronic products, entertainment products, apparel shops, and ethnic magazines. One key travel agency that serves mainly the Bangladeshi and other South Asian communities is located at Akihabara in Tokyo, the largest electronics market in Japan. This travel agency not only sells cheap air tickets but also provides various immigration services and relevant information to the local immigrant community. This travel agency doubles as a multipurpose shop offering their own international calling cards, phone and software services. A 30-year-old migrant entrepreneur is the owner of this travel agency. He also has a halal food outlet next door. Close to the travel agency and halal food, there are other Bangladeshi shops selling gold jewelry, apparel, and entertainment products (music CDs and DVDs of Bollywood films). A few hundred meters from these mini-ethnic markets, there is a well-known used electronic shop run by a Bangladeshi who came to Japan in the late 1980s. His shop is next to the Akihabara railway line, and it markets computers and computer accessories. Products like computer software, cameras, DVD players, and handy cams are much sought after, and tourists are the main customer base for this shop. Two unusual types of businesses deserve mention: budget hotels and ethnic magazines. One migrant entrepreneur (case no. 9), who came to Japan in 1986, made his fortune in the stock exchange. He later invested his earnings in two budget hotels, equipped with natural hot spring, sauna, and Indian restaurant. As budget hotels, they target both local and foreigner travelers. We also identified several ethnic magazines in Japan such as the Shaptahik Isehara, the Bibekbarta, the doshdick, and the Porobash. They are all available online and are important sources of both Bangladeshi and Japanese news for the Bangladeshi migrant community. In addition to these magazines, there are also some online sites that link the community to the homeland, for example Bangladesh Tigers Portal and Deshbideshweb. These magazines and websites are owned and run by Bangladeshi migrants. Advertisements and donations are the main sources of earnings for these community magazines and websites.
Pathways to Entrepreneurship Business opportunities do not necessarily lead to the development of immigrant businesses. The road to immigrant entrepreneurship particularly in setting up small businesses in the course of temporary migration should be understood in relation to the immigration policy of the host country as well as the motivation for migration and the strategies embedded in the migration process. As discussed earlier, Japan does not have any temporary arrangements for allowing unskilled migrants in. Unlike many Asian countries, such as Singapore and Malaysia, there was hardly any legal route for Bangladeshi migrants keen to work in Japan in the late 1980s, a situation that encouraged overstaying and irregular immigration. A migrant with irregular status cannot open a business unless he has a business visa or other long-
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term stay permits (permanent residency), for which they are ineligible on account of their status. This is because legal procedures involved in the business operations require operators or owners of businesses to have legal status and failure to comply results in confiscation and mandatory deportation. Hence, most irregular or overstaying migrants typically seek paid jobs in three “D” (dirty, dangerous, and demeaning) occupations. This was the major obstacle for Bangladeshi migrant workers who aspired to be entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, although Japan is a culturally conservative society, it does offer work and residence permits to foreigners who are married to Japanese women on humanitarian grounds, a practice usually unavailable in most almost all laborreceiving countries in Asia except South Korea. Out of the 25 cases in this study, 20 migrants were first married to Japanese women. This high occurrence of mixed marriages suggests that migrants made use of the only option open to them to regularize their status and realize their business aspirations in Japan. Two migrant entrepreneurs were single and were students before becoming entrepreneurs. Students are eligible for residence status and according to the Immigration Control Report of 2005, 265 Bangladeshi students took advantage of this between 2000 and 2004.8 However, this option is a recent development. Most of the migrant entrepreneurs who came in 1980s and early 1990s changed their status through marriage. Why do some migrants who qualify for long-term residence or permanent residence engage in businesses while others take up paid employment? We are not in a position to elaborate on this issue in detail as we did not interview those who are not involved in business activity. However, we had an opportunity to talk to some migrants, who were engaged in businesses at first before turning to paid employment in the course of migration. These former migrant businesspersons attributed their failures to a limited market (small ethnic population), higher start-up capital, excessive competition, and meager profits. Since most migrants can converse in Japanese and are familiar with Japanese culture, they had no difficulty in finding jobs in Japan. These conversations with unsuccessful migrant businesspersons gave us an insight to why the successful entrepreneurs adopted innovative or break out strategies in order to survive. Availability of credit is a key to business development. Initially, most respondents lacked resources to start new businesses. They had little access to banks, and their status as foreigners as well as beginners was the main obstacle to build business relationships with banks. Hence, the bulk of the credit for business derived from other sources like personal savings and contributions of Japanese wives. Apart from these, loans from friends and Japanese colleagues also served some entrepreneurs’ initial credit need. With regard to the question why a transient migrant wants to change his immigration status from a worker to an entrepreneur, we advance three arguments here. First, migration to Japan is a risky venture due to the lack of transparency in immigration policy and its strict regulatory regime. Japan has no transient migrant worker schemes. Although Bangladeshis enter the country legally as tourists,
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students, or trainees, they become illegal once they overstay their visas. If these overstayers voluntarily or involuntarily leave, they are banned from reentering the country because of their past immigration record. Whatever opportunities they may have contemplated in Japan are lost. Secondly, Bangladeshi migrants generally are motivated to break out of the “cycle of remigration” embedded in the transient migrant worker programs. They are familiar with the experiences of fellow migrants working in countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Middle East as temporary workers. Temporary labor migration is a form of circular migration in which a potential worker migrates for a limited period to work abroad, but such migration has no certainty of success and often costly. Hence, many migrants attempt to break this “cycle of remigration” by becoming overstayers or irregular migrants. One might well ask why migrate if it is likely to result in economic difficulties. We have suggested elsewhere that international migration for work is increasingly viewed as long term, an occupational choice between working abroad and working at home. Refusal to international migration in Bangladeshi society is regarded as shameful and threatens the masculinity of Bangladeshi males, while termination in the middle of migration is often financially and socially costly for their families (Lian and Rahman 2006, forthcoming). Thirdly, regularizing one’s immigration status is embedded in migration strategy— the very reason for migration is not only to start a migration career for oneself but also to improve the position of the family and kin (bari—collection of households related through kinship and spatial proximity) in a society where socioeconomic mobility is restricted to the very few. Thus, the primary reason for migration is tied to the desire to uplift the family and bari from socioeconomic stagnation. As migrants from traditional societies are obligated to meet the cultural expectations of family and kinship networks and demonstrate reciprocity, this puts pressure on migrants to seek avenues for longterm stay and material success overseas.
Innovative Practices Following Schumpeter, we do not regard innovation as a separate activity from entrepreneurship. Migrant entrepreneurs are driven to adopt various innovative practices in their businesses. Innovation is the attempt to make one’s business as dissimilar as possible from one’s competitors (Engelen 2001). Different groups of migrant entrepreneurs employ different innovative strategies to access a wider market, both nationally and internationally. Broadly, innovation occurs in product development, in sales, and in distribution. Product Innovation Migrant entrepreneurs engage in product innovation in at least three ways: by bringing in regional products, by trading in local products, and by hiring skilled ethnic personnel such as cooks. Migrant retailers sell and distribute the products supplied by migrant wholesalers, but it is the latter who provide entrepreneurial leadership. Although ethnic products
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are the mainstay for ethnic groceries, it is the entrepreneurial wholesalers who supply the ethnic products. However, the origin of ethnic products varies. Most ethnic products were sourced from Bangladesh, but this has changed over time, and they are now imported from different South and Southeast Asian countries. The reason behind this regionalization lies in the demand for such products in the market. Most people in South and Southeast Asian countries share many culinary preferences and products. Wholesalers supply these to retailers who sell to wider clienteles of immigrants from South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. On the dining table of most of the migrants from these regions, one can easily identify products from different countries such as fish from Thailand, parata (Indian bread) from Malaysia, curry powder from India and Pakistan, rice from India, and meat from Australia. Generally, customers prefer to choose from a wide range of products made in different countries. Thus, ethnic groceries in Japan are indeed multiethnic in both products and clienteles. Migrant entrepreneurs usually deal only in ethnic products. The Japanese case reveals a new dimension of migrant businesses. These entrepreneurs are involved in a wide range of non-ethnic products such as calling cards, used cars and tires, Japanese silk, and electronics. The migrant entrepreneurs’ experiences and emotional attachments are associated with their choices of businesses. Bangladeshi-owned companies distribute calling cards all over Japan. They offer the cheapest cards for the African, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Southeast Asian migrant markets. Used car is another non-ethnic product that many migrant entrepreneurs are involved. Some also trade in Japanese used tires mainly to South Korea. One migrant entrepreneur on a trip to South Korea discovered that there is a huge market for Japanese used tires. Upon return, he began exporting them to South Korea. Japanese silk are used to make sarees and women’s apparel. One migrant entrepreneur came to know this on a visit to Dhaka’s New Market and returned to export Japanese silk to Bangladesh. Japanese electronics items are popular worldwide. Some Bangladeshi entrepreneurs considered exporting used electronics overseas. However, electronic products in Japan are designed for the domestic market, and all information are in the Japanese language; they are not marketable overseas. A few Bangladeshi entrepreneurs came up with a brilliant idea. They identified which electronic items and their Japanese software is replaceable with the English version of the software; for example, the software in laptops can be easily replaced with the English version of Windows. They started buying used laptops locally at a cheap price and then downloaded the English software for overseas markets. Some are sold in the local market, especially to foreign tourists. Indian food is increasingly popular among the Japanese, and more Indian restaurants are opening throughout Japan. Many are owned and run by Bangladeshi migrants, although by name and decore, it is difficult to recognize that they are in fact operated by Bangladeshis. These entrepreneurs realized that there was a demand for Indian cuisine, but they were not cooks and had no practical experience about Indian dishes. So they hired cooks from India and opened restaurants with Indian names such as “Indian Curry,” “South Asian restaurants,” and “Taj Mahal Restaurant.” Indian restaurants are also operated by Pakistani and Nepalese migrants.
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Sales and Distribution Migrant entrepreneurs employ several strategies for sales and distribution: spatial, temporal, and modality. Spatial strategies involve attempts to “relocate firms to more rewarding markets” (Engelen 2001), and these can be applied to restaurant businesses in the case of internal markets and used car, calling cards, tire, car parts, Japanese silk, and herbal products in the case of international markets. Bangladeshi-owned Indian restaurants are located in convenient locations, especially next to the subway stations of business districts. The use of the word “Indian” is common to all these restaurants. Since Indian food is more expensive than local food and restaurant owners rely on non-ethnic customers, they advertise their locations with menus and prices in various ways including distributing leaflets, posters, handouts at subways, and displaying prominent signboards in Japanese and English. Unlike traditional ethnic niches where ethnic businesses are usually located to ethnic markets as a spatial strategy, the Japanese case suggests that migrant entrepreneurs have developed a new ethnic identity for their business in predominantly non-ethnic locations. This has been possible by cultivating nonethnic clienteles for their business. The targeting of international markets by migrant entrepreneurs is a radical departure from the conventional understanding of traditional immigrant business. As referred to earlier entrepreneurs have been able to identify opportunities for marketing Japanese products outside of Japan. In the same way as Japanese multinational companies have promoted and distributed their products in the global market, Bangladeshi entrepreneurs have sought alternative routes to sell used cars internationally. Used car entrepreneurs have targeted countries where the demand is stable and returns are high. For instance, they chose to open used car showrooms in several African countries because they know that new Japanese cars are out of the reach of even the higher middle class people, thereby developing a market for affordable second-hand cars. New automobiles manufactured in India have a good market in these countries. However, Japanese cars are known for their quality even if they are 4 or 5 years old and together with their affordability are highly sought after in African markets. Such astute assessment of overseas markets has transformed Bangladesh migrant business into thriving entrepreneurship. This is also true for Japanese herbal products marketed by one leading calling card entrepreneur. On a trip to the USA and Europe, he explored what he could import from Japan. When he discovered that Chinese herbals were available in Western markets but not Japanese herbals, he immediately decided to trade in the latter. He identified some well-known Japanese herbals including beauty products and began marketing them overseas. The success of his venture led him even to buy a well-known Japanese herbal product company. Similarly, the sale of international calling cards online outside Japan and the expansion of the calling card business in Malaysia and Singapore suggest that Bangladesh migrants are entrepreneurial in seeking out overseas markets. Temporal strategies refer to modifying selling or production hours. Retail entrepreneurs employ various temporal strategies for sale and distribution. Halal food outlets and other ethnic groceries usually open in the late morning and close late at night. However, due to changes in the modality of sales and distribution,
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temporal strategies have a minimal impact in the retail business. Bangladeshi retail entrepreneurs have developed online shopping, telesales, and pay-upon-delivery to expand their business. Retailers operate online shopping facilities for customers who live in Tokyo and other parts of Japan, complete with catalogs of prices and pictures of products. Upon ordering online, the goods are delivered by post within 24 h in any part of Japan. Customers pay cash upon delivery of goods. Few customers now visit physically the retail stores for shopping. Online shopping has made the lives of immigrant wives comfortable, a practice that few South Asian wives enjoyed back home. Customers who do not have internet at home can order by telephone, and the goods will be delivered within 24 h. Online shopping has made it possible to access markets all over Japan. As one leading retailer from Tokyo said, “my 90% orders come online.” However, there is also competition as most retailers have online presence. To compete with one another, some retailers offer special promotions and gift vouchers to customers, such as free DVDs of newly released Bollywood films, Bengali dramas, ethnic magazines, and television programs. Online shopping for groceries and daily necessities have changed the traditional notion of ethnic/ immigrant businesses.
Conclusion Theoretical developments in migrant entrepreneurship have largely been developed in the North American context: notably that migrant entrepreneurship thrives in ethnic enclaves but is spatially restricted and that ultimately they are assimilated into the host economy by becoming mainstream firms. The classic ethnic business pattern found in North America and indeed many European societies are immigrant entrepreneurs owning small and often vulnerable enterprises in neighborhoods with strong immigrant populations and relying overwhelmingly on co-ethnic networks (Light and Gold 2000, cited in Fresnoza-Flot and Pecoud 2007). We have argued (Lian and Rahman forthcoming) that Bangladeshi migrant entrepreneurship, though sharing some similar characteristics, has largely taken a different trajectory under conditions of temporary labor migration in East Asia. Because of the uncertainty and costliness of temporary migration, Bangladeshi migrants seek ways and means to regularize their status to gain entry into paid employment or engage in business activity. Those who become entrepreneurs are forced to innovate and seek overseas markets in order to survive. The incentive to do so can be traced to the beginning of the migrant career of a Bangladeshi when he makes the decision to migrate overseas. Once he migrates, there is no turning back, and he will continue to tread in what we called the “cycle of re-migration,” until he can demonstrate some measure of success acceptable to his bari. Migration is the only option for social and economic mobility for Bangladeshis. Furthermore, in Japan, Bangladeshi migrants have had to marry local women and regularize their status before they can go on to develop their business. Unlike traditional ethnic businesses that are greatly dependent on co-ethnics for support at least in the initial phase and rarely move beyond the domestic market,
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Bangladeshi entrepreneurs in Japan are driven to adopt innovative strategies early on in both product development and market expansion. Hence, innovation occurs in developing regional sources of supply for food products required by South Asians, adapting electronic equipment, exporting used cars and tires, exporting Japanese herbals to overseas markets, and introducing online shopping facilities to cater to educated and mobile clienteles. Along with product innovation, these entrepreneurs have cultivated ethnic and non-ethnic customers in the domestic market and targeted foreign markets. Product and market innovation feed on each other. What drives innovation, which is largely absent in traditional ethnic enterprise. Technological revolutions in communication (international calling cards, mobile phones, and internet) and transport (budget airlines) accompanied by the globalization of markets have opened up opportunities unavailable to migrant businesses in the past. Such developments have also led to hypercompetitive conditions. Potential Bangladeshi migrant entrepreneurs can no longer rely on ethnic niche markets; because of size limitations they are quickly saturated with competitors. A culture of travel, networking, and information gathering creates awareness of opportunities and markets in different parts of the world. Consequently, migrant entrepreneurship has transcended national territory. This study highlights the development of migrant entrepreneurship among recent Bangladeshi emigrants in Japan, which is transnational and/or multinational in dimension. It is transnational in the transactions of halal food, ethnic restaurants and apparel, and used tires; and multinational in the transactions of used cars, electronic accessories, calling cards, and Japanese herbal products.
Acknowledgement This research was funded by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore. The authors would like to thank Rahman Moni from Porobas (Japan), Hisaya Oda from Ritsumeikan University, Mayumi Murayama from IDE-JETRO, Iguchi Yasushi from Kwansei Gakuin University, and Emiko Ochiai from Kyoto University for their support. Special thanks go to Kosuke Mizuno, CSEAS, Kyoto University, for invitation and local support during the fieldwork. The authors wish to thank the anonymous reviewers of JIMI for their insightful comments on the draft version of this article.
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of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Asian Population Studies, Asian and Pacific Migration Journal. Address: Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore, Singapore 117570, Singapore [mizan@nus. edu.sg or email@example.com]. Lian Kwen Fee is Associate Professor of Sociology at the National University of Singapore. His research interests are in race and ethnicity, migration, and multiculturalism. Adress: Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore, Singapore 117570, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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