The Unfolding Exodus: Myanmar’s Youth Seek New Beginnings in Japan

by mohingamatters

In the wake of the coup, a wave of young people is abandoning their homeland to pursue a more secure and promising future. The exodus, driven by socio-political turmoil and economic challenges, has become a poignant narrative for thousands of parents witnessing their children embark on a journey to an uncertain destiny.

A father laments, “Everyone is leaving. No more young people left in Myanmar.” His own daughter, like countless others, is preparing to relocate to Japan. The stories of families being separated by borders have become tragically commonplace in post-coup Myanmar.

According to Gallup’s interviews conducted within seven months after the coup in 2021, there has been a staggering increase in the number of Myanmar citizens expressing a desire to leave their country. The percentage surged from a mere 6% in 2018 to a record 24% in late 2021. Japan, known for its stable employment opportunities amid a declining native workforce, has seen a threefold rise in the influx of Myanmar workers, with 105 local agencies dispatching an additional 9,627 individuals for low-skilled manual jobs between late 2020 and early 2021.

The Mainichi, Japanese daily news, reported in October 2022 that the total number of Myanmar workers in Japan rose from 27,798 to 47,498, representing a significant shift post-COVID and post-coup Myanmar.

Ei, a young mother in her early thirties from Yangon, epitomizes the determination of these migrants. Formerly a mathematics teacher who used English as a medium in her job, she decided to switch careers after the coup. Learning Japanese became her ticket to overseas employment, driven by a desire to secure a better future for her children. Despite facing communication challenges in her new language and the heart-wrenching prospect of leaving her family behind, Ei remains resolute in her decision to work as a caregiver trainee in Japanese nursing homes.

The increasing demand for Japanese language proficiency is evident in the rising number of language courses offered both online and in face-to-face classes. The desperation of young people is palpable, as witnessed on 5 August 2022, when a large crowd anxiously sought Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) level four (N4) forms. A prerequisite for working in Japan, obtaining at least an N4 certification has become a strand of hope for these aspirants. Reports indicate that thousands, ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 individuals, queued for hours, some even waiting since the early hours of the morning, to secure their test forms—a tangible ticket to their envisioned futures.

Among them is 20-year-old Kay, the eldest in her family, who sacrificed her university education to support her struggling family in Myanmar. Hailing from a farming background, Kay decided to become a caregiver trainee in Japan after achieving JLPT N4 certification. Despite the temporary hiatus in her education, she remains steadfast in her commitment to send money back home and, with unwavering hope, dreams of pursuing a university education in Japan in the future.

While Japan has become one of the most popular countries that Myanmar youths consider migrating to, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and other countries farther away are also proper contenders for such moves as the homeland is no longer a place where the young generation can thrive. The stories of these young individuals mirror the resilience and aspirations of a generation seeking solace and opportunity beyond the confines of their homeland.

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