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The Rise of The Nomad – A New Work-Life Style in Japan

April 5, 2012

Historically, Japan has been a sedentary agricultural society. The people were strongly tied to the land and stayed there all their lives. The proverb ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’ was considered negative in Japan, where the moss was viewed as something valuable, as you see at the famous Saiho-ji moss temple in Kyoto.

On the other hand, the people on the move without settling were looked as irresponsible and untrustworthy. For the past few years, however, Japan is seeing a rise of a new type of people against this perspective – the nomad.

Those ‘nomad’ people (pronounced like ‘noh-mah-doh’ in Japanese) are mostly freelancers and entrepreneurs, who don’t belong to a single organization but hop among various projects and initiatives – paid or unpaid. The boundary of the work-life is blurred and stability is not their highest priority.

As the world evolves, the society changes so does the value system. Now the moss is viewed as something old and stagnating – a  symbol of the outdated traditionalism and conservatism. The nomads, or often called ‘nomad workers’ to be precise, are the people going against the existing norms and redefining the social structure. Here are three (plus one) types of ‘nomad’ found in Japan today.

#1 Self-branding Freelancers

The people in the ‘creative’ field – writers, editors, photographers, designers, and so on – are now renamed as ‘nomad workers.’ They work as a contractor or freelancer, getting income here and there, while they exhibit their creativity on the blog, mail magazine, twitter, YouTube and ustream until they build a personal brand. Nothing is new but the name (which is the most important for the self-branding, I guess.)

#2 Asian Mini-Retirees

These are the people who practice ‘The 4-Hour Workweek‘ in their way. Some work hard for a month or two every year in Tokyo to support their mini-retirements in Thailand or Vietnam for the rest of the year. Others manage their investment account in Singapore to get enough income to live a relaxing life in Malaysia. Tokyo is a couple of hours flight distant from major cities in South-East Asia, where people are mostly pro-Japan and the living cost is one tenth.

#3 Social Entrepreneurs

The third kind of the nomad is the entrepreneurs active in the social network – both virtual and real. They build a loose form of collaboration, which is often achieved by work and/or living space sharing. There are ‘nomad cafes‘ – or socialized Starbuck’s – where people come in and work individually or collaboratively on the fly. There are house-sharing – or business-minded fraternities – where people live together and incubate start-up ideas.

#99 Wanderers in Material World

The last (and the least,) the nomad is becoming a fashion, too. Magazines introduce cool gadgets for the nomad workers. Blogs boast how they use the best cloud service. Twitter tweets about a newly opened nomad cafe with free wi-fi and power outlet. Means are confounded with the end. They are also called consumers.

Today’s Quote

‘Not all those who wander are lost.’ by J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of ‘The Load of the Rings

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