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The relocation professionals: sometimes trusting the experts is the best bet for stressed out expats trying to navigate a new culture.

The logistics of moving to Japan can be a stressful challenge that distracts relocating expatriates from the positive cultural and professional experience. Luckily, there is a diverse array of relocation specialists in Japan that aim to ease the transition. J@pan Inc readers contemplating a move to Japan may wonder if their situation fits the services of such companies. Therefore, we will explain the roles of our featured relocation specialists and describe some things they do to lessen the culture shock a Japan expatriate might experience. From a broader economic perspective, we will examine what effect Japan's recession and the struggling US economy have had on the relocation service industry.

ReloJapan offers comprehensive services focused entirely on providing assistance to firms relocating employees to Japan, including everything from orientations to tenancy and expense management as well as disaster recovery services. The company focuses on customer service excellence, close attention to the specific needs of clients, and technology that provides what it calls "a new level in Japan relocation support services." ReloJapan works with partner relocation companies throughout the world as well as directly with companies in Japan and abroad. Their customers are primarily from the US, however there are also a great number from the UK and Australia, and they also assist transferees relocating from other European nations and South American countries.

"Related specifically to 'culture shock' treatment, ReloJapan offers cross-cultural orientation sessions," says Shanna Keller of ReloJapan. "We support everything from the housing decision and preparation to researching specific needs a client may have." The company is dedicated to continuously developing its experienced staff so it can answer questions one may not even know to ask, thereby ensuring a successful Japan experience.

Due to the economic climate, ReloJapan has found that the number of expatriates coming to Japan is certainly lower than the number leaving. "While extravagant packages may not be as commonplace as in recent years, most companies realize that providing relocation packages is a vital part of a successful relocation and continue to make this essential investment," says Ms. Keller.

Asian Tigers Premier Worldwide Movers specializes in the international transportation of household goods and personal effects. Services include: packing in the home, local transportation, shipping overseas by both air and sea and final delivery to the new destination of the client. It is also able to place comprehensive insurance coverage on the items being shipped in the event something unforeseen occurs.

"For customers moving into Japan, Asian Tigers provides them with a complimentary welcome package that contains many useful reference tools to assist them in adjusting to their new life in Japan. Many employers actually do a fairly good job of this as well, but our objective is to ensure that everyone moving into Japan has some good basic head-start information about transportation, schools, shopping, etc.," says Nick Masee of Asian Tigers Premier Worldwide Movers.

Regarding the effects of Japan's recession and recent corporate trimming of expatriate benefits, Mr. Masee admits that some companies are taking a serious look at the benefits they extend to their foreign staff as the economy continues to struggle. "When times are tough, logically everyone finds ways to tighten their belt, whether they are an individual of a company," he says. "Living overseas has its challenges--being away from family, friends, your normal routine--so in exchange most employers have to offer incentives to make the time overseas more appealing. Take away too much of that and people then begin to question what the value is for them in what they are sacrificing."

Crown Relocations is a move management company with over 37 years of experience and a diverse array of helpful services. The company assists with temporary accommodations, home search, school search, preview trips, orientations/settling-in services, immigration/visa requirements and cross cultural training. Crown Relocations also offers management services such as tenancy expense management and assignment cost management.

The company does some unique things to lessen the culture shock a Japan expatriate might experience. It assists them by showing them how they can get plugged into an everyday routine as quickly as possible, explains Louis Pimentel, General Manager of Crown Relocations. "Once they have settled into this familiar and secure routine, they can alse begin to explore the cultural and social aspects of Japan that are different from their own country, and the culture shock becomes a learning experience."

In response to the notion that there have been fewer extravagant expatriate relocation packages being given to foreigners coming to Japan, Mr. Pimentel says, "Keep in mind that one of the biggest costs of an expatriate assignment is housing--and the price in housing has come down in Tokyo at the same time that corporations have been trying to control the costs of their global assignments. We do see that a lot of companies are more strictly enforcing their existing allowance policies, whereas in the past many exceptions were made--leading to some fairly extravagant relocation costs."

IKOMA/CB Richard Ellis (ICBRE) provides a full menu of relocation services that include: immigration assistance, school search, home search, orientations to Tokyo, 24-hour care service, tenancy/expense management and repatriation programs. These are listed in a timeline and are best conducted in this progression as a full service package, explains Kevin Prospal of IKOMA/CB Richard Ellis. The immigration assistance program is designed to relieve the human resources professional of all the mundane tasks of collecting and checking the various documents needed for the respective visa applications and to smooth the process for the individual transferee. For the school search, the company will schedule appointments at the selected schools and accompany the transferee on the visits. "The home search is the most personal of any of the services as it assists the transferee in selecting not just a house or apartment, but a new home," says Mr. Prospal.

An orientation is also an indispensable part of any relocation and especially vital in big and crowded Tokyo. Since Tokyo has one of the most comprehensive public transportation systems in the world, it can be quite confusing to those who have just arrived. "The ICBRE Orientatien Program provides a fully accompanied tour using the public transportation system of the locations that the transferee will be going to most frequently, as well as the necessary visits to health care facilities, markets, etc.," he explains.

In the subjective area of culture shock, ICBRE employs a highly personalized and sensitive service. The company focuses on providing services to the non-working spouse and family. Typically, Mr. Prospal explains, in an international relocation the working spouse's world doesn't really change that much. "They still go to work, albeit in a different place, talk about the same topics and interact with people who understand each other. The world of the non-working spouse, on the other hand, changes dramatically. They have been transplanted to this new place where the writing system is different, the language being spoken around them is not familiar and the support system of friends and family is thousands of miles away."

Tokyu Relocation offers house hunting, helps with lease contracts, payment of contract money (deposit/key money/initial rent, etc.), payment of monthly rent to owners, attending move-in/out inspections, negotiation for restoration fees and settlement of deposit.

Tokyu Relocation, with clients coming largely from the US, the UK and Germany, but various other countries as well, has also seen changes in the expatriate relocation services industry. "The number of expats coming to Japan is decreasing, and some expats request rent reduction when contracts are renewed. Also, some expats' status has been changing from 'expat' to 'local.' However, the party who bears rent or fees depends on the company," says Masaki Ono of Tokyu Relocation.

Tokyo Orientations provides orientation services that assist with every aspect of a relocation to Japan. The company's aim is to provide companies and individuals with relocation solutions that make the transition as smooth and cost-effective as possible. "Our services are tailored to suit each and every client's needs. Our most popular services include: full immigration services, introductory orientations of Tokyo supplemented by information kits, international school visits, assistance with house hunting, settling-in orientations supplemented by information kits, assistance with alien registration, re-entry permits, and setting up bank accounts; assistance obtaining Japanese driver's licenses; and ongoing telephone/email support for the duration of one's stay in Japan," says Client Relations Manager, Mr. Daetwyler. The company also provides assistance with local moves, tenancy management, lease extension negotiations and repatriations. Services can be obtained individually or as a package and are always personalized.

Tokyo Orientations often finds clients contacting them after hearing about the company from someone else who has used its services. "Word of mouth is very important in our business. Many clients also contact us after finding out about our services through the Internet. We also receive many clients from relocation companies overseas. Of course we also market our services to foreign companies in Japan," says General Manager, Hiroshi Ohnishi. Clients can be anyone who is relocating to Japan, from individuals who find the company themselves to employees of current client companies.

Finding the right space

Since the process of finding a home in a foreign country can be highly emotional and unsettling, an industry within an industry is finding and selecting real estate for foreigners in Japan. Some people come here knowing they will stay only for a few years, some plan on staying forever, and some will live here for some amount of time in between. Some, it's safe to assume, are here to capitalize on lower real estate prices in Tokyo. Fortunately, there are real estate specialists to address all of these niches.

Century 21 SKY Realty Inc, a well-known international real estate agency, explains the real estate selection process. "Usually people contact us with their 'wish list' of the type of home they are looking for," says Kenneth F. Arbour of Century 21 SKY Realty. "We have several hundred properties with layouts and photos on our Web site so they can get a pretty good idea of what kind of properties are out there." The next step, he explains, is sending the client all the information available, with the client then reviewing this and making arrangements for the firm to show them the properties they like. In this step, Century 21 SKY Realty describes local areas and answers questions on the go. "When they find something they like, they make an offer through us, which states the rent they are willing to pay and changes they would like made, then we draw up a formal lease agreement, and once the deposit and rent are paid they can move in." In the last step, Century 21 makes sure their new home is ready and conducts a move-in inspection to confirm everything is in order.

Mr. Arbour sees a positive and negative aspect to Japan's recession and the global economic slowdown. "Companies have cut back and belts are tightening. On the other hand, rents have seriously fallen as well. The drop in rents allows not only for a better home, but will also compensate for moving expenses."

H&R Consultants is another internationally renowned real estate specialist that smooths the expatriate transition. "The most important aspect of finding suitable housing for our clients is fully understanding their needs and the needs of their company related to the budget and contract terms," says Sumiko Shimojima, Tokyo Branch Manager.

Ms. Shimojima explains that H&R Consultants first holds a detailed discussion with the expatriate to understand their background, family needs, school preferences and work location. These factors, along with their lifestyle needs, are the most important factors when deciding suitable areas and housing types. "This, combined with their company's budget and contract term requirements, allows us to prepare a specific list of potential properties suitable for the expatriate," she explains.

Since culture shock can be intense when dealing with the headaches of finding real estate in a foreign country, H&R Consultants finds it is most important to clearly explain upfront what the housing market in Japan has to offer. "We also are very careful to fully explain to the expatriate's company what is standard for rental contracts in Japan; as contract terms in Japan can be quite different from those in other countries. This is an important step to ensure that all parties fully understand and know what to expect," says Ms. Shimojima.

The well-known level affair Westerners have with their cars opens up another niche in the relocation service industry. Getting your car here, obtaining all the necessary paperwork, learning the driving regulations, and getting your car back to your home country are all areas handled by Occidental Cars, a licensed Japanese motor vehicle dealer that offers expat auto services. The company handles everything from the arrival stage, the duration of stay, to the departure stage. "In the arrival stage, we provide services such as importing cars and selling new and used cars to families that just arrived. In the duration stage, we offer services such as car and personal insurance, a 24-hour English roadside assistance package, "shaken" and car maintenance/service assistance," says Trent Keliher, International Sales Manager. "In the departure stage, we offer car-shipping services for families who can take their car home, and car buy-back assistance for families who want to leave their car behind."

The overall economic climate has affected this business somewhat. "Overall, the big expat packages are things of the past, although they do still exist in certain industries and for senior positions. Expats in the financial sector have been hit the hardest, with more banks and securities companies offering more local-hire style packages. Having said that, there are still some companies that do offer their expats assistance with cars or transport," says Mr. Keliher.

WHATEVER YOUR NEEDS TOKYU HAS THE SOLUTION

Looking to get the most out of your stay in Japan? Tokyu Relocation's innovative new service "Tokyu Support Specialist" offers one-stop shopping for everything you need for your new life in Japan.

We're here to provide a range of services that will ease you and your family into your new life in Japan. Our extensive experience and far-reaching networks allow us to meet any type of relocation you need. Experienced, full-time, English-speaking personnel are at your disposal, ready to help with any detail.

ORIENTATION

We provide you with an extensive "settling-in" service to help you start your new life in Japan.

HOUSING

Let Tokyu's Support System take care of all the irksome details of corporate housing management. Tokyu's home-location service provides total support for every housing related need. Professionals in the field of leased-property management handle all aspects of corporate housing management, so you don't have to.

For more information please visit http:/www.tokyu-relocation.co.jp/en/index.html or contact:

Tokyu Relocation Co., Ltd.

ATTN: Masaki Ono

Tel: 03-3476-1599

Fax: 03-3476-4332
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Title Annotation:Relocation In Japan
Author:Roberts, John
Publication:Japan Inc.
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Nov 1, 2002
Words:2475
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