‘I fell in love with the city when I came on a short-term posting’

Wild Geese: Eamonn Murphy, Tokyo

Eamonn Murphy: “It’s a fantastic environment . . . Despite it being a megacity, everything is very convenient and easy.”

Eamonn Murphy: “It’s a fantastic environment . . . Despite it being a megacity, everything is very convenient and easy.”

 

Arriving in Tokyo not knowing Japanese and with no contacts, one of the first things Eamonn Murphy did was join a rugby team. Eight years later, the Dubliner is big on Japan.

Murphy graduated from UCD with a degree in business at the beginning of the Celtic Tiger. “Times were great, there were a lot of opportunities,” he recalls. Peers who emigrated then did so by choice. Some of the best career opportunities at home were with US tech companies and Murphy joined Dell, where he spent 13 years working on projects in Europe and Asia, including one in Japan.

“I fell in love with the place when I worked on that project – the people, the culture. Tokyo is such a huge city with nine million people, but it is so orderly and friendly and clean.”

Finishing at Dell and in the aftermath of the financial crisis, he, like many others at the time, moved overseas.

“I had no job lined up. My first thing was to enrol in a language school and then to find a job.” Things were made easier by networking.

“The Irish community here were great. As soon as they hear somebody is new in town, they welcome you and they try to help. The Ireland Japan Chamber of Commerce and the Irish community in general were very welcoming.

“I think they appreciate how difficult it can be in Japan, so they are automatically very supportive.” He has stayed involved and is now vice-president of the chamber, “partly to help people who are in similar situation to myself”.

For the Leinster supporter who had played with his old school, Belvedere College, rugby was an in too. “It was a great way to meet Japanese people and the international community too,” he says.

Murphy took a role as a programme manager with Japanese internet services company Rakuten, which operates in the ecommerce, fintech and media space. “I’ve been with them since I came over and part of my role is to help them expand overseas.

“One of the reasons I came to Japan is because it’s a very enjoyable place to work. People here are very loyal, they are very hardworking, innovative and inquisitive,” he says.

There are similarities to Ireland. “They work very hard during office hours, but on a Friday, they like to socialise. So a team or a department will go out and that’s where a lot of discussion about work will continue. It’s part of Japanese work culture. Perhaps it’s not as normal for other cultures when they come to Japan, but Irish people are used to that.”

Japan is the third largest economy in the world and a trade deal with the country that came into force two years ago has accelerated European Union trade. There are more than 500 Irish companies exporting to Japan with Irish exports valued at €2.5 billion.

“To do business, it helps a lot to have people on the ground here,” says Murphy. “It does take some effort to establish yourself, to get known and build trust and loyalty, but there are some great [Irish] fintech, pharmaceutical and life sciences companies that have been doing business here and they can build up substantial relationships.”

Pandemic

The country has handled the pandemic “relatively well”, he says. Apart from an initial closure, schools have remained open.

“The trains are running, restaurants remain open until 8pm, you can go about your business, everyone wears masks and is conscious of the guidelines.”

Where it has impacted is the inability to fly home and see his parents. “We keep in regular contact by Skype, but it’s in the back of my mind, that uncertainty about getting back and how long it will take in the case of an emergency.” The Irish embassy, however, has been “great”, communicating to the 1,500-strong community there, he says.

With an already tech-savvy population, the pandemic has further increased the adoption of digital technologies, he says. The government has recently established a digital ministry to promote the further adoption of technology across society.

Visitors to the country will note digital money is the norm. Taxis can often stump Irish people returning home. “In Japan, the doors open automatically for you. You don’t touch them. There are funny things like that you just get used to in Japan.”

St Patrick’s Day celebrations, which normally entail a shutdown of Tokyo’s main shopping street and a two-day festival of Irish food and drink, culture, music and sport, moved online this year. The Olympics, due to be hosted in Tokyo this summer, is up in the air too, of course.

“I just know that whenever it does go ahead, Tokyo will do the best job it can. They have shown with the Rugby World Cup they can put on a fantastic tournament.”

Indeed the 2019 Rugby World Cup hosted by Japan holds fond memories for Murphy. When the host nation played Ireland, then ranked top of the world, he was in the stands with his Tokyo-born wife and baby daughter. “It was strange. As quite a big fan of the Irish rugby team, I was quite happy Japan won. They played extremely well and this country went absolutely crazy.

“The Irish fans, how they reacted, was quite moving. They were appreciative that the hosts had won, and that Japan was the better team, and they partied and celebrated with the Japanese fans after the game. The atmosphere in the stadium was just breathtaking. It’s a memory that will last along time.”

While living in Japan means being prepared for earthquakes and tsunamis, day to day, “the general level of safety is really comforting”, he says.

“It’s a fantastic environment. Within a five-minute walk is my daughter’s nursery, lots of small parks, you can cycle around, the train system is fantastic, the education system is fantastic. Despite it being a megacity, everything is very convenient and easy,” he says. “And there are so many opportunities for my daughter.”

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