While Cambodia has long been a destination for western expats looking to retire, the Kingdom is becoming increasingly appealing for Japanese retirees looking for a good quality of life at a fraction of the price in their home country. However, as an ageing population demands a solid healthcare industry, until those needs are met, retirees will continue to seek more developed locations, local Japanese residents say.
Currently, the number of Japanese citizens living in Cambodia is registered at approximately 2,500, according to Yoshihiro Abe, First Secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Phnom Penh. However, he added that there could be many more.
“As of January this year, the number of Japanese nationals aged over 60, who are registered with the Embassy, is about 300 – an increase of 30 per cent since last year,” added Naoaki Kamoshida, Counselor to the Japanese Embassy.
In comparison to Thailand, where there are around 80,000 Japanese retirees, this small but growing number shows that Cambodia could be the next destination for Japanese looking to settle down, said Tani Shunji, CEO of Tanichu Assetment, a Japanese real estate investment company.
“I have observed that there is an increasing number of Japanese-styled condominiums, as well as Japanese elderly staying in this country,” he said.
One of his company’s property developments, the 23-storey J-Tower condominium, has reportedly sold 60 per cent of its units to Japanese buyers, out of which 12 per cent are above 60 years old.
With Japan persistently facing a demographic shift towards an ageing population, waves of Japanese have been searching for countries that provide high living standards at lower costs, wrote Yushi Li in his 2013 book titled Global Aging Issues and Policies.
The Japanese ageing demographic is burgeoning, with 33 per cent of the country’s 126-million strong population being over 60 years old, according to this month’s figure reports from the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
According to Toshiaki Fukuda, chairman of the Japanese-owned hospital Sunrise Healthcare, retiring abroad is becoming commonplace.
“Retiring abroad is a growing phenomenon because the number of Japanese elderly is increasing. The difference of price of service and accommodation are the most important factors,” he said.
66-year old Sasaki Sei-ichi, a Japanese retiree who has been living in Phnom Penh for more than a year, is one of these overseas retirees. He explained why he was first interested in coming to Cambodia.
“I had first wanted to visit Cambodia in 1975 at the same time that I was visiting Thailand, but the country was at war. In 2005, the textile company I worked for in Tokyo offered me a travel ticket to anywhere in Southeast Asia, so I decided to visit Cambodia,” he said.
Ten years later, seeing how much the country had developed, he decided that Cambodia was a choice destination. His wife – who still works in Tokyo – will be moving here in the near future, he said.
While it was initially difficult for him to adapt, having learned to speak Khmer, albeit with a heavy Japanese accent, he has slowly become accustomed to the Cambodian lifestyle.
“I always come to the Cambodia-Japan Cooperation Centre (CJCC), where I read Japanese and Khmer books, and interact with both Japanese and Cambodian people,” he said.
Frequently taking trips to historical sites such as the Angkor Wat and the ancient pyramid-shaped Koh Ker temple and the fresh green mountains of Mondulkiri, has sealed his appreciation for the Kingdom, he said.
Nevertheless, there have been downsides to Sei-ichi’s life in Cambodia. He cited issues of security and safety, most notably the disorderly transport system and hit-and-runs. Besides that, as a man looking to spend the rest of his years in comfort, he complains of rubbish left in the streets and rowdy neighbours who “drink” till late at night.
While Sei-ichi believes that more Japanese will undoubtedly eye Cambodia as a place to retire, the main impediment to large numbers migrating over still falls on the lack of proper healthcare.
“Due to medical reasons, I am always advised to return to my own home country for medical checkups and treatments,” he said, adding that if there was better care available, he would be happy enough to not have to travel back and forth.
According to a data report from the Ministry of Tourism Cambodia, the number of Japanese arrivals in the Kingdom from January to November 2015 was over 170,000, decreasing 11.5 per cent compared to the same period in 2014.
In spite of this, the Ministry reported an increase of Japanese acquiring business visas, growing from 13,457 in 2014, to 20,439 in 2015 – although it still remains unclear how many are moving for retirement purposes.
But with a less expensive cost of living compared to neighboring Thailand, Sei-ichi believes he is just one of many that are soon come to the Kingdom to retire in relative comfort.
“The condition to live in Cambodia is getting better, so in the future Cambodia may be a place to enjoy their lives after retirement,” Fukuda said.
“In my opinion, the impediment is unsatisfactory infrastructure. Japanese elderly desire stress-free days with good transportation, stable electricity without blackouts and most notably, good medical support.”