I conducted in-depth interviews with Chinese students in high-ranking Japanese universities during a period of fieldwork in and around Tokyo and the Kansai region (mainly in and around Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, which make up a large metropolitan area in Western Japan) from 2010 to 2011. I reached out to them through mailing lists of Chinese student associations of different universities or halls of residence, and through introductions by existing informants in social events. Their paths to Japan varied: some of them came to Japan after high school, studied Japanese in language schools, and moved on to a university course, while others finished their undergraduate studies in China and pursued postgraduate courses in Japan. Overall speaking, the majority of them were born in or after the 1980s and came to Japan from a city in a Chinese coastal province, or a city in the three Northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning. In the Chinese context, 'post-80ers' (balinghou) is a label given to the cohort born between 1980 and 1989. It has been argued that the label carries richer and more complex meaning than other cohort labels such as 'post-70ers' and 'post-90ers' (Liu, 2011, p. 140), in no small part because of the overlap of their births with the significant social changes associated with the 'reform and opening' policies. In the context of urban China, most of the post-1980 generation are in single-child families (due to the implementation of the one-child policy to control population growth in 1979, limiting urban families to one child) and grew up in a period of time where the development of the market economy in China brought significant changes in all aspects of life in urban (and rural) China. Chinese youth born in the 1980s or after were also spoken of as being pragmatic, materialistic (Liu, 2011), and perceived as self-centred, not least by those born before the 1980s (Rosen, 2009, p. 362).
While the actual picture may well be much more nuanced than this broad brush generalisation of post-80ers being individualistic, pragmatic and materialistic (Cockain, 2012), and I am by no means arguing that the findings of my study support such a generalised claim, my informants, who belonged to this post-80ers cohort, indeed showed a very keen concern for their individual career success, as we will see in the next section. Further, despite their strong ties with China, most informants intended to stay in Japan to work for several years after graduation. Of the 53 students from Mainland China that I interviewed, only 6 explicitly stated that they would not consider staying in Japan for further study or work after graduating from their current academic programmes1. The following section presents some of the reasons for this, in my informants' own words.