Ruth Achenbach

Home » Our Team » Ruth Achenbach
Goethe University Frankfurt

Labor Market Integration and Staying Decisions of Chinese Graduates in Japan and Singapore




This project challenges the long-held myth of Japan being a “non-immigration” country. As a country battling demographic change, Japan is in desperate need of foreign workers (in any skill category). Its efforts to attract foreign students have been rather successful, however, not enough of them are staying on after graduation to fulfill the demands of the labor market. Why is that? How do graduates handle the unwritten laws of the Japanese labor market, what decides whether they stay in Japan? How do the experiences of Chinese graduates differ by race, class, and gender? Which role do family factors play?

The situation is placed in comparison with Singapore, widely accepted as an immigration country. Singapore is seen as a stepping-stone to move outside of Asia, as it provides English-language education. Singapore also – earlier than other countries like Japan – welcomed international students back to its world-class universities, making it even more attractive during covid. Here, too, however, students not necessarily stay long-term.

The project follows Chinese graduates of Japan’s and Singapore’s top universities from graduation to the first few years on the labor market – including both fresh graduates and workers who had already been interviewed in 2011/12 (in Japan’s case).


Ruth will conduct four field trips. On site, she will combine ethnographic observations with qualitative interviews with students, recent graduates and established professionals, and subsequently implement a quantitative survey. She is a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Comparative Culture, Sophia University.



Curriculum vitae


since March 2021 Leader of and Researcher in the BMBF funded joint research project Qualification and Skill in the Migration Process of Foreign Workers in Asia (“Qualifikation” im Migrationsprozess ausländischer Fachkräfte in Asien, QuaMaFA) at the Interdisciplinary Centre for East Asian Studies (IZO), Goethe University Frankfurt
Visiting Fellow, Institute of Comparative Culture, Sophia University
2018 Lecturer in Korean Studies, Summer Term, Goethe University Frankfurt
2017 – 2018 Lecturer in Japanese Studies, Summer Term 2017 and 2018, Heidelberg University
since April 2016 Lecturer in the English-language interdiscplinary study program Modern East Asian Studies (MEAS), Goethe University Frankfurt
since January 2016 Academic Coordinator of IZO, Goethe University Frankfurt der Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, on leave
since January 2016 Co-Coordinator of Africa’s Asian Options (AFRASO) (funding by BMBF until 2019, now Forum AFRASO), on leave
2015 Lecturer in Japanese Studies, University of Zurich
2010 – 2015 PhD Student in Japanese Studies at University of Hamburg
Dissertation Title: Highly Skilled Chinese in Japan. Modelling Return Migration Decisions over the Life Course
2011 – 2015 Lecturer in Japanese Studies, University of Hamburg
2011 – 2013 PhD Scholarship by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS)
2012 Research stay in Shanghai, Hangzhou und Beijing (funding: KAS)
2011 Research stay the German Institute for Japanese Studies. Tokyo
2011 Visiting researcher at Waseda University, Tokyo (funding: Alexander von Humboldt Foundation)
2010 Resarcher in the Project “Arbeitsmarkt und Zuwanderung” at the Institute of Asian and African Studies, University of Hamburg
2003 – 2009 Student of Japanese Studies, Sinology and Law at the University of Hamburg (Recipient of the Karl H. Ditze-Prize for Master Thesis on Japan-Taiwan Relations)
2006 – 2007 Student of Law, Meiji Gakuin University, Tokyo


Research Interests


  • International migration of the highly skilled
  • Chinese migration to Japan
  • decision theory
  • life stage models
  • Japanese development cooperation, Kaizen in international context
  • social inequality in Japan
  • mobility of ideas



Service to the Profession


  • Member of VSJF
  • Member of EAJS
  • Member of DGA
  • Member of SID Chapter Frankfurt e.V.
  • Member of AFRASO Steering Committee
  • Reviewer for several Japan-related and/or social sciences journals, such as Contemporary Japan, SSJJ, Asian Studies, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies


Teaching Experience


Winter 2021/22 Migrants in Japan: shining a spotlight on vulnerable groups and social inequality, Goethe University Frankfurt
Summer 2020 Japan in International Migration, Goethe University Frankfurt
Winter 2018/19 Development Cooperation in Global East Asia, Goethe University Frankfurt
Summer 2018 Migration und Integration in Japan (Hauptseminar), Heidelberg University
Demographischer Wandel in Südkorea [Demographic Change in South Korea], Goethe University Frankfurt
Winter 2017/18 Migration in East Asia, Goethe University Frankfurt
Summer 2017 Soziale Ungleichheit in Japan (Hauptseminar) [Social Inequality in Japan], Heidelberg University
Winter 2016/17 Introduction to Politics, Goethe University Frankfurt
Summer 2016–Winter 19/20 Young Scholars Forum (with Ryanne Flock), Goethe University Frankfurt
Winter 2015/2016 Spezielle Vorlesung: Einwanderungsland Japan – Fakt oder Fiktion? [Immigration Country Japan – Fact or Fction?], University of Zurich
Summer 2013 Seminar: Social Problems and Policy in Contemporary Japan, University of Hamburg (with Prof. John Campbell)
Winter 2010/11–Summer 2015 Übung: Gesellschaft/Politik in Japan [Society/Politics in Japan], University of Hamburg





Return Migration Decisions. A Study on Highly Skilled in Japan. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.


Edited Volume


(with J. Beek, J. Njenga Karugia, R. Mageza-Barthel and F. Schulze-Engler) Afrasian Transformations. Transregional Perspectives on Development Cooperation, Social Mobility, and Cultural Change. Brill.

Academic Articles

[with J. Beek, J. Njenga Karugia, R. Mageza-Barthel and F. Schulze-Engler) Afrasian Transformations: An Introduction. In: ibid. (eds.): Afrasian Transformations. Transregional Perspectives on Development Cooperation, Social Mobility, and Cultural Change. Brill, pp. 1–17.

Karriere, Familie und Lebensstil – Remigration als Strategie zur Produktion von subjektivem Wohlbefinden bei hochqualifizierten Chinesen in Japan. In: Schad-Seifert, Annette und Nora Kottmann (eds.): Japan in der Krise. Soziale Herausforderungen und Bewältigungsstrategien. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, S. 121–146.

Functions of Networks in Chinese Highly Skilled Migration to Japan – Replaceable Sources of Information or Essential Sources of Stability? In: Marung, Steffi and Matthias Middell (eds.): Transnational Actors – Crossing Borders. Transnational History Studies. Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag, S. 35–49.

“Having it all” – at what cost? Strategies of Chinese highly skilled women in Japan to combine career and family. In: Contemporary Japan 26, 2, pp. 223-243.

Die Ursprünge der Debatte um Japan als “normaler Staat” in der japanischen Taiwan-Politik von 1969-1978. In: NOAG (2009/10), 185-186, pp. 123-152.

Networks in Transition: Migration Decisions in the Life Course of Highly Skilled Chinese in Japan. In: ASIEN, 124, pp. 137-158.

[With: G. Vogt] International Labor Migration to Japan: Current Models and Future Outlook. In: ASIEN, 124, pp. 8-26.

Das Dilemma von Okinawa: (Immer) wieder aktuell? In: Japan aktuell. Journal of Current Japanese Affairs, 3/2008, pp. 97-110.


Book Review

Japan’s Democratic Revival: Rethinking Migration, Identity, and Sociocultural Norms. By: Stephen Robert Nagy (ed.). Singapore & Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific, 2015, 440 p. In: Contemporary Japan 29, 1 (2017).


„Festakt zum zehnjährigen IZO-Jubiläum: Prof. Justin Yifu Lin, ehemaliger Chefökonom der Weltbank, analysierte Chinas Wirtschaftsentwicklung beim ersten Asia Forum”, in: Uni-Report, 11.04.2019

(mit S. Schmid) „Ist der ‚Osten‘ für Afrika der bessere ‚Westen‘?“ Portal für Politikwissenschaft, 2017.

AFRASO geht in die zweite Runde in: Uni-Report, 3.2.2017.

Conference: African-Asian Encounters III Afrasian Transformations – Beyond Grand Narratives?“ AFRASO-Homepage, 19.10.2016.

Die Würde der Migranten bewahren“, in: Uni-Report, 3.11.2016



(with Megha Wadhwa) Research interrupted: Conducting ethnographic research during a pandemic, Japan Anthropology Workshop (JAWS), Barcelona

From forced immobility to questioning return intentions: Locational decision-making processes of Chinese professionals in Singapore “after Shanghai”, IMISCOE 19, Oslo

Chair and Panelist Roundtable on Innovative Approaches in Transnational Migration Studies: Discussing Mixed-Methods and Multi-Sited Research Designs, AAS Annual Conference, Honolulu

Skilled Chinese Migrants’ Labor Market Outcomes in Japan – A Longitudinal Study, ICAS 12, Panel “Desired but Not Frictionless: Foreign Specialists’ Labor Market Integration in Asia”, virtually (Kyoto)

Chair Desired but Not Frictionless: Foreign Specialists’ Labor Market Integration in Asia, ICAS 12, virtually (Kyoto)

Host Der Kampf um Chinas Wirtschaftsreformen: Historische Wurzeln eines neuen Wirtschaftssystems, Isabella Weber, Public Lecture Series China auf dem Weg zur führenden Wirtschaftsmacht, virtually (Frankfurt)

Japanese Labor Market Demands vs. Career Goals: the Case of Chinese Graduates in Japan. DGA Conference on Contemporary Asia, Panel “Transnational Mobility in East Asia and Beyond and the Relevant Institutional Actors”, virtually (Duisburg/Bochum)

Discussant Transnational Migration and Contemporary Japan: Flows and Realities. DGA Conference on Contemporary Asia, virtually (Duisburg/Bochum)

(Dis-)Kontinuitäten in der japanischen Migrationspolitik der Nachkriegszeit. Deutsch-Japanische Studiengruppe “Tradition und Wandel im ostasiatischten Kontext”, Werner Reimers Stiftung, Bad Homburg

Widerwillige Internationalisierung: Wie hochqualifizierte Chines*innen Narrative des japanischen Staats herausfordern. Deutsch-Japanische Studiengruppe “Tradition und Wandel im ostasiatischen Kontext”, Werner Reimers Stiftung, Bad Homburg

Beyond “one size fits all”: Kaizen in Japan’s Development Cooperation in Sub-Saharan Africa. Jahrestagung der Vereinigung für Sozialwissenschaftliche Japanforschung (VSJF), Fachgruppe Politik, Berlin

Nationalizing Kaizen: African Agency in Japanese ODA projects. Africa-Asia: A New Axis of Knowledge 2, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

“Afrasian Kaizen”: Translating Japanese business culture to African and Asian contexts. Sixth International Conference on Asian Studies 2018, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Chair Migration and Gender. International Conference “Identity and Transnational Mobility in and out of Korea”, Goethe University Frankfurt

Discussant China’s New Urbanites and Mechanisms of Exclusion. Workshop “Chinese Urbanities: Relations between Space and Society”, GEAS, FU Berlin

Kaizen in Ethiopia and Zambia – A Project Proposal. Retreat “Africa’s Asian Options”, Schmitten

A Qualitative Model of Return Migration Decisions of Highly Skilled in Japan. Workshop “The science of choice – how to model the decision-making process?” Max-Planck-Institut für demografische Forschung, Rostock

They don’t promote foreigners or women“ – Karrierestrategien hochqualifizierter Chinesinnen auf dem japanischen Arbeitsmarkt. Universität Zürich

Remigrationsentscheidungen hochqualifizierter Chinesen in Japan. Familienverbundenheit, internationale Karrieren und die Dekonstruktion des Hypermobilitätsmythos. 16. Deutschsprachiger Japanologentag, Sektion Gesellschaft. München

Ein präzisiertes Migrationsentscheidungsmodell: Das Fallbeispiel hochqualifizierter Chinesen in Japan. Jahrestagung der Vereinigung für Sozialwissenschaftliche Japanforschung (VSJF), Fachgruppe Soziologie und Sozialanthropologie. Berlin

Revisiting Life Choices: Remigration Decision-Making of Highly Skilled Chinese in Japan in the Life Course. XVIII ISA World Congress of Sociology. RC 31 Sociology of Migration. Yokohama

Gendered Migration Decisions: Shifting Priorities of Highly Skilled Chinese in Japan in the Life Course. XVIII ISA World Congress of Sociology. RC 31 Sociology of Migration. Yokohama

Shifting Priorities: Migration Decisions of Highly Skilled Chinese in Japan in the Life Course. Jahrestagung der Vereinigung für Sozialwissenschaftliche Japanforschung (VSJF), Sektion Politik. Berlin

What Moves the Highly Skilled? – A Case Study of Chinese Return Migrants from Japan. Summer School “World Wide Asia: Asian Flows, Global Impacts.” Universiteit Leiden

Networks in Transition – Labor Market and Social Integration of Chinese Students in Japan. Internationales Symposium “International Migration of Highly Skilled Workers to Japan and Germany. Current Models and Future Outlooks“. Universität Hamburg, Asien-Afrika-Institut

Influence of Capital on Migration Attitudes and Integration Outcomes of Young Highly Skilled Chinese in Japan. Shaken Social Science Dissertation Workshop. Tokyo University

Entering Japan’s Labor Market – Entering Japanese Society? Social Capital of Young Chinese in Japan. Japan Fieldwork Workshop. Sophia University

Weibliche Partizipation in Netzwerken der chinesischen Gemeinschaft in Japan. Symposium „Das Geschlecht der Zivilgesellschaft. Grundlagen für einen deutsch-japanischen Vergleich“. Internationales Graduierten-Kolleg „Formenwandel der Bürgergesellschaft. Japan und Deutschland im Vergleich“. Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

Transnational society as a safety net in times of global economic turmoil? The functions of networks of Chinese in Japan. 8th International Summer School for PhD Candidates „Transnational Actors – Actors of Transnationalisation“. Universität Leipzig

Japanische Migrationspolitik im Zeichen der globalen Wirtschaftskrise. Workshop „Migration und ihre Grenzen – Asien als Perspektive“. Korea-Verband und Südasien-Informationsnetz. Berlin

Die japanische Taiwanpolitik von Satō bis Fukuda: Erste Schritte hin zu einer eigenständigen Außenpolitik? Jahrestagung der Vereinigung für Sozialwissenschaftliche Japanforschung (VSJF), Fachgruppe Politik. Berlin