Restaurant chain Chimney sweeps Asia in search of staff

Japanese dinning operator Chimney Co. opens Hana no Mai sushi izakaya restaurant at Aeon Mall Long Bien in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Feb. 1, 2019. Store manager Daichi Yajima, (L, front row), is surrounded by Vietnamese workers before the store's opening. (Photo courtesy of Chimney Co.)

By Kaoruko Naruoka

NEW DELHI, NNA - Japanese restaurant chain operator Chimney Co. is opening an izakaya restaurant in Hanoi and is set to open another in Kathmandu in a bid to both tap into the Asian market and overcome a labor shortage at home.

Chimney opened a sushi izakaya restaurant Hana no Mai, its mainstay brand, in the Vietnamese capital on Feb. 1 and is making preparations to open another in the Nepalese capital in April.

The fresh developments come 10 years after the Tokyo-based firm wrapped up its sole overseas operation in Dalian, China, in 2009 due to the difficult business climate.

Chimney’s return to the wider Asian region is intended to allow it to explore business opportunities and hire in foreign markets while also transferring some of its outside workforce to Japan as permanent employees after they complete a training period.

“We want to send some 10 workers to Japan each year and train them as shop managers,” Keiko Yoshino, executive officer in charge of human resource management, told NNA.

Foreigners are vital to the staffing of Chimney’s outlets in Japan.

The company operated 716 locations in its home country as of January this year, up 150 compared to seven years ago. Foreigners account for about 10 percent of its 9,000-strong workforce, with Vietnamese making up half of its employees and Nepalese 25 percent, Yoshino said. Many of the foreigners work part-time while they study.

Chimney, which has struggled to retain the students for an extended period of time, decided to set up a system in which local employees can transfer from newly opening overseas outlets to Japan.

Nguyen Minh Tu, 22, is one of nine part-time workers at Chimney’s Hanoi restaurant in Aeon Mall Long Bien run by Aeon Mall Corp., a subsidiary of Japanese retail giant Aeon Co.

Nguyen is enrolled in a Japanese language course at college and hopes to join Chimney as a regular worker after graduation. “I want to work both in Japan and Vietnam with my language skills,” she said.

Ryosuke Kanemoto, vice president of New Era India Consultancy Pvt. Ltd. , a subsidiary of Japanese staffing agency en-japan inc., said, “Some Japanese restaurants dispatch trained Vietnamese staff members to outlets in Japan.”

Kanemoto, who has himself worked in Vietnam, said, “It is not uncommon to transfer local employees internally (to Japan).”

Chimney is re-entering the Asian market to take advantage of a shift in Japan’s immigration policy, driven by the nation’s declining population. Chimney is targeting a total of 2,000 foreign employees, a more-than twofold increase over its current number, in its projected 10,000-person workforce in 2020, Yoshino added.

“Regardless of whether it be by transferring internally or obtaining a visa, Japanese firms have to recruit foreigners on equal terms with Japanese employees and nurture them to help pursue a better career path,” Kanemoto said.(NNA/Kyodo)

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