Hamburg – Japanese Speaking Career and Business Life for Expats

Hamburg is the second-most populous city in Germany with approximately 1,8 million inhabitants – only outnumbered (although, by a lot) by the capital Berlin. Hamburg is thus one of the larger cities in all of Europe.

Hamburg is especially known and famous for its port; housing the largest seaport in Germany. This very port is, impressively enough, the third-largest container port in Europe, and it, therefore, defines not only the landscape and aesthetics of the city, but also its industries and potential employment opportunities. However, the city is also a (perhaps sometimes too much) fun metropolitan city, with lively nightlife. In fact, it accommodates the second largest red-light district in all of Europe.

In this article, we will touch upon some basic features and facts about Hamburg and [expat] life therein, as well as relations between Japan and Hamburg.

Life in Hamburg

Seeing as Hamburg is a city which contains everything from a huge harbour to red-light districts and fine dining, it is perhaps only rational that it is also deemed as “highly livable” according to a Mercer’s survey which ranks cities worldwide according to the aforementioned “liveability”. The livability score itself is based on the following features; stability, culture, infrastructure, healthcare, education and environment. In fact, Hamburg has plenty of times scored incredibly high in this ranking, for example in 2016 when it entered the top 10 ranking – specifically due to its sense of stability, culture, education, infrastructure and healthcare. (Reference: Hamburg ranked most livable city in Germany by Economist).

As of late though, the very same healthcare that it actually used to score perfect on, was probably what ultimately led to one of the biggest drops in the survey’s history; Hamburg plummeted an exceptionally impressive 34 spots from one year to another (2020 to 2021). Strategies to counter the covid pandemic employed by the German government and the naturally strained hospitals seem to have hit German cities’ livability ratings especially hard. In reality, though, lockdowns affected culture and livability in general globally. (Reference: Hamburg drops 47 places in ranking of world’s most liveable cities)

In today’s Germany the situation has changed somewhat, as most of the implemented restrictions have been lifted all across the country, making those issues, and the (lessened) burden upon the healthcare system, less noticeable.

In any event, Hamburg is also known to be one of the more affluent cities in Germany, meaning that while it may be an expensive city to visit, it is home to richer people in general as well. (Reference: 5 reasons Hamburg is one of the best cities to live globally) That very same affluence is reflected in rich, diverse cultural offers as well as fine dining at fancy Michelin star restaurants. On the other end of the spectrum, though, there are places such as the Reeperbahn, located in the centre of St. Pauli. Entertainment here encompasses theatres as well as nightclubs and bars – right by the Elbe river. (Reference: Reeperbahn Nightlife District)

Another exciting district is the (to be completed) HafenCity. HafenCity has been a work in progress for quite some time; the HafenCity Master Plan was created well after the city purchased the land in the 80s, with the vision: “to develop the land into a mixed-use extension of the city, create a socially and economically diverse neighbourhood, and use sustainable building practices to expand the city centre by 40%.”(Reference: The neighbourhood of the future, in Hamburg, Germany).

Almost a couple of decades have passed since development began, and it should provide up to 45,000 jobs in the long run. Besides employment opportunities, the science centre, several educational institutions, shops, restaurants and the Elbphilharmonie concert hall (Hamburg’s new landmark) all make HafenCity an exciting place to be or visit. Interestingly enough, the aforementioned Elbphilharmonie Hall’s design is created by Nagata Acoustic Design, the same company that designed Japan’s Suntory Hall, amongst other famous buildings. Based on all of this, one couldn’t be blamed for assuming that this area is (and will be) expensive to live in – however, the Master Plan itself requires for 30 % of the housing to be available for middle-class income households. (ibid)

Last but not least, life in an affluent, exciting city tends to be happy – something that holds true in the case of Hamburg, as it generally scores among the top in the German Happiness Atlas. The rankings obviously differ from year to year, but it should be noted that while usually scoring at the top, Hamburg has actually also ranked first in both 2012 and 2020. However, the pandemic brought the happiness [ratings] all over Germany down – so for the past 2 years, the rest of Germany (Hamburg included) has in general been as miserable as Berlin usually is all the other years. In the end, the covid pandemic did create an all-time low in stats all over Germany (except for in Berlin, where people stayed as down as ever). (Reference: Here’s where Germany’s happiest (and unhappiest) people live)

Business life in Hamburg – The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg

As you can probably conclude based on the fact that Hamburg’s port is one of the biggest in Europe, Hamburg’s biggest economic unit is this very spot. However, Hamburg also has thriving tourism-, media-, and publishing industries. (Reference: Is Hamburg A Good Place To Live?)

Therefore, and with its history as that of a merchant city, it is, and has been for some time, both culturally and geographically, a viable place to work (and live) for expats. For example, approximately 120 Japanese companies have offices in Hamburg, and when it comes to Asian companies in general, the city contains more than 550 Chinese companies (the most in Europe), and about 50 Taiwanese companies, making Hamburg a city where the Asian market has a large presence.

Finally, we will quickly touch upon the port of Hamburg yet again – as it is a logistically important area in Germany. Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI) reports;

[with] 8.8 million containers in 2017, the port’s main logistics operator posted revenues of over 1.25 billion euros. The German headquarters of aircraft manufacturer Airbus employs 12,500 people at the company’s plant in the Finke inverter district.

Reference: Doing business in Hamburg, Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI),

Expat life in Hamburg

Hamburg is a multicultural cosmopolitan city, with a whopping one-third of its residents having a migration background (Reference: WE, THE CITY OF HAMBURG!). This leads to a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere for expats, and combined with the potentiality of leading a happy, exciting life, makes Hamburg an attractive destination for expats in particular. Furthermore, the ZAA has since 2010 (in a move to improve integration) been supporting migrants living in Hamburg to have their foreign degrees recognised. This practice is funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Hamburg State Budget. (ibid)

When it comes to existing expat communities, where the Japanese by no means is one of the larger ones, the British expat community is particularly prominent. This may be due to the fact that the city was occupied by UK forces during the second world war. (Reference: 5 reasons Hamburg is one of the best cities to live globally)

Ultimately, Hamburg is both known as “The country’s gateway to the world” and is also somewhat of a startup-hub, making it even more enticing for expats in particular. (Reference: Is Hamburg A Good Place To Live?)

Hamburg and Japan

Although Hamburg may not be home to the largest Japanese community in Germany, the city still hosts approximately 2000 Japanese people. Naturally, this leads to a variety of Japanese, cultural expressions in society. For example, the city holds “The Japanese FilmFest” annually: a Japanese film festival where cinemas all over Hamburg show modern Japanese films. During this event, one can catch anything from an anime flick to Japanese comedies and documentaries.

Another festival worth noting is the Cherry Blossom Festival, which is held in order to celebrate the strong ties between Hamburg and Japan. (Reference: Cherry Blossom Festival)

As a matter of fact, these kinds of festivals and events originate in decades’ long and fruitful business relations between Hamburg and Japan.

As a result of these business ties, many Japanese companies have settled in the Hanseatic city, contributing to Hamburg’s economic growth.

The strong business ties are seen in the long and shared history between Hamburg and Japan; Shinji Nakagawa, a Japanese professor at Kwansei Gakuin university states that all the way back in 1919, Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK Line, Ltd.) related to the Mitsui group, established the Hamburg route in 1919 (Reference: ハンブルクからデュッセルドルフへ).

Ever since then, Hamburg and Japan have built a relationship in which both countries can learn from each other. For example, Yokohama City (a port city like Hamburg) delegates have visited Hamburg to learn from the city’s successful urban renewal project, and, furthermore, Hamburg has formed a partnership with Kobe City in the environmental and energy fields. All in all, on top of the approximately 120 Japanese companies that have offices in Hamburg, an additional 540 companies have business ties to Japan, and 35 of those also happen to have branch offices in Japan.

To conclude, it can, quite comfortably be claimed, that the cosmopolitan city that is Hamburg welcomes professional expats. A multicultural background will therefore be one of your absolute strengths there, as having an understanding of different cultures (such as the Japanese or Asian culture), may provide you with actual career opportunities in the region.

R S
Senior Consultant

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