Philippine Daily Inquirer
Oplan Japan: A millionaire in two years
HEN his wife Wondy got a grant to study in Japan for two years, Jojo Macua hesitated before agreeing to tag along. Hewasn’t doing too badly for someone six years out of college. As a medical representative for a multinational pharmaceutical company, he co
WJust landing the job had been such a struggle. He was born to a poor family in Maguindanao. Luckily, he passed the University of the Philippines admissions test. But when he finally graduated with a degree in business economics in 1999, it was the height of the Asian financial crisis. It was sheer luck that he had walked into a pharmaceutical firm along Pasong Tamo extension on a day scheduled for applicant examinations.
He spent a long night on the net, searching job sites in Japan. It was the salary scales that hit him: 1,000 yen (P500) an hour forwalking the dog? That’smore than whatmost Filipinos earn in a day. Three hundred thousand to 500,000 yen (P150,000-P250,000) a month for teaching or researching? In fact, almost any job he saw listed on various Internet sites seemed to command three, five times more than what he was making here. What if, he thought, he could save most of what he earned and handle two, three jobs at a time. Could he come homewith P10 million?
Seed money for a business, he sighed. As a young boy, he imagined he would be rich. The possibility had dawned on him simply from seeing how the goats and cows he took care of turned into cash. He alsowatched hismother’s small sari-sari store grow into the biggest one in the Philippine Constabulary (now the Philippine National Police) camp, where his father was assigned as a policeman. But after his mother died in 1995, his dreams almost died. The family had to sell what little land they had just to support him through college. When he returned home after graduation, there was no more money for his return fare. He had to take out a 5-6 loan just to get back to Manila and start job hunting.
Taking a risk
Jojo quit his med-rep job. Mid-2005, he followedWondy to Tsukuba.
In hindsight, he admits his P10-million goal was a mistake. “ Mali. Ang taas pala ng cost of living dun ( I was wrong. The cost of living there was too high),” he laughed. And he didn’t have the language skills or the right qualifications for the higher-paying jobs. But that’s getting ahead of the story.
Jojo was given a visitor’s visa with a temporary work permit. He made a plan. Althoughmany business books advise a savings target of 20 percent to 30 percent of one’s income, Jojo put his target at 50 percent. He and Wondy opened two bank accounts—one for living expenses; one for savings.
Two days after he arrived, he got a tip, thanks to the Pinoy students network there, about a job in a factory making copier machines. He grabbed it. His job was to hand a small machine piece to another worker who would then attach it to the copier (“ Taga-abot lang ako ng piesa”). At the end of the work day, he would mop the floor.
Yes, there were moments during those first few days that he shook his head and thought, “Did I suffer to get a UP degree just to mop floors in Japan?” But that feeling, he said, ended when he received his first paycheck: 170,000 yen or P85,000—almost three times what he had made as the topnotch med-rep in amultinational company in Manila.
“You know, we worry about status more in Manila than in Japan. Labor has a lot of dignity there,” he said.
He soon found another source of income. After getting offwork at the copier factory, he would rush to a noodle factory. His jobwas to drop a freeze-dried shrimp into a plastic bowl of ramen as it rolled down an assemblyline. At 800-1,000 yen (P400-500)for nighttime hours, he pushed himself to put in five hours, several nights aweek.
He also bought himself a cheap car (P20,000) and took passengers on the route to the noodle factory. “I could take in four passengers at 500 yen (P250) each.
Anything to make more money. “ E kung marunong lang sana ako sumayaw, sasayaw talaga ako sa club (If only I knew how to dance, I would have applied to dance at a club),” he laughed, quickly adding, “Joke lang.” He had heard cultural dancers could make up to 300,000 yen (P150,000) a month—excluding tips.
He began Japanese language lessons but said he had difficulties catching on. If he had started learning earlier, he thought, he might have gotten better jobs.
He approached his savings scheme systematically. He eventually discovered some super tipid (scrimping) tips:
Midnight vegetablemarkets offer 80 percent discounts. Jojo would put on his thickest coat and brave the cold. Closing-time discounts at bread stores were from 7 to 8 p.m. He lined up there, too.
Jojo sported a shaved head. “ E, haircuts cost at least 1,000 yen (P500) so I just bought a good shaver,” he said.
“Shopping” on sidewalks is somethingmost expats in Japan know about. “It’s not like scavenging in garbage cans,” Jojo explains. “It’s seasonal, usually when school terms end. Graduating students put old appliances out on the sidewalk because they will end up spend- ing more to hire haulers. Anyone can take them; even some Japanese do. So when it’s that time of the year, I call up other Pinoys who own cars and say, ‘ Tara, magshopping tayo ( C’mon, lets go ‘shopping’).’”
For winter clothes, “ Siempre, ukay-ukay ako dun (Of course, I shopped in secondhand stores there, like the ukay-ukay stores here),” he said.
Jojo scoured the newspapers for sale announcements. “When there’s a sale in Japan, some items go down 80 percent,” he said.
He also took note of all the eat-all-youcan-for-1,000-yen restaurants. “ Naku, lugi sila sa akin dun. Ang lakas ko sa kanin (They may have lost money on me. I eat so much rice).” Once a month, Jojo and Wonda allowed themselves a night out.
They also waited for ride-all-you-can transport promos which allowed them to tour some parts of Japan.
Jojo’s katipiran (scrimping) became almost a joke in their home and among friends.
Eyes on the ball
But Jojo kept his eye on his savings passbook. He also kept sending applications to schools.
“Never lose sight of your goal. Never forget why you are here,” Jojo would tell himself.
After eightmonths, Jojo finally got a job offer from a public high school in Tokyo to be an assistant to the English language teacher. He got lost in the Tokyo maze of trains several times. But he got used to the commute. He was a real salaryman now. The paycheck: 250,000 yen (P125,000 a month). And this time, he only worked a few classes a day, wore a suit and tie. The young students called him “Sir.” This is progress, Jojo thought.
And yet, sometimes at nights he would still hurry down to the noodle factory to pinch-hit. “ Sayang din kita dun, ah (Every yen counts).”
His teaching job also led to the discovery of a better sideline—tutoring for 3,000 yen (P1,500) per hour. Sometimes he would meet his tutorial wards at Starbucks; sometimes he would go to their homes.
While Jojo was totally focused on building up his savings, Wondy studied hard. The couple was blessed with two prizes: Wondy got a “best thesis” citation. Also, the couple had their first baby.
Before they knew it, their two-year time in Japan was up.
Jojo sat down to assess his project. The cost of living in Japan was much higher than he had estimated. There were also many temptations. Sometimes you can’t help but splurge on expensive clothes or electronics—“ Maglalaway ka kasi sa electronics dun (The electronics there will make you drool).” Jojo also had to draw money to send home to help his siblings.
One thing about Japan, he said, taxes are low, only about 10 percent.
Okay, score time
Jojo looked at his passbook. Minus expenses coming home, he determined that he had clean savings of P1.2 million—not quite his P10-million goal but a millionaire nonetheless.
“Well, the P10 million was an idealized goal,” he said. But thinking of his dogged perseverance, Jojo gives himself a passing grade.
Actually, the school he wasworking at offered him an extended contract. ButWondy had to fulfill her contract with the government institution that had sent her to Japan. She had to report back to work in Manila.
Jojowas a bit nervous when he returned to Manila. In fact, for a while he went back to work with his old pharma buddies. He studied available franchises. He thought about donut or burger stalls. He finally settled on something he had the background for—a pharmacy. In April 2008, he opened his first The Generics Pharmacy (TGP) franchise store in Tondo, Manila. Early this year, hewas back in Maguindanao, after setting up a generics store in Cotabato City—his ninth branch. Jojo, 32, said he still hadn’t achieved his goal of becoming rich although he has become this year’s poster boy for the franchising industry. He has been asked to deliver the main entrepreneurial talk at the 18th Philippine International Franchise Conference and Expo on July 14-18 at the SMX Convention Center in Manila. By now, however, his goal is probably much higher than his first P10-million target.
Some time ago, he shared, his wife spotted an opening for a job in Australia or New Zealand. But the couple decided not to go. Jojo had resigned from his job again to devote full time to his business. “You know,” he said, “it’s actually possible to make more money here.”
This year, a new baby is also on the way.