It doesn’t matter where you work…but Asia is pretty good

People gather to cities for different push-pull factories. Mainly because that’s where the jobs are. Opportunity, people, creativity and industry all converge in the cities.

The World Economic Forum released a report predicting the size of cities in 2030. They took into account current government reforms, economic growth, migration patterns, and livability.


As you can see, Tokyo is at the very top of the list. New York used to be at the top but the big apple doesn’t even make the cut this anymore. Hong Kong isn’t on there either.

It may seem surprising to many that Tokyo would be at the top of this list. After all, we often hear about Japan’s dwindling birth rate, labor shortage, and population decrease.

Then how in the world is it going to be the biggest city in 2030?

Well, the population does decrease.

The current population of Tokyo is about 38 million people, and by 2030 it’s expected to go down to 37 million. But it still holds the title of biggest city in the world.

Considering the continued declining birth rate in Japan, unless there are some large waves of immigration, once we get to 2040 and 2050 it might be a whole different story!

Here’s an interactive map that helps better picture what this looks like. Asia is looking pretty bright.


Shanghai, Hong Kong, and tons of Asian cities are on the rise.

There’s no doubt that Asia and Africa will be the epicenters of growth, so if you’re wondering where you should move to capture the greatest number of opportunities, I’d pick somewhere in either of those two continents.

Of course, moving across the world to a foreign land where you don’t speak the language is easier said than done.

Is the economic opportunity worth it?

The common perception is that if you have a great startup idea or want to build a career in tech you are much better off moving to some hub like Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv. You are more likely to get valuable feedback from people who know what they’re doing, and you’re more likely to get funding because that’s where the money is.

This generally holds true, especially if you are in the tech industry. But even then, it’s starting to break apart.

First of all, it’s getting easier to live anywhere. Living standards are going up around the world — the Chinese middle class is emerging. Facebook is launching balloons with internet around the world. Wifi connections are getting better.

Often times we discount factors like livability because of opportunity.

I have a friend who moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in advertising. He knew that the city was huge, traffic was bad and people were a bit cold. While he considered these factors before he moved, it didn’t really strike him until the got there. He was pretty bummed the first couple of months.

Then something good happened. A lack of distractions in the city allowed him to focus on learning programming skills, which have in turn helped him land a better job, and have opened up interesting doors for him in his career.

You see, our happiness fluctuates. We find meaning where we didn’t expect to.

Dan Gilbert talks about this in his book, Stumbling Upon Happiness. 

“One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions that will make happiness; one only stumbles upon them by chance, in a lucky hour, at the world’s end somewhere, and holds fast to the days, as to fortune or fame.”

We’re really bad at predicting how happy we’re going to be. We’re always constructing an idea of the future and what we think will make us happy.

There are some situations that are extreme. If you are in a very polluted city like Shanghai that negatively affects your health, you can literally be stopped in your tracks. You have to leave.

Often times, though, our happiness goes through different levels until it evens out. While Asia is growing, and certainly a Land of Opportunity, it doesn’t mean we’re going to be immediately happy living in Jakarta where we have no friends and don’t speak the language. But eventually, as we adapt to the culture, invest in making friends, and participate in the community, we can find a sense of worth. We can find ways to contribute and build our niche.

Don’t consider the trade-offs. Instead, ask, “why can’t I have it all?” 


Asia is getting better, faster, stronger. Asian markets will develop their own version of Silicon Valley and it’s going to look different. All the meanwhile, you’re be able to do something meaningful, live well, and work in a rapidly growing market.

Here are some great reasons to move to Asia and why I think you can have it all.

  • Flexibility. You can work in Bali and fly to Jakarta for business meetings a couple of times per week.
  • Living Cost. It’s generally going to be a lot cheaper to live where you go.
  • People speak English. Having a local partner/friends is going to be useful, but most big Asian cities have strong expat communities you can tap into.
  • Access to talent. You can find cheap developers to build your product if you’re doing a startup. Cross-border ASEAN treaties make the talent market more fluid.
  • Big markets. Once you have traction with your business, or whatever it is you’re doing, the rest of SEA, China and India are right next door, with their 2.5 billion+ people.
  • The world is small. You can still connect with people in US cities and tech hubs like Silicon Valley. Just take trips out there, if necessary. You can still get funding from SV-based VC’s, as many of them are looking at investments in Asia or have branches outside of the U.S.

Twenty years ago if you said “Asia is where the growth is at,” I wouldn’t be inclined to move there. The barriers — form safety, internet speed, and livability — were generally too high. Now that these barriers are being torn down, the incentives are higher.

My theory is that people who are going to succeed will be either lucky, resourceful, and likely both. If you have these skills then you can likely succeed anywhere, at the same time there is no reason to sacrifice your living conditions.

Serendipity doesn’t just happen. You have to be in the right place, at the right time, and stay open minded. And luck is more likely to happen when you are surrounded by millions, or billions, of people.


Japan-based writer, consultant and entrepreneur.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)