Wu Tongtong had an urgent need to learn Japanese. Growing up in the grimy northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, his biggest passion was video games. But amping up the onscreen action required Wu to master Japanese commands. Japan's brutal wartime occupation of Shenyang and other parts of China, which continues to stoke Chinese anger today, mattered little in the face of achieving total domination in his favorite video game. Both the computer and linguistic skills have since paid off. Today, Wu, 27, works in Tokyo as a software consultant, part of an influx of highly skilled Chinese labor that is transforming Japan. "Success can come in many places," he says, quietly noting that his overseas salary far outstrips those of his friends back home. "I can live a modern Chinese dream in Japan."
For centuries, East Asia's two great powers took turns trading regional supremacy, each thriving only when the other was at its weakest. More recently, China and Japan have been locked in a political deep freeze, seemingly unable to overcome the legacy of a devastating war more than six decades ago. Yet today, the two countries are both economic juggernauts and their futures are inextricably linked. Upwards of 20,000 Japanese now live in Shanghai alone. The flood the other way is even more impressive: at half a million strong, Chinese legal immigrants now make up the largest group of recently arrived foreigners in Japan and, no, they're not just stirring woks or taking the graveyard shift at convenience stores. More than 80,000 Chinese students are studying at Japanese universities, two-thirds of Japan's total foreign college-student population. Upon graduation, they are entering the Japanese workforce, crowding lucrative fields such as IT and biotech. Sheer numbers work in China's favor; each year Japan graduates 100,000 science majors, while China pumps out 2.5 million.