Such retirees sometimes refer to themselves ironically as economic migrants or even economic refugees, referring to the fact that they could not afford as high a quality of life in retirement, or indeed to retire at all, were they still living in Japan. The Japanese government first ignored them, but in the era of rising national pride following the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War, came to see them as an embarrassment to Japan's image overseas; however, their presence and the money they earned formed the basis for the early Japanese commercial enclaves and small businesses in Malaysia.
More urbanised Penang shows a somewhat different pattern of economic development.
The hostile environment contributed to the outflow of Japanese civilians.
In the lead up to and during the Japanese occupation of Malaya, Chinese people suspected that the remaining Japanese were spies and informants for the Japanese government, though in fact the major collaborators were local Chinese who dealt in Japanese goods, as well as people from Taiwan who, bilingual in Hokkien and Japanese, served as intermediaries between the locals and the Japanese.
The Japanese were also credited with opening the island's first cinemas and photo studios.
Despite efforts to localise the management of JVs, most managers continue to be expatriates.
One author, however, noted a repeating pattern in several companies she studied: there would be a single high-up local manager, an ethnic Chinese man who attended university in Japan and married a Japanese woman; however, the Japanese wives of other expatriates tend to look down on such women, and there is little social contact between them.
Even during the relatively open Ashikaga shogunate (1338–1573), Japanese traders had little contact with the Malayan peninsula; after the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate and their policy of national isolation, most contact came to an end, though traders from the Ryukyu Islands continued to call at Malacca.
In British North Borneo (today the Malaysian state of Sabah), the port city of Sandakan was a popular destination; however, the city today has little trace of their former presence, besides an old Japanese cemetery.
The December 1941 Japanese invasion and subsequent occupation of Malaya brought many Imperial Japanese Army soldiers to the country, along with civilian employees of Japanese companies.