Good news: Japan’s National Pension scheme lowers minimum qualification time from 25 years to 10!

mytest

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Hi Blog. Good news. Until now, if you wanted to qualify for any retirement payout under the Japanese National Pension System (Nenkin), you had to contribute 300 months, or 25 years, of your salary in Japan.

This was an enormously high hurdle for many NJ residents, who would pay in but not always elect to stay the bulk of their working life in Japan. That meant that aside from getting back a maximum of three years’ worth of contributions upon request (see also here), you’d effectively lose your retirement investment as an enormous exit tax.  (Incidentally, that was one of the quiet incentives for the racist Nikkei South American Returnee Worker “repatriation bribes” from the government back in 2009 — take the airplane fare home, leave behind your accrued pension.  Big win for Japan’s government coffers.)

It made it so that the longer you stayed in Japan, the more of a pension prisoner you became, since if you left the country to work elsewhere, you’d lose, because you hadn’t paid into pension schemes in other countries and wouldn’t qualify.

Totalization Agreements (where countries agree that years worked in Country B count towards working in Country A as well) have eased that burden somewhat. But now the threshold for qualifying at all in Japan has fortunately been reduced.  From 25 to 10 years, as of August 2017. Hurrah.

Now still remaining is the issue that the number of Japanese pensioners is increasing due to Japan’s demographically aging society, meaning that by the time you retire you’ll be receiving a smaller piece of the overall pension pie (to the levels where pensioners will live in penury; Japan is already above the OECD average poverty rate (pg. 75). And the minimum retirement age will likely be further increased to make it harder to retire younger. But at least you don’t have to invest most of your working life in Japan just to get something back.  Thus, Japan is becoming more aligned with international norms.  Good.

Much more information from the OECD on this issue at http://www.oecd.org/pensions/public-pensions/OECDPensionsAtAGlance2013.pdf. Dr. Debito Arudou

===========================
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CG on increased exit taxes on health insurance and residency when you change jobs and domiciles in Japan

mytest

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Hi Blog.  I just wanted to put this one out there as a general query.  Anyone else experienced this and gotten an explanation why?  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

======================
June 17, 2016
From: CG
Hello Dr. Arudou:

First, I just wanted to say “Thank You” for all the writing you’ve done. I purchased your handbook a while ago and it was a big help when applying for permanent residency here (successfully!)

I was hoping to ask you a question. I’ve done a fair amount of searching online and haven’t found an answer, and the people directly involved in the issue can’t (or won’t) give a plausible answer either. Recently I switched jobs and moved to a new town here after over ten years working for the previous town’s 教育委員会 [BOE]. When I received my final paycheck, they deducted twice the normal tax amount for 社会保険 [shakai hoken; health and pension insurance] and three times the normal amount for 住民税 [juuminzei; local residency taxes]、helping themselves to an extra over 8万円 [80,000 yen]。 Have you heard of such a situation before? The fact that I can’t find any information about such a “moving tax” or get clear answers strikes me as very strange.

If you have a moment, I’d be very glad to know your thoughts. Best, CG
======================
MY THOUGHTS: Not sure. Anyone out there with this experience who figured out what was going on? Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

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The 2nd Great Gaijin Massacre in Japan’s education system, with 5-year contracts coming due in 2018 (2023 for uni profs).

mytest

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Hi Blog. This is an update to the Ninkisei Issue within Japan’s Academic Apartheid Education System, where foreign educators are given perpetual contracts. A contracted position may not sound bad to Western ears, but Japan’s tertiary education system (the second largest in the world) generally does not contract full-time Japanese educators. Since most full-time Japanese enjoy permanent tenure from day one of hiring, a contract becomes a term limit only for foreigners. Abuses of the system include “The Great Gaijin Massacre” of 1992-1994, where most foreign faculty above the age of 35 in National Universities (kokuritsu daigaku) found their contracts were not being renewed — in a successful attempt by the Ministry of Education to bring in younger, cheaper foreigners. Since these veteran teachers had not paid into overseas pension plans (and decades of Japanese pension payments are nonrefundable), they could not simply “go home”. They got stuck with part-time work with no benefits to pay house loans, fund kids’ college tuition, or fulfill pension plans.

According to Ivan Hall’s CARTELS OF THE MIND (WW Norton, 1998), there are more full-time foreign faculty with permanent tenure in one American university than in all of Japan! Not to mention a systemwide disdain (“academic apartheid”) towards foreign educators regardless of qualification, seeing them merely as cheap disposable labor. See the Blacklist of Japanese Universities, a list of institutions with breathtakingly unequal employment policies, at www.debito.org/blacklist.html

Now for the update.  Let’s see what happened to the survivors a quarter century on. The upshot is that their turn to be fired is now coming. According to labor union expert CF:

================================
“I have given it a nickname – the “2018 Cliff” If you have been working from (April) 2013 continually on renewable contracts, then (March) 2018 will be 5 years of employment, therefore on April 1 2018, if you demand permanent employment, the company must keep you on as permanent – until retirement (albeit on the pre-2018 conditions) from April 2019. To avoid this, companies will be dumping staff before the end of March 2018 to avoid the transfer to permanent status (無期転換). For better or worse, universities and research facilities deadline is 2023, so employees have an extra 5 years’ grace. The Cliff is coming, and many will be pushed off.
================================

COMMENT: So this is what NJ who persevered and contributed the bulk of their working lives to Japanese society, get at the end: An unceremonious dumping onto the job market, with no new place to go, and skills that will not easily transfer to their country of origin. And often before their MINIMUM 25 years (yes!) of required Japan-pension contributions are fulfilled.

People seeking to make a life in Japan: Beware! Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

What follows is a discussion that transpired on a labor-rights listserv I subscribe to. Posts are used and redacted with permission:

//////////////////////////////////

Date: April 4, 2016
From: AB

Now going on three years, I was forced to resign in protest from a ’tenured’ position as an Associate Professor at [Honey Badger Japan] Jr. College. Going on 32 years, over half my life, living continuously in Japan – most of which was spent running from college to college as a hijokin adjunct, a graduate degree in T.E.S.O.L., research and publications, community out-reach work and international volunteer activities … phht … all gone.

How did HB Jr. College. do it? Or more importantly for fellow readers of this listserv, Easy. Here’s how it went down in my case.

Even after 11 years as a tenured full time member of the faculty, my department (only 8 full-timers at most) pretty much excluded me from any decision making processes at the required weekly meetings — and unlike my ethnic Japanese colleagues behavior towards each other, presumed to have the right to micro-manage my classes down to what language I should use in the classroom or in open campus activities, what materials are too easy, too difficult, or too unconventional for ‘my’ classes, and what pedagogic approaches I should use. A colleague (same age, became full-time when I did) opined that even on my weekends, I should first get departmental permission to use my English for volunteer activities … even in support of other departments at HBJC. I had no idea what they did on their weekends, could have been pachinko or Kabukicho for all I knew.

After some years of just shucking and jiving while bearing it all, I finally complained to the Gakucho (Dean), who reassured me that I was hired under the same conditions, rights, and obligations as ethnic Japanese members of the kyoujukai. Of course, how could he have said anything other?

I reported this back to my gakka’s shunin (Head of Department) who said:

1 – The current Dean of the school is wrong.
2 – I was hired while under the administration of a previous Dean with different policies, and those unstated policies were still in effect.
3 – The Department will not include volunteer activities in its curricula this year, so I am forbidden to use my office or resources for community outreach activities with the local city government (I was on the board of directors of XXXXX City government’s Kokusai Koryu Kyoukai) and other volunteer activities … four trips (at my own expense) to [an impoverished Asian country] with students from my own school as well as students from other Tokyo colleges, accompanying my students to a local kindergarten to teach English … as well as XXXXX in-house high school, working with Soup no Kai supporting the homeless in Shinjuku, collaborating with an NGO supporting the severely handicapped, and so on. Things that I thought would have been expected for promotion in U.S. universities were expressly forbidden by two successive department chairmen.

I reported the Department Chairman’s opinion to the Dean, particularly comment 3 which seemed contradictory to the school’s raison d’être as stated on their glossy homepage. The Dean disagreed with the department opinion, and once again, reassured me that I am an equal among equals, and it is up to me to just ‘try harder’ to communicate with my colleagues.

I requested a meeting between the Dean and my Department Chairman to decide my status … whatever that might be … along with its attendant rights and obligations. No such meeting was forthcoming, and neither did either indicate any willingness to discuss, much less settle, the issue.

Informed by the Gakubucho (Dean of the Jr. College and also a member of my department) that I was entitled and eligible to take my one year research sabbatical, I parlayed my volunteer activities in [the impoverished Asian country] with [a local institute] to serve as my sponsor, I quit my one part-time job at XXXXXXX University, and just prior to preparing for a year abroad, was presented by the Dean with a one page document, in Japanese, drawn up specifically for me. No other teachers who had taken sabbaticals in HBJC’s over 120 year history had ever been required to sign such a document requiring me to obey ALL school wide rules and attendant obligations, as well as ALL departmental rules and attendant obligations.

I pointed out that those rules and obligations were contradictory and problematic … and that they, themselves, have as yet to have agreed upon my status and obligations. In that meeting with the Gakucho and Gakubucho, I told them that if I sign such a document, according to department rules, I was explicitly forbidden by my department to voluntarily help even my own seminar student prepare for the XXXXXXXXX Speech Contest.  I had been the only one in the school since even before becoming tenured who took personal responsibility for speech contestant preparation.  Her speech was about her first hand experience at a seaside community during the Great Tohoku Earthquake. I asked the Gakucho and the Gakubucho that if I signed the document forbidding me from helping that student, if they would take personal responsibility for that student’s still embryonic speech. I still have a digital recording of that meeting, and the only response you will hear is an awkward silence.

Pressed again to either sign, or not sign, at the risk of losing my sabbatical … I had to make a choice on the spot, either support the student, or support my ‘career’. With no family depending on me to bring home the bacon, I had the luxury of choice, so I refused to sign. Meeting ended. Research sabbatical immediately revoked.

A day or so later, I made a phone call to XXXXXX University explaining my sabbatical had been canceled and inquired whether I might retain my 3 koma one-day a week schedule. ‘Sorry, that position has already been filled’ was the courteous reply.

Later I received a letter from the head of the Board of Directors of HBJC Inc. telling me that as I have demonstrated no willingness or capacity to follow BOTH the school and the department rules, as of the following academic year, I was to be relieved of all rights to teach classes, and report to my office and await forthcoming orders to be later more clearly specified.

In the meantime, I joined a local union, showed up to a few larger union meetings, and talked with a lawyer — who said I would likely win a case against the school, but it would be a long, emotionally costly, pyrrhic victory at best. A year and a half later, a couple of meetings between the school lawyer and my labor union reps, and my allotted medical leave of absence had expired, leaving me with no choice but to either return to the school under the same conditions (no classes, no research sabbatical) … or resign.

In effect, fellow listserv readers, ignore this cautionary tale at your own peril. When push comes to shove, your ‘contract’ is not worth the paper it’s written on.  Thinking that at age 60, with half a life-time experience, I could just start all over again and go back to life as an itinerant hijokin, living year by year. Ha. Can not even get beyond the faceless intercom voice at the new pre-school next door to my apartment to offer my services as an English volunteer (and here I am being led by mass media to believe the day care centers are in crisis mode) — much less even get a single koma of part-time work in Japan.

I will end this post with [this thought]: Earlier tonight, I saw on NHK 7 pm news that Tokyo Institute of Technology’s Dean gave the opening ceremony speech in English … ‘Be positive. Take chances’. What a crock. A goddamn Kabuki show. And followed at 7:30 pm by more Olympics-inspired panem et circenses in place of my beloved Hiroko Kuniya in prime-time ’Close Up Gendai’ … as if a bevy of ambitious cute young things in the late night CUG ‘plus’ will make up for her once or twice in a generation journalistic integrity. Sincerely, AB.

//////////////////////////////////////////

Date: April 14, 2016
From: CD

AB, it sounds like you were put through hell and back. I’m really sorry to hear it!

I’ve advised a number of people in labor situations over the years, including six people over the last twelve months. To be honest, there seems to be a recent upswing in these kinds of cases, almost to the extent of the great “gaikokujin kyoushi” purge of the 90s. While I have my own theories, I’d be interested in reading other opinions about whether and why this may be happening.

I have a pretty good track record with labor cases, not to mention negotiating experience on both sides of the table. From this perspective, let me offer some general advice:

1) Regardless of the provocation, don’t ever quit (unless of course you have a great new job lined up). Let them fire you instead–being terminated gives you advantages later.

2) While certain things can be required of joukin (aka “tenured”) university faculty–to include both the submission of syllabi and the wording used in said syllabi–many of the things listed in AB’s post (e.g., language of instruction, specific pedagogical approaches and materials) usually cannot be demanded of university joukin. (Part-timers can have less protection.) The only exceptions to this that I know of would be where the language and pedagogical requirements were either known to the applicant before hire or represent standards developed and agreed to by all (to include AB) the joukin faculty responsible for these classes–situations seen mostly with intensive language programs or English-medium instruction (EMI) departments/institutions.

3) Given #2, and assuming that AB really was joukin (hired under the same conditions, rights, and obligations as ethnic Japanese members of the kyoujukai), many of the issues described at his workplace fit the government’s definition of Power Harassment (パワハラ).

4) There are several legal remedies available to people in such situations, some expensive and some not so expensive. Regarding the latter, on February 13 in a post to this listserv, I described in detail a FREE (albeit slow) process where the city will fight your employer to stop the Power Harassment (to include even unlawful termination). Again, this process is SLOW–typically, it takes four months to a year to conclude a case. However, I have found it reasonably effective (they usually can negotiate better treatment/employment terms and/or buyouts)… and again it’s free.

5) As alluded to in #2, #3 and #4, the laws here are, to a surprising extent, designed to protect the employee. Moreover, even as a foreign contract worker, you sometimes (e.g., occasionally even in the case of contract non-renewal) have legal protections/recourses available to you that are not available in your home country. Failing to utilize them when wronged is… silly.

6) That said, join a union and try to prepare BEFORE trouble starts. Unions tend not to look favorably upon those who join only after something bad happens. Some will refuse outright to help, while others may be lukewarm in their support. In addition to joining a union, always keep everything (including the advertised copy of your job description and all pertinent emails) and document everything related to your job duties and work performance. While most likely you will never need them, the sad reality in this country is that you never really know. I personally have known foreigners who have had no problems for YEARS–sometimes over twenty years–only to come to work one day and suddenly find that they are no longer wanted.

7) If you need action/results quickly, use a lawyer–preferably one either contacted through your union or specializing in labor issues–and prepare to go to court. Remember that Japanese people DO sue their employers, and such lawsuits are not so rare. At my current university (and department…), there have been three (!) such lawsuits over the last eight years.

8) Know that, regardless of the strength of your case, your lawyer will never promise victory. (Typically, the best they’ll give you is a 50-50 chance if it goes to court.) That said, as I’ve posted numerous times before, your employer almost always does NOT want to go to court–because of the stigma involved in such cases, even winning represents bad publicity. Given this, employers in my experience will almost invariably seek to settle before going to trial.

9) Your employer will most likely lowball you with their first settlement offer and/or try to intimidate you into taking nothing. Now, the amount of settlement you can (should?) receive depends on many factors, including your hiring status (e.g., “joukin” or “ninki-tsuki”), years employed, the strength of your case and employer perception of your ability/willingness to fight. (I have personally found the last to be the most important factor.) That said, with regards to termination and contract nonrenewal cases, while every situation is different (and assuming you are not simply reinstated to your position), I’ve generally seen settlement ranges from four months to twelve months of salary.

Hope this helps! Sincerely, CD

//////////////////////////////////////////

Date: April 14, 2016
From: EF

At this point I would advise against teachers to stay here after age 50 or even after 45, unless you have tenure. I met a teacher who is 57 and lost his job at [a National University] after 8 years. Seven other teachers were gotten rid of too. He has a Ph.D. in education but can only get part-time work now. I know another teacher in [a city near Tokyo] who has no job and he must be about 58 or 59 now.

At my new job in XXXXX City the form asked whether I want to get paid or even be paid for commuting.  I guess they hope I will work for free. What do they want, retired teachers to just volunteer.  This could be because of money problems. At a national university in Tokyo, with a deficit of 400 million yen, the university decides that the tea machine in the part-time teachers’ room has got to go. This is in Chofu. Sincerely, EF

//////////////////////////////////////////

Date: April 15, 2016
From: GH

I would be wary of the idea that universities have an exemption to the five-year rule. There was a big discussion at my university about this last year, and the head of HR and one of the rijis told me that the wording of the exemption is not very clear (surprise surprise!) and that even among national universities, there was disagreement about what it actually means. Apparently, some universities are now taking the limit to be ten years whereas others are playing it safe and assuming it to be five. Wherever you work, it might be a good idea to find out how they are interpreting it.

My grasp of the legislation is not at the level of some of the posters here, but as I understand it, this new law comes with a number of loopholes anyway. For example, universities will still be able to cut part-timers if they are no longer needed because of “changes to the curriculum” regardless of how long they have worked there. A change to the curriculum could be something as minor as a tiny alteration to the name of a class (“the class that teacher taught is no longer offered at our university, so his/her services are no longer required”) so it seems to me that universities could still get rid of someone quite easily if they wanted to.

I think that in a perverse way, the situation will only become clear when the first person takes their institution to court. If / when that happens, all the other institutions will panic and there will be a huge cull. If it never happens, I guess universities will gradually forget about it. As I say, I am most certainly not an expert on this, but this is the situation as it was explained to me by the people in charge at my university. Sincerely, GH

//////////////////////////////////////////

Date: April 15, 2016
From: AB

To: ARUDOU, Debito

Hello Debito san,

Maybe you remember our recent exchange in an e-mail saying I was working on my own writing chops to add to the ‘Great Dialog’ of culture … what it means to be a human, what do we mean by ‘education’, and so on. I have been doing so on Quora, and many times, have posted links to your web page to substantiate my more anecdotal arguments. I am grateful for your critical eye and sheer doggedness in providing a much needed source of information that deserves a wider audience.

I am now 60, and apparently locked out of a career track in academia … failing to gain even one koma of part-time work after two years of submitting resumes and showing up for interviews, failing to gain permission to resume doctoral studies at XXXX Japan, and even failing to gain admission to an on-line Master’s Degree course at XXXXXXXX University in the US. As such, I do not have the financial safety-net of any institution at my disposal, and neither do I have the presumption that I will some day regain such institutional protection. And being kanji illiterate, I don’t even know how much I don’t know about Japanese law and what obligations and rights to which I am entitled (similar to my being kept running circles in the dark at HBJC Inc.). Feeling the full force of the Dunning-Kruger effect here.

Despite an abundance of information from your website (and book – bought, but not yet read), and some well-considered and well-meant advice from listserv members, Facebook ‘buddies’, Quora, and even family back in the states … my day to day survival, even my sanity, is sustained by only three things:

1 – A small community made up primarily of a close circle of friends, mostly Japanese — and mostly here in Japan. I think the constraints of Dunbar’s Number has more than a little to do with this.

2 – The new found leisure to read from the great works of the liberal arts tradition as well as more recent STEM oriented material … and write — as therapy. It helps to have at my disposal more than a lifetime’s worth of books, music, movies, and a wall full of video lectures from The Great Courses series.

3 – A stubborn tenacity to stand by the values and beliefs I have gained from the above two.

Kind regards, Debito san. And keep up the good fight.  Sincerely, AB.

ENDS
====================================

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Ben Shearon on RetireJapan, helping people living in Japan learn more about personal finance, investing, readying for retirement

mytest

Books, eBooks, and more from Dr. ARUDOU, Debito (click on icon):
Guidebookcover.jpgjapaneseonlyebookcovertextHandbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)sourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbFodorsJapan2014cover
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Hi Blog.  Introducing a valuable project by a friend up in Sendai.  I’ve known him for well over a decade and he is on the level, one of the most trustworthy people I’ve met in Japan.  I am pleased to give you more information here on one of his projects.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

_________________

Greetings Debito.org Readers! I’d like to thank our host for being kind enough to agree to let me introduce my website and community here.

Ben Shearon

My name is Ben Shearon, and I’ve been living in Japan for fifteen and a half years working as an English teacher. A few years ago I became interested in personal finance, and in December 2013 I started a website called RetireJapan.

RetireJapan logo

RetireJapan exists in order to help people living in Japan learn more about personal finance, investing, and getting ready for retirement in English.

Personal finance can seem complex and intimidating, and there are a lot of companies that would love to take your money. The only way to make good choices is to learn as much as you can.

RetireJapan includes information about Japan-specific resources, including NISA tax-sheltered investing accounts, kyoshutsu nenkin ‘J401k’ accounts, and the national pension scheme, as well as more general personal finance topics such as how to find money to save and what to do with it once you have some.

As well as the website and blog I also conduct seminars and workshops around Japan. Check out the site and get in touch if you would like me to speak to your group. You can also send me questions via the site.

Sincerely yours, Ben Shearon

___________________

RetireJapan link to: http://www.retirejapan.info/blog/blog-101

My latest Japan Times JBC Col 93: “Tackle embedded racism before it chokes Japan”, summarizing my new book “Embedded Racism”

mytest

Books, eBooks, and more from Dr. ARUDOU, Debito (click on icon):
Guidebookcover.jpgjapaneseonlyebookcovertextHandbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)sourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbFodorsJapan2014cover
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JUST BE CAUSE
justbecauseicon.jpg

Tackle embedded racism before it chokes Japan
BY DEBITO ARUDOU
The Japan Times, NOV 1, 2015

Japan has a dire problem it must address immediately: its embedded racism.

The country’s society and government are permeated by a narrative that says people must “look Japanese” before they can expect equal treatment in society.

That must stop. It’s a matter of Japan’s very survival.

We’ve talked about Japan’s overt racism in previous Just Be Cause columns: the “Japanese only” signs and rules that refuse entry and service to “foreigners” on sight (also excluding Japanese citizens who don’t “look Japanese”); the employers and landlords who refuse employment and apartments — necessities of life — to people they see as “foreign”; the legislators, administrators, police forces and other authorities and prominent figures that portray “foreigners” as a national security threat and call for their monitoring, segregation or expulsion.

But this exclusionism goes beyond a few isolated bigots in positions of power, who can be found in every society. It is so embedded that it becomes an indictment of the entire system.

In fact, embedded racism is key to how the system “works.” Or rather, as we shall see below, how it doesn’t…

Read the rest at
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2015/11/01/issues/tackle-embedded-racism-chokes-japan/

Please comment below, and thanks for reading!

Japan Times: Japan sanctioning mass ‘slave labor’ by duping foreign trainees, observers say

mytest

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Hi Blog. This article is nearly a year old, but it is still worth a read, if only to remind everyone of how things have not changed in Japan’s exploitative visa regimes. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

//////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Japan sanctioning mass ‘slave labor’ by duping foreign trainees, observers say
By Harumi Ozawa, The Japan Times, November 23, 2014
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/11/23/national/japan-sanctioning-mass-slave-labor-via-foreign-trainee-program/

The first word En learned when he began working at a construction site in Japan after moving from China was “baka,” Japanese for “idiot.”

The 31-year-old farmer is one of 50,000 Chinese who signed up for a government-run program that promises foreigners the chance to earn money while acquiring valuable on-the-job training. Like many of his compatriots, he hoped to leave Japan with cash in his pocket and a new set of skills that would give him a better shot at work at home.

“My Japanese colleagues would always say baka to me,” said En, who spoke only on condition that his full name not be revealed. “I am exhausted physically and mentally.”

His problem is not the bullying by Japanese colleagues, nor the two-hour commute each-way or the mind-numbing work that largely consists of breaking apart old buildings. It is the ¥1 million he borrowed to take part in the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program, ostensibly to cover traveling expenses and other “fees” charged by middlemen.

The loan has left him a virtual slave to Japan’s labor-hungry construction industry. “I cannot go back before I make enough money to repay the debt,” he said.

Japan is desperately short of workers to pay taxes to fund pensions and health care for its rapidly graying population, but it is almost constitutionally allergic to immigration. Less than 2 percent of the populace is classified as “non-Japanese” by the government; by comparison, around 13 percent of British residents are foreign-born.

This results, critics say, in ranks of poorly protected employees brought in through a government-sanctioned back door that is ripe for abuse and exploitation.

“This trainee program is a system of slave labor. You cannot just quit and leave. It’s a system of human trafficking, forced labor,” said Ippei Torii, director of Solidarity Network With Migrants Japan, a nongovernmental group that supports foreign workers.

Around a quarter of Japan’s population of 127 million is 65 or older, and this proportion is expected to jump to 40 percent in the coming decades. The heavily indebted government, which owes creditors more than twice what the economy generates annually, is scrambling to find the money to cover the welfare and health costs associated with the burgeoning ranks of the elderly even as the taxpayer base shrinks.

Japan’s average birthrate of around 1.4 children per woman, far below the level necessary to replenish the national workforce, is ratcheting up the pressure.

In most developed nations, this kind of shortfall is plugged by immigration, but Japan allows no unskilled workers into the country amid fears by some they would threaten the nation’s culture of consensus, an argument others view as mere cover for xenophobia.

But in 1993, as the economy was on the way down from its bubbly 1980s zenith, the government began the foreign trainee program, which allows tens of thousands of workers, mostly from China, Vietnam and Indonesia, to come to Japan and supply labor for industries including textiles, construction, farming and manufacturing.

The program, however, has not been without its critics. Japan’s top ally, the U.S., has even singled it out, with the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report for years slamming the program’s “deceptive recruitment practices.”

“The (Japanese) government did not prosecute or convict forced labor perpetrators despite allegations of labor trafficking in the TTIP,” it said this year, using the program’s acronym.

Past allegations include unpaid overtime work, karoshi (death from overwork), and all kinds of harassment, including company managers restricting the use of toilets or demanding sexual services.

The government rejects claims the program is abusive, yet acknowledges there have been some upstream problems. “It is true that some involved in the system have exploited it, but the government has acted against that,” an immigration official said. “It is not a system of slave labor.”

The official insisted it was not in authorities’ power to control the behavior of middlemen but insisted they were not allowed to charge deposit fees. “It is also banned for employers to take away trainees’ passports,” he added.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has unveiled a plan to expand the program that would allow foreign trainees to stay in Japan for five years instead of three, and says such labor will increasingly be needed, particularly in the construction boom ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Abe is also aware that the nation’s health care sector must increasingly look abroad to fill the shortage of workers.

“It has been said that we will need 1 million caregivers for the elderly by 2025, which would be impossible to handle only with the Japanese population,” said Tatsumi Kenmochi, a manager at a care home near Tokyo that employs Indonesian nurses.

For Kenmochi, foreign staff are a precious commodity and the sector must do as much as it can to make them feel welcome. “It must be hard to leave home and work overseas,” he said. “We make sure that they don’t get homesick, listening to them and sometimes going out to have a warm bowl of noodles with them.”

Torii of Solidarity Network With Migrants Japan said this is just the kind of attitude Japan needs to learn: “The issue is not whether we accept immigrants or not. They are already here, playing a vital role in our society.”

ENDS

Come back Brazilian Nikkei, all is forgiven!, in a policy U-turn after GOJ Repatriation Bribes of 2009

mytest

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Hi Blog.  In an apparent policy U-turn, the GOJ decided last week to lift the ban on certain South Americans of Japanese descent (Nikkei) from re-entering Japan.  This after bribing them to leave in 2009 so that they would not become an inconvenient unemployment statistic (not to mention that it was cheaper to pay their airfare than to pay them their social welfare that they had invested in over the decades, or pay them their pensions in future when reaching retirement age).

The reasons for this U-turn are being discussed in a recent Japan Times article, excerpted below.  The article speculates that a couple of embarrassing lawsuits and visa-denials might have tipped the GOJ’s hand (I for one doubt it; Japan’s visa regimes, as can be seen for example in its perennial stance towards refugees, are generally impervious to public exposure and international pressure).  I believe it was more an issue of the GOJ facing reality (as happened more than one year ago at the highest policymaking levels, where even the GOJ still maintained the stance that if immigration was an inevitability, they had better bring back people with Japanese blood; after all, the only ones in attendance were all Wajin and one token Nikkei).

Debito.org has spoken out quite hot-tonguedly about how ludicrous the Nikkei Repatriation Bribe was, not the least because of its inherently racialized paradigms (because they only applied to Nikkei — people who were also in even more dire financial straits due to the economic downturn, such as the Chinese and Muslim factory workers laboring in conditions of indentured servitude, were left to fend for themselves because they lacked the requisite Japanese blood).

So as a matter of course Debito.org cheers for the lifting of the ban.  But the Bribe and the Ban should never have happened in the first place.  So the GOJ can also take its lumps even if they are ultimately making the right decision.

Does this mean that the numbers of registered NJ residents of Japan will start to increase again?  I will say it could happen.  I stress: could, not will happen.  But if it did, that statistic, not any asset bubbles and transient stock-market numbers that people keep championing as the putative fruits of “Abenomics”, will be the real indicator of Japan’s recovery.   That is to say, if Japan ever regains its sheen as an attractive place to work for international labor, then an increase in Japan’s NJ population will cause and signal a true leavening of Japan’s economic clout and prowess.  But I remain skeptical at this juncture — as I’ve said before, the jig is up, and outsiders generally know that Japan has no intention or enforceable laws to treat immigrants as equals, no matter how much of their lives and taxes they invest.

At this time, I believe international migrant labor will continue to vote with their feet and work elsewhere.  So good luck with significant numbers coming to Japan even with this ban lifted.  Arudou Debito

==========================
Referential article:

Ban lifted on ‘nikkei’ who got axed, airfare
But Japanese-Brazilians must have work contract before coming back
BY TOMOHIRO OSAKI, The Japan Times OCT 15, 2013
EXCERPT:
In what could be a significant change in policy affecting “nikkei” migrant workers from Brazil, the government Tuesday lifted a ban on the return of Japanese-Brazilians who received financial help in 2009 to fly home when they were thrown out of work during the global financial crisis.

Ostensibly an attempt to help the unemployed and cash-strapped Latin American migrants of Japanese ethnic origin escape the economic woes here, the 2009 initiative offered each an average of ¥300,000 to be used as airfare. It eventually resulted in an exodus of around 20,000 people, including 5,805 from Aichi Prefecture and 4,641 from Shizuoka Prefecture.

Although some of the migrants were genuinely thankful for the chance to get out of struggling Japan and find jobs back home, others were insulted because accepting the deal also meant they couldn’t come back to Japan at least “for the next three years” under “the same legal status.” This was seen as an outrageous move by the government to “get rid of” foreign workers as demand for their services fizzled out.

The migrants were initially banned from re-entering Japan for an unspecified period of time, but after a storm of both domestic and international condemnation, the government eventually said it might green-light their return after three years, depending on the economy.

Rest at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/10/15/national/ban-lifted-on-nikkei-who-got-axed-airfare/
ENDS

2012 revisions to immigration and registry laws shaking down NJ for Pension & Health Insurance back payments

mytest

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Hi Blog. This entry is more of a query than a conclusive essay. I raise the question because we’re seeing the intended aftereffects of the 2012 revisions to the Immigration law (which allowed for NJ to be properly registered as residents on the Juuminhyou, but also centralized control of IC-Chipped Gaijin Cards in the national government) emerge. And allegedly more targeting of NJ in terms of social welfare schemes.

A friend of mine writes in (edited):

====================================

Don’t know if you’ve heard about the latest moves by the GOJ to milk foreign residents of their hard-earned cash. They are looking into NJ with the help of that new IC chip torokusho card and making people pay for the kokumin hoken health insurance AND nenkin pension they have never paid into.

I know several people who have been hit with this and it has drained their bank accounts.  They can’t even afford the plane ticket to go back home and see ailing parents. They said a lien would be put on their account/pay checks if they didn’t pay.

A teacher I know (in his 40s) has been here some 10 years and has NEVER paid into the health insurance scheme nor nenkin. He called up city hall inquring about this and they said yes indeed he is delinquent will have to pay up all those missed years! They asked his name and he said thank you and hung up the phone! 

Another friend of mine got zapped for back payments. Every month he was being charged fines/penalties for late payments. So even if he negotiated returning to a monthly fee he would still have to pay a huge amount in extra fees. So he paid it off lump-sum and has depleted all of his savings.

The health insurance is important as one needs that to ensure treatment here, but having NJ pay into the nenkin scheme if they feel they will not be here forever to pay into it is ridiculous.  Any advice on how to get around this? I’d love to hear what you think on the matter.

====================================

COMMENT: We talk about Japan’s social welfare systems in detail in HANDBOOK FOR NEWCOMERS, MIGRANTS, AND IMMIGRANTS (and my eBook GUIDEBOOK FOR RELOCATION AND ASSIMILATION INTO JAPAN). Personally, I take the side of everyone paying in. I believe that everyone in a society should support the national umbrella insurance systems, because opting out by saying, for example, “I’m not sick now so I don’t need it; I’ll only sign up when I get sick,” is fair-weather freeloading, as if you’re expecting a return on an investment when you need it but you didn’t make the investment in the first place.  (National systems can’t remain solvent like that. These issues were developed and ironed out during the Obamacare debates.)   Also, saying that “I can’t see myself retiring in Japan so I shouldn’t have to pay into Japanese pension” is also bad logic, especially given Totalization Agreements Japan has arranged with a number of societies (also covered in HANDBOOK/GUIDEBOOK) for pensions to be started and completed in different countries.

That said, there are a couple of issues that affect NJ differently here.  One is that one of the reasons why some J have not paid in is because their employer (who is responsible to pay in half of their employees welfare benefits if they work 30 hours a week and up, i.e., full time) didn’t pay in their half.  This is often unbeknownst to the NJ employee and a tax dodge by the employer.  Yet the person who gets chased down for the back payments is the NJ employee.

Another issue that affects everyone is that Japan’s pension system basically requires 300 months (25 years) of work before you qualify for any pension (although I have heard that might be changing to 10 years’ minimum investment).  That’s the longest minimum pension investment for any industrialized society.  But since that affects everyone, that’s part of the price you pay to live in Japan.

The difference is that for the Japanese public you get a nicer attitude and less draconian enforcement.  Japanese just get official posters nicely cajoling them to pay into the social welfare schemes, but there is no real enforcement unless they want future pension payments (or to avoid public shame, as was seen in 2004 when Japanese politicians were caught not paying in).  But for NJ, now that all of their visa and registry issues have been consolidated behind Central Control, their very visa renewals are contingent upon paying into social welfare, and they’re being chased and shaken down for the money.  It’s a very different approach, and the newfound dragnet further encourages bureaucrats to scrutinize and treat NJ as potential social deadbeats.  It’s one more official way to treat NJ as “different”.

Anyone else out there being officially shaken down?  And for how much?  Arudou Debito

DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER MAY 13, 2013 PART 2: New eBooks by Debito on sale now

mytest

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DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER MAY 13, 2013 PART TWO

Hello Newsletter Readers. This month’s Newsletter is a little late due to a press holiday on May 7, the date my Japan Times column was originally to come out. So this month you get two editions that are chock full of important announcements. As a supplement, here is information about three new books of mine that are now out in downloadable eBook form:

========================

1) Debito’s eBook “GUIDEBOOK FOR RELOCATION AND ASSIMILATION INTO JAPAN” now available on Amazon and NOOK for download. USD $19.99

rsz_finished_book_coverB&N

Following December’s publication of the revised 2nd Edition of long-selling HANDBOOK FOR NEWCOMERS, MIGRANTS, AND IMMIGRANTS comes a companion eBook for those who want to save paper (and money). A handy reference book for securing stable jobs, visas, and lifestyles in Japan, GUIDEBOOK has been fully revised and is on sale for $19.99 USD (or your currency equivalent, pegged to the USD on Amazons worldwide).

See contents, reviews, a sample chapter, and links to online purchasing outlets at http://www.debito.org/handbook.html

========================

2) Debito’s eBook “JAPANESE ONLY: THE OTARU ONSENS CASE AND RACIAL DISCRIMINATION IN JAPAN” now available in a 10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION on Amazon and NOOK for download. USD $9.99

japaneseonlyebookcovertext

It has been more than ten years since bathhouses in Otaru, Hokkaido, put up “NO FOREIGNERS” signs at their front doors, and a full decade since the critically-acclaimed book about the landmark anti-discrimination lawsuit came out. Now with a new Introduction and Postscript updating what has and hasn’t changed in the interim, JAPANESE ONLY remains the definitive work about how discrimination by race remains a part of the Japanese social landscape.

See contents, reviews, a sample chapter, and links to online purchasing outlets at http://www.debito.org/japaneseonly.html

========================

3) Debito’s eBook “IN APPROPRIATE: A NOVEL OF CULTURE, KIDNAPPING, AND REVENGE IN MODERN JAPAN” now available on Amazon and NOOK for download. USD $9.99

In Appropriate cover

My first nonfiction novel that came out two years ago, IN APPROPRIATE is the story of a person who emigrates to Japan, finds his niche during the closing days of the Bubble Years, and realizes that he has married into a locally-prominent family whose interests conflict with his. The story is an amalgam of several true stories of divorce and child abduction in Japan, and has received great praise from Left-Behind Parents for its sincerity and authenticity.

See contents, reviews, a sample chapter, and links to online purchasing outlets at http://www.debito.org/inappropriate.html

========================

Thanks for reading and perhaps purchasing!  Arudou Debito

ENDS

JT: Japan’s minimum retirement age to increase to 65 by 2025

mytest

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Hi Blog. Here’s something interesting for those of you working in Japan and intending to stay on until retirement. Those of you who have done the research (see also our HANDBOOK FOR NEWCOMERS, MIGRANTS, AND IMMIGRANTS TO JAPAN) will know that (aside from a quickie lump-sum you can withdraw if you’ve only paid in for a few years and are leaving Japan) you have to pay into Japan’s mandatory pension system for 300 months (i.e., 25 years) or you don’t get anything back. Further, you can’t collect it until the mandatory retirement age, which was 60, but now has been raised to 61 and soon will be raised to 65, according to the Japan Times. So that means that even if you want to stop work early even after paying in for 300 months, you simply cannot collect. This is also assuming that, given the decreasing population and increasing pensioners, Japan’s pension system will even be solvent by the time you reach retirement age. Something to think about. Other issues of import raised in the Japan Times article link as well. Arudou Debito

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Mandatory retirement takes a leap forward
BY MARK SCHREIBER
The Japan Times, March 24, 2013
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/03/24/national/mandatory-retirement-takes-a-leap-forward/

[excerpt] …Americans saw nothing odd about staying on the job until reaching age 65.

Now finally, Japan is catching up. From next month, when the 2013 fiscal year begins, the revised Law Concerning Stabilization of Employment of Older Persons takes effect, and the mandatory retirement age, defined as the minimum age for payout of social security pensions — last raised from 55 to 60 years in 1998 — will go up to 61, and then increase incrementally at the rate of one year of age every three years, until 2025, when the mandatory retirement age reaches 65.

Over the long term, the new statute is expected to have profound effects on hiring, the wage structure and many other aspects affecting the nation’s corporate culture.

Yet Japan, with its declining birthrate and aging population, clearly had to do something to maintain the size of its labor force (which was 62.98 million as of 2010). Mass immigration, one of its few other options, has been proposed numerous times over the years, but for reasons too numerous to raise here keeps getting put on the back burner.

Rest of the article at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/03/24/national/mandatory-retirement-takes-a-leap-forward/

ENDS

Kyodo: NJ on welfare (unlike Japanese on welfare) now need to pay pension premiums, says Japan Pension Service

mytest

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Hi Blog. I know so little about this issue that I post this with hopes that others will do some investigation for us (thanks, research on other things in process). Comment follows too-short article.

/////////////////////////////////////////

Foreigners on welfare need to pay pension premiums: agency
TOKYO, Oct. 16, 2012, Kyodo News, courtesy of JK
http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2012/10/188282.html

Japan Pension Service has drawn up a guideline that renders foreign residents on welfare no longer eligible for a uniform waiver from premium payments for the public pension, effectively a turnaround from a long-held practice of treating them equally with Japanese, sources familiar with the matter said Tuesday.

Human rights activists said it is tantamount to discrimination based on nationality. In fiscal 2010, roughly 1.41 million households were on public assistance. Around 42,000 were households led by foreign residents.

In a reply dated Aug. 10 to a query from a local pension service office, JPS, a government affiliate commissioned to undertake pension services, said, “Public assistance benefits are provided to foreigners living in poverty as done so for Japanese nationals, but foreigners are not subject to the law on public assistance.”

ENDS

//////////////////////////////////////

COMMENT:  It sounds like the same sort of thing that happened when Oita Prefectural bureaucrats unilaterally decided in 2008 that elderly NJ didn’t deserve welfare benefits, despite it being legal by Diet decree since 1981 (see here also item six). It took a very brave and long-lived Zainichi to get that straightened out.

Only this time, it’s not just some local bureaucrats and asinine local courtroom judges. It’s the governing agency on the whole pension scheme, publishing a “guideline” on this. Even though, as the Yomiuri noted in 2011, “The [2011 Fukuoka] high court ruling noted Diet deliberations in 1981 on ratifying the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which stipulates that countries ‘shall accord to refugees within their territories treatment at least as favorable as that accorded to their nationals’.”  One would think that this would apply in this case too.  Thoughts?  Arudou Debito

Case study about university contract termination of NJ reversed due to getting a lawyer

mytest

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Hi Blog.  What follows is a template for how you can reverse an imminent “termination through contract non-renewal” decision made by a workplace (in this case, a university) that unilaterally decides you’re too expensive.  This sort of thing is SOP for NJ academics in Japan’s higher education, and it will continue to be so if NJ academics continue to roll over whenever faced with job adversity.  What did he do?  He got a lawyer, and the school rolled over instead.  Read on.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

April 11, 2010

This past December, just before winter vacation, the owner of the college where I teach called me into his office and announced in no uncertain terms that in 3 months, at the end of March, I would be fired.   After 24 years working for the school, with hardly any advanced warning, I was to be among the unemployed, and at an age (56) when it would be all but impossible to find a similar position in Japan.

The owner, not so generously, said he would allow me to continue as a part-timer at the bottom of the pay scale, with a loss of health care benefits, at an income which, unless I came up with something to supplement it, would impossible to live on.  In addition, he made it a point to explain, though I might have thought I was fulltime, for the first 5 years, (when I taught at both his high school and college) I actually was a part-timer, and that I could expect my retirement package to reflect it; no small thing as severance pay is weighted towards the last years of employment, those 5 years will cost me nearly $150,000.

Let me make it clear that I was employed at this school with the promise that it would be a permanent position, and that I would receive the same benefits as the Japanese teachers.  I never had a contract, and in fact, was told I did not need one because I was employed under the standard terms of employment (shugyou gisoku) that the Japanese employees received.   I paid into the pension plan, had health insurance, received bonuses.  I attended the meetings, worked the overtime.

On being transferred to the college, I was told, because the Japanese teachers had extra duties, I would be expected to teach a few more classes.  In time I found myself teaching twice the standard load of 6 classes (at 12 classes), and in addition to doing the teaching of two, because the part-timers they had employed to help out couldn’t be bothered, I was doing the testing and grading of four teachers.  I carried this kind of load for probably 15 years or so.  But in time, and after a few college presidents came and left, the school policy gradually shifted away from emphasis on English language education, and my classes slowly underwent a transformation from being required subjects for all, to elective subjects available to fewer than half of the students.  In short, over the past 5 years the school slowly phased me out.

As I believe that the circumstances I describe might apply to any number of foreign workers in Japan, I am writing in the hope you might gain from some of my mistakes.   First of all, verbal agreements mean nothing.   Insist on getting those promises in writing.   When I interviewed for my job at the high school, there were three people in the room, but 24 years later, two of them are dead, and the only person who might verify my story is the man I had to take to court.

If you believe in labor unions, better join up before you encounter any problems.  Or if you do try joining a labor union, don’t let them know of your predicament, or else they will have nothing to do with you.   (I couldn’t even get them to recommend a lawyer.)  Basically labor union resources are reserved for members of long standing who have paid their dues.

One little aside that was important for me.  For you teachers who are members of the private school pension plan, (Shigaku Kyousai), depending on your age, you do not need to work the full 25 years to qualify for your pension.  And for Americans (and other nationalities covered by similar treaties) if you have paid into your country’s social security system, you can get Japanese pension benefits depending on what you have paid into the system.

Don’t put off getting permanent residency.   Your school loves you now?  You just don’t know when they might turn on you.  That can change with the next high school principal or college president.

Finally, and most important of all, get a lawyer.  I simply would have been a dead man without one.  I was lucky enough to have a friend recommend one to me, and still luckier that he was willing to go to court.  It never seemed to even occur to my boss that I would or could litigate.  I had already received notice, the court date was set, and I was meeting with my lawyer.  It was March 30th and one day from termination, when I got a fax from my school’s lawyer rescinding it.  I’m back at work now as if nothing happened, though who is to say whether or not I won’t go through the same hell again next year.

And genuine thanks to Debito.  Outside of a friends and family, he was just about the only one to return my e-mails.   Not sure that I would have gotten through this without his advice and support.

ENDS

Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column with my top ten NJ human rights issues for 2009

mytest

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Human rights in Japan: a top 10 for ’09

JUST BE CAUSE Column 24/ZEIT GIST Column 53 for the Japan Times Community Page

The Japan Times January 5, 2010

http://search.japantimes.co.jp/print/fl20100105ad.html

They say that human rights advances come in threes:  two steps forward and one back.  2009, however, had good news and bad on balance.  For me, the top 10 human rights events of the year that affected non-Japanese (NJ) were, in ascending order:

10) “Mr. James”

Between August and November, McDonald’s Japan had this geeky Caucasian shill portraying foreigners to Japanese consumers (especially children, one of McDonald’s target markets) as dumb enough to come to Japan, home of a world cuisine, just for the burgers.  Pedantry aside, McDonald’s showed its true colors — not as a multinational promoting multiculturalism (its image in other countries), but instead as a ruthless corporation willing to undermine activists promoting “foreigner as resident of Japan” just to push product.  McD’s unapologetically pandered to latent prejudices in Japan by promoting the gaijin as hapless tourist, speaking Japanese in katakana and never fitting in no matter how hard he shucks or jives.  They wouldn’t even fight fair, refusing to debate in Japanese for the domestic media.  “Mr. James’s” katakana blog has since disappeared, but his legacy will live on in a generation of kids spoon-fed cultural pap with their fast food.

http://www.debito.org/?p=4303

http://www.debito.org/?p=4243

9) “The Cove”

Although not a movie about “human” rights (the subjects are sentient mammals), this documentary (www.thecovemovie.com) about annual dolphin slaughters in southern Wakayama Prefecture shows the hard slog activists face in this society.  When a handful of local fishermen cull dolphins and call it “Japanese tradition,” the government (both local and national), police and our media machines instinctively encircle to cover it up.  Just to get hard evidence to enable public scrutiny, activists had to go as far as to get George Lucas’s studios to create airborne recording devices and fit cameras into rocks.  It showed the world what we persevering activists all know:  how advanced an art form public unaccountability is in Japan.

8) The pocket knife/pee dragnets (tie)

The Japanese police’s discretionary powers of NJ racial profiling, search and seizure were in full bloom this year, exemplified by two events that beggared belief.  The first occurred in July, when a 74-year-old American tourist who asked for directions at a Shinjuku police box was incarcerated for 10 days just for carrying a pocket knife (yes, the koban cops asked him specifically whether he was carrying one).  The second involved confirmed reports of police apprehending NJ outside Roppongi bars and demanding they take urine tests for drugs.  Inconceivable treatment for Japanese (sure, sometimes they get hit for bag searches, but not bladder searches), but the lack of domestic press attention — even to stuff as egregious as this — shows that Japanese cops can zap NJ at whim with impunity.

http://www.debito.org/?p=3772

http://www.debito.org/?p=4257

7) “Itchy and Scratchy” (another tie)

Accused murderer Tatsuya Ichihashi and convicted embezzler Nozomu Sahashi also got zapped this year.  Well, kinda.

Ichihashi spent close to three years on the lam after police in 2007 bungled his capture at his apartment, where the strangled body of English teacher Lindsay Ann Hawker was found.  He was finally nabbed in November, but only after intense police and media lobbying by her family (lessons here for the families of fellow murdered NJs Scott Tucker, Matthew Lacey and Honiefaith Kamiosawa) and on the back of a crucial tip from plastic surgeons.

Meanwhile Sahashi, former boss of Eikaiwa empire NOVA (bankrupted in 2007), was finally sentenced Aug. 27 to a mere 3.5 years, despite bilking thousands of customers, staff and NJ teachers.

For Sahashi it’s case closed (pending appeal), but in Ichihashi’s case, his high-powered defense team is already claiming police abuse in jail, and is no doubt preparing to scream “miscarriage of justice” should he get sentenced.  Still, given the leniency shown to accused NJ killers Joji Obara and Hiroshi Nozaki, let’s see what the Japanese judiciary comes up with on this coin toss.

http://www.debito.org/?p=4364

http://www.debito.org/?p=5413

6) “Newcomers” outnumber “oldcomers”

This happened by the end of 2007, but statistics take time to tabulate.  Last March, the press announced that “regular permanent residents” (as in NJ who were born overseas and have stayed long enough to qualify for permanent residency) outnumber “special permanent residents” (the “Zainichi” Japan-born Koreans, Chinese etc. “foreigners” who once comprised the majority of NJ) by 440,000 to 430,000.  That’s a total of nearly a million NJ who cannot legally be forced to leave.  This, along with Chinese residents now outnumbering Koreans, denotes a sea change in the NJ population, indicating that immigration from outside Japan is proceeding apace.

http://www.debito.org/?p=2852

5) Proposals for a “Japanese-style immigration nation”

Hidenori Sakanaka, head of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute (www.jipi.gr.jp), is a retired Immigration Bureau mandarin who actually advocates a multicultural Japan — under a proper immigration policy run by an actual immigration ministry.  In 2007, he offered a new framework for deciding between a “Big Japan” (with a vibrant, growing economy thanks to inflows of NJ) and a “Small Japan” (a parsimonious Asian backwater with a relatively monocultural, elderly population).  In 2009, he offered a clearer vision in a bilingual handbook (available free from JIPI) of policies on assimilating NJ and educating Japanese to accept a multiethnic society.  I cribbed from it in my last JBC column (Dec 1) and consider it, in a country where government-sponsored think tanks can’t even use the word “immigration” when talking about Japan’s future, long-overdue advice.

http://www.debito.org/?p=4832

http://www.debito.org/?p=4944

4) IC-chipped “gaijin cards” and NJ juminhyo residency certificates (tie)

Again, 2009 was a year of give and take.  On July 8, the Diet adopted policy for (probably remotely trackable) chips to be placed in new “gaijin cards” (which all NJ must carry 24-7 or risk arrest) for better policing.  Then, within the same policy, NJ will be listed on Japan’s residency certificates (juminhyo).  The latter is good news, since it is a longstanding insult to NJ taxpayers that they are not legally “residents,” i.e. not listed with their families (or at all) on a household juminhyo.  However, in a society where citizens are not required to carry any universal ID at all, the policy still feels like one step forward, two steps back.

http://www.debito.org/?p=3786

3) The Savoie child abduction case

Huge news on both sides of the pond was Christopher Savoie’s Sept.28 attempt to retrieve his kids from Japan after his ex-wife abducted them from the United States.  Things didn’t go as planned:  The American Consulate in Fukuoka wouldn’t let them in, and he was arrested by Japanese police for two weeks until he agreed to get out of Dodge.  Whatever you think about this messy case, the Savoie incident raised necessary attention worldwide about Japan’s status as a safe haven for international child abductors, and shone a light on the harsh truth that after a divorce, in both domestic and international cases, there is no enforced visitation or joint custody in Japan — even for Japanese.  It also occasioned this stark conclusion from your columnist:  Until fundamental reforms are made to Japan’s family law (which encourages nothing less than Parental Alienation Syndrome), nobody should risk getting married and having kids in Japan.

http://www.debito.org/?cat=49

http://www.debito.org/?p=4664

2) The election of the Democratic Party of Japan

Nothing has occasioned more hope for change in the activist community than the end of five decades of Liberal Democratic Party rule.  Although we are still in “wait and see” mode after 100 days in power, there is a perceptible struggle between the major proponents of the status quo (the bureaucrats) and the Hatoyama Cabinet (which itself is understandably fractious, given the width of its ideological tent).  We have one step forward with permanent residents probably getting the vote in local elections, and another with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama saying at the APEC Summit on Nov. 14 that Japan should “create an environment that is friendly to [NJ] so they voluntarily live in Japan.”  But then we have the no-steps-anywhere: The DPJ currently has no plans to consider fundamental issues such as dual nationality, a racial discrimination law, an immigration ministry, or even an immigration policy.  Again, wait and see.

http://www.debito.org/?p=5141

1) The “Nikkei repatriation bribe”

This more than anything demonstrated how the agents of the status quo (again, the bureaucrats) keep public policy xenophobic.  Twenty years ago they drafted policy that brought in cheap NJ labor as “trainees” and “researchers,” then excluded them from labor law protections by not classifying them as “workers.”  They also brought in Nikkei workers to “explore their Japanese heritage” (but really to install them, again, as cheap labor to stop Japan’s factories moving overseas).  Then, after the economic tailspin of 2008, on April Fool’s Day the bureaucrats offered the Nikkei (not the trainees or researchers, since they didn’t have Japanese blood) a bribe to board a plane home, give up their visas and years of pension contributions, and become some other country’s problem.  This move, above all others, showed the true intentions of Japanese government policy:  NJ workers, no matter what investments they make here, are by design tethered to temporary, disposable, revolving-door labor conditions, with no acceptable stake or entitlement in Japan’s society.

http://www.debito.org/?p=2930

Bubbling underNoriko Calderon (victim of the same xenophobic government policies mentioned above, which even split families apart), Noriko Sakai (who tried to pin her drug issues on foreign dealers), sumo potheads (who showed that toking and nationality were unrelated), and swine flu (which was once again portrayed as an “outsiders’ disease” until Japanese caught it too after Golden Week).

2009 was a pretty mixed year.  Let’s hope 2010 is more progressive.

Debito Arudou coauthored “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants.”  Twitter arudoudebito.  Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month.  Send comments to community@japantimes.co.jp

ENDS

1538 WORDS

Mainichi: Shizuoka bureaucrats force Brazilian woman to take “Repatriation Bribe”

mytest

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatartwitter: arudoudebito
Hi Blog. Case number #4534 of why one does not allow untrained bureaucrats to make Immigration decisions: The potential for misunderstanding and abuse.

Last April, the GOJ decided to offer unemployed Nikkei workers (only — this did not apply to Chinese etc. “Trainees and Researchers” because they did not have the correct blood) a 300,000 yen Repatriation Bribe for airplane tickets “back home”, not only asking them to void their visas and give up their paid-in pensions, but also to go elsewhere and just be somebody else’s problem.

Now, according to the Mainichi of Sept 14, 2009, a local government tried to make any possible welfare benefits to a NJ contingent upon promising to take the Bribe and go home — a Catch-22 if ever there was one.

Not too surprising. This is the same prefecture which around up to ten years ago restricted or denied NJ the right to sign up for the National Health Insurance (kokumin kenkou hoken) because they weren’t “kokumin” (citizens) .

Fortunately, this case came out in the press. How many others have been duped here and elsewhere and forced to go home without it being reported?

Shame on the GOJ for creating this policy avenue for abuse in the first place. Arudou Debito back in Sapporo

////////////////////////////////////////////////

National News
Local gov’t makes foreign welfare applicant sign up for cash to return to Brazil

(Mainichi Japan) September 14, 2009, Courtesy of David P

http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/national/news/20090914p2a00m0na010000c.html?inb=rs

FUKUROI, Shizuoka — The Fukuroi Municipal Government has promised to apologize to a Brazilian woman of Japanese descent after forcing her to sign a pledge to use government assistance to return to her country when she applied for a welfare payment.

The assistance program provides government funds enabling jobless people of Japanese descent and their families to return to their countries when they decide to give up working in Japan.

When questioned by the Mainichi, a municipal government representative admitted the city’s error, saying, “The payment of welfare benefits and the support to return to one’s country are separate things. Our behavior disregarded the person’s wish to live in Japan.” The city has promised to annul the pledge and apologize to the woman.

The woman, a third-generation Japanese-Brazilian in her 20s, lives with her 5-year-old son. She came to Japan about 10 years ago. In mid-July, she was dismissed by the cell-phone parts manufacturer she had worked for, and she applied for livelihood protection payments on Aug. 31.

The woman and city officials said that when she applied, a worker told her, “Unless you promise to undergo procedures to apply for financial support to return to your country, we will not accept the application for livelihood protection.”

When the woman said that she wanted to continue to work in Japan, the worker reportedly told her, “You have no driver’s license and you can’t speak Japanese, so you can be 100 percent sure you won’t find work. It would be better for you to take the 300,000 yen (payment to return to Brazil), and go home.”

Along with the application for welfare payments, the woman was handed a blank A4-sized sheet of paper. On it she wrote a message in Portuguese saying that she would apply for assistance to return home. She reportedly signed it and marked it with a fingerprint.

Commenting on the incident, a city official initially said that the city had received a notice from the government saying that when livelihood protection benefits were provided, if there were other payments that could be made, such as pension payments or allowances, then those payments should take precedence. Accordingly, the city judged that assistance to return home fell into that category, the official said.

Later, however, a city representative said, “Livelihood protection is for people facing adversity while living in Japan, and making the support money to return home apply to the utilization of other laws and policies constituted a mistaken interpretation of the government notice.”

Commenting on the incident, the woman said, “In Brazil I have ageing parents and a sick younger sister. Even if I go back home I don’t have the freedom to work, and I can only work in Japan. To think that they went as far as to make me write a pledge …”

Original Japanese story:
http://mainichi.jp/select/seiji/archive/news/2009/09/14/20090914ddm041010047000c.html

生活保護:申請の日系人に帰国支援手続き強制 誤り認め謝罪へ‐‐静岡・袋井市

不景気で失業して生活保護費の支給を申請した静岡県袋井市の日系ブラジル人に対し、市が、国の帰国支援制度を利用するとの誓約書を書かせていたことが分かった。制度は、日系人失業者が国内での再就職を断念して帰国する場合、国が家族分も含め帰国支援金を支給しており、今回の市の対応は帰国を促す措置だ。毎日新聞の取材を受けた市は「生活保護の支給と帰国支援は別もの。日本で生活したいという本人の意思を踏みにじる行為」と誤りを認め、誓約書の撤回と本人への謝罪を約束した。【小玉沙織】

誓約書を書かされたのは、息子(5)と2人で暮らす日系ブラジル人3世の20代の女性。約10年前に来日し、7月中旬に携帯電話の組み立て工場を解雇され、8月31日に同市へ生活保護の支給を申請した。

女性や市によると、申請の際、女性は職員から「(日系人離職者に対する)帰国支援事業の手続きも行うと約束しなければ、生活保護の申請は受け付けられない」と言われた。女性は「まだ日本で仕事がしたい」と訴えたが、職員は「あなたは運転免許もないし、日本語も話せないので、100%仕事は見つからない。(帰国支援金の)30万円をもらって帰ったほうがいい」と主張した。女性は生活保護を申請するとともに、職員から渡されたA4判の白い紙に「帰国支援の手続きをする」などとポルトガル語で書いてサインしたうえ、右人さし指で指印を押したという。

取材に対し、市しあわせ推進課は当初、「生活保護の支給については、年金や諸手当など他の方法で受給できるものがあれば優先するという国からの通達(生活保護の「他法他施策の活用」)があり、帰国支援事業の利用はそれに該当する」と説明。その後、「生活保護は日本で困窮しながら暮らす人が対象で、帰国支援金を他法他施策の活用に当たるとするのは、通達の誤った解釈だった」と回答した。

女性は「ブラジルにいるのは、年老いた両親と病気の妹。帰っても働く余裕はなく、日本で働くしかないのに、誓約書まで書かされるとは」と話した。

==============

■ことば
◇日系人離職者に対する帰国支援事業

南米諸国に国籍がある日系人失業者のうち、日本での再就職をあきらめ、母国へ帰国する本人に30万円、扶養家族に1人20万円を国が支給する。不況を受けた緊急支援で4月から受け付けを始めた。当初、国は支援金の目的外使用を防ぐため、支援金受給者は「当分の間」再入国を認めないとしていたが、日系人らから「もう来るなということか」との批判を受け、政府は5月に「3年をめどとする」ことを明らかにした。

ENDS

Japan Times: NJ visas now contingent on enrollment in Japan’s health insurance program starting April 2010

mytest

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in JapansourstrawberriesavatarUPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog.  Here’s a good article describing issues of health insurance and pensions, and how recent revisions clarifying that every resident in Japan (including NJ) must be enrolled may expose the graft that employers have been indulging in (“opting out” of paying mandatory social security fees, encouraging NJ not to pay them, or just preying on their ignorance by not telling them at all) to save money.  The problem is, instead of granting an amnesty for those employees who unwittingly did not pay into the system, they’re requiring back payments (for however many years) to enroll or else they get no visa renewal!  Once again, it’s the NJ employee who gets punished for the vices of the employer.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

================================

THE ZEIT GIST
New law: no dues, no visa (excerpt)
Enrollment in Japan’s health insurance program tied to visa renewal from 2010
The Japan Times, Tuesday, July 28, 2009

By JENNY UECHI

http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20090728zg.html

In your wallet or somewhere at home, do you have a blue or pink card showing that you are enrolled in one of Japan’s national health and pension programs? If not, and if you are thinking of extending your stay here, you may want to think about a recent revision to visa requirements for foreign residents. The changes, which the Justice Ministry says were made in order to “smooth out the administrative process,” may have major consequences for foreign residents and their future in Japan.

On a drab, rainy Sunday in June, a group of foreign workers gathered at the office of the National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu in Shimbashi to discuss an equally drab topic: social insurance. According to a new immigration law passed by the Diet earlier this month, foreign residents will be required to show proof of enrollment in Japan’s health insurance program in order to renew or apply for a visa after April 1, 2010…

The bottom line is that all residents of Japan … have to be enrolled in one or other of the two systems. The revised visa laws, therefore, should pose no threat to anyone’s visa renewal, because every foreigner in Japan should already be enrolled.  However, the reality is that most foreigners in Japan do not have either form of insurance…

Louis Carlet, deputy secretary of Nambu, laid it down for everyone in the room to understand. There are a few basic things that all foreigners in Japan have to know, he explained: first, that everyone over the age of 20 in Japan is required to enroll in an approved Japanese government health insurance scheme and pension fund. If you are under 75 and working at a company that employs more than five people, this most likely means the shakai hoken (social insurance) program; if you are unemployed, self-employed or retired, the equivalent system is thekokumin kenko hoken and kokumin nenkin (national health insurance and pension). The only people exempt are sailors, day laborers, and those working for companies employing less than five people, or for firms without a permanent address (e.g. a film set).

The two systems cover different ground, all of which is explained in detail at www.sia.go.jp/e/ehi.html….

Rest of the article at:
http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20090728zg.html

Asahi on future of Japanese pension plans: oldies below poverty line

mytest

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatar

Hi Blog.  Here is the proposed future for those of us paying into our nation’s pension plan.  Read and weep.  Considering Japan’s unofficial poverty line is about 200,000 yen a month, people who retire are forecast to become just that:  impoverished.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

=====================================
New pension data, same grim outlook
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN 2009/5/26, courtesy of TC

http://www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asahi/TKY200905260070.html

The average household that starts receiving public pension benefits this fiscal year will see the payment level drop to about 40 percent of average working household incomes in 20 years, the welfare ministry said.

For households consisting of a man living alone or a working couple, the amount of benefits from the kosei-nenkin pension program for company employees is already below 50 percent of the average income when they first receive payments, the ministry’s estimates show.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare’s model household comprises a company employee on an average income who has subscribed to the pension program for 40 years, and a wife of the same age who has been a homemaker since marriage.

In February, the ministry concluded that a model household would be able to secure pension benefits of at least 50.1 percent of the average income of working households in the first year of payments.

The ministry’s latest estimates include changes in annual benefits over 20 years.

If the average household begins receiving benefits in fiscal 2009 when the couple reach the age of 65, the payments will be 223,000 yen a month, or 62.3 percent of the average income of working households.

When the couple become 85 years old, the pension amount will be 199,000 yen in terms of current values, or 43.2 percent of the average working household income.

The ministry’s estimates in 2004 showed that a model household would start receiving pension benefits equivalent to 57.5 percent of the average income.

When the couple reach 85 years old, the ratio would be 41.8 percent, according to the 2004 estimates.

Therefore, the latest estimates represent a nearly 5-percentage-point rise in the first-year benefits of the model household.

However, the rise was mainly led by the current decline in household income.

After households begin to receive their benefits, the ratio changes each year depending on price movements.

The ministry’s latest estimates are based on the assumption that consumer prices will rise by 1 percent annually while average household income will increase by 2.5 percent.

The expected decline in the ratio of benefits over the years is also a result of 2004 legal revisions intended to curb pension benefits to prevent the rapidly aging society from draining welfare coffers.

A household of a couple who both worked full time receives first-time pension benefits of 279,000 yen in fiscal 2009, or 48.3 percent of the average income of working couples, according to the latest estimates.

For a household of a man who has remained single since he joined the pension program, the corresponding figures will be 157,000 yen, or 43.9 percent.(IHT/Asahi: May 26,2009)

ENDS

Revamped article on the Nikkei Repatriation Bribe

mytest

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatar

Hi Blog.  A few weeks ago I was invited to retool my recent Japan Times article on the Nikkei Repatriation Bribe for an academic website.  After doing so (and integrating a point I had neglected about the bribe being one way to save on pension monies), they decided that I had enough outlets (what with this blog and the JT) and thought it wasn’t quite original enough.  Ah well.  I like how it turned out anyway, so I’ll post it here as the outlet.  Thanks for reading it.  Debito in Sapporo

======================================

THE NIKKEI REPATRIATION BRIBE:  WHY IT’S A RAW DEAL FOR NJ

By Arudou Debito.  Debito.org May 8, 2009

One cannot read the news without hearing how bad the world economy has become, and Japan is no exception. Daily headlines proclaim what was once considered inconceivable in a land of lifetime employment: tens of thousands of people fired from Japan’s world-class factories. The Economist in April referred to Japan’s “two lost decades”, suggesting that modest economic gains over the past five years will be completely wiped out, according to OECD forecasts for 2009.

Cutbacks have bitten especially deeply into the labor market for non-Japanese workers. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry reports that in the two months up to January 2009, more than 9,000 foreigners asked “Hello Work” unemployment agencies for assistance — eleven times the figure for the same period a year earlier. The Mainichi Shinbun reported (April 7, 2009) that 1,007 foreign “trainees”, working in Japanese factories, were made redundant between October 2008 and January 2009 alone.

In the same report [1], the labor ministry asserts that non-Japanese are unfamiliar with Japan’s language and corporate culture, concluding that (despite years of factory work) they are “extremely unre-employable” (saishuushoku ga kiwamete muzukashii).[2] So select regions are offering information centers, language training, and some degree of job placement. Under an emergency measure drawn up by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in March, the Japanese government began from April 1 offering workers of Japanese descent (nikkei) working here on “long-term resident” visas — a repatriation package. Applicants get 300,000 yen, plus 200,000 yen for each family dependent, if they return to their own country. If they take up the offer before their unemployment benefit runs out, they get 100,000 yen added to each sum for each month outstanding.

This sounds good. After all, why keep people here who cannot find a job? But read the small print of the proposal: The retraining measures only target 5,000 people, a tiny fraction of the 420,000-plus nikkei already in Japan. Of course, the offer extends to none of the 102,018 “trainees” (mostly Chinese) that Japan’s factories received in 2007 alone. Hundreds of thousands of people are on their own.

From this, it is clear the government is engaging in damage control by physically removing a small number of people from Japan’s unemployment rosters – the nikkei – and doing a dramatic U-turn in imported-labor policies. A twenty-year-old visa regime, based on economic and political contradictions, official and unofficial cross-purposes, unregulated corrupt programs, and a mindset of treating people as mere work units, is coming to a close. This is an enormous policy miscalculation by the Japanese government thanks to a blind spot of using racially based paradigms to create a new domestic workforce.

First, let’s return to the “repatriation offer” and consider its implications. Although the sum of 300,000 yen may appear magnanimous, it comes with two built-in ironies. One is the sense that history is repeating itself. These nikkei beneficiaries are the descendents of beneficiaries of an earlier scheme by the Japanese government to export its unemployed. A century ago, Japan sent farmers to Brazil, America, Canada, Peru and other South American countries. Over the past two decades, however, Japan has brought nikkei back under yet another scheme to utilize their cheap labor. This time, however, if the nikkei take the ticket back “home,” they can’t return — at least not under the same preferential work visa. The welcome mat has been retracted.

The other irony is the clear policy failure. Close to half a million nikkei are living in Japan, some for up to twenty years, paying taxes, social security, and nenkin retirement pensions. They have worked long hours at low wages to keep Japan’s factories competitive in the world economy. Although the nikkei have doubled Japan’s foreign population since 1990, minimal seniority and entrenchment has taken a heavy toll on these long-termers; books have been written on how few foreigners, including the Nikkei, have been assimilated.[3] Now that markets have soured, foreigners are the first to be laid off, and their unassimilated status, even in the eyes of the labor ministry, has made many of them unmarketable.

Put bluntly, the policy is: train one percent (5,000) to stay; bribe the rest to go and become some other country’s problem. In fact, the government stands to save a great deal of money by paying the nikkei a pittance in plane fares and repatriation fees, while keeping their many years of pension contributions (usually about 15% of monthly salary). By using this economic sleight-of hand, offering desperate people short-term cash if they foresake their long-term investments, this anti-assimilation policy becomes profitable for the government, while beggaring foreigners’ retirements.

Now consider another layer: This scheme only applies to nikkei, not to other non-Japanese workers such as the large number of Chinese “trainees” also here at Japan’s invitation. How has a government policy for a developed country disintegrated into something so ludicrous, where even officially sanctioned exclusionism has a hierarchy?

The background, in brief, is this: Japan faced a huge blue-collar labor shortage in the late 1980s, and realized with the rise in the value of the yen and high minimum wages, that its exports were being priced out of world markets.

Japan’s solution, like that of many other developed countries, was to import cheaper foreign labor. Of course, other countries with a significant influx of migrant labor, also had problems with equitable working conditions and assimilation.[4] However, as a new documentary, Sour Strawberries: Japan’s hidden “guest workers” vividly portrays, what made Japan’s policy fundamentally different was a view of foreign labor through a racial prism. Policymaking elites, worried about debasing Japan’s allegedly homogeneous society with foreigners who might stay, maintained an official stance of “no immigration” and “no import of unskilled labor”.

However, that was tatemae — a façade. Urged by business lobbies such as Nippon Keidanren, Japan created a visa regime from 1990 to import foreign laborers (mostly Chinese) as “trainees”, ostensibly to learn a skill, but basically to put them in factories and farms doing unskilled “dirty, difficult, and dangerous” labor eschewed by Japanese. The trainees were paid less than half the minimum wage (as they were not legally workers under Japanese labor law) and received no social welfare.

Although some trainees were reportedly working 10, 15 and in one case even 22-hour days, six to seven days a week including holidays, they received wages so paltry they beggared belief — in some cases 40,000 yen a month. A Chinese “trainee” interviewed in Sour Strawberries said he wound up earning the same here as he would in China. Others received even less, being charged by employers for rent, utilities, and food on top of that.

Abuses proliferated. Trainees found their passports confiscated and pay withheld, were denied basic human rights such as freedom of association or religious practice, were harassed and beaten, and were even fired without compensation if they were injured on the job. One employer hired thugs to force his Chinese staff to board a plane home. But trainees couldn’t just give up and go back. Due to visa restrictions, requiring significant deposits before coming to Japan (to put a damper on emigration), Chinese took out travel loans of between 700,000 to one million yen. If they returned before their visas were up, they would be in default, sued by their banks or brokers and ruined. Thus they were locked into abusive jobs they couldn’t complain about or quit without losing their visa and livelihoods overseas.

As Zentoitsu Worker’s Union leader Torii Ippei said in the documentary, this government-sponsored but largely unregulated program made so many employers turn bad, that places without worker abuses were “very rare”. The Yomiuri Shinbun (April 11, 2009) reported a recent Justice Ministry finding of “irregularities” at 452 companies and organizations involving trainees in 2008 alone, including hundreds of cases of unpaid overtime and illegal wages. Cases have been remanded to public prosecutors resulting in the occasional court victory, such as the 2008 landmark decision against the Tochigi strawberry farm that became the sobriquet for the documentary, have resulted in hefty (by Japanese standards) punitive judgments.

But these “trainees” were not the only ones getting exploited. 1990 was also the year the “long term resident” visa was introduced for the nikkei. Unlike the trainees, they were given significantly higher wages, labor law protections and unlimited employment opportunities — supposedly to allow them to “explore their heritage” — while being worked, in many cases 10 to 15 hours a day, six days a week.

Why this most-favored visa status for the nikkei? The reason was racially based. As LDP and Keidanren representatives testified in Sour Strawberries, policymakers figured that nikkei would present fewer assimilation problems. After all, they have Japanese blood, ergo the prerequisite cultural understanding of Japan’s unique culture and garbage-sorting procedures. It was deemed unnecessary to create any integration policy. However, as neighborhood problems arose, visible in the “No Foreigner” shop signs around nikkei areas and the Ana Bortz vs. Seibido Jewelry Store (1998-9) lawsuit, the atmosphere was counterproductive and demoralizing for an enthusiastic workforce.[5] A nikkei interviewed in the documentary described how overseas she felt like a Japanese, yet in Japan she ultimately felt like a foreigner.

Under these visa regimes, Japan invited over a million non-Japanese to come to Japan to work — and work they did, many in virtual indentured servitude. Yet instead of being praised for their contributions, they became scapegoats. Neighborhoods not only turned against them, but also police campaigns offered years of opprobrium for alleged rises in crime and overstaying (even though foreign crime rates were actually lower than domestic, and the number of visa overstayers dropped every year since 1993). Non-Japanese workers were also bashed for not learning the language (when they actually had little time to study, let alone attend Japanese classes offered by a mere handful of merciful local governments) — all disincentives for settling in Japan.

This is what happens when people are brought into a country by official government policy, yet for unofficial purposes at odds with official pledges. Japan has no immigration policy. It then becomes awkward for the government to make official pronouncements on how the new workforce is contributing to the economy, or why it should be allowed to stay. So the workforce remains in societal limbo. Then when things go wrong — in this case a tectonic macroeconomic shift — and the policy fails, it is the foreigners, not the government, who bear the brunt.

And fail the policy did on April Fools’ Day 2009, when the government confirmed that nikkei didn’t actually belong in Japan by offering them golden parachutes. Of course, race was again a factor, as the repatriation package was unavailable to wrong-blooded “trainees,” who must return on their own dime (perhaps, in some cases, with fines added on for overstaying) to face financial ruin.

What to do instead? In my view, the Japanese government must take responsibility. Having invited foreigners over here, it is necessary to treat them like human beings. Give them the same labor rights and job training that you would give every worker in Japan, and free nationwide Japanese lessons to bring them up to speed. Reward them for their investment in our society and their taxes paid. Do what can be done to make them more comfortable and settled. Above all, stop bashing them: Let Japanese society know why foreigners are here and what they have contributed to the country.

Don’t treat foreigners like toxic waste, sending them overseas for somebody else to deal with, and don’t detoxify our society under the same racially-based paradigms that got us into this situation in the first place. You brought this upon yourselves through a labor policy that ignored immigration and assimilation. Deal with it in Japan, by helping non-Japanese residents of whatever background make Japan their home.

This is not a radical proposal. Given the low-birthrate of Japan’s aging society, experts have been urging you to do this for a decade now. This labor downturn won’t last forever, and when things pick up again you will have a younger, more acculturated, more acclimatized, even grateful workforce to help pick up the pieces. Just sending people back, where they will tell others about their dreadful years in Japan being exploited and excluded, is on so many levels the wrong thing to do.

NOTES:
[1] Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Labour report at http://www.mhlw.go.jp/houdou/2009/03/dl/h0331-10a.pdf
[2] Original Japanese reads in the above report 「日本語能力の不足や我が国の雇用慣行の不案内に加え、職務経験も十分ではないため、いったん離職した場合には、再就職が極めて厳しい状況にあります。]
[3] See Takeyuki Tsuda, Strangers in the Ethnic Homeland.[add source information]
[4] For examples of issues of migrant labor and assimilation in Spain, South Korea, and Italy as well as Japan, see Takeyuki Tsuda, ed. Local Citizenship in Recent Countries of Immigration: Japan in Comparative Perspective. Other examples, such as the Turks in West Germany, Poles in the British Isles, Algerians and Moroccans in France, and Africans throughout Western Europe, have warranted significant media attention over the decades, but the labor mobility created by EU passports have arguably made the counterarguments against migration less “homogeneous-society” and “racially-based” in origin than in the Japanese example. [recheck and revise last sentence]
[5] For a description of the Ana Bortz and other cases of Nikkei exclusionism, see http://www.debito.org/bortzdiscrimreport.html

Arudou Debito, Associate Professor at Hokkaido Information University, is a columnist for The Japan Times and the manager of the debito.org daily blog. The co-author of Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan, and author of Japanese Only: The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan (Akashi Shoten, Inc.), Arudou is organizing nationwide showings of Sour Strawberries around Japan late August-early September; contact him at debito@debito.org to arrange a screening. You can purchase a copy of the documentary by visiting http://www.cinemabstruso.de/strawberries/main.html

A briefer version of this article was published in The Japan Times on April 7, 2009

Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE: Apr 7 2009: ‘Golden parachutes’ for Nikkei only mark failure of race-based policy

mytest

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatar
Hi Blog. This month’s JUST BE CAUSE column was a challenge because of the news cycle.  I had originally written this month’s JBC about three weeks ago, before I went on the SOUR STRAWBERRIES movie tour.  Here I was thinking I was Mr. Prepared and all that.  However, I arrived back in Sapporo on April 1 to hear  news of this special GOJ bribe for Nikkei, and realized that story took precedence.  But my first draft of the JBC column was due April 2, so within 24 hours I pounded out something of hopefully passable quality.  It was, and the next three days were spent refining the original 1150-word draft into the 1550-worder you see below.  Not too dusty.  I feel fortunate to be a columnist with time to think, as opposed to a reporter with a much stricter set of news deadlines…  Arudou Debito in Sapporo
justbecauseicon.jpg
JUST BE CAUSE
Golden parachutes’ mark failure of race-based policy
By DEBITO ARUDOU

Japan Times, April 7, 2009
http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20090407ad.html

Japan’s employment situation has gotten pretty dire, especially for non-Japanese workers. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry reports that between last November and January, more than 9,000 foreigners asked the Hello Work unemployment agency for assistance — 11 times the figure for the same period a year earlier.

The ministry also claims that non-Japanese don’t know Japan’s language and corporate culture, concluding that they’re largely unemployable. So select regions are offering information centers, language training, and some degree of job placement. Good.

But read the small print: Not only does this plan only target 5,000 people, but the government is also trying to physically remove the only people they can from unemployment rosters — the foreigners.

Under an emergency measure drawn up by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party only last month, from April 1 the Japanese government is offering nikkei — i.e. workers of Japanese descent on “long-term resident” visas — a repatriation bribe. Applicants get ¥300,000, plus ¥200,000 for each family dependent, if they “return to their own country,” and bonuses if they go back sooner (see www.mhlw.go.jp/houdou/2009/03/dl/h0331-10a.pdf ).

History is repeating itself, in a sense. These nikkei beneficiaries are the descendants of beneficiaries of another of Japan’s schemes to export its unemployed. A century ago, Japan sent farmers to Brazil, America, Canada, Peru and other South American countries. Over the past two decades, however, Japan has brought nikkei back under yet another wheeze to utilize their cheap labor. This time, however, if they take the ticket back “home,” they can’t return — at least not under the same preferential work visa.

Let this scheme sink in for a minute. We now have close to half a million nikkei living here, some of whom have been here up to 20 years, paying in their taxes and social security. They worked long hours at low wages to keep our factories competitive in the world economy. Although these policies have doubled Japan’s foreign population since 1990, few foreigners have been assimilated. Now that markets have soured, foreigners are the first to be laid off, and their unassimilated status has made them unmarketable in the government’s eyes. So now policy has become, “Train 1 percent (5,000) to stay, bribe the rest to be gone and become some other country’s problem.”

Sound a bit odd? Now consider this: This scheme only applies to nikkei, not to other non-Japanese workers also here at Japan’s invitation. Thus it’s the ultimate failure of a “returnee visa” regime founded upon racist paradigms.

How did this all come to pass? Time for a little background.

Japan had a huge labor shortage in its blue-collar industries in the late 1980s, and realized, with the rise in the value of the yen and high minimum wages, that Japan’s exports were being priced out of world markets.

Japan’s solution (like that of other developed countries) was to import cheaper foreign labor. However, as a new documentary entitled “Sour Strawberries: Japan’s Hidden ‘Guest Workers’ ” ( www.cinemabstruso.de/strawberries/main.html ) reveals, Japan’s policy was fundamentally different. Elites worried about debasing Japan’s supposedly “homogeneous” society with foreigners who might stay, so the official stance remained “No immigration” and “No import of unskilled labor.”

But that was all tatemae — a facade. Urged by business lobbies such as the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), Japan created a visa regime from 1990 to import foreign laborers (mostly Chinese) as “trainees,” ostensibly to learn a skill, but basically to put them in factories and farms doing unskilled “dirty, difficult, and dangerous” labor eschewed by Japanese. More importantly, trainees were getting paid less than half minimum wage (as they were not legally “workers” under labor law) and receiving no social welfare.

Even the offer of competitive wages was tatemae. Although some trainees were reportedly working 10 to 15 hours a day (one media outlet mentioned 22-hour days!), six to seven days a week including holidays, they found themselves receiving sums so paltry they beggared belief — think ¥40,000 a month! A Chinese trainee interviewed in “Sour Strawberries” said he wound up earning the same as he would in China. Others received even less, being charged by employers for rent, utilities and food on top of that.

Abuses proliferated. Trainees were harassed and beaten, found their passports confiscated and pay withheld, and were even fired without compensation if they were injured on the job. One employer hired thugs to force his Chinese staff to board a plane home. But trainees couldn’t just give up and go back. Many had received travel loans to come here, and if they returned early they would be in default, sued by their banks and ruined. Thus they were locked into abusive jobs they could neither complain about nor quit without losing their visa and livelihoods overseas.

As labor union leader Ippei Torii explains in “Sour Strawberries,” this government-sponsored but largely unregulated trainee program made so many employers turn bad that places without worker abuses were “very rare.”

But trainees weren’t the only ones getting exploited. 1990 was also the year the long-term resident visa was introduced for the nikkei. However, unlike the trainees, they were given labor law protections and unlimited employment opportunities — supposedly to allow them to “explore their heritage” (while being worked 10 to 15 hours a day, six days a week).

Why this “most-favored visa status” for the nikkei? Elites, in their ever-unchallenged wisdom, figured nikkei would present fewer assimilation problems. After all, they have Japanese blood, ergo the prerequisite understanding of Japan’s unique culture and garbage-sorting procedures. So, as LDP and Keidanren policymakers testified in “Sour Strawberries,” it was deemed unnecessary to create any integration policy, or even to make them feel like they “belong” in Japan. It was completely counterproductive and demoralizing for an enthusiastic workforce. A nikkei interviewed in the film mentioned how overseas she felt like a Japanese, yet in Japan she ultimately felt like a foreigner.

So over the past 20 years Japan has invited over a million non-Japanese to come here and work. And work they did, many in virtual indentured servitude. Yet instead of being praised for all their contributions, they became scapegoats. They engendered official opprobrium for alleged rises in crime and overstaying (even though per-capita crime rates were higher among Japanese than foreigners, and the number of visa overstayers has dropped every year since 1993). They were also bashed for not learning the language (when they actually had little time to study, let alone attend Japanese classes offered by a handful of merciful local governments) — nothing but disincentives toward settling in Japan.

The policy was doomed to failure. And fail it did on April Fool’s Day, when the government confirmed that nikkei didn’t actually belong here, and offered them golden parachutes. Of course, it was a race-based benefit, unavailable to wrong-blooded trainees, who have to make it home on their own dime (perhaps with some fines added on for overstaying) to face financial ruin.

It’s epiphany time. Japan’s policymakers haven’t evolved beyond an early Industrial-Revolution mind set, which sees people (well, foreigners, anyway) as mere work units. Come here, work your ass off, then go “home” when we have no more use for you; it’s the way we’ve dealt many times before with foreigners, and the way we’ll probably deal with those Indonesian and Filipino care workers we’re scheming to come take care of our elderly. Someday, potential immigrants will realize that our government is just using people, but the way things are going we eventually won’t be rich enough for them to overlook that.

What should be done instead? Japan must take responsibility. You invited foreigners over here, now treat them like human beings. Give all of them the same labor rights and job training that you’d give every worker in Japan, and free nationwide Japanese lessons to bring them up to speed. Reward them for their investment in our society and their taxes paid. Do what you can to make them more comfortable and settled. And stop bashing them: Let Japanese society know why foreigners are here and what good they’ve done for our country. You owe them that much for the best part of their lives they’ve given you.

Don’t treat foreigners like toxic waste, sending them overseas for somebody else to deal with, and don’t detoxify our society under the same race-based paradigms that got us into this situation in the first place. You brought this upon yourselves through a labor policy that ignored immigration and assimilation. Now deal with it here, in Japan, by helping non-Japanese residents of whatever background make Japan their home.

That’s not a radical proposal. Given our low-birthrate, aging-society demographics, experts have been urging you to do this for a decade now. This labor downturn won’t last forever, and when things pick up again you’ll have a younger, more acculturated, more acclimatized, even grateful workforce to help pick up the pieces. Just sending people back, where they will tell others about their dreadful years in Japan being exploited and excluded, is on so many levels the wrong thing to do.

Debito Arudou is organizing nationwide screenings of “Sour Strawberries” in late August and early September; contact him at debito@debito.org to arrange a screening. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp

ENDS

Nikkei Portuguese newspaper Jornal Tudo Bem: Partial Pensions denied NJ who don’t pay in full 24 years

mytest

HANDBOOKsemifinalcover.jpgwelcomesticker.jpgFranca-color.jpg

Hi Blog.  Got this message from a friend, “Shinrin Woods”, who reads Portuguese (I don’t, sorry).  His translation of the points of an article (which you can find in its entirety at the bottom of the page):

========================

Hi Debito,

The front page of weekly Portuguese-Language newspaper “Jornal Tudo Bem (EDITION 793 This week)”  points out to a quite disturbing issue facing many foreigners who want to collect retirement (Aposentadoria) benefits in Japan… The point is (below)

Shakai Hoken não garante aposentadoria

http://tudobem.uol.com.br/2008/05/24/shakai-hoken-nao-garante-aposentadoria

[Full article in Portuguese at the bottom of this blog entry.]

– If a Japanese “Citizen” pays for 25 years he gets all of it.

– If a Japanese “Citizen” pays for 24 years he gets a little bit less.

– If a Japanese “Citizen” pays for 10 years he gets less than half of it… Everything FAIR ENOUGH ! Deshou !

BUT…

If a Gaijin “Citizen” pays for 25 years he gets all of it.

If a Gaijin “Citizen” pays for 24 years he gets NOTHING…

I have talked to some Japanese about it, but nobody could tell me if it is the reality or not. 

Do you know something about it ? 

The image “http://jbchost.com.br/tudobem/imgmat/edicoes/edicao_793.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

========================

COMMENT:  I asked Administrative Solicitor, consultant on Immigration issues, and co-author of HANDBOOK FOR NEWCOMERS, MIGRANTS, AND IMMIGRANTS Akira Higuchi about this.  Here is his reply:

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The nationality doesn’t matter if you live in Japan.  I.e. If you have paid for 25 + years, you will be entitled to kokumin nenkin regardless of nationality. If not, you will not be entitled, this is same for Japanese.

But there are complicated rules on how to count 25 years.

Plus there have been many changes to the laws and NJ couldn’t join the scheme in the past. I don’t know if the article is talking about this.

Also, if you are in Japan and reach 60 but haven’t paid for 25, you can keep paying the premium (nini kanyu) until you reach 70. This way you will be entitled to receive pension.

========================

Thanks Akira.  I hope we can get a final clarification on this somehow–one would expect the media would double-check their data before putting something on the front page…  Arudou Debito

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ARTICLE IN PORTUGUESE FOLLOWS:

========================

Comunidade

Shakai Hoken não garante aposentadoria

Mesmo fazendo a contribuição para o plano de previdência, brasileiros podem não receber o benefício como os japoneses

por Claudio Endo
24.05.2008

Recentemente, muitos brasileiros estão sendo inscritos nos planos de seguro social e previdência da empresa (shakai hoken), por exigência das fábricas, e uma boa parte já contribui para o seguro nacional de saúde (kokumin kenko hoken), cuja administração é feita pelas prefeituras.

Com base nisso, é bom saber que os estrangeiros que planejam ficar definitivamente no Japão, de uma forma geral, não têm direito a receber a “aposentadoria incompleta”, benefício concedido para quem contribuiu por menos tempo que os 25 anos obrigatórios. Já os japoneses têm direito de receber essa aposentadoria.

Segundo o escritório do Shakai Hoken da região oeste, em Hamamatsu (Shizuoka), o que faz um japonês receber a aposentadoria incompleta é a validade do kara kikan (período vazio). Ou seja, o tempo que ele deixou de contribuir para a previdência social por algum motivo. No entanto, o kara kikan não se aplica ao estrangeiro no período em que ele viveu no Japão, ou que ainda vai viver, sem estar inscrito no shakai hoken ou kokumin kenko hoken.

Por exemplo, um brasileiro veio ao Japão com 20 anos e trabalhou outros 20 sem estar inscrito no seguro. Agora, aos 40, ele entra no shakai hoken e quando completar 65 anos terá contribuído por 25. Nesse caso, ele terá direito à aposentadoria, mas se nesse período de 25 anos a pessoa deixar de contribuir por algum tempo – que seja dez anos – por trabalhar em uma empresa que não oferecia o shakai hoken, perde o benefício sem ter nem mesmo direito aos 15 anos que pagou.

Leia mais na edição 793 do jornal Tudo Bem.

========================

ENDS