Hi Blog. We have an important announcement courtesy of academic listserv H-JAPAN:
May 31, 2012
Date: Thu, 31 May 2012
Subject: Multiculturalism in Japan
Dear List members,
A committee has been set up within the Cabinet Office of Japan, composed of the vice-ministers of the Cabinet Secretariat, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Ministiry of Law, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Education etc, Health etc, Agricutlure etc, Industry etc, Land etc, Police to investigate and recommend policy on “co-existence with foreigners”. Information on the committee can be found at the following URL.
The documentation provided here gives a very succinct summary of what the government (national level bureaucrats?) of Japan think about “foreigners” here, and how they formulate their perceptions of what the “problems” are, and very vaguely hint at where they see future solutions.
Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University
COMMENT: Many thanks to John Morris for the link. I wish he would have elaborated on the contents of the summaries, so I will.
As concerns the goals of Debito.org (inter alia the promotion of multiracial/multicultural tolerance and and of diversity in Japanese society), here are some points of note:
SUMMARY: This is not the first time the organs of the Japanese government have talked about “coexistence with foreigners” (gaikokujin to no kyousei shakai jitsugen), but more likely than not these happen at the local level (cf. the Hamamatsu Sengen, which happened repeatedly from over a decade ago yet was studiously ignored at the national level). Now that discussion on this is taking place at the national, Cabinet level, this is a positive development. However, these meetings (two so far, the first one was less than an hour) at the outset show the hallmarks of so much Japanese policymaking: a biased agenda (with all the normalized invective of “wagakuni” (our country) semantically offsetting those foreigners (who have to “co-exist” with Japanese, not merge into one polity)) regarding the policy treatment of people without any input from the people being treated. Inevitable blind spots, such as an overemphasis on Nikkei and children’s education, are already latent in the materials below. In any case, this is a very interesting and rare view into the dialogs and mindsets behind the creation of public policy re Non-Japanese (NJ) in Japan. More detailed summaries and analysis follow below.
Here is the cover of the anchor site for this policy debate (click to enlarge):
The goal written therein is interesting: “This deliberative meeting on ‘a society coexisting with foreigners’ has been set up so that related government ministries can deliberate comprehensively in close cooperation with one another, regarding the various problems related to environmental preparations (kankyou seibi) for realizing a society where we can coexist with foreigners who have livelihoods in Japan, in order to promote the undertaking of related policies at all levels of government.” (my translation)
Okay, we’re coordinating something regarding “policy issues” (which is good, since in Japan’s tate-wari bureaucracy the ministries don’t coordinate much with each other). So who’s attending? According to the attached konkyo kouseiin for the May 24, 2012 meeting (click to enlarge):
It’s all governmental vice ministers (fuku daijin) from The Cabinet, Internal Affairs & Communications (Soumusho), Justice, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Education, Health & Welfare, Agriculture, Forests & Fisheries (how are they related?), METI, Posts and Communications, and the National Police Agency (there as a jichou). The chair is former Education Minister Nakagawa Masaharu (under the interestingly-named title of “State Minister in Charge of the Foreign Laborer Problem” (gaikokujin roudousha mondai o tantou suru kokumu daijin), meaning semantically we’ve already problematized a latent “problem” of foreigners into foreign laborers). (More on Nakagawa in Japanese at the renewed Noda Cabinet Profiles here)
Note that there is not a single Non-Japanese (NJ) involved anywhere at the agenda-setting stage. (Not even the token Gregory Clark, who never misses an opportunity to claim how open-minded the Japanese must be because officials insert him on blue-ribbon shingikai deliberation councils and committees. Maybe that’s for the better this time, since we really don’t need bigoted geriatric liars with an incredible sense of entitlement telling the GOJ what to do about NJ residents who have completely different socioeconomic statuses to his.) Anyway, it seems the government obviously knows best what to do with the “foreign laborer problem” from the outset. Who needs foreign residents’ involvement when it’s a Japan issue?
Note how there is some vital lack of definition. What does “coexistence” mean exactly — tolerance, acceptance, gated communities, patchwork cultural neighborhoods, or complete subsumption of “foreign cultures” in favor of “Japanese culture” (douka)? Nor is the “kankyou seibi” made all that clear. For example, does this this include a law (with actual penalties for offenders) against racial discrimination? People won’t leave home without it.
You can see the materials submitted to participants in the first meeting, including several reference materials from each ministry from the following links (this was clearly a meeting planned well in advance; good):
Material 1-1 is interesting in that the main goals are listed as:
- What form a society coexisting with foreigners will take
- What “environmental preparations” (kankyou seibi) will be undertaken to realize this society
- How to enliven (kasseika) the national debate (kokumin teki giron) which will also include the acceptance (uke ire) of foreigners
- What other topics and issues of special attention (ryuu i ten) will be involved in realizing this coexistence with foreigners
Those goals are elaborated in greater detail within Material 1-1 (more below). Prima facie, these are all positive directions, especially the national debate bit to get the public on board to convince them that NJ are also a part of society. However, unclear (as always) is the word “uke ire“, which can run the gamut of meanings from “acceptance and embracement” to “just letting them cross the border into Japan” (as in the yahoo dictionary definition example: “この国は移民の受け入れに年間2,000人の枠を設けている The quota of immigrants to be received [accepted] into this country is set at 2,000 per year.”) Given Japan’s record on immigration policy (and the fact that even the word “imin” (immigrant/immigration) doesn’t seem to be appearing anywhere, this word does not conjure as positive an example of acceptance *as Japanese residents and Japanese citizens* as one would like.
Material 1-1 also mentions in that greater detail the two steps that this plan will take: 1) GOJ deliberations on the kankyou seibi, 2) public debate on how to “accept foreigners”. However, this will take place ONLY AFTER the kankyou seibi are firmly established. The policy aim also stresses that it policy is not to be expanded to accept more foreigners (uke ire kakudai), but rather it is important first “to improve the many problems of foreigners who are actually living in our country”, listed as issues of lifestyles, education, labor conditions etc.. Kankyou seibi must be done first, however. Then, however, if I’m not somehow misunderstanding this, it stresses in the next paragraph how our country must increase its attractiveness and appeal as a place that will “draw foreigners in to revitalize our society” (wagakuni shakai ni katsuryoku o motarasu gaikokujin o hikitsukeru). Somehow I have the feeling I’ve heard this before. And again, a “smooth public debate” is fine. But how about seibi-ing that legal environment to outlaw discrimination? Not clear.
It’s not any clearer when you read the finer print. Material 2 above lists these as the problems to be addressed already (paraphrases):
- Our country needs high-quality people (koudo jinzai) to keep us vibrant in this era of globalization and aging/falling Japanese population, so for that dynamism we need foreigners.
- There have been “social costs” (shakaiteki kosuto) to bringing foreigners into our country before, particularly in regards to lifestyles, education, and labor, so this should not be broadened due to [and I’m seriously translating this bit:] “being opened up as an international society will probably lead to our country’s reputation being downgraded” (kokusai shakai ni okeru hirakareta kuni to shite no hyouka o teika saseru koto ni mo tsunagaru). [Moodys, are you listening?]
- We want to attract “better foreigners” (again, koudo jinzai), given what happened with the Nikkei South Americans and NJ residents living here so far, with more systematic policies to bring them in and maintain our country’s reputation.
- We need these plans to be medium- and long-term, given the demographics.
- We need to keep our people (kokumin) in the debate loop and build consensus for the future about bringing in foreign labor.
Wow, what paroxysms of grief those lackluster NJ entrants up to now have put Japanese society through! That said, these are the things (page 3) this panel is thinking about regarding how to treat NJ (in other words, its not just what we can take from NJ, but also what we need to give them):
- Policies that will make them functional in Japanese (e.g., promotion of J language learning in local areas, with appraisals, encouragement of teachers, and possible requirement (gimu zukeru koto) [for visa renewals?])
- Educating their children (e.g., stopping school absenteeism, putting in qualified J language teachers in public schools, assisting NJ children into higher-quality education, promoting education in NJ schools [!!!], promoting J language education for their parents, offering NJ children other educational opportunities, etc.)
- How they will be hired and will work (e.g., not merely treating them as cheap labor but improving their working conditions and social insurance, with job training in sectors such as nursing, agriculture etc., through bringing in higher-skilled workers, and even think about a “foreign employment law” (gaikokujin koyouhou) [!!!] This would not be limited to the Nikkei South American workers [was it implicitly before?])
- How they will have medical treatment and social security (e.g., get them on Social Insurance, get their kids covered, and think about to set up an effective translation system)
- Stable places for them to live (e.g., offer basic information about how and where to live, and take measures to alleviate the fears of private-sector landlords afraid of NJ)
- How to deal with “public safety” problems (e.g., how to police NJ in this age of globalized crime)
- How to make information available in several languages (e.g., multilingual internet sites, more information sent overseas [??], one-stop information and assistance centers, multilingual disaster information, multilingual traffic information and driver license tests)
- Mutual respect for each others’ culture and promoting understandings (e.g., multicultural education, and thinking about introducing an integrated program for Japanese studies as soon as people enter Japan)
- How to work in coordination with local governments and burden-share (e.g., have local governments understand the needs of their local NJ and offer them concrete and customized service) Etc.
There are further clarifications for each subject from page 4 onwards (listed in parentheses afterwards). This is some very heady and prescient stuff (I can see why bureaucrats don’t want sweaty-headed public debate meddling until they get the “environment” set up first), and something which if carried out will be a great improvement over the past. However, unclear again is how some issues (such as apartment refusals) will be enforced through the existing legal/administrative framework, or how the present system will be changed to make jobs more secure and equal in treatment (such as in Japanese academia (which I happen to know a bit about), which advertises that it wants foreign PhDs but then only offers them limited-term contracts, not tenure or an equal collegial footing). Nice to have this wish list. Better to say, however, that we need legal structure (hou seibi) to back it up, even at this drawing-board stage.
The MOJ’s brief (Material 3 above) starts out with bare stats of who and how many NJ are here and what they are up to. But then on page 7 they get into how NJ should be administered (kanri — natch, that’s their job). But it uses the hackneyed kokusaika (internationalization) of Japan just in terms of numbers without (as usual) indicating an understanding about what true internationalization really means (as in making NJ into Japanese). Instead, the MOJ focuses (as usual) on how little control they have over NJ once they pass through Japan’s borders, and advocates the quick implementation of policy carrots and sticks — carrots portrayed as keeping tabs on NJ’s social welfare and children’s education (as if that’s within their mandate), and sticks meaning visa overstayers get rooted out ever more efficiently. We’ve seen this in action in the upcoming end of the Gaijin Cards (in favor of remotely-trackable Zairyuu Cards (mentioned on page 8 ) that link visa approval to enrollment in Japan’s insolvent pension schemes), and it’s pretty plain to see who’s engineered that future fiasco. If you’re ready for a giggle, check out the smiling “example NJ” on page 9 being subjected to this proposal, complete with white skin and blue eyes (even though most of the NJ these labor policies will attract are probably not White people — because they never have been). In sum, the MOJ offers nothing new except more policing.
The Health & Welfare Ministry’s brief (Material 4 above) offers the background information on what NJ are up to again, but has on page 2 a special focus (over half the page) on how to care for Nikkei NJ (displaying once again that GOJ focus on offering more assistance “to the family” linked by Japanese blood). The measures proposed are decent (mentioned in the Material 2 outline above). For the the garden-variety NJ, however, it’s not clear what’s to be done as discrimination by nationality in working conditions and in introductions to jobs is already “outlawed” (kinshi) (as if that’s made much difference up to now). But the Ministry points out (page 3) how there’s no clause in the laws guaranteeing equal treatment regardless of nationality in the social insurance system, and wants improvements made regarding how foreigners are employed. The solution to this Ministry is the upcoming revisions in the registry rules to make everyone accountable under the pension and social welfare systems. Not much new here — no mention of how to stop J employers screwing their NJ workers out of social insurance by not paying their half of the required contributions, for example. A newer idea, however, is on page 4, where they outline the policy for attracting higher-quality NJ (again, koudo jinzai), i.e., a “points system” (itself highly problematic) for which came into effect May 7 of this year; the Ministry wants 300,000 “shitsu no takai” foreign students etc. to be handled under “job matching” systems at Hello Work unemployment agencies nationwide. It also wants GOJ assistance with post-university job searches and internships, and reformed personnel management with clearer hiring practices for international workers. Okay, decent stuff, but let’s wait and see if any of this comes to fruition.
The Ministry of Education’s brief (Material 5 above) is brief indeed, with a rehash of what they say they concluded in May 2010: Deliberation of how to institute Japanese language education environments in Grade School and Junior High, and allowing NJ schools in Japan to become educational foundations [!!!]. More details are on page 2, where details of note include an increase of Japanese-language teachers by 350 souls (to a total of 1385 people nationwide) since 2009, making and distributing educational guidebooks, yada yada. Also notable is the lumped treatment of J “returnee children” (rendered as kikoku/gaikokujin jidousei) as foreigners. No mention of reforming the Basic Education Law (kyouiku kihon hou) to also guarantee education to non-citizens (given the restrictive kokumin clauses already within it, which still enables Japanese schools to refuse NJ children). No anti-bullying discussions, either, or possible sensitivity training workshops for teachers if not students. MoE’s assumptions within its lackluster proposals seem to be that if you make some motions to teach foreigners (and somehow by extension returnee Japanese) the Japanese language, they’ve done their job and all’s resolved nationwide.
The National Police Agency’s brief (Material 6 above) is even briefer, with one page of crime stats (which has dramatically fallen across the board yet they managed to squeeze in a crime rise somehow — i.e., NJ as collaborators with Japanese in Japanese crimes) with fingers pointed at Chinese, Vietnamese, Peruvians, and Brazilians as inter alia thieves and marriage visa defrauders.
They offer no proposals whatsoever. Why are they even in on this discussion? (The MoJ is already offering enough policing.) Do we get the police involved on every social policy reform council, or is it just because we’re dealing with inherently untrustworthy criminal NJ?
The Cabinet’s brief (Material 7 above) offers a full overview of “our own” — with seven pages concentrating solely on Nikkei NJ. Aside from this more-than-just-a-little offensive blood-fixation prioritizing of foreigners in Japan, we have observations about how these days Nikkei cannot get jobs or get Japanese language skills, their kids cannot get an education, and how they’ve taken emergency policies since January 2009 (as opposed to the GOJ’s emergency airlift of Nikkei — only — back to South America from April 2009?). The rest of the proposals are basically as above, in what seems to be a summary of everyone’s positions.
Future discussions (a total of five meetings, through July, according to Material 1-3 above) will involve a hearing with experts in the field on “the shape of the NJ coexistence society” (Meeting 2, June 1, details below); another meeting with those experts “about taking on the issues ‘in the field’ (genba de) where NJ have their livelihoods” (Meeting 3, June 15, preliminary details below); yet another meeting with those experts about accepting those NJ (regarding “views” (shiten) and “issues warranting special attention” (ryuu i ten) in accordance with realizing that co-existence society) (Meeting 4). And finally, the last scheduled meeting for now will bring the previous meetings’ discussions together to consider a 25-year tentative plan for realizing those concrete policies for kankyou seibi.
It’s a better-formed plan and timetable for discussing these issues than I’ve ever seen before (and it’s also been opened to public scrutiny). All good, but here’s your scrutiny:
I still have no idea what kankyou seibi is (neither do they, I think; that’s why they’re getting together to discuss it). But the inputs are as usual limited to people (presumably no women, no young people, and no working-class people) who will never be directly affected by this policy because they have never been foreigners in Japan. I’m probably reading too much into the following, but semantically, NJ are seen as almost a different breed of animal that needs to be studied in their natural habitat. Still no sign of any of those NJ animals being let in on any GOJ meetings to speak for themselves.
Meeting Two was held very promptly afterwards, on June 1, 2012, and for what looks to have been a longer time (two hours on paper). Here’s the cover page (click to enlarge):
Now involved are three “persons of awareness” (yuushikisha), who are a Mr. Ikegami Shigehiro (a full professor from Shizuoka’s University of Art and Culture, who writes a lot about Indonesian culture and migrant Indonesians; even uses the word “emigrants”), a Mr. Iguchi Yasushi (a former bureaucrat at the Ministry of Labor turned full professor at Kansai Gakuin University, whose specialty is the unemployed and labor migration; here’s his CV in English), and a Mr Satou Gun’ei (Vice Dean at Tokyo Gakugei University’s Center for Research in International Awareness, whose specialty is on transnationals and Japanese language education, particularly Japanese children overseas).
Again, these people are no doubt well-intentioned and well-researched about situations facing NJ in Japan. But they are not NJ, with “NJ awareness”; there is no substitute for that.
You can see their submitted materials here (along with other materials from that meeting) from these links:
Another brief summary of the materials above:
Mr Ikegami (Material 1) offers an overview that goes beyond Nikkei to include Chinese and Filipinas/nos too. Aside from overviews of the economic forces at work on NJ labor, he saliently proposes (of note): 1) officially defining “multicultural coexistence” (tabunka kyousei), 2) coordinated entry and social integration procedures, 3) regional coordination that includes NJ, etc. He also endorses an awareness of “transnational livelihoods”, not dividing the issue into “Japanese and foreigners”, etc. His heart’s in the right place, but proposals are still at the slogan stage. I assume he elaborated on his points orally.
Mr Iguchi (Material 2) has a five-pager that still resorts to the divisive “wagakuni” (our country) invective, but still endeavors to portray NJ as deserving something more than just a ticket home. He stresses the issue of “social integration” (shakai tougou). He writes a bit of fluff here and there that the bureaucrats are probably not interested in (such as the treatment of Burmese refugees), but does overturn a few unconsidered stones: how the mixed bag of overseas policies towards foreign “cultural identities” have resulted in potential backlashes if they are not respected; how “multicultural coexistence” is not an imported concept in Japan’s case, but one generated from Japan’s grassroots — i.e., from Japan’s local governments, such as when Kawasaki City passed policies in the 1990s benefiting “foreign-national residents”; how important language is for not only communication, but also for securing permanent residency and citizenship [!!]; how NJ rights must be respected and enforced through Hello Work and local governments [!!], etc. He advocates immediately 1) the GOJ use the July NJ registration reforms as an opportunity to get Hello Work and local governments helping NJ enlisted in employment insurance and social insurance, as well as to promote secure jobs for them, and 2) get employers to properly insure their NJ employees and ensure flexibility towards covering their families. He advocates that within the next five years NJ get up to speed in Japanese through standardized education, evaluation, and systematic accreditation of J language teachers. Beyond that, mid-term suggestions include 1) proper technical accreditation for young NJ trained technicians aimed at properly matched markets, 2) periodic lists of vocations in desperate need of workers and training programs for NJ to fill them, 3) exchanges through educational accords with other countries at the university level to bring in foreign researchers and students (as well as beef up language accreditation for imported NJ workers, with targeted language education for them; example cited being the plight thus far of foreign nurses and health care workers). His final, underlined conclusion was that to restore Japan’s economic vitality, it is essential to bring in NJ (specifically high-quality foreign labor, Nikkei, technical trainees, and refugees [!!] for specific industries, and to accomplish that, concrete policies are necessary to encourage proper administration of NJ as well as encourage social integration at the national, regional, and local levels. Surely true. The attitude, however, is still one of “we’re going to wipe the slate clean and start treating foreigners better from when they enter at the border”, not one of making things better for the NJ already here. Ah well, gotta start somewhere, I suppose.
Mr Satou (Material 3) offered a bullet-point summary, focusing on 1) the present state of NJ children’s education, 2) evolution of the characteristics of educational policies towards NJ children, 3) issues within those education policies, and 4) future issues with a view towards multicultural coexistence. Quite frankly, it was jolly difficult for me to understand within which was an observation and which was policy advice. Some points made that don’t overlap Ikegami’s and Iguchi’s, to wit: 1) education of NJ has not developed into talk of reform of the education system to accommodate them, but rather of how individuals will cope with their education, 2) basic principles of guarantees of rights from the perspective of multiculturalism must be made clear before proper “acceptance” (uke ire) can take place, 3) Japanese children should be schooled in tolerance of others as fellow residents (shimin — rendered later as “citizens” (as in shiminsei no kyouiku, “citizenship education”)). Good stuff and better constructs included, especially the new civics lessons, but in the end, this came off as a laundry-list outline/survey of issues and problems with relatively unclear proposals.
Meeting 3, according to Material 1-4 distributed May 24, 2012, says that the June 15 hearing will involve the mayor of Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture (since so many NJ are clustered there working in factories), the unnamed head of Tokyo Shinjuku-ku (where “a lawless zone of foreign crime” Kabukicho is; I assume a bureaucrat?), a Mr Tamura Taro, representative of the Multicultural Center Osaka (which works a lot with Nikkei Brazilian issues), and a Ms Sakamoto Kumiko, head of NPO Aidensha (which works with Portuguese speakers etc. in Mie Prefecture explaining Japan’s rules, helping them get homes and proper insurances, and assisting in translations etc.)
Again, all no doubt well-intentioned people. A bit top-heavy on the Nikkei Brazilian front, again. I guess Chinese aren’t prioritized as highly due to a lack of blood ties, and where are the Peruvians, Filippinas/nos, and other NJ?
The remaining materials were essentially repeats of the earlier materials. Enough; my eyes are tired. Points I missed or got wrong, please feel free to correct. Thanks for reading. Arudou Debito
UPDATE JUNE 27, 2012: MEETING THREE OF JUNE 15, 2012 CRITIQUED HERE: