TOKYO TRIP JUNE 2-5 2009 TRIP OVERVIEW
Hi Blog. Thought I’d tie up loose ends by writing a bit about the past few days.
I just got back from Tokyo, where I had a very relaxing time for a change. Came down to attend an academic conference sponsored by the German Institute for Japanese Studies, on Japan’s demographic crisis, and attended a number of interesting lectures (interesting in the sense for what some didn’t say, as I wrote about in yesterday’s blog entry). It was also relaxing because I saw a lot of friends (and made new ones), and didn’t have to give any speeches.
Well, I tell a lie. I gave one shortly after landing in Tokyo on the morning of June 2. There was a sit-in demonstration against the new proposed IC Chip Gaijin Cards (as there will be every Tuesday morning, contact Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan (Ijuuren)’s (http://www.jca.apc.org/migrant-net/) Takaya-san at fmwj AT jca DOT apc DOT org for more information). Since they said anyone could attend any time between 9:30AM and 12:30 PM, I made it by 12:15. I was handed a mike. Anything I’d like to say to Japan’s Dietmembers, whose offices were in front of us with their windows open?
Sure did. I gave five minutes in slow Japanese (fast doesn’t work on megaphones well) about Japan’s future depending on immigration, how increasing the policing is counterproductive, how Japanese wouldn’t tolerate the same measures being foisted upon them, how cards will only increase the likelihood for Japanese of color such as myself getting racially profiled for not being remotely checkable, and the like. It was fun and good practice. And a bit scary as I hadn’t anything prepared (and people had recording devices and even a camera ready).
Never mind. Speaking is not obligatory, so readers, choose a Tuesday soon to attend. The Diet has extended it’s deliberation period for this session by nearly two months, and rumor has it that the IC Chip Gaijin Card bill just might pass the Lower House (which means that even if it doesn’t pass the Upper, it will probably become law with the Lower House overruling). Do what you can about this, people.
Afterwards came the German Institute of Japanese Studies Symposium presentations over the course of three days. I mentioned the gist of most of them yesterday: Speeches on the demographics of nations are pretty standardized: Show the audience what you know in the intro with graphs of population movements, aging over time, and bar charts of births and deaths (that population pyramid that looks like a nematode is so burned into memory it appears in my nightmares). Then some original research, about health care, about dealing with geriatrics, about the options before us (putting more women and elderly to work, raising the pension qualifying and retirement age, a bit about robotics, and even less about immigration or even migration), etc.
The best presentations were about the depopulation of the Japanese countryside and public policy to try to bring people back, with case studies of three towns and how their methods didn’t seem too effectual (and Mr Takahashi in yesterday’s blog entry worries about overcrowding??). I confirmed during the Q&A that they still haven’t come up with the idea of the Welcome Wagon, to make newcomers (of any nationality) feel welcome for moving out to the countryside (how to overcome the “gaijin” syndrome’s application to Japanese too, since any outsider has to wait ten years or so before they have a voice in rural communities…)
The other ones were by a Dr Vogt and a Dr Kingma who talked about migration trends in general. International migration has produced 195 million migrants. They now number as a proportion of population 1 in 10 in industrialized countries, and 1 in 35 of the world labor force. There are now 195 million migrants, 50% of them now women. When it comes to the proposed import of nurses and caregivers from Indonesia and the Philippines, as per bilateral agreements with Japan under “Economic Partnership Agreements”, the goal is, according to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, of 1.5 million NJ caregivers in Japan by 2040. But the program has gotten off to an inauspicious start.
Only in its second year, the EPAs have had goals of only 1000 total NJ health care workers imported. They would be trained in Japanese for six months (at the hiring company’s expense, of around 600,000 yen, then work the remaining four and a half years in the health sector getting their skills and standards up to speed. The course is harsh, as it is a “tenure system”, as in “up or out”. If they don’t pass the same caregiver and nurse tests that Japanese natives pass within five years, they lose their visas and get sent back home. This test, by the way, has a 50% fail rate for native Japanese. And salaries are not all that great for anyone working the severe hours required in this business sector (which may account for why there is a shortage of nurses and caregivers in Japan in the first place).
The number of applicants reflect the harshness of the program. In 2008, only 300 NJ applied for the 1000 available slots. And not all employers stepped up to the plate as planned to hire them. Dr Vogt showed us a segment from NHK contrasting an Indonesian health care worker (who was not interviewed) with a laid-off Japanese salaryman (who, interviewed, said he was grateful to get the work), with the point that we really don’t need NJ to take the place of Japanese when domestic labor can fill the demand.
Great. Yet another bloody mess of a GOJ program.
Back to the personal stuff. The evenings were just as special, meeting old friends such as Isabelle, Hippie Chris and Naoko, Dave G, and making new ones such as Joseph T, Alfie, Dave P, Dave S, Honor, and others in passing who stopped by to share some thoughts on what’s bugging them either about what’s going on or what I’ve written recently. Particularly pleasant was an event at the Pink Cow in Shibuya (where owner Tracy has the nicest greetings), where Ken Worsley and Garrett DiOrio gave an open-mic live “Seijigiri” political commentary for their organization, Trans-Pacific Radio (http://www.transpacificradio.com). TPR has some great podcasts on current events, business, and even baseball trends. Well worth subscribing to, especially since their content is not only informed, their banter is very college-roommate style, where they bounce ideas off each other with verve and humor. And it was even better live with a good Pink Cow meal. Look for their podcast this weekend. I break the ice with a question about Aso’s economic stimulus packages….
This was probably the most relaxing trip to Tokyo ever. And I’ll be there next Sunday (June 14) for a speech and a movie showing of SOUR STRAWBERRIES at Tokyo University all over again. Details to follow. Mark your calendars for now.
Arudou Debito back in Sapporo