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From Debito's doctoral research:

Embedded Racism: Japan's Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination

  • Embedded Racism: Japan's Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination
  • (Lexington Books, Rowman & Littlefield HB 2015, PB 2016)

    Click on book cover for reviews, previews, and 30% discount direct from publisher. Available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle eBook on

  • Book IN APPROPRIATE: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on June 4th, 2007

    Hi Blog. Writing to you on board a plane to the US. Got my 20th Reunion at Cornell (my how time flies), and as always a backlog of blog entries (too many for one newsletter this time), so lots of hours on the plane and some time away from the Internet may be just the ticket.




    and finally…

    …and the “Newcomer” immigrants will probably outnumber the “Oldcomer” generational foreigners by the end of this year.

    By Arudou Debito in Rochester, New York, updates in real time at
    Freely Forwardable

    INTRO FOR THOSE WHO CAME IN LATE: Japan has been bringing in foreign workers in a steady stream since 1990, when the Government of Japan decided that there was a serious problem with the “hollowing out” (kuudouka) of Japanese industry. Major and minor industries were either relocating overseas (where wages were cheaper) or going bankrupt. Japan had already lost their shoe, toy, and eyeglass industries to other Asian countries. So the GOJ decided to import cheap workers–most notably the descendants of prewar Nikkei immigrants to South America (particularly Brazil and Peru), thinking they would cause fewer problems to Japanese society than just importing anyone (like Chinese). To keep labor costs down, these people would come in on revolving-door terms: one-year “Researcher” or “Trainee” Visas, which required no employer investment in unemployment, health, or retirement benefits. They would also be employed on around half minimum wage, and would be expected to go home w
    ith whatever technological training they had acquired (in the best of JETRO traditions) to benefit their home countries.

    That was the theory, anyway. Nearly twenty years later, the registered NJ population has nearly doubled. And here’s how things have played out:

    Cautiously, an Aging Japan Warms to Foreign Workers
    Loopholes Open Up Jobs In Farms and Factories; Friction in Toyota City
    THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, May 25, 2007; Page A1
    Courtesy of Matt Dioguardi at The Community

    …After failing to recruit young Japanese workers, the Akehama citrus farmers decided to try foreign workers, following the example of farmers in a nearby town. They recently set up their own recruiting agency to bring over new trainees. Most come from Benguet, a province in northern Luzon in the Philippines, where farms are struggling to compete with imports of Chinese vegetables. Akehama currently hosts eight trainees — two Vietnamese women and six Filipinos. Shipbuilding companies in a nearby town also employ some Filipino trainees.

    “American farmers use Mexican workers to run their farms,” says Mr. Katayama. “So we said, why couldn’t we Japanese farmers use foreigners too?”…

    Japan, long known for its resistance to mass immigration, is gradually starting to use more foreigners … to solve its labor shortage. They are taking up jobs in rural areas where industries such as agriculture and textiles are struggling. Big companies are filling their factories with foreigners to assemble auto parts and flat-panel TVs. In cities, foreign workers serve meals at restaurants and stock shelves at grocery stores.

    The 2005 census found Japan had 770,000 foreign workers, or 1.3% of its working population, up from 604,000 and 0.9% a decade earlier. That is still a far cry from the U.S., which has 22 million foreign-born workers, or 15% of the labor force. Nonetheless, for Japan it’s a big change…

    Even today, many Japanese believe that the country’s relatively homogenous population and common values contribute to a low crime rate and economic strength. But as the country is swept by drastic changes in its population and economy, Japanese are shaking off some of their traditional views. In a 2005 government public-opinion survey, 56% of respondents said Japan should accept unskilled foreign workers either unconditionally or if certain conditions are met. Only 26% said they were opposed to the idea under any circumstance….
    Rest of the article at

    However the cracks in the program soon came through, especially when NJ laborers started doing things untoward, like staying, marrying, and having children:



    20,000 in language pickle / Foreign students in need of specialized Japanese teachers
    The Yomiuri Shimbun May. 22, 2007
    Original Japanese blogged at

    The number of foreign students in need of Japanese-language instruction in 885 municipalities exceeded 20,000 as of 2005, and the figure continues to increase, a government survey has found.

    The Education, Science and Technology Ministry has produced guidebooks for language teaching, but most public primary, middle and high school teachers have little experience in teaching Japanese as a second language. Experts have pointed out the need for teachers who specialize in teaching Japanese to foreign children…

    According to the ministry, the number of foreign students who needed extra Japanese-language training in 1991 was 5,463, and exceeded 10,000 in 1993. As of 2005, the figure stood at 20,692, accounting for about 30 percent of all foreign students.

    The largest group among the students are native Portuguese speakers, accounting for 37 percent, followed by those speaking Chinese (22 percent), and Spanish (15 percent).

    This is a consequence of the 1990 revision of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law that allowed foreigners of Japanese descent to work in Japan, which was previously banned. The revision pushed up the number of people entering the country, mainly from South America.

    However, the children of such people often stop attending school due to language difficulties, or find it hard to secure jobs after graduating from school….

    Full article at

    COMMENT: It’s not as if this situation is unprecedented in other developed countries, and Japan is pretty good at looking overseas for role models to deal with domestic issues. For example, in my small-town grade school we had remedial classes for native Spanish speakers. And this was back in the early 1970’s. C’mon, Japan, you bring people over here, you take care of them. You didn’t foresee them having children to have to put through school, for crying out loud?

    There are some half-measures being taken on the micro level:



    Grants eyed to help foreigners settle
    03/09/2007 THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

    The central government will provide grants to 70 municipalities for measures to help their growing populations of foreign residents settle in the communities, officials said.

    The new system will cover language programs for non-Japanese children before they enroll in school, improved disaster-prevention measures for foreign residents, and expenses to help them live in rental accommodations.

    The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications plans to revise its ordinance later this month to offer the special grants to cover the municipalities’ expenses for fiscal 2006, the officials said. The measure may continue in and after fiscal 2007…

    In the town of Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture, the number of registered non-Japanese residents grew from 1,315 in 1990 to 6,748 by the end of January 2007, a fivefold increase to a figure that now accounts for about 16 percent of the town’s population.

    “We appreciate the fact that the central government is finally moving to take care of what has been a financial burden on the municipal government,” a town official said…

    The town office spends about 50 million yen a year for measures to help non-Japanese residents, including employing assistant Japanese language teachers at elementary and junior high schools and producing Portuguese calendars that explain how to sort garbage and show the collection days….
    Rest of the article at

    This is of course good news. Worrisome is the sentence “the measure MAY continue…” Let’s hope that it’s not just seen as a temporary stopgap measure. These people need help. Especially given what some of them have to deal with in the workplace:



    I’ve blogged before how the Trainee and Researcher Visa program scams have resulted in various human and labor rights abuses ( and even child labor ( Now according to the Asahi, they’ve even resulted in murder:

    Slain farm association official took fees from both Chinese trainees, farmers
    05/28/2007 The Asahi Shimbun

    CHIBA: A slain former executive of a farm association had forced Chinese trainees to pay sizable fees that had already been covered by the farmers who accepted the trainees, sources said…

    Most of about 150 Chinese workers on a farm training program offered by the Chiba Agriculture Association had paid between 40,000 yuan and 110,000 yuan (about 600,000 yen and 1.65 million yen) under the pretext of training fees and travel expenses, according to a survey conducted by the [farm] association.

    “The system whose initial purpose is to transfer technologies to developing countries is being exploited as a juicy business,” Ippei Torii, general secretary of Zentoitsu Workers Union, which supports foreign workers, said of the foreign trainee-intern system….

    The former executive was fatally stabbed in August last year in an attack that also injured two others.

    A 26-year-old Chinese farm trainee, accused of murdering the executive and other charges, had been working about 50 hours a month overtime for token pay, even though the training program banned participants from taking on extra work…

    “We left everything to the former executive as far as the training program is concerned,” the association’s chairman said. “It was a lack of supervision.”…

    Japan International Training Cooperation Organization, an affiliate of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and four other ministries, is calling on organizers of training programs for foreign workers to ensure transparency in expenses involved. But there is no clear legal basis for such system. (IHT/Asahi: May 28,2007)
    Rest of the article at

    COMMENT: Remember GAIJIN HANZAI Magazine (, a horribly-biased screed against NJ workers, residents, and immigrants? So awful that it was removed from store shelves within days of going on sale last January?

    Well, it had a manga about this case. And believe it or not, it was actually *sympathetic* to the Chinese! See it at:

    Even though said magazine also featured a different manga portraying Chinese–as a people–as natural-born killers!

    You know these GOJ-sponsored programs must be pretty bad when they even turn off the xenophobes!

    Thanks to this case (generally, it seems somebody’s gotta die as a consequence of bad policy before people actually do something about it), the treatment of NJ workers has become a hot issue in Nagatachou and Kasumigaseki:



    The Yomiuri offers a good overview of the policy debate. Then Matt Dioguardi offers an even better overview on his blog:

    Govt split over foreign trainee program
    Yomiuri Shimbun May 19, 2007

    …Study panels established by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry recently proposed a review of the system [by 2009], while Justice Minister Jinen Nagase on Tuesday said he personally believes a new system for accepting foreign manual laborers should be introduced to replace the current system.

    [See Nagase’s original two-page letter to policymakers in Japanese, scanned and leaked to me by a friend, at: (page down)]

    …But the motivations for any review vary markedly among the ministries, and it is unclear how these differing views can be reconciled…

    For the first of the three years of on-the-job training under the scheme, foreign trainees are not legally considered employees, and are thus not covered by the Labor Standards Law, the Minimum Wage Law and other laws protecting workers.

    The labor ministry’s panel on May 11 compiled a plan that would abolish the one-year training period, to allow the workers to be treated as employees for the whole period.

    One senior ministry official noted, “Even if foreign trainees are forced to work under terrible conditions, labor laws don’t cover them during the trainee period, so we have no way of protecting them.”

    But three days later, the METI panel issued a report that said the one-year trainee period should be maintained.

    “Companies shoulder the cost of accommodating the foreign trainees and also provide Japanese language classes and work-safety training,” a ministry official said. “If they’re made employees from the start, it could actually create a situation whereby they are abused as low-wage laborers.”

    The economy ministry believes the best way to prevent improper treatment of foreign trainees is to toughen penalties on host companies, and introduce some sort of certification for legitimate host firms…

    The justice minister’s proposal is to abolish the current system and introduce a totally new one to allow the acceptance of a wider range of foreign workers for short periods. It would also in effect lift the ban on domestic firms accepting foreign manual laborers.

    Nagase has instructed the Justice Ministry to examine his plan based on the following premises:

    — The purpose of accepting foreign trainees or workers will change from “contributing to the transfer of job skills as part of international cooperation” to “contributing to securing the necessary workforce in Japan.”

    — Atrocious working conditions and extremely low wages for foreign workers are unacceptable.

    — Foreign trainees or workers are not allowed to reenter Japan with the same visa status, to prevent them from permanently settling in the nation.

    …But all three ministries agree that a revised or completely new system should include measures to crackdown on overstayers through tighter immigration controls, and improvements in managing foreign workers’ information…
    (Yomiuri Shinbun May 19, 2007)

    Entire article at

    Now recently three ministries have stepped forward with a plan to save the day… There would seem to be the three views, roughly something like this:

    Justice Ministry: Let’s stop pretending this is a trainee program and just admit openly that it’s a guest worker program. Then let’s be very clear that we expect labor laws to apply to the guest workers just like anyone else. We’ll crack down on the abuses. However, let’s be very clear that after the guests have stayed for three years, they MUST leave and they certainly can NOT come back. We don’t want these poor low life scum ruining Japanese society and culture.

    Labor Ministry: Let’s just reform the system a bit. Let’s throw out the Industrial Training Program and instead focus on the Technical Internship Program. And you know that clause we’ve got about labor law not applying for the first year, well, let’s go ahead and apply it. That should fix things up, well, you know, maybe a little. I mean, this whole system is pretty lucrative for us bureaucrats, so let’s not rock the boat too much.

    Economics Ministry: Let’s not let go of the idea that Japan is trying to help other countries by training their people. So what if the program becomes near slave labor at times. Even if it’s not true that were helping other countries, it’s the thought that counts. Do you know how much trouble it’ll be for us METI bureaucrats to deal with these other countries if we were OPENLY using and throwing away their workers? They would hate us. We can’t lose the important facade that we’re helping to develop poor countries. Why don’t we offer a certification program for those who want to abuse the trainees. It won’t mean dirt, but it’ll give us bureaucrats a bit more power and that’s not bad, right?

    More analysis of this issue and links to copious articles on this subject at:

    But let’s go the very source of this issue–the original advocate of these programs–the Business Lobby in Japan:



    Essentially another tier of government, Keidanren, has finally gotten around to summarizing and translating its policy proposals for the outside world’s consumption. (The original was long, which is why I hadn’t gotten to it myself. Sorry.)

    What is Keidanren? In their own words:
    Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) is a comprehensive economic organization born in May 2002 by amalgamation of Keidanren (Japan Federation of Economic Organizations) and Nikkeiren (Japan Federation of Employers’ Associations). Its membership of 1,662 is comprised of 1,351 companies, 130 industrial associations, and 47 regional economic organizations (as of June 20, 2006).

    The mission of Nippon Keidanren is to accelerate growth of Japan’s and world economy and to strengthen the corporations to create additional value to transform Japanese economy into one that is sustainable and driven by the private sector, by encouraging the idea of individuals and local communities.

    Nippon Keidanren, for this purpose, shall establish timely consensus and work towards resolution of a variety of issues concerning Japanese business community, including economic, industrial, social, and labor. Meanwhile, it will communicate with its stakeholders including political leaders, administrators, labor unions, and citizens at large. It will urge its members to adhere to Charter of Corporate Behavior and Global Environment Charter, in order to recover public confidence in businesses. It will also attempt to resolve international problems and to deepen economic relations with other countries through policy dialogue with governments, business groups and concerned international organizations.

    What they don’t mention is their hand in these guest-worker scams. So now how do they propose to remedy the problem?

    According to their newest proposal, “Second Set of Recommendations on Accepting Non-Japanese Workers (Summary)”, dated March 20, 2007 (see it in full at, Keidanren advocates more labor rights for NJ workers, and GOJ involvement in securing stable livelihoods.

    This is a step in the right direction, to be sure, thanks. But Keidanren itself says in its writeup that it made similar calls for the very same in 2004. As the media and policy outcry shows, this has not done the trick. Just advocating it don’t make it so.

    Keidanren also encouraging more training and a skilled workforce (understandable in principle), but advocates putting the onus on the worker to prove himself in terms of assimilation and qualification (understandable in principle, but unclear in practice; who’s going to test these people?)

    Moreover, Footnote One below shows they are still in Never-Never Land regarding the role of NJ in Japanese society:

    Japan’s population has started to decline, but Nippon Keidanren’s aim in calling for Japan to admit more non-Japanese workers is not to fill the gap caused by this drop in population. According to forecasts, if nothing is done to reverse the depopulation trend, the retirement of the so-called baby boom generation will, 10 years from now, leave Japan’s labor force with four million fewer workers. It would not be practical to cover this shortfall entirely through the admission of non-Japanese people. Nippon Keidanren’s basic position is that non-Japanese people should be admitted to introduce different cultural ideas and sense of values into Japanese society and corporations and to promote the creation of new added value, as this would accelerate innovation, one of the three factors implicit in a potential growth rate (the other two being labor and capital).

    I see. We’ll suck the ideas from them but won’t let them be a part of Japan. Yeah, right.

    Look, Keidanren, get real. You brought these people here to keep your factories internationally competitive. Now figure out a way to take care of them, well enough to make them want to stay. For heaven’s sake, lose the revolving-door disposable worker mentality, already. NJ workers are in fact an investment in Japan’s future.

    And yet, despite the crappy visa conditions, the erstwhile ministerial indifference, and the general bad-mouthing of NJ by the likes of Tokyo Governor Ishihara and the National Police Agency, NJ just keep on coming…


    …the Permanent-Resident “Newcomers” prepare to outnumber the “Oldcomers” by 2008

    Latest figures for the population of registered NJ residents (i.e. anyone on 3-month visas and up) were made public last week by the Ministry of Justice (see them for yourself at

    These are up to the end of 2006 (it takes about 5 months to tabulate the previous year’s figures). The headline:

    The Yomiuri Shinbun May. 22, 2007

    The number of foreign residents in Japan as of the end of 2006 hit a record-high of 2.08 million, increasing 3.6 percent from the previous year, according to the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau.

    The figure of 2,084,919 accounted for 1.63 percent of the nation’s total population.
    By nationality and place of origin, the two Koreas combined had the largest share at 28.7 percent, or 598,219. But because of the aging population and naturalization, the number of special permanent residents is decreasing after peaking in 1991.

    In order of descending share after the two Koreas, China registered 26.9 percent or 560,741; Brazil, 15 percent or 312,979; and thereafter the order was the Philippines, Peru and the United States…

    By prefecture, Tokyo came top with 364,712. Thereafter, Osaka, Aichi, Kanagawa, Saitama, Hyogo, Chiba, Shizuoka, Gifu and Kyoto prefectures accounted for about 70 percent.

    Gifu Prefecture increased by 7.6 percent from a year ago, and Aichi by 7.1 percent. The high rates of increase in the two Chubu region prefectures is thought to be attributable to the area’s favorable economic conditions.
    (May. 22, 2007)

    COMMENT: Oddly lost in translation from the original Japanese article ( was the fact that this represents the 45th straight year the NJ population has risen. And at the rate reported above (3.6%), under the laws of statistics and compounding interest rates, this means the NJ population will again double in about 20 years.

    It took twenty years to double last time, so the rate is holding steady. In fact, although the average is usually around a net gain of 50,000 souls per year, 2006 saw a gain of about 70,000. Accelerating?

    The bigger news is this, though only briefly alluded to above:

    Japan has two different types of Permanent Resident: The “Special PRs” (tokubetsu eijuusha), better known as the “Zainichi” ethnic Korean/Chinese etc. generational foreigners born in Japan, and the “General PRs” (ippan eijuusha), better known as the immigrants who have come here to settle and have been granted permission to stay in Japan forever.

    Once upon a time, thanks to Japan’s jus sanguinis laws behind citizenship, most foreigners were in fact born in Japan–former citizens of empire stripped of their citizenship postwar and their descendents.

    No longer. Every year, the number of “Oldcomers” are dropping, while the “Newcomers” are in fact catching up.

    According to the MOJ, these are the raw numbers of people each year between 2002 and 2006 respectively:

    489900 475952 465619 451909 443044

    (rate of decrease 2005-2006 of 2%)
    223875 261001 312964 349804 394477

    (rate of increase 2005-2006 of 12.8%)

    If things continue at 2006’s rate, the number of “Newcomer” immigrants will surpass the “Oldcomers” this year, 2007!

    Oldcomers: …434183 425499
    Newcomers: …444,970 501926

    which means that according to statistics, the Newcomers with PR will double again in a little under six years!

    Of course, we won’t see the point of inflection officially until May 2008, but those are the trends. This is a major sea change, because with PR these people are probably here to stay forever, as per the terms of their visa.

    As far as rights and internationalization advocates go, this should sound hopeful for increasing pressure on Japan to pass a law against racial discrimination. But I’m hearing rumblings:

    According to sources I really cannot name, the “Oldcomers” have a much longer history of human-rights advocacy, and a greater sense of entitlement to “victimhood” than the upstart immigrants. It’s entirely likely the Zainichis might not be too cooperative. After all–they’ve suffered for generations and gotten a few policy bones thrown them by the GOJ. Why should they help make life any easier for others who haven’t paid their time and earned their stripes?

    Those are some crystal-ball prognostications. Let’s see how things look in five to ten years, as the landscape keeps shifting under the advocates of human rights for minorities in Japan.


    All for today. Thanks for reading!
    Arudou Debito, Rochester, New York, USA,


    1. check Says:

      Now wait a second, here.

      “Oldcomers” are unhappy that “Newcomers” haven’t worked towards advancing human rights advocacy, so they’re not deserving of the benefits?

      Doesn’t this sound like…

      “Native Japanese” are unhappy that “Non-Japanese” haven’t worked towards advancing Japan (especially through the investments of previous generations), so they’re not deserving of the current benefits of living in Japan?

      Isn’t that a bit hypocritical?


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