Hi Blog. Got this from Heidi Tan over at Bloomberg (thanks). A Sept 29 podcast from Bloomberg Radio, interviewing Robert Feldman, chief economist at Morgan Stanley Japan Securities, over economic issues and Fukuda’s “steady hand”. One thing brought up was immigration. Here’s how Mr Feldman, who has been “a Japan watcher for 37 years”, assesses the situation:
Q: Is there a change in immigration within the Japanese people?
A: Yes there is. Immigrants are now really welcome by a large share of the population. Obviously, large-scale immigration is something new to Japan. They’re not sure about it. It’s also a huge issue in many other countries around the globe. And so Japan is watching what’s happening in the United States and in Europe with immigration policy. From my perspective, I see a very large number of Japanese people very much welcoming young, eager, aggressive people who want to come to Japan and make their lives there. We have now between 400,000 and 450,000 foreign-born workers in Japan. That’s not a huge number. But most of these are very young people. A huge number are from China. Young, hardworking kids who want to come and make something out of themselves. And quite interestingly, until a couple of years ago, there was a lot of talk in the media in Japan about crime coming in with these foreign workers. You see almost no discussion of that anymore. I think the immigrant groups have proven themselves to be very hardworking, very good citizens, and that’s helping the image of immigration. So yes, immigration will be part of the story, but inevitably it cannot be the main line.
Q: What is the response to the Chinese coming into Japan?
A: I think a lot of them come because they want to work. They have opportunities there, they read the kanji well enough so it’s easy enough to get around. So I think the young Chinese community in Japan is very very happy to be there. I witnessed a very interesting sort of event a couple of weeks ago. I was visiting the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo… As you enter the main shrine, there a place where according to Shinto religion you’re supposed to wash off your hands… And there was a group of young Chinese kids there, who were about to go into the shrine. And they were being very very serious and solicitious about washing their hands properly before they went into the shrine. As a sign of respect towards the Meiji Emperor. And I thought it was just lovely, that this group of immigrants was so serious about honoring the traditions of the country where they had come to at least work for a while.
COMMENT FROM ARUDOU DEBITO: I’m not sure I can be quite so rosy in outlook right now. Granted, Mr Feldman’s appraisal of Japan’s future labor market actually included immigration for a change (as opposed to the three-page survey in the July 26, 2007 Economist, which irresponsibly ignored it completely). But I’m not so sure about Chinese being “really welcome” (given the short-term revolving-door visa policies that both the ruling party and the bureaucrats want, moreover the “Japanese Only” policies that are even starting to target Chinese in particular) or “very very happy” to be here. Given the harsh working conditions many of them face, I wonder how many Chinese in Japan Mr Feldman talked to create his happiness index, or even his assimilation quotient (just seeing them being respectful of shrine customs does not to me necessarily signal their respect for a Japanese emperor, or the fact that the crowd of Chinese were even immigrants; given the rush of Chinese tourism these past few years, we haven’t eliminated the possibility that they might have been tourists on their best behavior).
And as for the “almost no discussion” regarding foreign crime, the biannnual press releases from the NPA on it still score headlines (see some effects of the last media blitz last February here). Even the current Justice Minister Hatoyama has made it clear he intends to stay the course of toughness towards foreign crime. It’s even been transmuted into anti-terrorism bills.
That said, caveats on my part: I don’t live in Tokyo, and every time I go down south I’m surprised at just how many NJ, particularly Chinese, are working in restaurants, hotels, and convenience stores–and that’s not even touching upon NJ working in less public-view places such as factories and nightlife. I might not be seeing what he’s seeing by living in Sapporo, which is not a terribly international or cosmopolitan place. Plus having my eyes on the problems and issues regarding the negative could be biasing my sample (or just making me old and cynical). But the fact that the larger group (even larger than Chinese) of Newcomer NJ worker immigrants in Japan–the Brazilians–doesn’t even warrant a mention in his assessment (they’re found farther west, away from Kanto) indicates to me that Mr Feldman doesn’t get out of Tokyo much.
I do of course hope he’s right, of course. I just don’t think that based upon what he says above that he has sufficient evidence to back up such rosy assertions, especially given the default government-sponsored policy of treating NJ as inferior workers and portraying them in public as agents of social problems.
Thanks for letting me know about the podcast, Bloomberg. Arudou Debito in Sapporo