By Arudou Debito, July 11, 2006 DRAFT TEN
Column 32 for the Japan Times Community Page
What follows is the "Director's Cut" of the article, as submitted to the Japan Times.
Last month, Dietmember and Senior Vice Minister of Justice Taro Kono
publicized a new action plan for immigration. Entitled "Regarding
Future Acceptance of Foreigners" (kongo no gaikokujin no ukeire ni
tsuite), it offered several policy propositions for Japan's future as
an international society.
This column will summarize the proposal and offer a critique.
GLIMPSE THE FUTURE
The seven-page plan (available at www.moj.go.jp/NYUKAN/nyukan51.html
offers eight sections on: increasing the quality and
qualification of imported foreign workers, Immigration and
naturalization procedures, assimilation and secure working conditions,
law enforcement, and international exchange.
(More detailed quick translation at http://www.debito.org/index.php/?p=14
It encourages a less random intake of low-wage Nikkei laborers, in
favor of people with higher degrees of skill and qualification.
It proposes the influx come from countries with more established guest
worker systems, and go into job markets designated as needing foreign
It requires workers have some degree of Japanese ability, with
periodical evaluations. Continued employment would be contingent
upon language improvement.
Likewise, children of foreign workers would have compulsory education,
requiring attendance in school for continued residency of the family.
Pointing out the contributions of foreign residents to Japanese
society, and the shortcomings of Japan at offering them secure jobs,
the plan says the government should find out more about foreign
Fortunately, it goes beyond mere platitudes to offer concrete
prescriptions: Give foreign residents equal pay for equal skill
levels of work. Cover them equally under pension and social
welfare plans. Assist long-term foreign residents to stay longer.
It even recommends loosening requirements for Permanent Residency and naturalization.
But all is not carrots. Sticks: Immigration should
rationalize its application and registration system. Government
bodies dealing with foreigners should coordinate information. And
foreigners of all stripes (including Permanent Residents) should be
tracked more efficiently.
For example, foreigners (and their employers) should inform the
government whenever they change jobs. This would nip overstaying
in the bud.
Sagely, however, the plan demands punishing companies and "schools"
that create and/or employ overstayers. It specifically mentions
revising the "Entertainer Visa" category, and cracking down on abuses
[like sexual slavery and human trafficking] in the water trades.
It concludes with old kokusaika chestnuts: increased tourism,
exchange student programs with scholarships, and working holidays.
Quite frankly, when I started reading this document, I braced myself
for the typical policy rhetoric of "man the barricades, save our
country from the alien hordes!"
After all, one of its recommendations, which made headlines last month,
is to limit foreigners to 3% of the total population (excluding
Zainichi Japan-born generational foreigners, such as the ethnic Koreans
But I have to admit, I found a lot of things to cheer.
The first is the proposal's tone. Instead of portraying
immigration as a threat, the tack was more "protect and serve those who
are here now, adjust filters for future intake, and recognize foreign
labor's contributions to Japanese society".
Activists have been clamoring for these things for decades. Looks as though they're finally getting through.
For example, in Section Seven, "Providing the Basis for the Livelihood
of Foreigners" (gaikokujin no seikatsu kibon no seibi), it brings up
the need to "guarantee rational rights" (gouriteki na kenri no hoshou),
particularly in terms of housing and living environment (juukyo tou
Not bad. Although it's unclear whether this means creating any
anti-discrimination laws, it's better than having these issues not
mentioned at all.
It even advocates recognizing the "Zainichi" generational foreigners as
residents, the same as Japanese (although it stopped short of saying
that foreigners should get a juuminhyou Residency Certificate, the same
YAH BOO BITS
But let's not get too Pollyanna. Plenty of proposals are
problematic, and if not thought through, will ultimately undermine the
effectiveness of future policy.
For example, the language requirement. I basically agree with the
compulsory education of immigrants. Anyone who lives in Japan
should become as fluent in Japanese as possible. The
alternative--functional illiteracy and a lifetime of limited
communication with society--will severely limit one's ability to
control their fate.
However, who provides and evaluates this language education? If
it is the employer, alarm bells. Any nasty boss could report
"insufficient Japanese" to Immigration as a means of sanction or firing
(something I have personally experienced). Standards should be
made clear even at this early stage. I recommend free government
language classes and independent evaluation (such as through the
nihongo kentei shiken).
Also, about the compulsory education of foreign children. What
systems are in place for those who face bullying at school, and cannot
for psychological reasons attend? Will whole families be kicked
out of Japan just because their kids got a raw draw of classmates or
teacher? I suggest the Ministry of Education offer educational
alternatives (by accrediting more ethnic schools), and promote
counseling (with ethnic counselors) for children who have trouble
On that note, let's hope these proposals will avoid bad habits. Education was used as a weapon a century ago, a la the douka seisaku
where "Japanization" was an attempt to eliminate cultures (such as
Ainu, Okinawan, and Korean). With recent moves to enforce
patriotism in Japanese schools, it is unclear how multiculturalism can
Probably better if the government ensures all children have an
education, not force all children to have specifically a "Japanese
Also, we must keep a flinty eye on the new policing proposals. As
the Community Page has frequently pointed out, the National Police
Agency has used any policy drive regarding foreigners as an excuse for bent laws
, public denigration
, racial profiling
, snitch websites
, even forensic research based upon racist premises
(January 13, 2004).
A clearer system of civil-rights checks and balances must be
established to stop police overstepping their authority, encouraging
xenophobia and harassment under the pretense of law enforcement.
And of course, the arbitrary 3% foreign population cap is sky
pie. Not only does it apparently assume that current foreign
residents will not reproduce, but it also flies in the face of the
enormous pressures on Japan, both economic and demographic, to reckon
with a future of immigration in the first place.
Under present average rates of foreigner growth, I calculate it will
take 30 years for the "newcomer" foreign population to break 3%.
(This assumes, erroneously, that neither the Japanese nor the Zainichi
populations will drop.)
Japan's multiculturalization will happen. But neither as a
tsunami nor in a way so conveniently calculated. And not within
the political lives of current politicians.
So lose the cap. Stop making sops to the sweaty heads. You
might undo all good intentions by creating abusive policy based upon
eugenics (as history indicates happens in these situations).
FINAL ADVICE--KEEP IT SIMPLE!
If our mandarins are truly interested in getting feedback from the
general public, particularly from the international residents whom this
policy will affect, they should render the Japanese as simply as
possible. Japanese with furigana at a minimum, translation into
an official U.N. language as a courtesy. At least use touyou
kanji. Instead, we got a flowery introduction with obscure
words. Put it in plain language, and you'll get plain speaking.
Still, all in all, I believe this policy trial balloon is a step in the
right direction. What do readers think? This policy will
affect you, so let the MOJ know how you feel (see Sidebar). By
this Saturday, July 15.
DRAFT TEN ENDS
SIDEBAR: TELL THE GOVERNMENT WHAT YOU THINK
The Justice Ministry is accepting opinions from the general public until Saturday, July 15, 2006. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Also contact Dietmember Taro Kono directly (English OK) via www.taro.org