It was 1988, in an ad for Regain energy drink. Actor Saburo Tokito, wearing a suit and carrying an attache case, asked a question that would go down in TV history: “Can I work 24 hours straight?”
Japan was reveling in the go-go years of the bubble economy, its people sacrificing their health, families and private lives in a mad devotion to work, work and more work. But beneath all the bright economic indicators lurked a dark underbelly of millions of hours of unpaid overtime and innumerable cases of karōshi, or death from overwork.
As 2012 winds down, economic and political stagnation drags on, while our society increasingly feels somehow claustrophobic. If we cannot have permanent economic growth, then shouldn’t we at least do away with the 24/7 work ethic? Yet the Japanese disease of “all work and no play” unfortunately seems to be here to stay. With job security fading fast, things are worse than ever.
I’d like to close 2012 with a major labor law theme: work hours. When is an hour a work hour? It’s not as straightforward as it might seem. To ensure that work hours are a pleasant and humane experience, we first need to define them.
The Labor Standards Law sidesteps a proper definition, and labor law scholars fall into two camps over how a work hour should be defined. One subscribes to what is known as kyakkan-setsu, roughly translating as “objective theory.” This camp argues that work hours are the entire time during which the employee can objectively be considered to be under the authority of her or his employer.
The nibun-setsu (two-part theory) camp, on the other hand, splits work hours into “core” and “peripheral” work hours, with the status of the latter gray area between strictly defined work hours and break time to be determined through agreement between the employer and employed.
The gold standard in case law regarding work hours is the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Nagasaki Shipyard case. The Supreme Court’s Petty Bench on March 9, 2000, rejected outright the nibun-setsu approach and backed the kyakkan-setsu interpretation. Let’s examine the case.
The plaintiffs built and repaired vessels for Mitsubishi Heavy. The shūgyō kisoku (work rules) stipulated work hours and break time, as well as rules regarding changing into work clothes before and after work.
Workers were expected to be on site at the start and end of each shift in proper work clothes and gear. The preparation had to be done in the changing room and failure to do so before the start of each shift could result in disciplinary action, including poor evaluation, pay cuts or suspension.
The plaintiffs sued the plant, claiming that the following periods, numbered 1 through 8, were working hours and therefore should be paid as overtime and at overtime rates.
1) Time in the morning to get from the shipyard gate to the changing room.
2) Time in the changing room to don work clothes and special equipment, then to move to the preshift calisthenics area.
3) Time spent taking out equipment and materials from the warehouse before and after work and hosing down the yard before the shift.
4) Time to get from the shipyard to the cafeteria and then remove some gear and clothing for lunch break.
5) Time to move from the cafeteria to the calisthenics area and then put gear and clothing back on after lunch.
6) Time to get from the work site to the changing room and remove clothing and gear after work.
7) Time spent washing or taking a shower and then changing into ordinary clothes.
8) Time to get from the changing room to the gate of the shipyard at the end of the shift.
Nagasaki District Court in 1989, the Fukuoka High Court in 1995 and the Supreme Court in 2000 all ruled that 2, 3 and 6 constituted work hours that must be paid, while the others did not, for the following reasons: Workers were not under company authority during time periods 1 and 8; workers were free to use their break time as they chose for periods 4 and 5; and period 7 involved actions that were not required of workers and did not interfere unduly with their commute home.
This case was the first to take up the definition of work hours and is thus extremely important. Much attention is paid to the wording in the verdict that “time to do activities that are unavoidable or ordered by the employer constitute work hours.” This applies even if the order is tacit.
This case gives a sense of the courts’ thinking on work hours. If more workers understood this jurisprudence, we would surely see more workplaces that are “healthy in body and mind.”
Hi Blog. Debito.org has previously discussed the curious phenomenon of “Gaijin as Guinea Pig“, where future reforms that put the general public at a disadvantage to the elite are first tested out and normalized through application on Japan’s foreigners. For example, “Academic Apartheid” (the practice of contracting all NJ educators while granting Japanese educators tenure from day one in Japan’s higher education system) gave way to contract employment for every educator in 1997. More examples here.
Japan hopes to make themselves more attractive to international labor migration when they’re in process of making an exploitative labor market even more so, for everybody? Again, deserves to be known about. Arudou Debito
Business leaders at a government panel have proposed that employers in Japan be allowed to fire workers at their discretion as a way to improve the nation’s economic growth.
Members of the Industrial Competitiveness Council called March 15 for rules that will, in principle, allow employers to dismiss regular employees freely if the workers are compensated with “re-employment support.”
The council is chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The proposal was made by Yasuchika Hasegawa, chairman of Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), and president of Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., and others.
Article 16 of the Labor Contract Law stipulates that there must be reasonable grounds for a dismissal. Employers are not permitted to sack workers unless they have valid reasons, such as poor performance, disciplinary offenses or reducing the work force as a result of financial trouble.
Hasegawa and other members suggested that the Labor Contract Law should be amended to allow employers to dismiss workers at their discretion.
They also called for the establishment of a system in which employers would be able to fire workers without a valid reason as long as they provide them so-called monetary re-employment support.
In addition, they said the Labor Contract Law should make it clear in what instances dismissals would not be permitted.
In many European countries, if a court determines that a dismissal is unlawful, the employer can still dissolve the employment relationship by paying the fired employee compensation–usually one to two years worth of salary.
But if a similar court decision was made in Japan, workers would have few options other than returning to their former workplaces.
The system the panel in Japan is pushing differs from the European labor practice in that employers would be able to freely sack workers without reasonable grounds as long as they pay compensation.
Panel members said the proposed system would not only increase liquidity in the labor market, but benefit workers, depending on the amount of compensation paid.
The panel includes 10 leaders from the private sector and is expected to come up with a proposed economic growth strategy by June.
Well, now, in yet another episode of SITYS (“See I Told You So”), Asahi reports the “Points System” is going through similar “revisions” as the visa scams above due to a dearth of applications. As I thought would happen — the PS’s qualifying hurdles are simply too high.
Even if one assumes good faith in Japan’s policymakers (some of whom do see the slow-motion demographic disaster in progress due to crushing public debt unsupportable by a society that is shrinking and aging) who might want to treat “foreign laborers” as people, Japan’s bureaucrats are so paranoid about NJ somehow “abusing” the system that they make it practically impossible for anyone to ever “use” the system to their benefit. Again, the GOJ keep wanting “workers” and discover to their surprise later that they imported “people”, with livelihood needs beyond mere work hours converted into “the privilege of living in Japan”.
A policy initiative designed to encourage highly skilled foreign professionals to come and stay in Japan is not working out as the Justice Ministry had envisioned.
In fact, the point-based system has proved so unpopular that it is being reviewed only a year after it was introduced.
The program covers the following fields: research, engineering and management. Points are awarded on the basis of a person’s experience and capabilities.
An individual who receives a certain number of points can, for example, bring his or her parents to live in Japan or gain permission for a spouse to work, something that few foreign workers had been able to do until a year ago.
According to the Justice Ministry, less than 1,000 will likely be certified in the initial year, compared with 2,000 that officials had expected.
Foreign applicants have complained to immigration offices about the strict conditions, particularly one pertaining to income levels.
Shao Huaiyu, a renewable energy researcher at Kyushu University, applied at the recommendation of school officials soon after the system was introduced last May.
He was certified as highly competent after receiving 100 points out of a maximum 140 in the researcher division based on his doctor’s and patented inventions.
Shao planned to ask his parents to come from China and help raise two daughters, aged 2 and under 1 year old.
But his application was refused because of an additional condition that called for an annual income of 10 million yen ($106,000) or more.
“It is almost impossible for a university researcher in his or her 30s to earn 10 million yen,” Shao said. “By the time I can earn that much, my children will have grown up.”
The Justice Ministry plans to review the system. An Immigration Bureau official said the system has not been widely publicized overseas due to limited budgets.
Junichi Goto, a professor of labor economics at Keio University, is opposed to the planned review, saying looser conditions could jeopardize a ban on unskilled laborers.
He has also expressed concern that some foreigners could abuse the system by bringing their parents over simply to get advanced medical treatment under the nation’s universal health insurance system.
A similar point system has been introduced in Canada, New Zealand and other countries eager to accept skilled immigrants.
According to the Canadian Embassy, 90,000 to 110,000 engineers and their families enter the country each year.
Even among industrialized countries, Japan is regarded as exercising very strict control over immigration.
The Japanese program is intended to attract only those whose skills are needed in Japan, rather than increasing the number of foreign nationals working in this country by loosening the immigration control law.
More than 80 percent of respondents in a new poll said they are open to foreign nationals of Japanese descent living in the nation, the Cabinet Office reported.
The office’s first survey of its kind, released Thursday, found 80.9 percent of respondents expressed openness to living alongside those with Japanese ancestry, including Brazilian and Peruvian descendents of Japanese immigrants. Only 12.9 percent opposed the idea.
Of the 3,000 citizens canvassed in January for the poll, 59.7 percent were also in favor of the central government and municipalities assisting non-Japanese residents to a greater extent, for instance by providing Japanese-language classes for unemployed young people and recruiting interpreters at Hello Work job-placement offices.
“With more opportunities to interact with foreigners, (Japanese people) are eventually no longer rejecting” the idea of accepting non-Japanese nationals in society, a Cabinet Office official remarked.
As of the end of 2011, there were fewer than 300,000 foreigners of Japanese descent living in the country, of whom 210,000 were Brazilians and another 50,000 Peruvians, the Cabinet Office said.
Now just sit back in your chair and let that sink in for a moment. We have the highest level of government in Japan conducting a slanted survey (available in Japanese here) asking not about public acceptance of NJ, but rather a breed of NJ, specifically “Nikkei Teijuu Gaikokujin” (non-citizen residents of Japan who are of Japanese lineage). Why would that be the question asked? What policy is retroactively being sought to be justified? And why is this angle newsworthy?
Apropos of a few answers, here are some comments garnered from Debito.org and elsewhere:
============================== AS: “Blood = Japanese v.2?”
JDG: “It’s a brilliantly pointless piece of reporting, for the sake of massaging the egos of the Japanese readers, and assuring them that Japan is a ‘modern’ country… J-public are finally willing to accept foreigners… as long as they are ‘Japanese’ foreigners… I feel like I have gone back in time 5 years. The same politicians are back, the same old economic policies are back, and now Japan wants all those Nikkeijin they paid to go home, to come back too?”
Puddintain: “Imagine a similar poll in a country mostly populated with folks of white European descent that found that 80% percent of them were willing to live with immigrants of white European descent! Wouldn’t that be something amazing?”
============================== Moorehead: The survey asked respondents if they knew that there were Nikkei living in Japan, and how they knew this. Nearly 53 percent the respondents either knew that Nikkei were living in Japan, or had heard about it. 46 percent answered that they did not know that this group was living in Japan… [!!!]
On the one hand, I’m encouraged by the support for Nikkei in Japan. It’s certainly better than if they had said the opposite. But … I’m skeptical. South Americans in Japan, Nikkei and non-Nikkei alike, have told me very clearly that they do not feel included in Japanese society. Instead, borrowing some phrases from Eli Anderson’s The Cosmopolitan Canopy, they’re perpetually ‘on probation.’ In this provisional status, any misstep can be used against you as a sign of the fact that you’ll never fit in…
Hopefully government officials will use this survey to promote further initiatives to empower the Nikkei (and hopefully other non-Japanese) in Japan. Publicly conducting the survey, posting it on the Cabinet Office website, and releasing it to the press, may indicate that the government is testing public support for such initiatives.
Ultimately, I believe the GOJ will once again fall into the same old shortsightedness (like so many other societies) of wanting “workers” only to discover later they brought in “people”. And then, as before, society will seek to denigrate if not get rid of them as soon as they actually have needs (such as health care to provide, children to educate, lifestyles that reflect their backgrounds, retirement pensions to pay, political power to cede) that run counter to the original national plans… Arudou Debito
January 30, 2013 Dear writers, Thank you very much for contributing your articles to The Japan Times. We would like to inform you that the special reconstruction income tax, introduced by the government to secure financial resources for reconstruction after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011, took effect on January 1, 2013. This tax is imposed on individuals and corporations – both Japanese and foreign – at a rate of 2.1 percent over a 25-year period through 2037.
As a result, the total withholding tax rate deducted from the manuscript fee will rise from 10 percent to 10.21 percent for residents in Japan, and from 20 percent to 20.42 percent for overseas residents, starting with the February payment for articles carried in The Japan Times in January. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation. Sincerely, The Japan Times
This post is not to criticize The Japan Times (who clearly have no control over this circumstance whatsoever). But have others also received word of yet another tax on income to go towards “reconstruction”?
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Hi Blog. In a sad precedent, we have a clear case of death through overwork being officially recognized as such for a NJ doctor. It’s sadder that it has taken so long (more than two years) for that official recognition to come through. I’ve long realized that Japan has at times some pretty crazy work ethics (and a peer group atmosphere that encourages people to give their all, even until they die), but it seems even more crazy for NJ to leave their societies to come to a place that will work them to death. Especially as a NJ “trainee”, where they have even fewer labor-law rights than the locals who are in similar work circumstances. This situation has to be known about, since Japan’s immigration laws aren’t allowing a labor market where enough doctors (even imported ones) can satiate the perpetual labor shortage being referred to below. Only when GOJ authorities realize that the jig is up, because the international labor force is avoiding Japan as a harsh labor market to work within, will things change. Arudou Debito
A regional labor standards inspection office in Aomori Prefecture has recognized that a Chinese trainee doctor who was working at a municipal hospital died from overwork, a lawyer representing the victim has disclosed.
It is reportedly the country’s first case in which a foreign doctor working in Japan has been recognized by a labor standards office as having died from overwork.
The Hirosaki Labor Standards Inspection Office in Aomori Prefecture acknowledged that the 2010 death of Lu Yongfu, a Chinese trainee doctor at a municipal hospital in Hirosaki, was work-related, in a decision on Dec. 20. Lu died at the age of 28 after working up to 121 hours overtime a month.
Ayako Hiramoto, a lawyer representing the victim, revealed the labor office’s decision during a news conference on Dec. 25.
According to the office, Lu had worked between 84 and 121 hours overtime per month before he died of an acute circulatory disorder in November 2010. His average monthly overtime hours surpassed 80 hours — the criteria for certifying death from overwork, or “karoshi” in Japanese.
The trainee was on duty almost all weekends except for the summer break, and had two to four night shifts a month that left him working on day shifts the following day without enough sleep, according to the labor office.
Lu had arrived in Japan in 2002 and graduated from the school of medicine at Hirosaki University in Aomori Prefecture before starting his internship at the hospital in April 2010.
Hiramoto said there were at least six other cases in Japan in which trainee doctors had died from overwork in the past.
“Regional areas are suffering from a serious shortage of doctors, while the management of their work hours is sloppy. Drastic measures need to be taken,” she said.
================================= Original Japanese story
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Hi Blog. Sometimes I wish the Star Trek Universal Translators were already here. But we’re getting closer. Here’s a Google Translate version of an article that came out in Die Zeit newspaper a couple of months ago that cites me and others about Japan’s political problems with creating an immigration policy. Not a lot here that frequent readers of Debito.org don’t already know (except for the give-and-take access to export markets for the bilateral nursing agreements between Indonesia and The Philippines), but here’s a German media take on the issue. There are some bits that are a bit clumsily translated, so corrections welcome. Arudou Debito
JAPAN Old and xenophobic Japan on the day of elections: the economy is running out of workers. Immigrants may bridge the gap, but locals reject strangers. DIE ZEIT, December 6, 2012, by Felix Lill Courtesy of author Felix Lill, OM, and Google Translate (cleaned up a bit, corrections welcome) Original German at http://www.zeit.de/2012/50/Japan-Wirtschaft-Arbeitskraefte-Einwanderer
To Ezekiel Ramat would be the Japanese economy actually tear. [??] The 24 year old geriatric nurse is young, well educated and unmarried. Moreover, the man hails from the Philippines, who for almost two years in Japan, lives for two-thirds of the salary of his Japanese colleagues. But instead of being welcomed with open arms, Ramat needs after-hours cramming. After four years, he must either pass the Japanese nurse exam – or leave the country.
The contents Ramat knows that from his training at home. But the three Japanese alphabets in which the questions are asked, make it almost impossible for foreigners to pass the test. Only one in ten may remain at the end.
“I’m learning every day,” says Ramat. “Maybe I have a 50-50 chance.” He says he’s even hopeful about the December 16th Japanese parliamentary elections: A new government , which will most likely represent to current polls business-oriented Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), must be on the future of Japan. “Japan’s economy still needs foreigners working. It would be unwise to kick us again.” So gives Ramat courage.
An immigration campaign would be political suicide
For decades, Japan has been in a shaky position. The once-booming industrial nation barely registered economic growth. The national debt – in terms of economic power – is higher than that of Greece.
Even today, every fourth Japanese is over 65 years old . The birth rate is so low that the population will decline by 2050 from 127 million today to below 90 million. Several governments have tried to counter by more kindergartens, child care allowance and the like, but little has borne fruit. In 100 years, there might be only 40 million Japanese.
Now there is a lack of skilled labor, falling tax revenues, and no one knows who is going to pay in the future the growing pension claims. According to calculations by the United Nations, by 2050 only 17 million workers will be found to fund the pensions.
But there is a solution: Immigrants like Ezekiel Ramat. Japan’s foreign population is currently 1.3 percent, extremely low for a highly developed country: Germany has at about 8.5 percent foreigners. In Japan, the number of immigrants in recent years even went down. But strange: no one in politics seems to care about immigration policy. Neither the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) nor the main opposition parties mention the subject at all in their campaigns. When asked, all assert that they want to promote more immigration. But they make no specific proposals.
“In Japan, it would be political suicide to run an immigration campaign,” says Arudou Debito. The author of US-Japanese origin has long been involved with Japan’s foreign policy, and has also just written his doctoral thesis. “Most Japanese can not imagine having to share their country with foreigners.” Opinion polls recorded in recent years paint a foreigner-skeptical picture.
Only half of the Japanese supported the idea of granting foreigners the same fundamental rights as Japanese. A third of the population was against further immigration. Three-quarters think that in ten million immigrants would exceed the limit of what is acceptable.
“Which party is under such circumstances to make active immigration policy?” Asks Debito. He even a few years ago made headlines when he sued a Japanese hot spring, which had denied his two American-looking daughters entry. [Sic: it was one of my daughters, not both.] To date, Japan has no law to protect foreigners against [racial] discrimination.
Japan has tried to compensate for an aging society through immigrants. As the dangers of shrinking population became known in the eighties, Japan courted Japanese-born Brazilians for simple tasks. By 2004 this had risen to almost 300,000. But since there was a lack of integration programs, a lot of Brazilians in Japan never felt at home.
In addition, policy making and media sentiment against the newcomers blamed the increasing proportion of foreigners for a rise in crime. With the start of the financial crisis, it was finally opportune to send back the foreigners out of the country. From 2009, each Brazilian has been offered a one-way ticket to South America, on condition they never seek work in Japan [sic: on the same visa status].
In June 2008, the Liberal Democrat Cabinet of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda announced a plan by which within 50 years about ten million immigrants should be admitted. The number of foreign students should rise by 2025 to one million per year. But both Fukuda and his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, who ruled Japan from 2001 to 2006, saw the acceptance by the Japanese the biggest obstacle. At the end of his administration, Koizumi said, “If the number of foreign workers exceeds a certain level, there will be conflict. It should be prevented. “
To not rely on the consent of the electorate, Japanese bureaucrats concluded their last bilateral contracts through the back door. Agreements with the Philippines and Indonesia that were hardly discussed publicly allowed Japanese companies market access and in turn allowed the posting of caregivers for sick and elderly to Japan.
A sign for a better immigration policy was not there. “The main objective of these agreements was to support our export economy,” says Takahiro Wakabayashi, who is in Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in charge of business with Southeast Asia. Wakabayashi does not deny the need for more immigration itself, but on the question of why this insight occasions little action, he gives an answer that is heard again and again: The topic of immigration is controversial. “We should have the economic capacity to take in more people. But the unions fear in such a case falling wages.”
Young foreigners be exploited – and then sent away
The author Debito believed that the current provisions for foreign workers are therefore less restrictive, so they do not remain in the country in the long term. “The examination system at the nurses is intended to take advantage of some of the best years of young foreigners and then return them home. The system works: Theoretically, everyone has the chance to make it to a status of unlimited right of residence [sic: I did not say anything about Permanent Residency], but almost no one gets it. “
If there are alternatives to more immigration to Japan? One might raise the retirement age, which is 65 years. But that would be very expensive for the company. In Japan, namely, the principle that with increasing seniority and higher salaries are paid. In addition, today many Japanese retirees take new jobs, because their pension is not enough. Women, of which less than two-thirds have a job complain that there was not enough childcare.
In the eyes of the scientist Naohiro Ogawa, it is a matter of time before Japan’s “demographic time bomb” explodes. “Until Japan is willing to open the door to more immigrants, the countries that would like to send today, workers have long since been in the situation of labor shortage. Worldwide, the population growth back already. ” [??]
And the patience of Japanese contractors is limited. For example, Clifford Paragua of the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo. He says: “We could do a lot more than the current 600 workers send to Japan. Japan could use a lot more. “In the Middle East 800,000 Filipinos are working in hospitals, their education will also be recognized, and they came through with English mostly. Why,” asks Paragua, should “young Filipinos choose Japan?”
No matter who wins: Even after the election will probably not change much in the integration policy. Many of the few foreigners who make it to Japan, such as geriatric nurses Ezekiel Ramat, will send half of their income to the family back home – and then leave after a few years the country again.
“We’re shooting ourselves in the foot,” says Naohiro Ogawa. Because immigrants would not just do the work and pay the pensions, they would not buy the products of Japanese manufacturers and with their own children compensate the lack of Japanese youth.” Ogawa says that his people would only think about it once properly. “Economic understanding would suffice.”
Hi Blog. Here’s a couple of interesting lawsuits in the pipeline: A French woman being fired from NHK (despite 20 years working there) apparently for leaving Japan during the Fukushima crisis, and eight US Navy sailors suing TEPCO (from overseas) for lying about nuclear fallout dangers and exposing them to radiation.
Anyway, power to them. I doubt the outcome of these cases will appear much in the J media, so keep an eye out for their potential appearance in the English-language media when the decisions get handed down within the next year or two. Arudou Debito
TOKYO (Kyodo) — A French woman on Tuesday sued public broadcaster Japan Broadcasting Corp., or NHK, for dismissing her after she left Japan in response to a French government warning issued during the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Emmanuelle Bodin, 55, who had engaged in translation and radio work, said in a complaint filed with the Tokyo District Court that she had told her boss that she would return to work on March 30, 2011, but received a termination letter on March 22.
Two days after the earthquake-tsunami disaster triggered the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant on March 11 that year, the French government advised its citizens to leave the Tokyo area.
Bodin, who is demanding her dismissal be rescinded and damages be paid, had worked at NHK for over 20 years as a contract staffer, renewing her contract every year, according to the complaint. She said in a news conference no other employee in the French language section who left Tokyo at the time was fired.
NHK said the termination of her contract was not made in an unfair manner but refrained from elaborating on reasons for the dismissal.
The Japan Times, Friday, Dec. 28, 2012
Eight U.S. sailors sue Tepco for millions for falsely downplaying Fukushima radiation exposure
Bloomberg — Tokyo Electric Power Co. is being sued for tens of millions of dollars by eight U.S. Navy sailors who claim that they were unwittingly exposed to radiation from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant meltdowns and that Tepco lied about the dangers.
The sailors aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan were involved in the Operation Tomodachi disaster relief operations following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Tohoku region and led to the nuclear catastrophe, according to their complaint filed in U.S. federal court in San Diego on Dec. 21.
Tepco and the Japanese government conspired to create the false impression that radiation leaking from the Fukushima No. 1 plant didn’t pose a threat to the sailors, according to the complaint. As a result, the plaintiffs rushed to areas that were unsafe and too close to the facility, exposing them to radiation, their lawyers said.
The Japanese government was “lying through their teeth about the reactor meltdown” crisis, as it reassured the USS Reagan crew that “everything is under control,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers said in the complaint. “The plaintiffs must now endure a lifetime of radiation poisoning and suffering.”
The sailors are each seeking $10 million in damages, $30 million in punitive damages and a judgment requiring the creation of a $100 million fund to pay for their medical monitoring and treatments.
“We can’t comment as we have not received the complaint document yet,” Yusuke Kunikage, a Tepco spokesman, said Thursday. “We will consider a response after examining the claim.”
In July, the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund took control of Tepco in return for a ¥1 trillion capital injection after the disaster left the utility on the brink of bankruptcy. The utility received ¥1.4 trillion in state funds to compensate those affected by the disaster.
PUBLICATIONS CHAIR WANTED
HELP KEEP JALT PALE FROM POSSIBLE DECOMMISSIONING
Hey everyone. Arudou Debito here. I have been told that one of the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT)’s most important SIG groups, PALE (Professionalism, Administration, and Leadership in Education), is in some difficulty at the moment.
The PALE SIG desperately needs a Publications Chair. If it does not have one, then someone on the board will have to pick up the load, which has been the case the past year or so with disappointing results. It is a fact, alas, that PALE is not a popular SIG due to its stands on controversial issues, and it should not be surprising that some would be happy to see it go. It is still odd, since PALE is all about helping people find job stability and better employment conditions through being informed about labor law etc. We are the group that acts as a safety net, one that people keep falling upon to when times get tough in the workplace. Decommissioning the group is an option for JALT. One that we don’t think should happen, for everyone’s sake.
PALE has a long history of activism and assistance. I was the editor of the PALE Journal for several years. An archive of PALE activities and publications is available at http://www.debito.org/PALE
So if you a) are a JALT member (or are willing to become one), and b) are willing to join PALE (it costs a mere 1500 yen per year), and c) are willing to become Publications Chair, then please contact Tom Goetz right away at email@example.com.
Our latest project is to produce a PALE anthology. But if our SIG is decommissioned at the next JALT EBM on February 2-3, or a later EBM, then access to PALE’s coffers becomes much more difficult and further subject to outside control.
Also, PALE needs new membership anytime, so please also contact Tom if you would like to become a member.
Please help out. Thanks for reading. Arudou Debito
Hello Blog. Let me devote this blog entry (one of two, next one in three days) to the passing of a historical figure whose importance within Japanese history cannot be overstated. Beate Sirota Gordon, a woman in a committee of men drafting the Japanese Postwar Constitution, wrote articles that remain fundamental to the rights Debito.org has devoted decades to upholding: Article 14, which guarantees that “All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.” The other, Article 24, states (excerpt), “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis. With regard to choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce and other matters pertaining to marriage and the family, laws shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the essential equality of the sexes;” this guarantees fundamental human and civil rights to women that weren’t present under the horrible Prewar Ie Seido (which among other things made people into property). A hearty Debito.org salute to Gordon for a life well lived and opportunities to improve Japanese society well taken. NYT obituary enclosed below.
A few Debito.org-esque comments: One is that the NYT’s claim below of “Ms. Gordon was the last living member of the American team that wrote Japan’s postwar Constitution” is probably erroneous. That honor probably belongs to an old teacher of mine when I was at Cornell, Milton J. Esman, who was born in 1918 and is apparently still alive (see his resume page two here). (Wikipedia also notes that Gordon was not the only woman assigned to the group either, as economist Eleanor Hadley was also present.)
Second, reflecting upon Gordon’s life when eulogizing, it is important to note a number of fundamental rights enshrined in the Japanese Constitution that have remained unenforced. One is of course the lack of a law against racial discrimination (which is unconstitutional under Article 14 but not illegal in the Civil or Criminal Code), meaning racial discrimination can be (and is) “practiced undisturbed”, as the UN has noted in the past, in a “deep and profound” manner (despite Japan effecting the UN Convention on Racial Discrimination in 1996; we’re now approaching seventeen years of unkept promises). The other I will just mention is the clause of “essential equality of the sexes” mentioned above in Article 24. Despite the Equal Employment Opportunities Law of 1986, Japan still maintains an immense gender-wage gap:
Japan ranks at the very bottom (basically on par with ROK and Malaysia), and although the research notes that comprehensive comparisons cannot be made, the point still remains that women in Japan earn less than half of what men in Japan make for comparative work. Wage differentials may be true in all societies (I know of no society where gender-pay equality is systemwide), but this egregious a gap is unbecoming of a developed country, and shows the lack of good-faith drafting or enforcement of constitutionally-grounded laws in Japanese society.
Beate Sirota Gordon, the daughter of Russian Jewish parents who at 22 almost single-handedly wrote women’s rights into the Constitution of modern Japan, and then kept silent about it for decades, only to become a feminist heroine there in recent years, died on Sunday at her home in Manhattan. She was 89.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, her daughter, Nicole Gordon, said.
A civilian attached to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s army of occupation after World War II, Ms. Gordon was the last living member of the American team that wrote Japan’s postwar Constitution.
Her work — drafting language that gave women a set of legal rights pertaining to marriage, divorce, property and inheritance that they had long been without in Japan’s feudal society — had an effect on their status that endures to this day.
“It set a basis for a better, a more equal society,” Carol Gluck, a professor of Japanese history at Columbia University, said Monday in a telephone interview. “By just writing those things into the Constitution — our Constitution doesn’t have any of those things — Beate Gordon intervened at a critical moment. And what kind of 22-year-old gets to write a constitution?”
If Ms. Gordon, neither lawyer nor constitutional scholar, was indeed an unlikely candidate for the task, then it is vital to understand the singular confluence of forces that brought her to it:
Had her father not been a concert pianist of considerable renown; had she not been so skilled at foreign languages; and had she not been desperate to find her parents, from whom she was separated during the war and whose fate she did not know for years, she never would have been thrust into her quiet, improbable role in world history.
Nor would she have been apt to embark on her later career as a prominent cultural impresario, one of the first people to bring traditional Asian performing arts to audiences throughout North America — a job, pursued vigorously until she was nearly 70, that entailed travel to some of Asia’s most remote, inaccessible reaches.
The daughter of Leo Sirota and the former Augustine Horenstein, Beate (pronounced bay-AH-tay) Sirota was born on Oct. 25, 1923, in Vienna, where her parents had settled.
When she was 5, her father was invited to teach at the Imperial Academy of Music in Tokyo, and the family moved there for a planned six-month stay. Mr. Sirota soon became revered in Japan as a performer and teacher, and they wound up living in Tokyo for more than a decade.
Beate was educated at a German school in Tokyo and, from the mid-1930s on, after the school became far too Nazified for her parents’ liking, at the American School in Japan. In 1939, shortly before her 16th birthday, she left for Mills College in Oakland, Calif. Her parents remained in Japan.
In December 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it became impossible to contact Japan. Beate had no word from her parents, and no money.
She put her foreign language prowess to work: by this time, she was fluent in English, Japanese, German, French, Spanish and Russian.
Obtaining permission from Mills to take examinations without having to attend classes, she took a job at a United States government listening post in San Francisco, monitoring radio broadcasts from Tokyo. She later worked in San Francisco for the United States Office of War Information, writing radio scripts urging Japan to surrender.
Beate Sirota received her bachelor’s degree in modern languages from Mills in 1943 and became a United States citizen in January 1945. At war’s end, she still did not know whether her parents were alive or dead.
For American civilians, travel to Japan was all but impossible. She went to Washington, where she secured a job as an interpreter on General MacArthur’s staff. Arriving in a devastated Tokyo on Christmas Eve 1945, she went immediately to her family’s house. Where it had stood was only a single charred pillar.
She eventually found her parents, who had been interned in the countryside and were malnourished. She took them to Tokyo, where she nursed them while continuing her work for General MacArthur.
One of MacArthur’s first priorities was drafting a constitution for postwar Japan, a top-secret assignment, begun in February 1946, that had to be finished in just seven days. As the only woman assigned to his constitutional committee, along with two dozen men, young Beate Sirota was deputized to compose the section on women’s rights.
She had seen women’s lives firsthand during the 10 years she lived in Japan, and urgently wanted to improve their status.
“Japanese women were historically treated like chattel; they were property to be bought and sold on a whim,” Ms. Gordon told The Dallas Morning News in 1999. “Women had no rights whatsoever.”
Commandeering a jeep at the start of that week in February, she visited the libraries in Tokyo that were still standing, borrowing copies of as many different countries’ constitutions as she could. She steeped herself in them and, after seven days of little sleep, wound up drafting two articles of the proposed Japanese Constitution.
One, Article 14, said in part, “All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.”
The other, Article 24, gave women protections in areas including “choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce and other matters.”
The new Constitution took effect in 1947; the next year, Beate Sirota married Joseph Gordon, who had been the chief interpreter for American military intelligence in postwar Japan.
In the 1950s, Ms. Gordon joined the staff of the Japan Society in New York, becoming its director of performing arts. In that capacity, she introduced many Japanese artists to the West, including masters of traditional music, dance, woodblock printing and the tea ceremony.
In 1970, she became director of performing arts at the Asia Society in New York. She scoured Asia for talent, bringing Balinese gamelan ensembles, Vietnamese puppeteers, Mongolian dancers and many others to stages throughout the United States and Canada. She retired in 1991 as the society’s director of performances, films and lectures.
Ms. Gordon’s husband, who became a real estate developer, died last August. Besides her daughter, she is survived by a son, Geoffrey, and three grandchildren.
For decades, Ms. Gordon said nothing about her role in postwar Japan, at first because the work was secret and later because she did not want her youth — and the fact that she was an American — to become ammunition for the Japanese conservatives who have long clamored for constitutional revision.
But in the mid-1980s, she began to speak of it publicly. The release of her memoir, “The Only Woman in the Room,” published in Japanese in 1995 and in English two years later, made her a celebrity in Japan, where she lectured widely, appeared on television and was the subject of a stage play and a documentary film, “The Gift From Beate.”
In recent years, amid renewed attacks on the Constitution by Japanese conservatives, Ms. Gordon spoke out ardently in its defense.
Ms. Gordon was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure, a high honor bestowed by the Japanese government, in 1998. But perhaps the greatest accolade she received came from Japanese women themselves.
“They always want their picture taken with me,” Ms. Gordon told ABC News in 1999. “They always want to shake my hand. They always tell me how grateful they are.”
Hi Blog. Thanks everyone for putting this article in the Top Ten Most Read once again for most of New Year’s Day (and to the JT for distinguishing this with another “Editor’s Pick”). Great illustrations as always by Chris Mackenzie. Here’s hoping I have more positive things to say in next year’s roundup… This version with links to sources. Enjoy. And Happy New Year 2013. Arudou Debito
Back by popular demand, here is JBC’s roundup of the top 10 human rights events that most affected non-Japanese (NJ) residents of Japan in 2012, in ascending order.
10. Keene’s naturalization (March 7)
This should have occasioned great celebration in Japan’s era of crisis, but instead, scholar Donald Keene’s anointment as a Japanese citizen became a cautionary tale, for two reasons. One was his very public denigration of other NJ (despite their contributions as full-time Japan residents, taxpayers and family creators) as alleged criminals and “flyjin” deserters (JBC, Apr. 3), demonstrating how Old Japan Hands eat their young. The other was the lengths one apparently must go for acceptance: If you spend the better part of a century promoting Japanese literature to the world, then if you live to, oh, the age of 90, you might be considered “one of us.”
It seems Japan would rather celebrate a pensioner salving a wounded Japan than young multiethnic Japanese workers potentially saving it.
9. Liberty Osaka defunded (June 2)
Liberty Osaka (www.liberty.or.jp), Japan’s only human rights museum archiving the historical grass-roots struggles of disenfranchised minorities, faces probable closure because its government funding is being cut off. Mayor Toru Hashimoto, of hard-right Japan Restoration Party fame (and from a disenfranchised minority himself), explicitly said the divestment is due to the museum’s displays being “limited to discrimination and human rights,” thereby failing to present Japan’s children with a future of “hopes and dreams.”
In a country with the most peace museums in the world, this politically motivated ethnic cleansing of the past augurs ill for cultural heterogeneity under Japan’s right-wing swing (see below).
In a throwback to prewar eugenics, Tokyo District Court ruled constitutional a section of the Nationality Law’s Article 12 stating that a) if a man sires a child with a foreigner b) overseas, and c) does not file for the child’s Japanese citizenship within three months of birth, then citizenship may legally be denied.
Not only did this decision erode the 2008 Supreme Court ruling that granted citizenship to international children born out of wedlock, but it also made clear that having “foreign blood” (in a country where citizenship is blood-based) penalizes Japanese children — because if two Japanese nationals have a child overseas, or if the child is born to a Japanese woman, Article 12 does not apply. The ruling thus reinforced a legal loophole helping Japanese men evade responsibility if they fool around with foreign women.
Japan’s endorsement of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction became a casualty of months of political gridlock, as the opposition Liberal Democratic Party blocked about a third of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s bills.
The treaty outlines protocol for how children of broken marriages can avoid international tugs of war. As the Community Pages have reported umpteen times, Japan, one of the few developed countries that is not a signatory, remains a haven for postdivorce parental alienation and child abductions.
Since joint custody does not legally exist and visitation rights are not guaranteed, after a Japanese divorce one parent (regardless of nationality) is generally expected to disappear from their child’s life. Former Diet member Masae Ido (a parental child abductor herself) glibly called this “a Japanese custom.” If so, it is one of the most psychologically damaging customs possible for a child, and despite years of international pressure on Japan to join the Hague, there is now little hope of that changing.
In one of the few potentially bright spots for NJ in Japan this year, the Yoshihiko Noda Cabinet convened several meetings on how Japan might go about creating a “coexistence society” that could “accept” NJ (JBC, July 3). A well-intentioned start, the talks included leaders of activist groups, local governments and one nikkei academic.
Sadly, it fell into old ideological traps: 1) Participants were mostly older male Japanese bureaucrats; 2) those bureaucrats were more interested in policing NJ than in making them more comfortable and offering them a stake in society; 3) no NJ leader was consulted about what NJ themselves might want; and 4) the Cabinet itself confined its concerns to the welfare of nikkei residents, reflecting the decades-old (but by now obviously erroneous) presumption that only people with “Japanese bloodlines” could “become Japanese.”
In sum, even though the government explicitly stated in its goals that NJ immigration (without using the word, imin) would revitalize our economy, it still has no clue how to make NJ into “New Japanese.”
2012 saw the first time an NJ serving a life sentence in Japan was declared wrongfully convicted, in the case of Govinda Prasad Mainali. The last time that happened (Toshikazu Sugaya in 2009), the victim was released with a very public apology from public prosecutors. Mainali, however, despite 15 years in the clink, was transferred to an immigration cell and deported. At least both are now free men.
On the other hand, the case of Abubakar Awudu Suraj (from last year’s top 10), who died after brutal handling by Japanese immigration officers during his deportation on March 22, 2010, was dropped by public prosecutors who found “no causal relationship” between the treatment and his death.
Thus, given the “hostage justice” (hitojichi shihō) within the Japanese criminal prosecution system, and the closed-circuit investigation system that protects its own, the Japanese police can incarcerate you indefinitely and even get away with murder — particularly if you are an NJ facing Japan’s double standards of jurisprudence (Zeit Gist, Mar. 24, 2009).
Over the past two decades, we have seen Japan’s visa regimes favoring immigration through blood ties — offering limited-term work visas with no labor law rights to Chinese “trainees” while giving quasi-permanent-residency “returnee” visas to nikkei South Americans, for example.
However, after 2007’s economic downturn, blood was judged to be thinner than unemployment statistics, and the government offered the nikkei (and the nikkei only) bribes of free airfares home if they forfeited their visa status (JBC, Apr. 7, 2009). They left in droves, and down went Japan’s registered NJ population for the first time in nearly a half-century — and in 2012 the Brazilian population probably dropped to fourth place behind Filipinos.
But last year was also when the cynical machinations of Japan’s “revolving door” labor market became apparent to the world (JBC, March 6) as applications for Japan’s latest exploitative visa wheeze, “trainee” nurses from Indonesia and the Philippines, declined — and even some of the tiny number of NJ nurses who did pass the arduous qualifying exam left. Naturally, Japan’s media (e.g., Kyodo, June 20; Aug. 4) sought to portray NJ as ungrateful and fickle deserters, but nevertheless doubts remain as to whether the nursing program will continue. The point remains that Japan is increasingly seen as a place to avoid in the world’s unprecedented movement of international labor.
One of the most stupefying things about postwar Japan has been how NJ could not be registered with their Japanese families on the local residency registry system (jūmin kihon daichō) — meaning NJ often went uncounted in local population tallies despite being taxpaying residents! In 2012, this exclusionary system was finally abolished along with the Foreign Registry Law.
Unfortunately, this good news was offset by a) NJ still not being properly registered on family registries (koseki), b) NJ still having to carry gaijin cards at all times (except now with potentially remotely readable computer chips), and c) NJ still being singled out for racial profiling in spot ID checks by Japanese police (even though the remaining applicable law requires probable cause). It seems that old habits die hard, or else just get rejiggered with loopholes.
After the multiple disasters of March 11, 2011, there was wan hope that Japan’s electorate would be energized enough to demand better governance. Nope. And this despite the revelations in December 2011 that the fund for tsunami victims was diverted to whaling “research.” And the confusing and suppressed official reports about radioactive contamination of the ecosystem. And the tsunami victims who still live in temporary housing. And the independent parliamentary report that vaguely blamed “Japanese culture” for the disaster (and, moreover, offered different interpretations for English- and Japanese-reading audiences). And the reports in October that even more rescue money had been “slush-funded” to unrelated projects, including road building in Okinawa, a contact lens factory in central Japan and renovations of Tokyo government offices.
Voters had ample reason for outrage, yet they responded (see below) by reinstating the original architects of this system, the LDP.
For everyone living in Japan (not just NJ), 2012 demonstrated that the Japanese system is beyond repair or reform.
Two columns ago (JBC, Nov. 6), I challenged former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara (whose rabble-rousing bigotry has caused innumerable headaches for disenfranchised people in Japan, particularly NJ) to “bring it on” and show Japan’s true colors to the world in political debates. Well, he did. After a full decade of successfully encouraging Japanese society to see NJ (particularly Chinese) as innately criminal, Ishihara ratcheted things up by threatening to buy three of the privately-owned Senkaku islets (which forced the Noda administration to purchase them instead, fanning international tensions). Then Ishihara resigned his governorship, formed a “restorationist” party and rode the wave of xenophobia caused by the territorial disputes into the Diet’s Lower House (along with 53 other party members) in December’s general election.
Also benefiting from Ishihara’s ruses was the LDP, who with political ally New Komeito swept back into power with 325 seats. As this is more than the 320 necessary to override Upper House vetoes, Japan’s bicameral legislature is now effectively unicameral. I anticipate policy proposals (such as constitutional revisions to allow for a genuine military, fueling an accelerated arms race in Asia) reflecting the same corporatist rot that created the corrupt system we saw malfunctioning after the Fukushima disaster. (Note that if these crises had happened on the LDP’s watch, I bet the DPJ would have enjoyed the crushing victory instead — tough luck.)
In regards to NJ, since Japan’s left is now decimated and three-quarters of the 480-seat Lower House is in the hands of conservatives, I foresee a chauvinistic movement enforcing bloodline-based patriotism (never mind the multiculturalism created by decades of labor influx and international marriage), love of a “beautiful Japan” as defined by the elites, and more officially sanctioned history that downplays, ignores and overwrites the contributions of NJ and minorities to Japanese society.
In sum, if 2011 exposed a Japan in decline, 2012 showed a Japan closing.
Debito Arudou and Akira Higuchi’s bilingual 2nd Edition of “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants,” with updates for 2012’s changes to immigration laws, is now on sale. Twitter @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Hi Blog. In this time of unprecedented migration of labor across borders (click to see some international labor migration stats from the ILO and the OECD), I think increasingly one can make a strong case that Japan is being seen as a place to avoid. As I will be mentioning in my next Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column (out January 1, 2013), as part of my annual countdown of the Top Ten most influential human rights issues in 2012 affecting NJ in Japan, Japan’s “revolving-door” visa regimes (which suck the most productive work years out of NJ while giving them fewer (or no) labor law protections, and no stake in Japanese society — see here and here), people who are even guaranteed a slot in Japan’s most difficult visa status — refugees (see also here) — are turning the GOJ down! They’d rather stay in a Thai refugee camp than emigrate to Japan. And for reasons that are based upon word-of-mouth.
Japanese people often claim that their nation has a “special relationship” with Burma. Most older Japanese think of Michio Takeyama’s novel Biruma no tategoto (translated by Howard Hibbett as Harp of Burma), the story of Private Mizushima, a good-hearted soldier who is separated from his comrades and dons the robes of a Buddhist monk. When his unit is repatriated to Japan after the war, he refuses to go with them, staying behind to take care of the remains of the Japanese war-dead. As many as 190,000 Japanese soldiers died in Burma in 1941-1945, and groups of veterans regularly visit the country to relive old memories and pray at the graves of fallen comrades.[…]
The most important legacy of the Japanese occupation was the establishment of a powerful national army, Tatmadaw in Burmese, which grew out of the BIA and was largely modeled on Japanese rather than British lines. Many of its officers studied at Japanese military academies during the war. Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, a leading member of the military junta that has ruled Burma since September 1988, commented in November 1988, “We shall never forget the important role played by Japan in our struggle for national independence” and “We will remember that our Tatmadaw [army] was born in Japan.”1 Ethnic minorities like the Karens and Shans who have experienced the Tatmadaw’s counterinsurgency campaigns in the border areas claim that its brutal behavior was inspired by the Imperial Japanese Army.[…]
Postwar Economic Ties
Postwar relations between Japan and Burma were primarily economic in nature. Official ties began in 1954, after Tokyo and the U Nu government signed a peace treaty and a war reparations agreement, which brought the struggling young state some US$250 million in Japanese goods and services, supplemented by “quasi-reparations” amounting to US$132 million between 1965 and 1972. Tokyo allocated these additional “quasi-reparations” (jun baisho) on the grounds that the original funds were insufficient compared to those given other Asian countries.
During this period, many Japanese who went to Burma as diplomats or technical advisers fell in love with the country. Back home, they were called biru-kichi (Biruma-kichigai, “crazy about Burma”), a remarkable attitude given the condescension with which most Japanese officials regarded their poor Asian neighbors. Japanese were impressed by the professionalism and honesty of Burma’s civil servants, who used reparation funds conscientiously, in contrast to some other recipient governments.
Many Japanese also identified with the country because of shared Buddhist values, although the schools of Buddhism (Theravada in Burma, Mahayana in Japan) are different. Their social ethics are similar, however, stressing respect for elders and educated people, strong family ties, and a sense of mutual obligation. But while Japan had rapidly modernized and is losing many of these traditional values, Burma seemed to have preserved them uncorrupted by modernity.
According to the well-known business guru Ken’ichi Ohmae, who visited Burma in 1997 with a Japanese business delegation and was a quick convert to the biru-kichi mindset, “Even I, with much contact with many Asian countries, have seen no other country in Asia whose morality is so firmly grounded in Buddhism.”2 Ohmae compares Burma favorably with China where allegedly “they do everything for money.” Burma also evokes his nostalgia for Japan’s rural past: “Seeing the lives of the people in Myanmar [Burma], I remembered Japan in previous years. I was raised in the countryside in Kyushu, where children always walked around barefoot, the lights were not electric, and the bathrooms had no running water. The current Myanmar mirrors these memories of farming villages in Japan.” While biru-kichi is a refreshing alternative to the insular Japan-is-unique worldview, it is not unmixed with other motives, as the title of Ohmae’s November 26, 1997, article in Sapio (magazine) suggests: “Cheap and Hardworking Laborers: This country Will Be Asia’s Best.” […]
Many inside Japan’s business world–and their supporters in academia and the media–seem to share a common goal with the junta: discrediting Aung San’s daughter. Given her central role in the struggle for democracy, it is not an exaggeration to say that if she could be marginalized and lost the support of the international community, big corporations in Japan and elsewhere would find it easy to get their governments to snuggle closer to the junta. Without Suu Kyi, full economic engagement and recognition would surely follow swiftly.
Kazushige Kaneko, director of an obscure Institute of Asian Ethnoforms and Culture in Tokyo, repeats the junta’s racist charges that Aung San Suu Kyi sold out her country by marrying a foreigner, the late Oxford professor Dr. Michael Aris. He writes, “For example, if Makiko Tanaka [the daughter of former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka and today a member of the Diet] stayed in America for thirty years and returned with a blue-eyed American husband and children, do you think we Japanese would make her our prime minister?” (The Asia 21 Magazine, Fall 1996).
Nor is the attack on Aung San Suu Kyi confined to fringe figures. In an April 1995 article published in Bungei Shunju, Yusuke Fukada claims that Burmese are sending out a “love call” (rabu kooru) to Japan for economic assistance and that Suu Kyi is the only real obstacle to better relations. The reason she is so uncompromising with the military regime, Fukada argues, is her marriage to an Englishman. “If she had married a Japanese, she would have made quite different decisions.” In the June 1996 issue of Shokun, Keio University Professor Atsushi Kusano expresses amazement that Suu Kyi has become a figure of international stature, attributing it to a campaign by the mass media.8 […]
Two factors seem to account for Japan’s ambiguous Burma policy. One is the strength of its business interests, counterbalanced by pressure from Japan’s Western trading partners who take a less indulgent stance toward the junta. Some observers cynically suggest that Western governments, especially Washington, act as Tokyo’s “superego” on human rights, inhibiting it from pursuing its usual economics-first policies. But Liberal Democratic Party cabinets cannot ignore business interests, which have been stepping up pressure for full engagement since 1989, using means both fair and foul. The best of both worlds for policymakers in Japan would be a transition to civilian rule, either involving Aung San Suu Kyi or someone else. This could legitimize more active aid policies as well as greater investment by Japanese companies. But given the political situation, this is unlikely to happen soon.
Second, if Tokyo strongly supported the democracy movement in Burma, this would inevitably reflect on its policies toward other countries such as China and Indonesia, where the stakes for Japan are much higher. Some Americans have criticized their own government’s inconsistency on this matter: the Clinton Administration maintains sanctions on little-known Burma but maintains full economic engagement with the regime in Beijing.
Japanese elites are not used to and do not like open debate, especially on foreign policy. Some members of the Diet are interested in Burma, both pro- and anti-junta, but the issues are rarely discussed, even the junta’s misuse of debt relief funds for the procurement of weapons. Bureaucrats and LDP bigwigs keep policy initiatives to themselves, which means that their actions often appear incomprehensible or arbitrary to outsiders, including Japanese citizens. The flap over so-called humanitarian aid for Rangoon’s airport is an example of this. In a way, Tokyo’s Burma policy, deeply influenced by the sentimental Orientalism of the business world and its allies, says as much about the limitations of Japanese-style democracy as it does about the lack of democracy in Burma.
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This long-selling bilingual guide to life in Japan, co-authored with legal scrivener Akira Higuchi, has assisted thousands of readers and engendered rave reviews. Its goal has been to assist people to live more stable, secure lives in Japan, and walks the reader through the process of securing a better visa, getting a better job (even start one’s own business), troubleshooting through difficult situations both bureaucratically and interpersonally, establishing one’s finances and arrangements for the next of kin, even giving something back to Japanese society. It is a one-stop guide from arrival in Japan through departure from this mortal coil, and now it has been updated to reflect the changes in the Immigration and registry laws that took place in July 2012.
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Hello Blog. My old friend Sakanaka Hidenori, who has had his writings featured on Debito.org in the past, has bravely spoken out once again to talk about Japan’s inevitable decline into oblivion if present trends continue. He calls for a revolution through immigration and… well, let me excerpt from the Japan Times article on him that came out yesterday. Says things that have also been said here for a long, long time. Arudou Debito
‘Only immigrants can save Japan’ The Japan Times, October 21, 2012 By MICHAEL HOFFMAN, Special to The Japan Times
PHOTO CAPTION: Face of change: Hidenori Sakanaka, the former Justice Ministry bureaucrat and Tokyo Immigration Bureau chief fears the nation is on the brink of collapse, and says “we must welcome 10 million immigrants between now and 2050.”
Japan as we know it is doomed.
Only a revolution can save it.
What kind of revolution?
Japan must become “a nation of immigrants.”
That’s a hard sell in this notoriously closed country. Salesman-in-chief — surprisingly enough — is a retired Justice Ministry bureaucrat named Hidenori Sakanaka, former head of the ministry’s Tokyo Immigration Bureau and current executive director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, a private think tank he founded in 2007.
It’s an unlikely resume for a sower of revolution. Sakanaka clearly sees himself as such. His frequent use of the word “revolution” suggests a clear sense of swimming against the current. Other words he favors — “utopia,” “panacea” — suggest the visionary.
“Japan as we know it” is in trouble on many fronts. The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, and the subsequent tsunami and nuclear disasters, struck a nation whose economy had been stagnant for 20 years while politicians fiddled and government floundered. But that’s not Sakanaka’s point. He is focused on demographics. “Japan,” he said in a recent telephone interview, “is on the brink of collapse.” […]
No nation, barring war or plague, has ever shrunk at such a pace, and as for aging, there are no historical precedents of any kind. The nation needs a fountain of youth.
Sakanaka claims to have found one.
Japan, he said, “must welcome 10 million immigrants between now and 2050.” […]
It sounds fantastic, and in fact, Sakanaka acknowledges, would require legislation now lacking — anti-discrimination laws above all.
Japan Pension Service has drawn up a guideline that renders foreign residents on welfare no longer eligible for a uniform waiver from premium payments for the public pension, effectively a turnaround from a long-held practice of treating them equally with Japanese, sources familiar with the matter said Tuesday.
Human rights activists said it is tantamount to discrimination based on nationality. In fiscal 2010, roughly 1.41 million households were on public assistance. Around 42,000 were households led by foreign residents.
In a reply dated Aug. 10 to a query from a local pension service office, JPS, a government affiliate commissioned to undertake pension services, said, “Public assistance benefits are provided to foreigners living in poverty as done so for Japanese nationals, but foreigners are not subject to the law on public assistance.”
Only this time, it’s not just some local bureaucrats and asinine local courtroom judges. It’s the governing agency on the whole pension scheme, publishing a “guideline” on this. Even though, as the Yomiuri noted in 2011, “The [2011 Fukuoka] high court ruling noted Diet deliberations in 1981 on ratifying the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which stipulates that countries ‘shall accord to refugees within their territories treatment at least as favorable as that accorded to their nationals’.” One would think that this would apply in this case too. Thoughts? Arudou Debito
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Hi Blog. Now let’s get back to some of Debito.org’s roasting chestnuts. Let’s have a look at what’s becoming of Japan’s latest “revolving door” labor visa regime scam (after the “Trainees”, the “Nikkei Returnees”, and the “Points System”): the “foreign caregivers“, which has ground to a halt due to the (otherwise fully-qualified) NJ health professionals themselves realizing that the systematic barriers were creating an exploitative regime. So now according to Kyodo News it looks like it’s being scaled back. But not without kicking someone in the ribs first. As submitter JDG notes:
The foreign caregiver program was launched because there was a realization that the looming shortage of caregivers to meet Japan’s aging population had already arrived. However, as you have documented, from it’s inception it has been riddled with unrealistic expectations, low pay, harsh conditions, few incentives, and subject to some strange accounting.
Well, here is the logical conclusion: foreign caregivers are ‘gaijin criminals taking advantage of the system’. Rather than examining what is wrong with the system, the (of course) natural response by officials is to make the program even tougher to live with for caregivers. Only a Kyoto University Prof. seems to have any sense about him. I would say that this development will mark the end (in real terms) of the program. Of course, it’s all the NJ’s fault…
The program to enable Filipino and Indonesian care workers to work in Japan under free-trade agreements is at crossroads four years after its launch as Tokyo wavers over whether to tighten requirements for candidates in light of unexpected incidents that have run counter to the plan.
In the latest case, a 37-year-old Indonesian candidate was arrested and deported for working illegally at an auto parts plant in Aichi Prefecture instead of at the nursing home in Okinawa to which she had been assigned, apparently because she had difficulty mastering the Japanese language.
This came amid heightened public scrutiny of the program after it was reported that a number of candidate care workers had quit and returned to their home countries despite passing the qualification exam. They had been expected to work in Japan.
“Work at the special nursing home for the elderly was tough,” the Indonesian caretaker was quoted as saying when questioned by immigration officers in Nagoya after her arrest.
The woman came to Japan under the program in August 2010. After undergoing training, she began working at a special nursing home in Okinawa along with four other candidates in December of that year.
Last December she briefly returned to Indonesia, saying she wanted to spend Christmas and New Year’s in her home country.
She later re-entered Japan, but did not return to her workplace in Okinawa. Instead, she started working at the auto parts plant in Aichi in March.
“We had no problem with her working attitude, although it seems she was troubled by the fact that she was lagging behind other candidates in terms of learning Japanese,” a staff member at the nursing home said. “I wish she would have come to us for consultation.”
Caregivers who come to Japan under the program are allowed to stay in Japan for a maximum of four years until they pass the national exam. Before this summer, it was easy for them to apply for re-entry permits prior to making short trips to their home countries or for other travel outside of Japan.
Under the new immigration control system that came into effect in July, foreigners working in the country are now allowed to exit and return within a year without obtaining re-entry permits.
“A blind spot in the system has been taken advantage of,” a government official said on condition of anonymity. “Illegal employment absolutely came out of the blue.”
Similarly, an immigration official in charge lamented that when an application for a re-entry permit is submitted, it is “impossible” to detect whether the applicant is going to engage in activities beyond the scope permitted under the applicant’s visa status.
To remedy the situation, the government is considering revising the program’s prerequisites for entry into Japan, including requiring candidates to have a certain level of Japanese language skill. On the other hand, some are concerned that making the rules too stringent will go against the original aim of opening doors to foreign caregivers.
Commenting on the issue, Wako Asato, a special associate professor at the graduate school of Kyoto University, criticized the government for failing to come up with a consistent policy as it sits on the fence between those supportive of the program and others wary of it.
“How should Japan welcome and make good use of talented care workers from abroad? If the government does not present a clear stance on this, I believe we’ll be seeing more candidates giving up halfway or quitting to return home even after passing the exam,” the expert on migration said.
According to Japan International Corporation of Welfare Services, the program’s intermediate coordinator agency based in Tokyo, a total of 1,562 care workers and nurses have come to Japan under the program. Of them, five became unaccounted for and authorities have not been able to confirm if they left the country.
As Beto awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his futon into a gigantic cockroach.
“What’s happened to me?” he thought. In his native land down south, he had been a person — if at times underprivileged due to his nikkei status. So, years ago, he “repatriated” to Japan, attracted by promises of better milk and honey. Yet now he felt even more marginalized by the locals here, who called themselves “people” yet treated him at times like he was an insect.
Beto scurried off to work, where people shied away and refused to sit by him in the train cars. But as the end of the line approached, the coach filled up with fellow cockroaches, and people stopped paying attention.
The people at his factory also took no notice of his metamorphosis. His supervisors were used to dealing with cockroaches. Bugs seemed an inevitable part of lower-rent circumstances. As in the train, it seemed some people had learned to “co-exist” with them in close quarters.
In public, however, reactions were different. Alone, Beto was often seen as something exotic, maybe even collectable if there was a curious person flitting about who was interested in “speaking bug.” But if seen as part of a swarm, people’s knee-jerk reactions were to take steps against them. Bugs might overrun the place, making it feel less the realm of the masters, more of the roaches.
Speaking of the masters, politicians were calling for strict controls of the cockroach population. For what did the gokiburi (sometimes dissed as “gai-kiburi”) actually do? Nothing visibly important, and they were always found in the dirtiest places. What kind of house were we keeping if cockroaches were around?
Cockroaches, after all, weren’t like other insects. They were compared unfavorably to the skilled worker bees from rich countries, who were overtly adding to the national honey pot. Also, remember, worker bees have a sting. You had to respect that — not rattle the nest if you wanted to keep scraping at the luscious honeycombs they built.
But the politicians warned against wasps. Sure, those yellow jackets served some pollinating function in the wilting countryside, but they should never be allowed to build nests. For they too had stings, and deviously stung in hordes. Approach them carefully, for they were unpredictable, emboldened by the world’s biggest hive just a short flight away.
Even stronger stings were found among the white-faced hornets. Their nests here were very secure, kept because they offered Japan considerable honey. So as long as the hornets mostly policed themselves on some rock far from the mainland, their stings, kept in full public view and sharpened often, managed to scare off the yellow jackets.
In contrast, cockroaches like Beto had no sting. They didn’t even bite. They just scurried about doing their business, quietly collecting crumbs through their allotted niches in society, unrecognized for their long-term contributions to Japan’s food chain.
That’s why cockroaches were so easily kicked around. Few people raised a stink if someone stomped on them, for example, for being grubby while sorting rubbish on garbage day.
Beto recalled how past insects had been kept under control. Remember the stink bugs of yore who sold fake telephone cards? They incurred the vindictive wrath of Japan’s then-largest corporate giant, who convinced the authorities to fumigate — closing off entire parks to any insect, and stamping them out through visa nonrenewal. For good measure, the pheromone of public money was used to attract them into building sports stadiums. Once hastily completed, the stink bugs were bottled up and booted out.
That should have put the insects in their place. But a decade ago, a self-styled Sanitizer-General claimed Japan was breaking out in hives, and campaigned about “cleaning house.” Whole areas of Tokyo were apparently so infested that public stability — even purity — was imperiled. The Sanitizer got all his wishes, including Japan’s first neighborhood security cameras, antiterrorist legislation, and routine public harassment of anyone who bugged him. Plus reelection no matter how old and vitriolic he got.
Fortunately, cockroaches were distant from Tokyo, so they managed to keep their clusters. But their turn came during the economic downturn of 2008, when the government sprinkled pheromones on airplanes and spirited a clutch of them away.
Beto himself stayed on. Factory work was what he did well, and he thrived quietly within his nook. He stayed past 2011 — when the honey turned sour, then salty and hot. He even stayed when all the other insects, so long decried as pests, somehow metamorphosed into rats and then were decried for leaving a sinking ship.
But as of this morning, when he realized that he was just a cockroach, Beto began to wonder if it wasn’t time to claim his place in the food chain.
That would require acting like a person, with a sense of entitlement in Japan. He would have to emerge from his exoskeleton and become more articulate in the language. He would have to start convincing fellow roaches to come out of the cracks. They would have to build more hives in public view — not just cluster around the occasional ethnic restaurant or local samba festival.
They would also have to stop letting the people convince them that, despite decades of contributions to the national honey pot, bugs were here only by the vicissitudes of labor-migration economics and the good graces of an indifferent government.
Beto could — dare he think it out loud? — even refuse to fill the honey pot until they were acknowledged and respected like worker bees. With stings. With the will to unionize, then strike if their nest was rattled enough. Striking was something those in the most secure jobs — the public servants — couldn’t even do.
Still, the public-servant drones didn’t need to. Drones were already people, not insects, even though they had hidden stings of their own. The bugs, on the other hand, would have to swarm upon Tokyo to show off their stings.
Of course, it would be difficult for people to ever see immigrants as anything more than bugs. But it was worth a try. After all, people can only spend so much of their life bottom-feeding, crushable at any time with no reprisal or payback just because they happen to be underfoot. Beto scuttled off to become human again.
============================ With apologies to Franz Kafka. Debito Arudou’s latest publication is the Hokkaido Section of Fodor’s Japan, on sale now. Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments on this issue to email@example.com
The Japan Times, Tuesday, July 17, 2012 LIFELINES: LABOR PAINS Courts back workers’ rock-solid right to strike (excerpt) By HIFUMI OKUNUKI, professor of constitutional and labor law at Daito Bunka University and Jissen Women’s University http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20120717lp.html
Over 100 Berlitz Japan teachers struck over 3,000 lessons between December 2007 and November 2008 in order to win a 4.6-percent pay hike and one-off one-month bonus.
The language school claimed the strikes were illegal mainly because the union gave little notice of the impending strikes. While case law stipulates that prior notice must be given for a strike, it does not set a minimum time. Berlitz teachers often gave less than five minutes’ notice. This probably created a headache for management, because they had less time to send replacement teachers to cover the struck classes.
The school also claimed that a union executive, Louis Carlet (full disclosure: Carlet is the current president of Tozen Union), had admitted to wanting to damage the company in a Sept. 30, 2008, Zeit Gist column in The Japan Times (“Berlitz Strike Grows Despite Naysayers“).
Tokyo District Court dismissed the entire case in its Feb. 27, 2012, verdict, reaffirming the powerful guarantee of the right to strike in Japan. The court rejected the company’s contention that the union was striking to destroy the company and agreed with the union’s assertion that the only purpose of the strikes was to realize its demands.
Management appealed the verdict and Tokyo High Court is currently overseeing reconciliation talks between the two sides.
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Hi Blog. In light of how NJ nurses under a national visa program have been treated in the face of a chronic careworkers shortage, here we have a case where even local sponsorship of a NJ doctor is also viewed (according to the Yomiuri, which may indeed in the interest of “balance” be conjuring up a tempest in a teapot) with suspicion because she is a foreigner. After all, she might not stay! Then again, so might not anyone else being trained on that scholarship program regardless of nationality. Ah, but foreigners are different, you see. They always represent a flight risk… Anyhoo, good news tainted with an editorial bias of caution and trepidation just because the subject is NJ. Arudou Debito
ICHINOHE, Iwate — Facing a serious and chronic shortage of doctors, the town of Ichinohe felt it necessary to look overseas to find medical staff willing to live and work in the rural area.
The town plans to spend more than 10 million yen on school and living expenses for a Vietnamese woman on the condition that she will practice medicine in the town for at least seven years after obtaining her license.
The unusual plan raised eyebrows when the town ran it by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, and some residents have questioned why the town is sponsoring a foreigner.
However, Ichinohe Mayor Akira Inaba believes the unprecedented plan is just what the town needs.
“The scholarship program for Japanese medical students hasn’t attracted enough applicants to meet its quota,” he said. “We have no other choice but to secure our doctors on our own.”
The foreign student the town plans to sponsor is 18-year-old Luu Hong Ngoc, who will graduate this month from Vietnam National University’s High School for the Gifted in Ho Chi Minh City. The school is one of Vietnam’s most prestigious.
Inaba visited Ho Chi Minh City after a local sewing plant began accepting Vietnamese vocational trainees. Ngoc’s grandmother served as the mayor’s interpreter in Ho Chi Minh City, and told him that her granddaughter hoped to become a doctor overseas.
Inaba asked to see Ngoc’s school transcript and requested other information about her. Her records showed her to be a qualified and enthusiastic student, and after receiving a letter of recommendation from Ngoc’s school, the town decided to invite her to Japan.
Municipalities in Iwate Prefecture run a joint scholarship program to support medical students, which Ichinohe participates in. The scholarship provides each student with 200,000 yen a month and pays a lump sum of up to 7.6 million yen when the recipient enters medical school.
However, for several years the scholarship has failed to fill its quota. The program also provides no guarantee the recipient will work in Ichinohe after receiving a medical license.
These difficulties are what pushed the town to decide to independently fund Ngoc’s medical education.
The entire process will take eight to 10 years and cost 10 million yen to 20 million yen. In return, the town will receive a pledge from Ngoc to work for at least seven years at the town’s prefectural hospital.
The town plans to allocate funds for Ngoc’s costs for this fiscal year in a supplementary budget to be submitted in September.
Inaba said Ngoc’s grandmother, who learned Japanese in Moscow, is “Japan’s No. 1 fan in Vietnam.”
The town has heard that Ngoc is telling people she plans to study other subjects besides the specialized course to help her become a better doctor.
Ngoc is scheduled to come to Japan by the end of the year. In the spring, she will begin studying for the medical school entrance exam at a national university while learning Japanese at a vocational school in Morioka.
However, some residents and members of the town assembly have raised concerns about the plan, such as what would happen if Ngoc decided to return to Vietnam before finishing the course, or why the town is sponsoring a Vietnamese person in the first place.
The town government has said it will take steps so the money will have to be returned if Ngoc does not fulfill the work agreement, possibly through a contract.
Ichinohe, population 14,000, has a prefectural hospital and four internal medicine clinics, with a total of 18 full-time doctors.
However, many people must visit hospitals in Morioka, about 100 kilometers away, because local facilities lack obstetrics and outpatient ophthalmology departments.
“I hope what we do will draw attention to the lack of doctors in rural areas,” Inaba said. “We’ll keep looking for more talented young people in Vietnam.”
Last month the Japanese government took baby steps toward an official immigration policy. Ten ministries and several specialist “people of awareness” (yūshikisha) held meetings aimed at creating a “coexistence society” (kyōsei shakai) within which non-Japanese (NJ) would be “accepted” (uke ire).
This is a positive change from the past two decades, when Japan cultivated an unofficial unskilled labor visa regime that a) imported NJ as cheap work units to keep Japanese factories from going bankrupt or moving overseas, and then b) saw NJ as an inconvenient unemployment statistic, fixable by canceling visas or buying them tickets home (JBC, Apr. 7, 2009).
Yes, we’ve seen this kyōsei sloganeering before. Remember the empty “kokusaika” internationalization mantra of Japan’s ’80s bubble era?
But this time the government is serious. Sponsored by the Cabinet, these meetings are considering assimilationist ideas suggested by local governments and ignored for a decade.
Why? Attendees acknowledged that Japan needs NJ to revitalize its future economy.
The good news is that the meetings’ heart is in the right place. A fuller analysis of the materials can be found at www.debito.org/?p=10271, but what they’re getting right includes:
• State-supported Japanese language education for all NJ.
• State-supported education for all NJ children (so they don’t wind up as an illiterate unskilled underclass).
• More multilingual information online and in public access areas.
• Proper enrolment for NJ in Japan’s health, unemployment and social welfare systems.
• More assistance with finding NJ employment and resolving unemployment.
• Some attention to “cultural sensitivity” and “mutual respect” issues (not just the one-way gripe of “how NJ inconvenience us Japanese on garbage day”).
• Better coordination between all levels of government for more comprehensive policies, etc.
Bravo. But there are some shortcomings:
First, definitions. What do “coexistence” and “acceptance” mean? Just letting people across the border? Gated communities? Official recognition of ethnic minorities and domestic “foreign cultures”? Acceptance of ethnic differences as “also Japanese”? Or repressing and overwriting those “foreign cultures” (a la the Ainu, Okinawans, Koreans and Taiwanese in Meiji Japan). Without making the terms of discussion clear, we can’t see ultimate intentions.
Second, hard-wired in the proceedings is a narrative that “offsets” and “others” NJ. We have the standard embedded policy invective of “our country” (wagakuni — but isn’t Japan the country of all its residents?), with the issue couched negatively as “the foreign laborer problem” (gaikokujin rōdōsha mondai). If NJ are not treated as intruders, then they are “guests” (as opposed to just human beings) being indulgently granted something from above.
Third, the ministries are considering vague “environmental preparations” (kankyō seibi) before more NJ get here. (But wait, aren’t NJ already here? Or are we somehow wiping the slate clean?)
OK, fine — semantics. But then you read how each ministry’s proposal further betrays an odd predisposition toward NJ:
The Justice Ministry complained that they can’t “administer” (kanri) NJ properly once they cross the border. But with upcoming reforms to NJ registration systems ferreting out more visa miscreants, that’s fixed, they added. Phew. Not much else was proposed.
The health ministry suggested making some important improvements to welfare and employment systems. But nothing too legalistic — after all, discrimination against NJ as workers is already forbidden (kinshi) by law (as if that’s made much difference so far). They also heralded the preferential treatment for “high-quality” (shitsu no takai) NJ from now on through a new “points system” (critiqued as problematic in my March 6 column).
The Cabinet talked exclusively about assisting nikkei — NJ of Japanese descent. Never mind residents from, say, China or the Philippines; bloodlines take priority.
The education ministry recycled old ideas, saying that we need to teach NJ the Japanese language and, er, not much else — not even any antibullying proposals.
Nothing at all from the attending ministries of foreign affairs, finance, trade and industry, transport and tourism, or forest and fisheries.
The most useless report was from the National Police Agency, who, with a single page of statistics cooking up a NJ crime rise (despite a dramatic fall across the board (JBC, April 3)), advocated more policing, much like the Justice Ministry did. (Funny thing, that: Are the police invited to every policy meeting on the treatment of Japan’s residents, or only for policies concerning those inherently untrustworthy NJ residents?)
The biggest problem was the lack of diversity. As this article went to press, all attendees were older Japanese men (OK, two women), with approximately the same socioeconomic status and life experience. Not one NJ attended.
Where is a proposed punishment for the employer who treats his NJ workers unequally, such as by not coughing up their required half of social insurance payments?
What about that law against racial discrimination? Again, these meetings are a well-intentioned start. But I think the outcome will still be policy failure. For there is still no discussion about making NJ feel like they “belong,” as “members” of Japan.
Academic Yumiko Iida (a Japanese, so no claims of cultural imperialism, please), in her award-winning research about Japanese identity (see www.debito.org/?p=10215), argued that there are four things any viable nation-state must create to make its people feel like “members”:
1) A shared memory of the past (i.e., a national narrative) that links them all.
2) A sense of community, with moral obligations attached to it.
3) A world view that makes sense.
4) Hope for the future that other people share.
Consider how NJ are denied these things:
1) NJ have little presence in Japan’s history (remember the old saw, “Japan merely borrows ‘things’ from overseas and then uniquely ‘Japanizes’ them”) so, as these meetings indicate by their very attendance roster, NJ are forever an exogenous force to Japanese society.
2) As discussed on these pages (JBC, June 5), NJ are systematically othered, if not completely ignored as even a minority community within Japan, and that will naturally discourage a feeling of moral obligation to Japan.
3) A world view that does not acknowledge the existence of entire minority peoples cannot possibly make sense to those peoples.
4) Hope for the future in a Japan in decline is a hard sell even for Japanese these days.
The point is, if this policy discussion is to go beyond political theater, the GOJ must now use the dreaded word “immigration” (imin). It must also prepare the public to see immigrants as members of Japanese society — as minority Japanese.
This committee has not. It had better start.
In this era of unprecedented opportunities for world labor migration, Japan must be more competitive. Above all, it must lose the arrogant assumption that people will want to come to Japan just because it’s Japan.
Japan must seriously think about how to be nice — yes, nice — enough to NJ so that they’ll want to stay. And that means making them feel equal in terms of importance and inclusion — as though they belong — with everyone else.
So you want to create public policy that reflects, not dictates, what NJ need? Then listen to those of us already here. The government has admitted you need us. Treat us as an exogenous force at your peril.
Twitter @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community page of the month. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. For readers’ views on last month’s column, please visit www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20120703hs.html ENDS
Japan is very slowly beginning to recover from the enormous economic and infrastructural setbacks caused by the March 11, 2011, earthquake. One reason for the slow pace of recovery is due to Japan’s shrinking and aging population, a phenomenon that is gradually and detrimentally affecting Japanese society as a whole. As of November 2011, Japan’s population totaled 128 million, ranking it tenth in the world after Russia. Historically, Japan’s large population has contributed to its dynamic economic output, providing a well-educated workforce along with a large domestic consumer market. However, since 2005 the total population has been in decline for the first time since WW II. Indeed, over the next decade it is expected to decrease by 5.3 million people, a significant decline of four percent, more than the entire population of Shikoku, Japan’s fourth largest island.
Unfortunately, Japan, unlike other developed economies, has only experienced two brief baby booms. The first baby boom, which occurred immediately after WWII, lasted just three years, until abortion became legal in 1949. Ironically, concerns over a sudden swell in population resulted in an increase in the number of pregnancy terminations. Furthermore, that post-WWII generation started a national trend where each subsequent generation has had fewer and fewer children, as evidenced by the brief baby boom in the early 1970s. As a result, today, the demographic decrease in Japan of children under the age of 15 is a serious national concern. Since 2003, over 400 public elementary, junior high, and senior high schools have closed every year directly as a result of demographics. It is estimated that between 2005 and 2025 the Japanese labor force–ages 15 to 64–will decrease by approximately 14 million, and at the same time citizens aged 75 and over will increase by 10 million. The economic, civil, and societal implications for such a dramatic and sudden demographic change are unprecedented.
Lack of Political Debate on Immigration Currently, Japan has strict controls regarding foreign immigration, and there is no coherent national government policy or debate on how to utilize immigration to constructively address the issue of a declining population. Foreigners residing in Japan during 2010 totaled 2.13 million, almost two percent of the population. Currently 690,000 foreign residents are Chinese. Koreans rank second at around 570,000, of which 400,000 are direct descendents of Koreans who immigrated to Japan before WWII. The third largest group, at 230,000, is of Japanese-Brazilian descent, with a sudden increase in the early 1990s due to a relaxation in the immigration law for Japanese descendants living in South America. However, the number of Japanese-Brazilians living in Japan decreased rapidly after the 2008 global economic crisis. In addition, since the 2011 earthquake the number of foreign residents in Japan has also been on a downward trend.
There are three obstacles that hinder acceptance of immigrants or that even prevent starting a discussion at the national level on the subject of immigration. These three impediments are: the fear of social disruption attributed to immigrants as often witnessed in Europe and the United States; an increase in the rate of unemployment for Japanese citizens, especially among the youth; and an increase in the number of crimes committed by immigrants.
The first anxiety is a byproduct of the Japanese media’s coverage of immigrant issues in Europe, as well as in the United States. Japanese media coverage only presents the negative aspects of immigration in these countries; there is very rarely any coverage on the positive attributes of immigrants in these societies. The second apprehension is also unfounded, as Japan can tightly control the number and educational levels of incoming immigrants. The labor deficit within the agricultural, fishery, manufacturing, and service industries is a significant problem, combined with the fact that many Japanese youth refuse to work in these labor intensive and low-paying jobs.
The increase in crimes perpetrated by immigrants is also a misconception. Japan’s National Police Agency has, since 1990, featured a special section on crimes committed by foreigners in the annual Crimes in Japan report, and this has fueled the debate on the possibility of a spike in criminal activity due to an influx of immigrants. However, what is not widely discussed is that the number of crimes committed by foreigners has actually been steadily declining since 2005.
Healthy discussion on immigration is also inhibited by a number of other factors including ultra-nationalistic groups who are very vocal and unduly critical of neighboring countries. Furthermore, the perception in Japan of Imin–immigrants–is generally negative, with the public belief that if the door is opened, a flood of poor people from around the world will suddenly rush in. In reality, Japan is surrounded by a high language barrier that hinders non-serious immigrants.
Local Initiatives However, in spite of the stagnant policy discussion at the national level, some local governments and grassroots organizations have been very active in accepting foreigners. This trend developed in the 1980s to help increase the number of foreign students in local communities, and the movement was boosted in the 1990s when Japanese-Brazilians suddenly increased from just a few thousand to 300,000 within approximately ten years. Tabunka-Kyosei–living together in a multi-culture–became the buzz word for these local movements. Local governments, including Toyota city (home town of Toyota motors), formed the Coalition of Cities with Foreign Residents in 2001. This coalition has campaigned for broader acceptance of foreigners living in Japan. Initiatives include submitting petitions to the central government for the establishment of a national immigration agency and provisions for the education of immigrant children. More recently, some rural mayors have begun openly discussing the merits of accepting immigrants into their communities, explaining that without these additions their communities will soon become ghost towns due to aging and depopulation.
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his ruling Democratic Party of Japan have already used their limited political capital working on controversial legislation to raise domestic tax rates and tackling the thorny issue of restarting Japan’s nuclear power plants. They will not take on another controversial topic such as immigration at this moment in time. However, pro-immigration grassroots movements will continue to grow and eventually their arguments will reach the national level.
But the question is when. If it takes too long, a healthy recovery fueled by new immigrants will be more difficult to achieve, and another opportunity for Japan’s economic revival will have been missed. A proactive decision on accepting immigrants could very well be a constructive solution for two of Japan’s most salient problems: a shrinking economy spurred by a declining population.
======================== About the Author
Toshihiro Menjuis Managing Director and Chief Program Officer at the Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE). He can be contacted via email at email@example.com.
Mayor Suzuki opens with an overview of the major changes in the makeup of NJ since 1990, with the doubling of the NJ population and then the drop after the “Lehman Shock” and Fukushima. Particularly noted was the drop in their (local) Brazilian population (which makes the GOJ’s focus on Nikkei NJ all that more puzzling, given the absence of the Chinese and Filipinas/nos, as the other top NJ (and growing, unlike the Brazilians) at this forum). Suzuki makes the salient point that cities around Hamamatsu have been cooperating for more than a decade now to create policies helping their NJ residents (e.g., The Hamamatsu Sengen, up to now studiously ignored by the GOJ). He gives the demographics of his NJ, particularly how long they’ve been here (nearly half for more than 15 years [!]), and that nearly half of them have Permanent Residency (and 83% have long-term visas). He talks inter alia about Hamamatsu’s measures taken (e.g., Japanese language teaching, in which 89% of teachers are “volunteers” not assisted by the GOJ), and laments that there is no compulsory education for NJ children guaranteed by law [!!]. He also talks about the “lack” (ketsujo, the same word used when decrying a lack of common sense) of unified policy or promotion on the part of the GOJ (particularly singling out the Cabinet for treating NJ as “a laborer problem” and over-focusing on Nikkei [!!!] concerns), and an overall “lack of aim to accept NJ” (gaikokujin no uke ire houshin no ketsujo). He proposes a) that a joint integrated social policy be created and promoted at the national level; b) that teijuu (Long-Term Residency, a quasi-PR visa hitherto reserved for the Nikkei Brazilians and Peruvians) policies be expanded to all NJ; c) that a “NJ Bureau” (kyoku) be created in the short term, a “NJ Agency” (gaikokujin chou) be created in the medium term; d) that this “coexistence” series of meetings be made continuous; e) that a research council be established with more yuushikisha and people who have experience in education (gakushoku keikensha), and f) that a non-partisan politician group be created within the Diet to debate more on how to accept (uke ire) NJ. [!!!!]
(COMMENT: Wow. Let me just interject bowdlerized Hendrix here: “Excuse me, while I kiss this guy!”)
ITEM TWO: Shinjuku-ku Head Nakayama’s powerpoint:
Ms. Nakayama opens with a view “from the field” (genba de) of how NJ live their lives (I guess that’s somehow better than having NJ actually there at the meeting). Her 14-page but very readable powerpoint goes through the statistics of the NJ under her mandate: 11% of all residents (appropriately now worded as juumin) are NJ, with the top three quarters (37% each) Koreans and Chinese; fewer PRs than the national average (far more people, particularly close to half of all the Chinese, are there on “student” visas (ryuugaku; shuugaku) due to the local J language schools and Waseda), along with a jump (more than doubling) in the number of PRs; a quarter of all NJs live in the (traditionally Korean district) of Ohkubo, and a fifth are young, in their twenties. Interesting stats, but…. Just when you think this presentation will end as a show-and-tell, we get a few slides on Shinjuku-ku’s attempts at multicultural coexistence policies: Japanese language training (taught again by volunteers) at their Tabunka Kyousei Plaza, with a paid course (1500-4000 yen per semester) once or twice a week in ten locations, and a multilingual “consultation corner” in English, Korean, Chinese, Burmese, and Thai. There is some Japanese language teaching for Grade and Jr. High schoolers both at the Ku-level and at some Ku-ritsu schools. There some “guidelines” handbooks for life and disaster prevention in Korean, Chinese, English, and Japanese, and finally rah-rah the end of the presentation, where she says that we at the local level are doing lotsa stuff to help people, but there’s a limit to what they can do: We have to come up with a unified philosophy (ri’nen) for how we’re going to systematize social welfare, employment, education, children’s upbringing, and lifestyles for NJ, etc., etc. There were no grounded proposals beyond that, making Ms Nakayama’s presentation a definite anticlimax to Mayor Suzuki’s suggestions. In the end, this felt like a bureaucratic presentation justifying budgets.
ITEM THREE: Multicultural Center Osaka Head Tamura’s powerpoint:
Tamura also opens with the “genba de” view (sorry, must just be the title they were given by the bureaucrats, but Suzuki above shirked it), first introducing his NPO and what it does (promoting daibaashiti; okay, that sounds better to me than the hackneyed and misunderstandable “coexistence”) though its five centers nationwide. Tamura was deeply involved in the volunteer efforts for relief and recovery in Tohoku area over the past year. Comes off as a good egg. Then he gets to his points about NJ residents: He pointed out three “weak spots” (3 tsu no zeijaku sei) in how NJ live their lives as J residents: 1) a language and customs barrier (i.e., lack of instruction and access to policy), 2) legal recourse (little to no translation systems or personnel, or guaranteed access to education or boards of education), and 3) misunderstandings and prejudices on the part of Japanese society (e.g., “Hey, they came here of their own accord so they can fend for themselves”, or “the increase in NJ threatens our public safety”). This results in their being excluded from education, employment, accommodation, and welfare. NJ should not be seen as “weak” in themselves, but rather as in a weakened position in society. He advocates inter alia that 1) NJ be seen by society not as “temporary stayers” but as “permanent citizens” (eijuu suru shimin — with an effective chart comparing the rise of PR Newcomers over the PR Oldcomers on page 4); 2) gentle and sophisticated (teinei) policies for coexistence be created reflecting the diversity in NJ based upon their specific areas of residence (with four sophisticated models proposed for a) major cities, b) places with high NJ populations, c) suburbs, and d) provinces, quite specific in detail; page 5); 3) four groupings for dealing with the major parties to this issue — the local governments, the national government, the local Japanese residents and industry, and — yes — the NJ communities (finally, an acknowledgment of a sense of domestic ethnic community without it being construed as a threat to Japan); again, quite detailed on page 6); 4) consider the future Japan with one million NJ PRs (nearly at that point already), and what should be done about it — inter alia: a) consultations with NPOs and local governments, b) not seeing problems as specifically “foreign problems”, c) public acknowledging the good that NJ do for Japanese society, d) social workers that include NJ residents, and e) laws to back up any policies. [!!!!!] Very, very good stuff indeed!
ITEM FOUR: NPO Aidensha Head Sakamoto’s powerpoint:
Sakamoto gave a very thick and academic series of essays that probably put the bureaucrats to sleep, opening with an organizational chart of how NPOs and NGOs relate to society at large in their activities. She gave an over-detailed laundry list of the activities her NGO has carried out (including how find free computer courses and how to register e-messages; filter, Ms. Sakamoto!). Amidst some very meaningful jobs Aidensha does (e.g., assisting people out of DV situations, finding housing, assisting with visa and social insurance issues, etc.) was the overwhelming chaff of giving case studies and telling stories about their hard work, when all the audience merely wanted was conclusions and advice. Her points, when filtered of chaff, useless stats, and photographs were inter a lot of alia, 1) helping non-native speakers of Japanese get around and fend for themselves, 2) educating NJ children, 3) resolving employment and unemployment problems, 4) finding stable lives and residences, and, er… f) we should be nice and respectful to one another. When we get into what I call “Kumbaya Territory”, you lose the bureaucrats. I hope somebody patted her on the back for all her hard work, since that’s what it seemed like she wanted.
The other five items at the links above were recap: Items 1) and 2) were the Minutes and Attendees from the previous meetings (which I covered in my blog entry here), 3) was the schedule of meetings previous and future (the next one will be July 3, with more yuushikisha, and the fifth one will be at a later date and feature interim thoughts on what concrete policies to pursue). Item 4 tells us who are the scheduled yuushikisha for the July 3 meeting (including — gasp! — an actual NJ, or rather, former NJ, naturalized former Brazilian Angelo Ishi of Musashi University, along with three other regular Japanese academics from Tsukuba, Keio, and Dokkyou Universities). The final Item 5 was a summary of the points under consideration so far regarding realizing a “Coexistence Society with Foreigners” all over again. The problems listed therein were also recaps of ones covered in my previous blog entry.
COMMENT: Alright, this is a positive series of developments, with inputs much better than the first two meetings (it’s a pity the short-sighted bureaucrats almost always get first dibs on agenda setting, with the people who might offer different opinions, such as Angelo Ishi, thrown in later down the line as an afterthought. Nevertheless, it’s a good Third Act in this political theatre, where people who contributed to the June 15 Meeting have made their points, two of them saying things I would have said (down to the semantics). Good. Still, however, no mention of that law against racial discrimination…
More on the July 3 Meeting when it goes online no doubt in a few weeks. Thanks for reading. Arudou Debito
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Hi Blog. The Kyodo article below, on how Indonesian and Filipina nurses and caregivers (even those who have passed the arduous qualifying exam) are leaving Japan anyway, has been featured within the comments section of another Debito.org blog entry (here). It seems to be gathering steam there, so let me post the article here as a stand-alone, and repost below it the subsequent replies from Debito.org Readers (the really good ones start doing the math, revealing there’s something fishy going on at the administrative level, beyond just blaming the NJ caregivers for not doing what they’re told after all the GOJ bullshit they’ve put up with).
My take on this Kyodo article is about the nasty little editorial slants and needles within. Particularly nasty is how all otherwise qualified NJ caregivers are suddenly unworthy of emptying Japanese bedpans just because some decide they have a life outside Japan:
Quoth one professor with a PhD in nastiness at Todai (Kiyoshi Kitamura, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s International Research Center for Medical Education): “To what extent would it be considered appropriate for the foreign caregivers’ lives to be bound by the program? We must contemplate this, along with the question of whether the Japanese people are really up for nursing care provided by foreigners.”
Moreover, Kyodo, is this news, or editorializing? “Yet as of June, five of them had quit and returned to Indonesia ‘for personal reasons,’ bringing great disappointment to the facilities that spent tens of millions of yen training them.” Awww, diddums!
Submitter DeBourca further comments: Honestly, this article is jaw dropping. Care companies are actually upset that foreigners won’t accept indentured servitude on subsistence level wages? And where’s the balance and context? When you’re up against this kind of mindset, how do you go about dealing with it? Where do you even start?
Okay then without further ado, the Kyodo article, then the subsequent comments. Thanks for making Debito.org a valuable resource for public critique, everyone. Arudou Debito
When 35 Indonesian caregivers undergoing on-the-job training passed Japan’s qualification examination this year, it was good news for their hosting facilities, which held high hopes they would continue providing much-needed manpower.
Yet as of June, five of them had quit and returned to Indonesia “for personal reasons,” bringing great disappointment to the facilities that spent tens of millions of yen training them.
Many blame the government for failing to provide a clear and adequate explanation of the program when recruiting candidates under the free-trade agreement with Indonesia.
Tatsumi Nakayama, who runs a nursing home in Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture, recalled being astonished when a female Indonesian caregiver who had been training there and passed the exam suddenly said she wanted to go back to Indonesia because she was getting married.
The nursing home began hosting the Indonesian in 2008 as a prospective caregiver, providing on-the-job training as well as paying for her Japanese-language and test-preparation tutorials with the expectation that she would eventually contribute as a core member of its staff.
The total cost, including her ¥180,000 monthly salary, on par with that of Japanese college graduates, came to ¥30 million over four years, according to Nakayama.
While Nakayama said he had been told the foreign caregiver would be working for the facility once she passed the exam, the woman insisted this had not been explained to her and she took off for Indonesia last month.
An official involved in the program, speaking on condition of anonymity, admitted the government “did not do enough” to ensure thorough understanding of the program’s requirements and the obligations it entails.
Applicants are required to attend briefings held by the Indonesian government prior to coming to Japan, but back in 2008 they were not given any clear explanation regarding what they would be required to do after passing the exam.
Even basic rules, including that they could only continue to work in Japan beyond the four-year training period if they passed the test, had not been mentioned, according to the government official.
In view of the problem, the central government began in November to stipulate in briefing information kits for applicants that candidates are expected, in principle, to work in Japan for a prolonged period after passing the qualification exam.
To improve the low pass rate of foreign applicants taking the exams, the government also decided to grant them more time when taking the tests, starting this fiscal year, and to attach hiragana or katakana for all kanji used in questions.
Of the 104 Indonesian caregivers who came to Japan in 2008, 94 took the qualification exams for the first time in January. Among the 35 who passed, five have left Japan and three others have expressed their intention to do so.
While many cited personal reasons, such as returning home to care for ill family members, there was also one who planned all along to return home regardless of the exam result.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has indicated it plans to conduct a followup investigation but has been slow to act. It has been negative from the beginning about accepting foreign caregivers because they could affect the employment of Japanese workers.
The ministry’s attitude has led to distrust and discontent among many in the nursing business, which is suffering from a shortage of skilled and talented caregivers.
“With all the confusion over the latest issue, I’m worried that the countries that have concluded free-trade agreements (with Japan) will lose their eagerness to send prospective caregivers here,” one industry insider said.
“Perhaps we need to establish a new framework to resolve the issue of securing manpower.”
Commenting on the situation, Kiyoshi Kitamura, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s International Research Center for Medical Education, said: “To what extent would it be considered appropriate for the foreign caregivers’ lives to be bound by the program? We must contemplate this, along with the question of whether the Japanese people are really up for nursing care provided by foreigners.”
Under the agreements concluded by Japan with Indonesia and the Philippines, nurses and caregivers from the two countries can undergo on-the-job training in Japan for several years and continue working in the country if they pass the national qualification exams within a designated period.
But the kanji and technical terms employed are believed to pose a considerable hurdle for foreign applicants, whose pass rates remain significantly lower than Japanese applicants.
Very interesting article. It’s the ‘this is Japan’ as veil for culture of abuse syndrome in action again. They spent all that money training Indonesian nurses, then gave them a (wait for it) 180,000 yen a month salary (wow!), and then complain that the Indonesians ‘didn’t understand their obligation to Japan’ by going home, instead of staying for ‘a prolonged period’. If they want workers to stay, the have to offer a salary and conditions that are attractive enough. Talking about ‘obligation’ is just empty words to reinforce (as the article comments) that these are non-Japanese nurses and therefore unsuitable in some way. Just excuses for lack of policy.
Thanks for the comments.What fascinates me is the mindset. Employers all over the world exploit their workers, but in Japan there still seems to be the view that the Victorian industrialists held; By providing employment, employers are providing vital services to society and individuals by keeping them “occupied”; Hell, we should be paying them!
There is a very good article by Philip Brasor (who occasionally posts here?) on the JT about an incidence of suicide-induced “karoshi” (that term is fascinating in itself) at the Watami company. It lifts the lid on policy regarding forcing employees to work inhuman amounts of overtime. The company president basically shrugged his shoulders and blamed the employee. He didn’t even see the need to publicly address the issue; What had he done wrong?
The questions in my previous post were not rhetorical BTW. I’m interested in trying to understand this mentality (pathology?) and why it is so accepted in Japan.
I think you read the article wrong. The 180,000 salary was paid during their training/studying for 4 years, not the wage offered upon graduation. Plus, as the article said, this was on par with what Japanese were paid for the same job. It seems a reasonable stipend to be paid while studying. Not far under what some eikaiwa teachers/ALTs make actually.
As for the ‘obligation’ to stay, this was poor management on the part of the Japanese trainers. The expectations needed to be written explicitly rather than implied. It’s only natural that a certain number of the caregivers (particularly women) would want to go home regardless of the result of their training and exams.
Yes, you are right. My opinion (very short version) is this;
Meiji-era Japan re-invented itself as a modern industrialized state, and the idea of working yourself to death for the company (and by extension, the country) was a duty to prevent Japan being colonized by the West, and to help Japan catch-up with the West. Patriotic duty. This mentality has left too large a mark on modern Japan. The collapse of Imperialist ideology saw the replacement of ‘catch-up’ with the West recast in terms such as ‘duty to rebuild the nation’ after the war. Why can’t they stop? Because ‘this is Japan!’ The headless chicken marches on…
Western nations (on the other hand) went through the industrialization process hand-in-hand with the democratization process that the oppressed workers demanded and fought for (see; Luddites and The Tollpuddle Matyrs). Any attempt by Meiji-era Japanese workers to protest for rights at work were crushed as being ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘due to traitorous external influences’, and therefore ‘not Japanese qualities’.
Someone wrote a good book about this that I read as an undergrad, if I remember the name, I will post it.
“The total cost, including her ¥180,000 monthly salary, on par with that of Japanese college graduates, came to ¥30 million over four years, according to Nakayama.”
Well, the article fails to mention that that nursing candidate probably (almost certainly) had an Indonesian nursing qualification and experience already. So to compare them to Japanese college graduates in terms of salary is … unfair.
But the numbers are interesting. The total before tax income for the nurse would be 8,640,000 Yen over 4 years (2,160,000 per year). That leaves 21,360,000 of the total expenses, being 30,000,000 according to the article, unaccounted for. So over two thirds of the total cost goes to Japanese companies that ‘train’ etc. Business as usual in Japan.
TJJ Says: But the numbers are interesting. The total before tax income for the nurse would be 8,640,000 Yen over 4 years (2,160,000 per year). That leaves 21,360,000 of the total expenses, being 30,000,000 according to the article, unaccounted for. So over two thirds of the total cost goes to Japanese companies that ‘train’ etc.
Thanks TJJ, I was doing the math and was thinking that it must be me and my bad math because the figures looked absolutely crazy.
As others have said this mindset of the article was totally jaw dropping. ‘Those third world workers, how ungrateful they are after all we’ve done for them’. Crazy, totally crazy…The slant in the article borders on the childishly subjective. ‘We Japanese were not the cause of the misunderstanding and we have bent over backwards to accomodate these trainees’ (Note. Most of these trainees were qualified caregivers in their home country before they came here).
I would like someone to interview these non-Japanese caregivers who passed the exam and have chosen to return to home home countries, and ask then for their reasons for returning. Rather than having an article of reported speech journalism in the third person, where others speak for them. Maybe the reason this hasn’t been done is that the Japanese might not like the answers.
As a final point, let’s not forget this is the foreign caregivers, not the foreign nurses, whose exam has a much lower pass rate.
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Hi Blog. We have an important announcement courtesy of academic listserv H-JAPAN:
H-JAPAN May 31, 2012 Date: Thu, 31 May 2012 From: JFMorris 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.
John Morris 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 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):
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.
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:
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Hi Blog. We’ve had a discussion recently as part of Debito.org Comments about one of the side-effects of Japan’s new residency-certificate registration (juuminhyou) coming up in July. People suspect that the GOJ is using this revision as a means not only to make sure that local governments aren’t being “soft” on NJ visa overstayers (by denying them benefits even the Kyodo article below acknowledges they are entitled to), but also to check whether all NJ residents are registered and paying into Japan’s social insurance system. This is controversial because plenty of Japanese also opt out of the system, and also because it will possibly become a means to say, “Pay in or no visa renewal,” something that citizens obviously cannot be threatened with.
I for one haven’t done enough research on what’s going to happen in coming months under the new system (my scrivener colleague in the visa industry himself too is waiting and seeing), but when it becomes plainer it’ll be discussed here. What IS plainer is that the Japanese media is already gearing up to portray the perpetual scapegoats for Japan’s social ills — NJ — this time as welfare spongers and social parasites. See the second article below.
Note that all of the things that are being alleged against foreign “welfare chiselers” in that article I’ve heard and seen being done by Japanese too (especially the fake marriage bit — but what’s not covered in the article is how a NJ visa changes when a divorce occurs, so it’s not that “easy”). But one need not mention that inconvenient detail. NJ shouldn’t be here anyway if they’re going to commit, er, the same crimes that Japanese commit. Once again, social Othering and scapegoating of a disenfranchised minority is SOP in Japan for lots of social ills — and worse yet, the specter of “foreign hordes taking advantage of Japan’s overgenerous system” sells newspapers and alienates the aliens. Nothing less than media-bred xenophobia. Arudou Debito
Foreigners residing in Japan illegally could lose access to education and health care services when the revised basic resident registration law takes effect even though they are still entitled to receive them, civic groups said Monday.
According to the Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan and other groups, dozens of the 72 municipalities that participated in the survey plan to deny services when the revision takes effect in July.
Four said they won’t allow children of illegal foreigners to be enrolled in public schools and 13 said they will not issue maternity health record books to pregnant foreign women who are residing illegally.
Another 12 said they won’t be able to subsidize delivery expenses for pregnant women in financial distress, while 33 said they will not vaccinate illegal foreigners against tuberculosis and other diseases, the survey said.
After the revision takes effect, foreigners will registered in the same residence system used by the Japanese.
In addition, illegal residents and asylum seekers will no longer be covered by the resident registry system, although the central government has repeatedly said they will continue to be entitled to basic services offered by municipalities.
The survey, which was conducted between January and March, highlighted misunderstandings on the part of local governments when it comes to providing basic services to illegal foreign residents. More confusion is expected to occur at municipal offices after the amended law enters force.
There were about 67,000 foreigners overstaying their visas as of January, according to Justice Ministry statistics.
Eriko Suzuki, an associate professor specializing in immigration policy at Kokushikan University, said the local governments polled mistakenly believe they cannot provide services to illegal foreign residents because they weren’t supposed to be in Japan to begin with.
The professor, who was involved in the survey, urged the central government to better inform municipalities about how to treat illegal aliens after the revised law takes effect.
“Malicious Foreign Welfare Recipients Increasing Rapidly” screams the yellow and red headline emblazoned across the front page of Yukan Fuji (May 25). The accompanying banner, in inverse white characters on a red background, reads “meticulous investigation.”
“If there’s a way to receive something, I can’t understand why you don’t accept it. How stupid can Japanese be?” chuckles Mr A, a 26-year-old man who lives somewhere in the Kanto area. The son of parents from an unnamed southeast Asian country—making A the second generation to live in Japan—he works as a regular staff member of a manufacturing company.
A’s newly purchased car, a Japanese model, cost 3 million yen. He can afford such goodies because he, his wife and their three children receive extra “pocket money” from the government.
“My wife began receiving welfare payments from last year,” he tells the tabloid. “Including child support and other subsidies, she gets 200,000 yen per month. When combined with my take-home pay, we get over 500,000 yen per month, or about 6 million yen per year. “
In the past, recipients of welfare had been limited, by law, to “Individuals whose income from work is insufficient to meet necessary living costs,” and by virtue of this, A should not be eligible. So how does he get away with it?
“Easy,” he says. “I divorced my wife.” And he did, on paper anyway. They still live together, so it’s what one might call a divorce of convenience.
“My ex-wife went to the city office and claimed she lacked ‘sufficient income to care for the children,’ and she was promptly judged eligible and began receiving welfare payments,” A confesses.
Should the authorities send a case worker to investigate, they would find the wife residing in a separate apartment, which she rents. But actually she continues to live together with her “former” husband.
“Once a month, a case worker will pay a visit, but since notification is always made in advance, all my wife has to do is take the kids over to the rental apartment ahead of time,” he says.
Mr A tells Yukan Fuji that nearly all the inhabitants of the public housing development where he lives are foreigners.
“There are some Chinese and Indians, but people from my country are the most numerous, more than 300. Most of them are receiving welfare,” he says.
Yukan Fuji remarks that indeed there may be foreigners whose difficult situation warrants welfare, but in the case of Mr A, we’re looking at flat-out fraud.
According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, as of February 2012, 73,995 foreign nationals were receiving welfare payments—more than double the figure of 2000, when the average for foreign recipients in any given month was 32,858 recipients.
An official at the health ministry told the reporter that foreigners deemed eligible to receive such payments include “Permanent residents and residents who are preparing for permanent status, those with officially recognized refugee status and those with Japanese spouses.”
“There’s no doubt that the number of foreigners taking advantage of flaws in the system has been increasing,” says Professor Ryu Michinaka of Kansai University of International Studies. “Some take the form of spurious divorces or falsified documentation. Even in cases when the government offices suspect something illegal is going on, they’ll invoke the ‘language barrier’ and just pretend they don’t understand.”
The foreign welfare chiselers also share the tricks of the trade with their compatriots, and parents also give advice to their children, creating next-generation social parasites.
“There aren’t enough case workers to check out the applicants,” adds Michinaka. “One case worker might have to cover 80 families, or sometimes even twice that number. Ironically, the total incomes for some of the families might be more than the caseworker earns in salary.”
Japan needs to put its collective foot down and put an end this “haven” that makes it so easy for unscrupulous foreigners to feed at the public’s expense, the article concludes.
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Hi Blog. Debito.org Reader Aly Rustom has taken the trouble to write this up for critique and debate. I think it deserves some. Putting this up with the reminder that this is under the “Discussions” category (where I moderate more loosely), and that I don’t necessarily agree with all or even any of it. Have a think. Arudou Debito
March 8, 2012 Ways to fix Japan By Aly Rustom
It has taken me over a year to write this piece. I have put my heart and soul into making this reading as concise as possible. This is a small essay on the problems of Japan, and my personal opinion on how to fix them.
These days, Japan is suffering from a lot of socioeconomic problems. Whenever I talk to people and ask how can we fix them, no one ever has an answer. Everyone just folds their arms, tilts their head and says “Muzukashii” (Its difficult) Well, I do have a few solutions. I have written a small piece here on how to solve these problems. I have written this as a foreigner who has lived in Japan for over ten years and has the unique perspective of looking at things from both the inside and the outside.
It is not my intention to try to tell Japan or it’s people what to do. Nor do I have any delusions of grandeur that the Japanese will all of a sudden sit up and take notice of what I have to say. I am only writing this to show that there are concrete steps that can be taken to heal Japan, and that all it takes is a little bit of thinking outside the box to make this happen. I am also hoping that this small piece will at least start up some degree of discourse which will eventually lead to some level of action sometime in the future. I also felt the need to vent, as I see a beautiful country being destroyed since no one wants to take the helm and do what needs to be done.
There are those who will attempt to paint me as a Japan basher. Let me respond to this accusation early:
1. I am married to a Japanese and have lived here for over a decade. Most of my friends are Japanese, and I do speak as well as read and write the language.
2. Criticism is not bad unless it simply takes the form of negative complaining. Constructive criticism is good and it shows that I care enough to write out my thoughts and observations that I have accumulated for over a decade and am willing to share them with everyone.
So without further ado, let’s start:
A. Sales Tax, Health Insurance and Public Education
While everyone doesn’t want to pay higher taxes and the debate about raising the sales tax is a sensitive issue, there would be an easier way to sell the idea. Instead of raising sales tax from 5 to 10% and upsetting everyone, why not raise it to 20% with the promise that health care and education becomes completely free. People would be far less apt to complain if their trips to the doctor and their children’s education becomes free and guaranteed. This will also help the Japanese government compete with the private health insurance companies and most people probably will opt for the public option since they are already paying the taxes for it. Also this will ensure that foreigners will be in the system as well since it is included from the very beginning in our taxes. Also, our public schools have problems with parents who don’t pay for the school lunches or uniforms which forces the schools to shoulder the cost. Raise the taxes and include all these costs into the inescapable tax system, and these problems will be solved.
B. City and Ward Taxes
First, the ward and city taxes should be calculated and taken out from people’s salaries along with the income tax. Second , Increase ward and city taxes on residents and companies based in Tokyo and other large cities, while offering companies and residents tax breaks for moving outside of the cities. Cities like Tokyo and Osaka should have extremely high living taxes in order to encourage more migration to the countryside, and companies should also have to pay hefty taxes for having offices and factories in these major cities.
Taxes should be significantly lower taxes for relocating outside the big cities, and residents and companies alike should be given big tax breaks and benefits for relocating to towns (machi) instead of small cities (shi). The government can invigorate these towns by having more funds be allocated to building train stations and train lines in towns without them and not to fixing roads that don’t need fixing. If the government invests in better and more convenient transportation, companies might be more apt to relocate outside the major cities and spread the population around a bit more, breathing some life in these dying costal towns.
C. Pachinko and Hostess club taxes
The government should more heavily tax the pachinko parlors. Their profit margin is huge, and much of it is sent to North Korea as many of the owners are North Korean. It would be extremely prudent to propose a hefty tax on all parlors, say about 20-25% of all their profits. Let us not forget that recently, tax authorities have stated that about 40 corporate groups running pachinko parlors across Japan have not declared over ¥100 billion in total taxable income with back taxes amounting to several billion yen. Why is this happening? Why doesn’t the government apply more scrutiny to these establishments and not only force them to pay their taxes, but also raise their tax rate?
The hostess clubs are another type of establishment that should also be taxed heavily. That money can then also be used to fund more government social programs that would benefit the public instead of encouraging more vice.
D. Fast Food Tax
Another business sector that should be taxed is the fast food industry. The government needs to tax fast food restaurants more. Fast food should not be this cheap. The problem is that it is encouraging young as well as older people to eat more unhealthy food. As the economy stagnates more and more people flock to cheaper venues. Unfortunately most of the cheapest venues are fast food restaurants which serve unhealthy food. They need to be taxed heavily to become less attractive price wise to people, and to let the family restaurants in Japan enjoy a resurgence in popularity.
The working hours MUST be strictly defined and implemented. The nation cannot continue to overwork its people, because fathers are becoming estranged from their families. Why not implement a system similar to France , where when an employee works overtime one week, they get those hours in off time the following week. Somewhere between 35-40 hours a week maximum should be the working norm. Companies should also be heavily fined for overworking their employees. If a company is forcing its employees to work overtime, that usually means that company is suffering from inadequate manpower and therefore should hire more employees. Companies could also get tax breaks for hiring more workers a particular year and pay more tax for laying off workers. One of Japan’s main reasons for its economic decline is the lack of domestic demand and and over reliance on exporting it’s goods and products overseas. Why is there no domestic demand? Because everyone is working all the time, and no one is out spending money to stimulate the economy. Why is that? Oh, because they have no free time. People who work all the time don’t spend money. People who don’t spend money don’t stimulate the environment.
Minimum Wage and the working class
I would strongly urge the government to raise the minimum wage to 1000¥ an hour, and set the basic starting wage to no less than 250,000¥ per month regarding full time workers. This would certainly boost public spending and give people some measure of financial stability. The companies can easily afford to do this. Japan should learn from the US’s mistake and salvage its middle class. If it doesn’t, the nation will collapse financially, as America surely will. If Japan does not find a way to stimulate domestic spending it will be doomed. The only way to secure Japan’s future is to ensure that even people on minimum wage can afford to contribute financially to society which along with less working hours would greatly contribute to the increase of domestic demand.
A. Summer and Winter
Why not have a Winter vacation for two weeks and Summer vacation two weeks so that people can recharge their batteries twice a year?Also people should have the option of combining their two weeks into one month to allow them to a take longer vacation once a year. It’s common knowledge that countries with a high rate of productivity also allow lots of off time for their citizens. Longer vacations would also mean that people would not be so apt to kill themselves every year. Overworked people develop a sense of hopeless, because they see their lives as nothing except work. The meaning of life becomes lost to them, and they become jaded. Walking around the forests near Mt Fuji and trying to stop suicides isn’t going to do it. Changing the system will. Also, lets not forget another important point: people on holiday tend to spend their money which in turn stimulates the economy’s domestic demand.
B. Public Holidays
The first thing that should be done is the following: when a national holiday falls on a Thursday, that Friday should also be a day off. If the public holiday falls on a Tuesday, that Monday should also be a paid holiday, and that should be the case regardless of whether or not the employee is part or full time.
Many of the rules and regulations regarding renting apartments in Japan are bizarre and draconian. Some of these ancient ways of doing business really need to change. One of the things that really needs to change regarding housing is this stupid idea of key money (reikin). This is nothing more than a form of legalized bribery given to a landlord by a prospective tenant, and it should be stopped. This key money issue is causing problems in society. For example, many employees are finding it difficult and expensive to move closer to work, because key money is very expensive . So instead they remain in their previous dwellings and commute up to two hours one way to work. This in turn affects their productivity, makes them more tired, and less happy in life generally . It’s also just simply not good for society and the economy of this country for people to be less mobile and less able to change their living quarters.
Another thing that really needs to be stopped is fees on late payments. The reason for this is very simple: these fees then sink people more deeply into debt and they are less able and less likely to pay off their debts which leads to suicide. There’s no doubt that these late fees are a huge contributing factor to suicide as people list debts as one of the main reasons for their suicides. The government and landlords have a right to demand their taxes and rent, but they have no right to place any additional fees on people who already are struggling to pay. It’s stupid to force people more into debt and then spend lots of money and resources trying to stop them from killing themselves when the government itself is partially to blame.
The hay fever affliction is a problem that is severely overlooked in Japan. It is amazing to see the amount of hype that has been given in the media to the Swine Flu pandemic while complete and utter indifference has been displayed toward a far more widespread pandemic: hay fever. And yet, the remedy is staring everyone right in the face: start cutting down all the various birch trees that cause the different types of hay fever.
A. Suffering population We have a nation of red eyed, runny nosed sneezers whose productivity is ebbing due to this condition. And every year, the people’s condition gets worse. People are suffering, the nation’s productivity rate is dropping, and the healthcare cost is rising from this condition. In addition to that, a third of all children are afflicted with this condition.
B. Weakened military Lets also not forget about national security. What happens if the nation finds itself in a situation where it has to defend itself without warning all of a sudden? Imagine a coughing swollen eyed SDF…
C. Creating jobs and income through better use. Cutting down all these useless trees which make people sick and planting, shall we say, various fruit trees like apple, orange, and banana trees etc. which are healthy for people would get rid of the hay fever problem as well as provide a source of income and nutrition for the nation. In addition to that, if the government subsidizes this endeavor instead of whaling which is causing Japan diplomatic problems it could generate record profits, create more jobs, save money otherwise that would be spent importing fruit, and give Japan some measure of independence. Imagine the number of farming jobs that can be created through an endeavor like that, not mention some degree of national security in being able to grow your own food to feed your population as opposed to spending money importing it.
D. Domestic supply of wood All these useless trees could be an excellent source of wood for a number of years and temporarily save Japan a lot of money on wood imports, not to mention the number of logger jobs that would be created by that industry.
Anti-smoking laws should be enacted in Japan more vigorously. Currently, North America, Australia and Europe all have strict anti-smoking laws and the Middle East is starting to follow in their footsteps. It is embarrassing that Japan still is so far behind and backward in that respect. Japanese smokers are becoming less and less prevalent in society these days . The Japanese government estimates that less than 20% of the population are smokers. It is imperative for Japan to enact antismoking laws to protect the children and pregnant women from secondhand smoke which is even more dangerous than direct smoking. Add to that the point mentioned beforehand regarding hay fever, and you have a major health hazard that will deeply affect adults and children alike.
A. Public Places First, a law that prohibits smoking in any public place including restaurants and bars is desperately needed. We need a smoke free public area society.
B. Vending Machines Second, the nation must do away with the cigarette vending machines. The less convenient it is to buy cigarettes the less people will be apt to smoke. It makes it so much easier for people who are trying to quit smoking to quit when they don’t see these vending machines in their faces every day.
C. Tobacco Tax Finally, introduce a very hefty tobacco tax to further discourage people from taking up or continuing to smoke. A pack of Marlboros shouldn’t cost less than 1000 yen. In fact, they cost closer to 2000 yen through the increased taxes. It is incredible that in a country as expensive as Japan a pack of cigarettes would only cost 400 yen. And let’s not forget that these are imported cigarettes.
This has always been a sensitive topic in Japan. There are ways to slowly bring the population to a stable count.
A. Born in Japan First, allow all people born in Japan to have Japanese citizenship. Zainichis and children of LEGAL immigrants should be allowed to become citizens automatically.
B. Parents 0f Japanese nationals Second, foreign parents of Japanese citizens should also have the right to become citizens. If your own flesh and blood is Japanese, shouldn’t you be recognized as one as well?
C. Investors Third, people who buy a house or bring a certain amount of money into the country should also be allowed to become citizens. They are, after all, stimulating the economy.
D. Employers of Japanese nationals Finally, people who start a business and employ Japanese nationals as well people with a lot of money who invest in the country should also be given that right. People who give their money to Japan should be rewarded with its citizenship. All of this would increase the number of Japanese nationals without actually opening up immigration just yet. A slight liberalization of the rules might help soften the Japanese people to the prospect of immigration in the near future.
Government sponsored programs
A. Free or cheap English Day Care centers One of the reasons the Japanese women are refusing to marry is that many of them fear not being able to go back to work due to the lack of public facilities that can accommodate their children. Well, how about the government funding a new version of the JET program in which foreigners can be brought to Japan to simply be day care center nannies. They would just play with the kids and watch cartoons with them in English and other things like that. The toddlers would learn English naturally through games and come to like it because they wouldn’t be studying, just playing with the language. They would shed their fear of foreigners because they would be exposed to them at an early age. That would also allow the mothers to go out and work or pursue a hobby, which would certainly encourage them to have more babies since the government is finally stepping in and helping them. Why not make all day care centers in Japan English speaking? This would ensure all Japanese children would grow up with very good English speaking skills and give young women encouragement to have more children.
B. Government run Japanese language programs. It would very prudent of the local governments to hold daily language classes in a public facility that aid foreigners in understanding and learning the Japanese language and culture. This would help foreigners assimilate better in the society which would benefit Japanese people as much as foreigners. The government should also declare that employers of foreign nationals cannot forcibly overwork their foreign employees to the point where they cannot attend these language classes thereby making their integration into Japanese society more difficult and more time consuming. The companies must allow employees to attend these classes.
In a perfect world, this would happen. However, I am not optimistic. I know the Japanese system too well.
The Japanese politicians will never implement such drastic measures to save their country. None of them have ever shown themselves to be mavericks. This is the really sad part. There are ways to fix this country. It’s just that no one will stand up and do it. People just sit and discuss and pretend they are concerned, but no one really is. The Japanese today are a far cry from the Japanese of long ago who would die for their country. Those before thought nothing of committing suicide for their country. However, today’s politicians are not even willing to take a few political risks for a better future for Japan. What future is left for the Japanese people?
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(NOTE: SEE UPDATE BELOW, with new information that makes this post seem more and more like a false alarm. Thanks to everyone who commented with corrections. I have made appropriate corrections and strike-outs.)
Hi Blog. Here’s another example of how NJ are not being trusted. Employees under the auspices of the JET Programme in Naha, AET, are being required to provide a urine sample in order to get a job. This apparently doesn’t apply to Japanese workers, naturally, as Japanese obviously couldn’t possibly use drugs. But foreigners, well, you know the story — they’re powerless guests here on the GOJ’s good graces, so their dignity and equal treatment in the workplace can be overlooked in the name of crime prevention. We’ve seen this attitude from the police in Tokyo Azabu, who conducted similar “I-Pee” urine tests on NJ exiting bars in Roppongi without a warrant in 2009 just for tits and giggles, and because, after all, they’re the Japanese police so sod you. Now we see police powers expanding beyond the NPA (as they did when unlawfully deputizing hotels to smoke out illegal aliens back in 2005) and into private-sector/public-sector eikaiwa. Expect more of the same for whatever reason dreamable up.
I wonder what JET’s administrative arm, CLAIR, has to say about this. I wonder if they even know. Feel free to tell them and see if we can get a comment.
Commenter from submitter XY follows. Arudou Debito
March 23 and 25, 2012
Dear Debito, Naha city now requires all AETs to take a urine test. Only the AETs, not the Japanese teachers. I thought I would bring this to your attention, as you are the right one to handle this type of situation. Can you give advice on how to deal with it. As AETs are blocked from forming any type of organization or union to fight against this type of BS. here is the link:
Notice on the second set of requirements where it tells the prospective applicant to turn in health related materials, it includes urine analysis. This is for drug testing, and only applies to AETs.
Go ahead and put it up. I do wish to remain anonymous as I know this can affect future employment possibilities. Let me give you the full story. A friend of mine recently finished his contract with his current BOE. He had applied to the Naha BOE and another local BOE. When his interview came up he was notified about all the things he had to turn in for possible employment. One of the things he was notified that he had to turn in was a urine analysis. He double checked this, as he has been here some 20+ years, and never heard of a teacher having to turn in this before. This is due to the spat of drug cases that has occurred here on island. Here is the other URL he gave me:
Anyway this really irked me when I heard about this and I decided to tell you about it because this is the bs that a lot of private AETs have to put up with.
UPDATE MARCH 31: JTES ALSO REQUIRED TO SUBMIT TO URINALYSIS, SO THIS MEASURE ALSO APPLIES TO JAPANESE AS WELL
Courtesy of Olaf:
Conclusion: I still don’t think this is what some claim to be a mere “routine physical” (I think, given what I know about J employers’ access to health records, it is in fact a drug test, given the prior media shock of JETs and drugs in Okinawa), but if it’s applied across the board to Japanese and NJ as well, it’s not really a Debito.org issue. Might be an invasion of privacy issue, but not one necessarily of unfairness towards NJ, so that’s better discussed elsewhere. So Readers are welcome to continue to comment on this issue below, but unless we receive new information from the original claimant(s), I’m going to have to declare this one a false alarm and offer my apologies. Sorry, and thanks to Olaf. Arudou Debito
Submitter JK comments: “I would say this is good news, so long as the leadership of these 28 firms don’t conduct themselves like Olympus. The companies cited (i.e. Fast Retailing and Aeon) seem to ‘get it’…for these two cases, would you say that, ‘Don’t work for a Japanese company as an NJ and expect equality and upward mobility’ is still applicable?”
PHOTO CAPTION: Foreign students studying in Japan listen as a company representative explains his firm’s recruitment plan during a recruitment seminar held at Pasona headquarters in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Oct. 16. (Mainichi)
Some 23 percent of Japan’s top 122 companies are considering employing more foreigners starting from next year, citing plans for overseas expansion as their main incentive, a Mainichi survey has revealed.
Sixty-two companies, some 50.8 percent of all firms surveyed, further answered that they are likely to hire more foreign employees in the next 10 years as well.
Conversely, 45 companies, or 36.9 percent, answered that their foreign employee numbers will remain unchanged. There were no firms that plan to decrease foreign employment from current figures.
The survey, conducted between mid-November and mid-December 2011, sought responses from top executives of leading firms including Fast Retailing Co., Aeon Co., Dai Nippon Printing Co., and Hitachi Ltd.
A strong inclination for hiring foreign employees was observed mainly among companies with overseas expansion ambitions. Fast Retailing Co., the owner of casual wear chain Uniqlo, stated “more overseas shops” as the main reason for the increase, while Aeon Co., another retail giant, cited the necessity of increasing employees from other Asian countries due to the company’s plans for further expansion on the continent.
Meanwhile, companies judged economic prospects in Japan as either declining or about the same as last year. Nearly 90 percent of all companies expressed concern over the rising yen as their prime economic anxiety.
Asked to assess current economic conditions, 66 firms (54.1 percent) answered they had remained unchanged — a sharp increase from the total of 44 firms (37 percent), which gave the same answer in last year’s July-August survey.
There were no companies that judged current economic conditions as “improved” and only 34 firms (27.9 percent) answered that the economy is gradually improving. The figures were higher during last year’s survey, when a total of 62 companies (52.1 percent) said the economy was improving.
Meanwhile, 21 companies (17.2 percent) judged current economic conditions as either “deteriorating” or “gradually deteriorating,” yet another sharp increase from last year’s 13 companies (10.9 percent) that said so in the 2011 survey.
Europe’s ongoing debt crisis, the yen’s appreciation, and the influence of Thailand’s floods are believed to be some of the reasons behind companies’ worsened economic outlook.
The survey also found that nearly half of all companies (59 firms, or 48.4 percent) believe the economy will stay unchanged in the near future, while 43 firms (35.2 percent) said they expect it will improve.
Furthermore, when asked what the future held for Japan’s employment system, 36 companies answered that they foresee an increase in mid-career recruitment ten years from now, while 20 firms chose “enforcement of merit-based salary” among the provided multiple-choice suggestions.
Last December, the Japanese government announced that a new visa regime with a “points system” would be introduced this spring.
It is designed to attract 2,000 non-Japanese (NJ) with a “high degree of capability” (kōdo jinzai), meaning people with high salaries, impeccable educational and vocational pedigrees, specialized technical knowledge and excellent managerial/administrative skills.
Those lucky foreign millionaire Ph.Ds beating a path to this land of opportunity would get preferential visa treatment: five-year visas, fast-tracking to permanent residency, work status for spouses — even visas to bring their parents and “hired housekeepers” along.
Sweet. But then comes the fine print: You must get 70 points on the Justice Ministry’s qualifying scale (see www.moj.go.jp/content/000083223.pdf) And it’s tough, really tough. Take the test and see if you qualify (I don’t). Symptomatic of decisions by committee, it’s a salad of idealized preferences without regard for real-world application. There’s even a funny sliding scale where you get more points the longer you’ve worked, yet fewer points the older you get.
Interesting is how low Japanese language ability is weighted: only 10 points — in a “bonus” category. One would have assumed that people communicative in Japan’s lingua franca would be highly prized (especially when the call for kōdo jinzai is in Japanese only).
However, I would argue the opposite: Crowds of NJ completely fluent in Japanese are exactly what the government does not want. Visa regimes with illiterate foreigners facing insurmountable hurdles are what maintain Japan’s revolving-door labor market.
For example, consider 2008’s visa program to import elderly-care nurses from the Philippines and Indonesia.
These NJ were all qualified nurses in their own countries, so their only real obstacle was the Japanese language. Yet this visa program required that they pass the same nursing exam that native speakers sit. Within a time limit of three years. Otherwise they lose their visas and get sent home.
This, coupled with a full-time job (of humiliating unskilled labor, including bathing patients and setting tables) and insufficient institutional support for learning kanji, ensured they would fail. And they did: The Yomiuri (Jan. 5) reported that 95 percent of the Indonesians tested over the past three years did not pass — and more than half (even one of those who did pass) have gone home. Future applications have since dried up.
This begs the question: If learning written Japanese was so important, why didn’t the government hire nurses from kanji-literate China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan? Because, I guess, that would be too easy, and we’d get hordes of skilled Chinese. Undeterred by policy failure, the country being asked next for nurses is — drum roll, please — Vietnam.
Now consider another regime: 1990s nikkei South Americans’ special “repatriation” visas.
The nikkei were invited to come to this country based on the assumption that somehow their Japanese blood would make them more assimilable (see Just Be Cause, April 7, 2009). Wrong. So, after nearly two decades of working full-time keeping Japan’s export industries price-competitive, the nikkei were told after 2008’s economic downturn that they were no longer employable. Because of — you guessed it — their lack of Japanese ability.
The government offered only 1 percent of the nikkei any retraining, and the rest for a limited time only a free plane ride home (forfeiting their unemployment insurance and pension claims, natch).
I think we can safely say that Japan’s working-visa regimes (including, if you think about it, even the JET Programme) are deliberately designed to discourage most NJ from ever settling here. Given this context, let’s now consider this new “points system.”
While I am in favor of having an objective and reviewable program (for a change) for granting visas, it is still no substitute for a real immigration policy. All of Japan’s visas are temporary migration policies; this new one just aims for a rich elite with a housekeeping entourage.
Not to worry: It will fail to bring in any significant numbers of foreigners. By design. For in this era of unprecedented levels of international migration, think about the incentives available to all governments to use exclusivity as a weapon.
Here’s what I mean: One of the prerogatives of a sovereign nation-state is the ability to make laws about who is a “member” of its society (i.e., a citizen) and who isn’t (i.e., a foreigner).
Axiomatic is that citizens have full rights and foreigners have fewer, meaning that the latter is in a weakened position in society.
This is how countries exploit people: Give them visas that don’t let them get too settled, because foreigners who stay indefinitely might put down roots, agitate for more rights as contributors to society, even — shudder — take out citizenship and expect to be treated like citizens.
So Japan’s visa regimes use criteria that practically guarantee foreigners stay disenfranchised — such as low language ability. After all, an unassimilated foreign populace without the means to communicate their needs remains the perpetual “other.” Then you can siphon off their best working years, send them home with a simple visa nonrenewal, and never have to pay back their social contributions and investments.
But if a nation-state can set boundaries on membership, it must also set criteria for how people can surmount those boundaries and graduate into becoming members — in this case, making foreigners into Japanese citizens.
If it doesn’t, it becomes clear that the goal is to deliberately create a weakened subset of the labor force that can be politically disenfranchised and permanently exploited. This can go on for generations, as the zainichi Koreans and Chinese might attest.
However, for Japan these visa scams are no longer sustainable. Demographically, Japan needs more laborers to pay its taxes, work its factories and service sectors, and support its aging society. It needs measures to make Japan open enough to get people to stay — like, for instance, a law against racial discrimination, protecting residents regardless of nationality from prejudice and inequality. But no.
International labor is bypassing Japan for other rich countries — those with more accommodating labor practices, more open import/export markets, a more internationally useful language to learn, and a less irradiated food chain.
Japan has the option to believe that immigrants do not belong in Japan’s future. On the other hand, potential immigrants have the option to watch from afar as Japan withers into an economic backwater. Again, by design.
A health ministry panel is urging the government to keep holding the national nursing test for foreign examinees in Japanese, despite strong calls to let them take it in their mother tongues.
At a meeting last week, the panel also opposed the idea of introducing a foreign-language nursing exam in combination with a Japanese-language aptitude test for foreign applicants seeking nursing licenses.
Amid a nationwide nurse shortage, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will use the report to pick a specific plan for the nurse test to be held this month.
The pass rate for foreign nurse candidates is pathetic at just 4 percent. This includes those undergoing preparatory training in Japan under bilateral economic partnership agreements.
The panel concluded that the present system should be retained as nurses must be able to accurately understand doctors when updating medical records and reading them.
The decision is likely to discourage foreign nurse candidates and the Japanese medical facilities training them. ENDS
JAKARTA–More than half of 104 Indonesian nurses who came to Japan in 2008 through a bilateral economic partnership agreement to obtain nursing licenses have returned home, due mainly to difficulties meeting Japanese language requirements, it has been learned.
Through the EPA program, Indonesian nurses have been allowed to work in Japanese hospitals for three years as assistant nurses who take care of inpatients. They are all licensed nurses in Indonesia. The program requires they pass an annual national nursing certification test during their three-year stay.
However, only 15 of the first group of 104 nurses who came to Japan from Indonesia passed the national exam. Among the 89 who failed the exam, 27 were granted special permission to extend their stay if they wished to because they managed to score a certain number of points on the previous exam. These nurses will take the national exam again in February.
The remaining 62 returned to Indonesia by the end of August, though they were still eligible to take the national exam. Only four of them will return to Japan to take the February exam, meaning the remaining 58 have likely given up working in Japan.
When the first batch arrived in 2008, the national exam was severely criticized, as non-Japanese applicants were disadvantaged by their difficulty in reading complex kanji used in the exam.
For example, the word “jokuso” (bedsore), which is difficult to read even for a Japanese if it is written in kanji, appeared in the exam.
The criticism prompted the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to simplify the exam last year. The ministry put kana alongside difficult kanji to indicate their pronunciation.
However, Indonesian nurses were discouraged by another aspect of the EPA program. As assistant nurses, they were not allowed to conduct medical treatments such as drip infusions and injections, treatments they had engaged in as licensed nurses in Indonesia.
In Japan, they were primarily in charge of services such as table setting and bathing inpatients. After leaving Japan, most of them found new jobs in medical institutions in Indonesia.
A 27-year-old Indonesian nurse who was a member of the first group and worked in a hospital in Wakayama Prefecture said, “My exam scores did not improve as I had hoped. Eventually, I didn’t want to see kanji anymore.”
The government has an EPA program with the Philippines, through which Filipino nurses are able to work in Japan. It plans to introduce a similar scheme with Vietnam.
(Jan. 5, 2012)
Submitter JK comments:
Now this is telling: “As assistant nurses, they were not allowed to conduct medical treatments such as drip infusions and injections, treatments they had engaged in as licensed nurses in Indonesia. In Japan, they were primarily in charge of services such as table setting and bathing inpatients.”
Let’s face it — language isn’t what’s really at issue here — the hurdle doing the tripping is the system in which the nurses ended up being mere care-givers instead of actual nurses.
What’s worse is that instead of improving the system to make better use of the NJ nurse’s talents, the GoJ is planning on rolling out a Vietnam version of the EPA!
The system cannot be fixed with the mere addition of furigana.
My prognosis is that rather than NJ 介護者, Japan needs NJ ‘nurses’ to help treat Japanese society. -JK
The word is so obscure that Yahoo Japan Dictionary doesn’t even provide an English translation of it.
So for you naysayers that say, “nurses should be fluent for their job, so it’s the NJ’s fault”, obviously the standards have been set too high.
Besides, as has been pointed out, if the GOJ was really worried about kanji fluency, they could have gotten nurses from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, or Singapore, which still use (variants of) kanji. But no.
There’s obviously more to this issue than mere common sense in hiring practices. Try bilateral trade issues, which Japan doesn’t stand to gain much from when it comes to city-states (or as far as the GOJ is concerned, disputed territories), or (shudder) bring in MORE Chinese, as higher-skilled professionals!
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Hi Blog. Reader JD submits this as “Cliff Notes for Debito.org”. Quite so. It’s what we’ve been saying for a while now about Japan in decline (see for example here, here, and here). Only this time, we have something quantitative (and a major economic indicator) to demonstrate it: Japan’s first trade deficit in 31 years. Fareed Zakaria from CNN offers this crisp blog comment. Arudou Debito
Wherever you are in the world, you’ve probably used or coveted some Japanese product – a Honda four-wheeler; a Toyota Prius, a Sony, a Panasonic TV, a Nikon camera. Since the 1950s, Japan’s exports have flooded the world and fueled an economic miracle at home, making that country one of the wealthiest in the world. Well, this week marks a turning point – one of the world’s great export engines has run out of gas.
What in the world is going on?
For the first time in 31 years, Japan has recorded a trade deficit. In simple terms, that means Japan imported more than it exported last year. Now this is not that unusual for some rich countries: the U.S. has had a trade deficit since 1975, and yet we’ve grown. But the U.S. economy is not built on exports. Japan’s economic rise on the other hand, has been almost entirely powered by exports.
So what has changed in Japan?
The Japanese government would like to blame one-off events: Last year’s earthquake and tsunami crippled factories and shut down nuclear energy reactors. The offshoot of that was decreased economic output, plus they needed to import expensive oil from the Middle East. But natural disasters have only highlighted and accelerated existing trends in Japan: A decline in competitiveness and an ageing work force.
China and other East Asian countries can now produce cheaper products and in greater quantities. Add to that a rising Yen, and Japan’s exporters have been at a disadvantage globally. Toyota’s chief perhaps said it best last year: “It doesn’t make sense to manufacture in Japan.”
Then add to this Japan’s demographics. Between 1990 and 2007, Japan’s working population dropped from 86 to 83 million. At the same time, the number of Americans between the ages of 15 and 64 rose from 160 million to 200 million. In a global marketplace, this is a major handicap for Tokyo.
Between 2001 and 2010, Japan’s economy grew at seven-tenths of one percent – less than half the pace of America’s. It was also well behind Europe. Contrast that with growth per person – or GDP per capita – and Japan actually outperforms America and the Euro Zone.
So while Japan’s economy in aggregate has been hurt by this lack of workers, for the average Japanese worker income is still up and quality of life is still very high. That’s partly why the country has not felt the pressure to reform.
Now it’s easy to extrapolate from the data that Japan’s low growth is not a failure of economic policy, but just a reflection of its demographics. But that’s too simple. In reality, Japan’s industry is becoming less competitive and even per capita incomes will start slowing down.
Tokyo’s policymakers have failed its people – they could have opened up many of its closed sectors to competition, reformed its labor laws to make Japanese labor more attractive, cut pension benefits, and allowed more immigration. Its government could have put the country on a path to reduce its massive debt burden. Instead, we’re now entering an era where one of the great manufacturing nations of history faces a looming current account deficit. With its debt at 211% of its GDP, if the cost of its borrowing increases, Tokyo would face an even greater crisis: A default.
Keeping a rich country competitive is very hard, especially in a democracy where interest groups keep asking for more – more benefits, more subsidies, more protections. They want to be shielded from competitive forces. It is happening in America, just as it happened in Japan. It’s easy to forget how powerful a growth engine Japan was in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.
But eventually, it was unable to change its ways, reform, and get less rigid. The result was decline.
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Hello Blog. Interesting email from by Reader MD:
/////////////////////////////////////////////////// October 30, 2011
Hello Debito-san, I just found a highly interesting article on the MOFA now issuing 6-month work permits for Thai people to come and work in Japan in order to compensate for the supply-chain problems caused by the extensive floodings in Thailand. As you probably know a lot of Japanese companies now face said supply-chain problems because their Thailand-based production has come to an abrupt halt. The catch, all companies employing Thais for the above mentioned period (6m) have apparently to promise (?) that they send they will send the workers home once their visa runs out.
The Japan Times, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011
Thai flood-idled to work here http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20111029a2.html Kyodo Several thousand Thai workers at Japanese firms operating in Thailand will be allowed to work in Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Friday, as companies shift their production in light of the impact of the massive floods in the Southeast Asian country.
Fujimura told a news conference that Japan’s special measures will remedy the supply chain disruptions caused by the floods, which have led to widespread crippling of industries.
The move comes as the floods have forced a number of major manufacturers, including Toyota Motor Corp., to suspend their local operations in Thailand.
Fujimura said the government is looking to accept thousands of Thai workers from about 30 firms for a fixed time frame of roughly six months.
Among the conditions the government will impose on the firms is to make sure the Thai workers return to their home country…
Japan is aging, and fast. In fact, already it is the most aged nation in human history. A falling birthrate and rising life expectancy have tilted the nation’s demographics such that 23.1 percent of the population is now aged 65 and over – a figure that has almost doubled in the past 20 years. By 2025, Japanese who are 65 and above are expected to comprise 30 percent of the population, and by 2050 the fi gure could rise to 40 percent, with a signifi cant proportion over 80 years of age. The 2050 projection shows Japan’s population, currently 127 million, dipping under 100 million.
An obvious concern is whether fewer tax-paying workers will be able to support more benefit-claiming retirees. Japan’s healthy personal savings may help in that regard. A more human question is, “Who will provide the daily care the elderly require?”
In many countries, the solution to shortages in healthcare providers has been to bring in foreign professionals. According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, 13,014 Filipino nurses found employment abroad in 2009. Leading hiring countries were Saudi Arabia (9,623), Singapore (745) and the United Arab Emirates (572). Japan accounted for just one during the same year.
Under the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (Japan has signed similar agreements with other Southeast Asian and Pacific Rim countries), the country pledged to import foreign caregivers and nurses, primarily from the Philippines and Indonesia. But these healthcare professionals can stay for only three years, as trainees and on a limited salary. To continue to work in Japan, they must pass a test involving the reading and writing of some 2,000 kanji characters. If they fail to do so before their three years are up, they are sent home.
In 2010, of the 257 Filipinos who took the test, only one passed. The success rate for Filipinos and Indonesians over the first two years of the program was also less than 1 percent, prompting some to regard the exam as a contrivance designed to restrict foreign professionals’ period of stay.
“Japan has long maintained a tacit revolving-door policy for migrant labor,” says Arudou Debito, a naturalized- Japanese human-rights activist and researcher on internationalization.
“The Japanese government imports cheap young workers during their most productive labor years, but under short-term work visa regimes to ensure they don’t settle here. In that sense, what is happening to the caregivers and nurses is completely within character.”
Says Professor Takeo Ogawa, founder of Kyushu-based NGO Asian Aging Business Center, “Although the Economic Partnership Agreement has brought caregivers and nurses to Japan, there are many issues with the program. I believe the Japanese system of qualifi cation for caregivers and nurses is too complex for promoting international migration.
The system here is like the Galapagos – a too-specialized evolution in a specific atmosphere. Regarding our aging society, we need to start to look at global standards for qualifying caregivers and nurses, such as the European Care Certifi cate.”
“Although inviting foreign workers is still a minority opinion in Japan, without foreign workers we cannot maintain the Japanese social system,” says Ogawa. “We need to make fundamental changes to address our labor shortage. For example, Japan still does not have an immigration law. Without such policy changes, it will be much more diffi cult to improve the situation, not only for the elderly but also for other areas of our economy.”
One factor working in Japan’s favor is the robust and selfless disposition of its elderly population. Many continue to work through their 70s and beyond. Garnering headlines in recent weeks was the Skilled Veterans Corps, a group of seniors led by retired engineers, who volunteered to help repair the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, with the reasoning that they will likely die by natural causes before the eff ects of radiation exposure take hold. Japanese government nuclear adviser Goshi Hosono took the flak when he dismissed the group as a “suicide corps”. The nation was enamored.
As a last-chance alternative to importing foreign caregivers and nurses, Japan is aggressively exploring the use of robots to care for its elderly. A 7.6 billion yen ($93.7 million), fi ve-year Home-use Robot Practical Application Project has so far yielded talking kitchen appliances and networked vital sign monitors, interactive electronic companion pets, smart wheelchairs, hoisting androids and movementand ambulation-assisting skeleton suits. Robot care initiatives have met with mixed views from the elderly, who are increasingly living alone, and dying alone.
“I don’t know about all this robot technology, because it is still under development,” says Shigeyoshi Yoshida, executive director of the Japan NGO Council on Aging, which represents about 60 aging groups across Japan. “But quick action is required; our culture does not change quickly enough. I know that personally; I would not want a robot taking care of me in my old age. I’d much prefer a young lady!”
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Hi Blog. Pretty self explanatory. Japan’s “Trainee” program is now acknowledged by a significant authority on the subject to contribute to human trafficking. Read on. The U.S. State Department report text in full after articles from the Asahi and the Yomiuri. Arudou Debito
WASHINGTON–The U.S. State Department sharply criticized Japan’s industrial training and technical internship program in its annual report on human trafficking, citing various abuses against foreign trainees by their employers.
The Trafficking in Persons Report, released June 27, urged the Japanese government to dedicate “more government resources to anti-trafficking efforts.”
Referring to the “foreign trainees program,” the report noted “the media and NGOs continued to report abuses including debt bondage, restrictions on movement, unpaid wages … elements which contribute to … trafficking.”
The State Department recommended the Japanese government strengthen efforts to investigate, prosecute and punish acts of forced labor, including those that fall within the foreign trainee program.
The latest report covered 184 countries and regions, the largest number ever. They were classified into four categories–Tier 3, the worst rating, Tier 2 Watch List, Tier 2, and Tier 1, countries whose governments fully comply with standards set under the U.S. trafficking victims protection act.
Japan was ranked Tier 2, second from the top category, for the seventh consecutive year. Tier 2 indicates countries and regions whose governments do not fully meet the minimum standards in protecting victims of human trafficking, but are making efforts to comply with the standards.
The report said, “Japan is a destination, source, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. ENDS
WASHINGTON–The U.S. State Department said in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report that some conditions faced by participants in Japan’s foreign trainee program were similar to those seen in human trafficking operations.
According to criteria set under the U.S. trafficking victims protection act, enacted in 2000, the report released Monday classified 184 countries and territories into four categories: Tier 3, the worst rating; Tier 2 Watch List; Tier 2; and Tier 1.
Japan was rated Tier 2 for the seventh consecutive year. Tier 2 indicates countries and territories whose governments do not fully meet the act’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to do so.
Twenty-three countries, including North Korea, were classified as Tier 3.
Regarding conditions for foreign trainees in Japan, the report noted “the media and NGOs continued to report abuses including debt bondage, restrictions on movement, unpaid wages, overtime, fraud and contracting workers out to different employers–elements which contribute to situations of trafficking.”
The Japanese government has not officially recognized the existence of such problems, the report said.
It also said Japan “did not identify or provide protection to any victims of forced labor.”
The foreign trainee program, run by a government-related organization, is designed to help foreign nationals, mainly from China and Southeast Asian nations, who want to learn technology and other skills by working for Japanese companies.
The majority of trainees are Chinese, who according to the report “pay fees of more than 1,400 dollars to Chinese brokers to apply for the program and deposits of up to 4,000 dollars and a lien on their home.”
The report said a NGO survey of Chinese trainees in Japan found “some trainees reported having their passports and other travel documents taken from them and their movements controlled to prevent escape or communication.”
Japan is a destination, source, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Male and female migrant workers from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other Asian countries are sometimes subject to conditions of forced labor. Some women and children from East Asia, Southeast Asia, and in previous years, Eastern Europe, Russia, South America, and Latin America who travel to Japan for employment or fraudulent marriage are forced into prostitution. During the reporting period, there was a growth in trafficking of Japanese nationals, including foreign-born children of Japanese citizens who acquired nationality. In addition, traffickers continued to use fraudulent marriages between foreign women and Japanese men to facilitate the entry of these women into Japan for forced prostitution. Government and NGO sources report that there was an increase in the number of children identified as victims of trafficking. Japanese organized crime syndicates (the Yakuza) are believed to play a significant role in trafficking in Japan, both directly and indirectly. Traffickers strictly control the movements of victims, using debt bondage, threats of violence or deportation, blackmail, and other coercive psychological methods to control victims. Victims of forced prostitution sometimes face debts upon commencement of their contracts as high as $50,000 and most are required to pay employers additional fees for living expenses, medical care, and other necessities, leaving them predisposed to debt bondage. “Fines” for misbehavior added to their original debt, and the process that brothel operators used to calculate these debts was not transparent. Some of the victims identified during the reporting period were forced to work in exploitative conditions in strip clubs and hostess bars, but were reportedly not forced to have sex with clients. Japan is also a transit country for persons trafficked from East Asia to North America. Japanese men continue to be a significant source of demand for child sex tourism in Southeast Asia.
Although the Government of Japan has not officially recognized the existence of forced labor within the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program (the “foreign trainee program”), the media and NGOs continue to report abuses including debt bondage, restrictions on movement, unpaid wages and overtime, fraud, and contracting workers out to different employers – elements which contribute to situations of trafficking. The majority of trainees are Chinese nationals who pay fees of more than $1,400 to Chinese brokers to apply for the program and deposits – which are now illegal – of up to $4,000 and a lien on their home. An NGO survey of Chinese trainees in Japan, conducted in late 2010, found that workers’ deposits are regularly seized by the brokers if they report mistreatment or attempt to leave the program. Some trainees also reported having their passports and other travel documents taken from them and their movements controlled to prevent escape or communication.
The Government of Japan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Although Japan provided a modest grant to IOM for the repatriation of foreign victims identified in Japan, the government’s resources dedicated specifically to assist victims of trafficking were low, particularly relative to Japan’s wealth and the size of its trafficking problem. During the year, the government published a manual for law enforcement and judicial officers on identifying trafficking victims and developed a Public Awareness Roadmap to increase prevention of trafficking in Japan. The government also reported some efforts to punish and prevent trafficking of women for forced prostitution. Nonetheless, the government made inadequate efforts to address abuses in the foreign trainee program despite credible reports of mistreatment of foreign workers. Although the government took some steps to reduce practices that increase the vulnerability of these workers to forced labor, the government reported poor law enforcement against forced labor crimes and did not identify or provide protection to any victims of forced labor. In addition, Japan’s victim protection structure for forced prostitution remains weak given the lack of services dedicated specifically to victims of trafficking.
Recommendations for Japan: Dedicate more government resources to anti-trafficking efforts, including dedicated law enforcement units, trafficking-specific shelters, and legal aid for victims of trafficking; consider drafting and enacting a comprehensive anti-trafficking law prohibiting all forms of trafficking and prescribing sufficiently stringent penalties; significantly increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and assign sufficiently stringent jail sentences to acts of forced labor, including within the foreign trainee program, and ensure that abuses reported to labor offices are referred to criminal authorities for investigation; enforce bans on deposits, punishment agreements, withholding of passports, and other practices that contribute to forced labor in the foreign trainee program; continue to increase efforts to enforce laws and stringently punish perpetrators of forced prostitution; make greater efforts to proactively investigate and, where warranted, punish government complicity in trafficking or trafficking-related offenses; further expand and implement formal victim identification procedures and train personnel who have contact with individuals arrested for prostitution, foreign trainees, or other migrants on the use of these procedures to identify a greater number of trafficking victims; ensure that victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; establish protection policies for all victims of trafficking, including male victims and victims of forced labor; ensure that protection services, including medical and legal services, are fully accessible to victims of trafficking by making them free and actively informing victims of their availability; and more aggressively investigate and, where warranted, prosecute and punish Japanese nationals who engage in child sex tourism.
The Japanese government took modest, but overall inadequate, steps to enforce laws against trafficking during the reporting period; while the government reportedly increased its law enforcement efforts against forced prostitution, it did not report any efforts to address forced labor. Japan does not have a comprehensive anti-trafficking law, but Japan’s 2005 amendment to its criminal code, which prohibits the buying and selling of persons, and a variety of other criminal code articles and laws, could be used to prosecute some trafficking offenses. However, it is unclear if the existing legal framework is sufficiently comprehensive to criminalize all severe forms of trafficking in persons. These laws prescribe punishments ranging from one to 10 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and generally commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes. During the reporting period, the government reported 19 investigations for offenses reported to be related to trafficking, resulting in the arrest of 24 individuals under a variety of laws, including immigration and anti-prostitution statutes. Given the incomplete nature of the government’s data, it is not clear how many of these involve actual trafficking offenses. The government convicted 14 individuals of various trafficking-related offenses, though most were convicted under statutes other than those for human trafficking crimes. Of these 14 convicted offenders, six received non-suspended jail sentences ranging from 2.5 to 4.5 years plus fines, six received suspended jail sentences of approximately one to two years plus fines, and one was ordered to only pay a fine. Ten cases were not prosecuted for lack of evidence. These law enforcement efforts against sex forms of trafficking are an increase from the five convictions reported last year. The National Police Agency (NPA), Ministry of Justice, Bureau of Immigration, and the Public Prosecutor’s office regularly trained officers on trafficking investigation and prosecution techniques, including training programs conducted by IOM and NGOs. In July 2010, the government distributed a 10-page manual to assist law enforcement, judicial and other government officers in identifying and investigating trafficking offenses and implementing victim protection measures.
Nonetheless, Japan made inadequate efforts to criminally investigate and punish acts of forced labor. Article 5 of Japan’s Labor Standards Law prohibits forced labor and prescribes a penalty of one to 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine ranging from $2,400 to $36,000, but is generally limited to acts committed by the employer. A July 2010 government ordinance bans the practices of requiring deposits from applicants to the foreign trainee program and imposing fines for misbehavior or early termination. Despite the availability of these prohibitions, however, authorities failed to arrest, prosecute, convict, or sentence to jail any individual for forced labor or other illegal practices contributing to forced labor in the foreign trainee program. The government investigated only three cases of suspected forced labor during the reporting period. Most cases of abuse taking place under the foreign trainee program are settled out of court or through administrative or civil hearings, resulting in penalties which are not sufficiently stringent or reflective of the heinous nature of the crime, such as fines. For example, in November 2010, the Labor Standards Office determined that a 31-year-old Chinese trainee officially died due to overwork; although he had worked over 80 hours per week for 12 months preceding his death without full compensation, the company received only a $6,000 fine as punishment and no individual was sentenced to imprisonment or otherwise held criminally responsible for his death.
In addition, the government failed to address government complicity in trafficking offenses. Although corruption remains a serious concern in the large and socially accepted entertainment industry in Japan, which includes the prostitution industry, the government did not report investigations, arrests, prosecutions, convictions, or jail sentences against any official for trafficking-related complicity during the reporting period.
The Government of Japan identified more victims of sex trafficking than last year, but its overall efforts to protect victims of trafficking, particularly victims of forced labor, remained weak. During the reporting period, 43 victims of trafficking for sexual purposes were identified, including a male victim – an increase from the 17 victims reported last year, though similar to the number identified in 2008 (37), and lower than the number of victims identified in each of the years from 2005 to 2007. Japanese authorities produced a manual entitled, “How to Treat Human Trafficking Cases: Measures Regarding the Identification of Victims” that was distributed to government agencies in July 2010 to identify victims of trafficking. The manual’s focus, however, appears to be primarily on identifying the immigration status of foreign migrants and their methods of entering Japan, rather than identifying indicators of nonconsensual exploitation of the migrants. It is also unclear if this manual led to the identification of any victims and whether it was used widely throughout the country. Some victims were reportedly arrested or detained before authorities identified them as trafficking victims. Japan failed to identify any victims of forced labor during the reporting period despite ample evidence that many workers in the foreign trainee program face abuses indicative of forced labor. The government has no specific protection policy for victims of forced labor and it has never identified a victim of labor trafficking. Moreover, services provided to identified victims of trafficking for forced prostitution were inadequate. Japan continues to lack dedicated shelters for victims of trafficking. Of the identified victims, 32 received care at government shelters for domestic violence victims – Women’s Consulting Centers (WCCs) – but these victims reportedly faced restrictions on movement outside of these multi-purpose shelters, and inadequate services inside them. Due to limitations on these shelters’ space and language capabilities, WCCs sometimes referred victims to government-subsidized NGO shelters. For instance, due to the government’s continued lack of protection services for male victims of trafficking, the one male victim identified during the reporting period received services at an NGO shelter. IOM provided protection to 20 foreign victims of trafficking during the reporting period with government funding. Although the government paid for victims’ psychological services and related interpretation costs in the WCC shelters, some victims at NGO shelters did not receive this care. A government program exists to pay for all medical services incurred while a victim resides at the WCC, but the system for administering these services is not well organized and, as a result, some victims of trafficking did not receive all available care. The government-funded Legal Support Center provides pro bono legal services to destitute victims of crime, including trafficking victims, but information about available service was not always provided to victims in the government and NGO shelters. If a victim is a child, the WCC works with a local Child Guidance Center to provide shelter and services to the victim; the government reported that one victim was assisted in this manner during the reporting period. Furthermore, while authorities reported encouraging victims’ participation in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, victims were not provided with any incentives for participation, such as the ability to work or otherwise generate income. In addition, the relative confinement of the WCC shelters and the inability of victims to work led most victims to seek repatriation. A long-term residency visa is available to persons identified as trafficking victims who fear returning to their home country, but only one person has ever applied for or received this benefit.
The Japanese government made limited efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period. The Inter-ministerial Liaison Committee continued to meet, chaired by the cabinet secretary, and agreed on a “Public Awareness Roadmap” and released posters and distributed brochures aimed at raising awareness of trafficking. More than 33,000 posters and 50,000 leaflets were distributed to local governments, police stations, community centers, universities, immigration offices, and airports. NGOs, however, reported that this campaign had little effect and failed to reach the consumers of commercial sexual services. The Immigration Bureau conducted an online campaign to raise awareness of trafficking and used flyers to encourage local immigration offices to be alert for indications of trafficking. In July 2010, the government amended the rules of the foreign trainee program to allow first-year participants access to the Labor Standards Office and to ban the use of deposits and penalties for misbehavior or early termination, in order to prevent conditions of forced labor within this program and provide increased legal redress to participants of the program. The government did not report its efforts to enforce the ban on deposits and it is unclear whether the new rules contributed to a reduction in the number of cases of misconduct committed by the organizations that receive the interns. NGO sources report that brokers have instructed participants to deny the existence of these deposits or “punishment agreements” to Japanese authorities. The government continued to fund a number of anti-trafficking projects around the world. For years, a significant number of Japanese men have traveled to other Asian countries, particularly the Philippines, Cambodia, and Thailand, to engage in sex with children. Japan has the legal authority to prosecute Japanese nationals who engage in child sex tourism abroad and arrested one man under this law in February 2011; a total of eight persons have been convicted under this law since 2002. Japan is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
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Hi Blog. Here is a deep article from Reuters this month on how deep the rot goes in Japan’s labor market and safety practices regarding nuclear power. It’s germane to Debito.org because even NJ workers have been hired and exposed to radiation in Japan — without proper recordkeeping. Guess that’s one of the advantages of utilizing NJ laborers — they are the “temp temps” (my term) that escape any official scrutiny because imported labor “sent home” after use is somebody else’s problem. Courtesy JV. Arudou Debito
The March 11 earthquake and tsunami revealed the heroism of Japanese workers at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. But it also exposed something else — a legacy of lax safety standards for nuclear workers.
Reuters, June 2011,special report By Kevin Krolicki & Chisa Fujioka FUKUSHIMA, Japan, June 24, 2011
A DECADE and a half before it blew apart in a hydrogen blast that punctuated the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, the No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima nuclear power plant was the scene of an earlier safety crisis.
Then, as now, a small army of transient workers was put to work to try to stem the damage at the oldest nuclear reactor run by Japan’s largest utility.
At the time, workers were racing to finish an unprecedented repair to address a dangerous defect: cracks in the drum-like steel assembly known as the “shroud” surrounding the radioactive core of the reactor.
But in 1997, the effort to save the 21-year-old reactor from being scrapped at a large loss to its operator, Tokyo Electric, also included a quiet effort to skirt Japan’s safety rules: foreign workers were brought in for the most dangerous jobs, a manager of the project said.
“It’s not well known, but I know what happened,” Kazunori Fujii, who managed part of the shroud replacement in 1997, told Reuters. “What we did would not have been allowed under Japanese safety standards.”
The previously undisclosed hiring of welders from the United States and Southeast Asia underscores the way Tokyo Electric, a powerful monopoly with deep political connections in Japan, outsourced its riskiest work and developed a lax safety culture in the years leading to the Fukushima disaster, experts say.
A 9.0 earthquake on March 11 triggered a 15-metre tsunami that smashed into the seaside Fukushima Daiichi plant and set off a series of events that caused its reactors to start melting down.
Hydrogen explosions scattered debris across the complex and sent up a plume of radioactive steam that forced the evacuation of more than 80,000 residents near the plant, about 240 km (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo. Enough radioactive water to fill 40 Olympic swimming pools has also been collected at the plant and threatens to leak into the groundwater.
The repeated failures that have dogged Tokyo Electric in the three months the Fukushima plant has been in crisis have undercut confidence in the response to the disaster and dismayed outside experts, given corporate Japan’s reputation for relentless organization.
Hastily hired workers were sent into the plant without radiation meters. Two splashed into radioactive water wearing street shoes because rubber boots were not available. Even now, few have been given training on radiation risks that meets international standards, according to their accounts and the evaluation of experts.
The workers who stayed on to try to stabilize the plant in the darkest hours after March 11 were lauded as the “Fukushima 50” for their selflessness. But behind the heroism is a legacy of Japanese nuclear workers facing hazards with little oversight, according to interviews with more than two dozen current and former nuclear workers, doctors and others.
Since the start of the nuclear boom in the 1970s, Japan’s utilities have relied on temporary workers for maintenance and plant repair jobs, the experts said. They were often paid in cash with little training and no follow-up health screening.
This practice has eroded the ability of nuclear plant operators to manage the massive risks workers now face and prompted calls for the Japanese government to take over the Fukushima clean-up effort.
Although almost 9,000 workers have been involved in work around the mangled reactors, Tokyo Electric did not have a Japan-made robot capable of monitoring radiation inside the reactors until this week.
That job was left to workers, reflecting the industry’s reliance on cheap labor, critics say.
“I can only think that to the power companies, contract workers are just disposable pieces of equipment,” said Kunio Horie, who worked at nuclear plants, including Fukushima Daiichi, in the late 1970s and wrote about his experience in a book “Nuclear Gypsy”.
Tokyo Electric said this week it cannot find 69 of the more than 3,600 workers who were brought in to Fukushima just after the disaster because their names were never recorded.
Others were identified by Tepco in accident reports only by initials: “A-san” or “B-san.” Makoto Akashi, executive director at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences near Tokyo, said he was shocked to learn Tokyo Electric had not screened some of the earliest workers for radiation inside their bodies until June while others had to share monitors to measure external radiation.
That means health risks for workers – and future costs – will be difficult to estimate.
“We have to admit that we didn’t have an adequate system for checking radiation exposure,” said Goshi Hosono, an official appointed by Prime Minister Naoto Kan to coordinate the response to the crisis.
BROAD ROAD TO DESTRUCTION
Fujii, who devoted his career to building Japanese nuclear power plants as a manager with IHI Corporation, was troubled by what he saw at Fukushima in 1997.
Now 72, he remembers falling for “the romance of nuclear power” as a student at Tokyo’s Rikkyo University in the 1960s. “The idea that you could take a substance small enough to fit into a tea cup and produce almost infinite power seemed almost like a dream” he said.
He had asked to oversee part of the job at Fukushima as the last big assignment of his career. He threw himself into the work, heading into the reactor for inspections. “I had a sense of mission,” he said.
As he watched a group of Americans at work in the reactor one day, Fujii jotted down a Bible verse in his diary that captured his angst: “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it.”
The basis for nuclear safety regulation is the assumption that cancers, including leukemia, can be caused years later by exposure to relatively small amounts of radiation, far below the level that would cause immediate sickness. In normal operations, international nuclear workers are limited to an average exposure of 20 millisieverts per year, about 10 times natural background radiation levels.
At Fukushima in 1997, Japanese safety rules were applied in a way that set very low radiation exposure limits on a daily basis, Fujii said. That was a prudent step, safety experts say, but it severely limited what Japanese workers could do on a single shift and increased costs.
The workaround was to bring in foreign workers who would absorb a full-year’s allowable dose of radiation of between 20 millisieverts and 25 millisieverts in just a few days.
“We brought in workers from Southeast Asia and Saudi Arabia who had experience building oil tankers. They took a heavier dose of radiation than Japanese workers could have,” said Fujii, adding that American workers were also hired.
Tokyo Electric would admit five years later it had hid evidence of the extent of the defect in the shroud from regulators. That may have added to the pressure to finish the job quickly. When new cracks were found, they were fixed without a report to regulators, according to disclosures made in 2002.
It is not clear if the radiation doses for the foreign workers were recorded on an individual basis or if they have faced any heath problems. Tepco said it had no access to the worker records kept by its subcontractors. IHI said it had no record of the hiring of the foreign workers. Toshiba, another major contractor, also said it could not confirm that foreign workers were hired.
Hosono, the government official overseeing the response to the disaster, said he was not aware of foreign workers being brought in to do repair work in the past and they would not be sent in now.
Now retired outside Tokyo, Fujii said he has come to see nuclear power as an “imperfect technology.”
“This is an unfortunate thing to say, but the nuclear industry has long relied on people at the lowest level of Japanese society,” he said.
Since the late 1960s, the Kamagasaki neighborhood of Osaka has been a dumping ground for men battling drug and alcohol addiction, ex-convicts, and men looking for a construction job with few questions. It has also been a hiring spot for Japan’s nuclear industry for decades.
“Kamagasaki is a place that companies have always come for workers that they can use and then throw away,” said Hiroshi Inagaki, a labor activist.
The nearby Lawson’s store has a sign on its bathroom door warning that anyone trying to flush a used syringe down the toilet will be prosecuted. Peddlers sell scavenged trash, including used shoes and rice cookers. A pair of yakuza enforcers in black shirts and jeans walks the street to collect loans.
The center of Kamagasaki is an office that connects day laborers with the small construction firms that roll up before dawn in vans and minibuses.
Within a week after the Fukushima disaster, Tepco had engaged Japan’s biggest construction and engineering companies to run the job of trying to bring the plant under control. They in turned hired smaller firms, over 600 of them. That cascade brought the first job offers to Kamagasaki by mid-March.
One hiring notice sought a truck driver for Miyagi, one of the prefectures hit hard by the tsunami. But when an Osaka day laborer in his 60s accepted the job, he was sent instead to Fukushima where he was put to work handling water to cool the No. 5 reactor.
The man, who did not want to be identified, was paid the equivalent of about $300 a day, twice what he was first promised. But he was only issued a radiation meter on his fourth day. Inagaki said the man was seeking a financial settlement from Tokyo Electric. “We think what happened here is illegal,” he said.
Nearby, several men waiting to be hired in Kamagasaki said they had experience working at nuclear plants.
A 58-year-old former member of Japan’s Self Defense Forces from southern Japan who asked to be identified only by his nickname, Jumbo, said he had worked at Tokyo Electric’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power plant for a two-month job. He knows others who have gone to Fukushima from are starting to come back as workers far from home seek the company of bar girls.
“It’s becoming like an army base,” said Shukuko Kuzumi, 63, who runs a cake shop across from the main rail station. “There are workers who come here knowing what the work is like, but I think there are many who don’t.”
Each morning, hired workers pile into buses and beat-up vans and set out from the nearly abandoned resort. More men in the standard-issue white work pajamas pour out of the shipping containers turned into temporary housing at the Hirono highway exit where residents have fled and weeds have overgrown the sidewalks.
They gather at a now abandoned soccer complex where Argentina’s soccer team trained during the 2002 World Cup to get briefed on the tasks for the shifts ahead. They then change into the gear many have come to dread: two or three pairs of gloves, full face masks, goggles and white protective the hiring line at Kamagasaki, he said.
THE ABANDONED SPA
In Iwaki, a town south of the Fukushima plant once known for a splashy Hawaiianthemed resort, the souvenir stands and coffee shops are closed or losing money. The drinking spots known as “snacks” are starting to come back as workers far from home seek the company of bar girls.
“It’s becoming like an army base,” said Shukuko Kuzumi, 63, who runs a cake shop across from the main rail station. “There are workers who come here knowing what the work is like, but I think there are many who don’t.”
Each morning, hired workers pile into buses and beat-up vans and set out from the nearly abandoned resort. More men in the standard-issue white work pajamas pour out of the shipping containers turned into temporary housing at the Hirono highway exit where residents have fled and weeds have overgrown the sidewalks.
They gather at a now abandoned soccer complex where Argentina’s soccer team trained during the 2002 World Cup to get briefed on the tasks for the shifts ahead.
They then change into the gear many have come to dread: two or three pairs of gloves, full face masks, goggles and white protective suits. More than a dozen Fukushima workers have collapsed of heat stroke, and the rising heat weighs more heavily on the minds of workers than threat of radiation.
“I don’t know how I’m going to make it if it gets much hotter than this,” a heavyset, 36-year-old Tokyo man said as he stretched out at Hirono after a day of spraying a green resin around the plant to keep radioactive dust from spreading.
The risks from the radiation hotspots at Fukushima remain considerable. A vent of steam in the No. 1 reactor was found earlier this month to be radioactive enough to kill anyone standing near it for more than an hour.
Tokyo Electric has been given a sanctionfree reprimand for its handling of radiation exposure at Fukushima. Nine workers have exceeded the emergency exposure limit of 250 millisieverts. Another 115 have exceeded 100 millisieverts of exposure. The two workers with the highest radiation readings topped 600 millisieverts of exposure.
For context, the largest study of nuclear workers to date by the International Agency for Research on Cancer found a risk of roughly two additional fatal cancers for every 100 people exposed to 100 millisieverts of radiation.
But several Fukushima workers say they have been told not to worry about health risks unless they top 100 or near 200 millisieverts of exposure in training by contractors.
Experts say that runs counter to international standards. The International Atomic Energy Agency requires workers in a nuclear emergency to give “informed consent” to the risks they face and that they understand danger exists at even low doses.
Tokyo Electric spokesman Junichi Matsumoto said the utility could not confirm what kind of training smaller firms were providing. “The subcontractors have a responsibility as well,” he said. “I don’t know what kind of briefing they are getting.”
Kim Kearfott, a nuclear engineer and radiation health expert from the University of Michigan who toured Japan in May, said authorities needed to ensure that safety training was handled independently by outside experts.
“The potential for coercion and undue influence over a day laborer audience is high, especially when the training and consent are administered by those who control hiring and firing of workers,” she said.
Tokyo Electric has been challenged before on its training. Mitsuaki Nagao, a plumber who had worked at three plants including Fukushima, said he was never briefed on radiation dangers, and would routinely use another worker’s dosimeter to finish jobs. Some doctors worry that the same under-reporting of radiation could happen at Fukushima as well.
Nagao sued Tokyo Electric when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer, in 2004. His lawsuit, one of two known worker cases against a Japanese utility, was rejected by a Tokyo court, which ruled no links had been proven between his radiation and his illness. He died in 2007.
Some doctors are urging Japan’s government to set up a system of health monitoring for the thousands of workers streaming through Fukushima. Some also want to see a standard of care guaranteed.
“This is also a problem of economics,” said Kristin Schrader-Frechette, a Notre Dame University professor and nuclear safety expert. “If Japan wants to know the true costs of nuclear power versus the alternatives, it needs to know what these health care costs are.” (Editing by Bill Tarrant)
At the end of 2009 the decision was taken to change Japan’s status to a ‘Low Risk Location’ along with other developed countries in northern Europe, New Zealand, USA and Canada. This decision was taken because of Japan’s strong legislation and comparatively robust implementation of the law. It meant that from January 2010 there would be no more regular auditing of suppliers in Japan.
Migrant worker issues However SEA continued to monitor the specific issue of foreign or migrant workers in Japan because we know that there is a significant risk of non-compliance in this area.
A series of random audits and interviews conducted during 2010 confirmed a range of non-compliances with respect to migrant workers. These include forced labour, withholding passports, not paying the legal minimum wage and lack of access to grievance channels.
The adidas Group Sourcing team in Japan acted on the audit information and sent a letter to all their suppliers calling for immediate improvements or enforcement action would follow. All 23 suppliers for the adidas Group that have technical interns from China and Vietnam will continue to be monitored by the SEA team in 2011.
Root causes One of the underlying causes of the critical migrant worker situation in Japan is that officially the Japanese government does not accept foreign workers in their domestic market. Instead a Technical Intern Training Programme is used to bring foreign workers to Japan. This programme, led by the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO), has been widely criticised for discriminating against foreign workers. First-year trainees were not protected under Japanese labour law and it was unclear where recruitment fees and contracts were decided – the worker’s home country or Japan – and this lack of clarity meant workers were being exploited.
The Japanese government belatedly addressed the issue in 2010 when, after several delays, the new Immigration Control and Refugee Act came into force on 1 July. It promised greater protection to foreign and migrant workers in the Intern Training Programme. The new law addressed some major issues:
The residence status of trainees was changed so they are now covered by labour law
Contracts containing clauses with deposits and fines are prohibited
Organisations effectively working as employment placement agencies have to register and are obliged to visit their trainees in the workplace and monitor working conditions.
Going beyond legislation There is, regrettably, a history of poor treatment of migrant workers in Japan and it is not a situation which will change overnight, even with this new legislation. So we recognise that we have a role to play in improving the system for migrant workers. In collaboration with several other brands including Nike, Gap and Disney, the adidas Group has set up quarterly meetings with Japanese vendors, suppliers, government representatives and JITCO. Working together the brands are helping to bring more transparency to the Intern Training Programme and establish a standard for acceptable recruitment fees as well as offer capacity building and training on applying the immigration and labour laws.
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Hi Blog. Received this this morning from Terrie Lloyd. Very much worth reading, as it shows the damage done by the market aberration (if you believe in free markets as the final arbiter of fairness) of holding labor costs artificially low — you get resistance to ever raising them again once business gets used to those costs as being “normal”. As wages and working conditions in Japan continue their race to the bottom, it seems that two decades of NJ “Trainee” near-slave and slave labor will come back to haunt the Japanese economy after all. Arudou Debito
* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E ‘S T A K E * * * * * * * A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.
General Edition Sunday, June 19, 2011, Issue No. 618
Addicted to Chinese Trainees, e-biz news from Japan
Date: June 19, 2011 11:49:26 PM JST
Presumably a big contributor to this record number of needy
people has been the Great East Japan earthquake in March.
The level of joblessness has soared to around 90% of
employable survivors in the worst hit areas, and by
the end of May about 110,000 were out of work and applying
for the dole at various Hello Work offices in Iwate,
Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures.
So, one would think that with this excess capacity of
workers, many of whom are from the agricultural, fisheries,
and manufacturing industries, juxtaposed with the
phenomenon of disappearing Chinese trainee workers from
factories around the same regions, less than half of whom
are yet to return, that there would be a slew of local
hirings to make up the shortfall. Certainly after the
Chinese trainees fled the disaster areas, there were plenty
of news reports of employers grumpily saying, “We can’t
trust Chinese employees, next time we’ll hire locals.”
But are they following through with local hiring offers?
Our guess is “not”.
The reason is because a Japanese breadwinner from Iwate on
unemployment, or even welfare, can still receive 2-5 times
more than the Chinese trainees do for the same jobs. The
factory and farm operators may grizzle about their
“unreliable” Chinese employees, but without this source of
ultra-cheap labor, they have no way of being able to
compete with the flood of goods and produce coming in from
China itself. The fact is that thousands of small companies
all over Japan are addicted to cheap trainee labor from
China and elsewhere, and to go local they would soon go out
Thus, unless the government comes up with some kind of
subsidy system, the folks in Fukushima will stay unemployed
and the missing trainees will be replaced with new trainees
just as soon as the recruiters in the remoter regions of
China can find them.
We have mentioned before in Terrie’s Take (TT-399 —
Trainees or slaves?), foreign “trainees” in Japan are paid
a pittance. On average they make about JPY60,000 a month in
the first year, then if they are lucky, around JPY120,000 a
month for the following two years, after which they have to
return to their home country.
One of our readers alerted us to an excellent report just
put out this month by a Hong Kong labor relations think
tank called the China Labor Bulletin. The report is called
‘Throw Away Labor — The Exploitation of Chinese “Trainees”
in Japan’ and is a encapsulation of the appalling
situation involving the virtual slave trade going on
between Chinese recruiters and small- to medium-sized
companies in rural Japan who need this cheap labor to
The report chronicles the various miseries that Chinese
trainees experience once they get to Japan, including:
withheld wages, no or very underpaid overtime, withheld
passports, threats of law suits if they flee back to China,
unsanitary living conditions, extremely difficult working
conditions… well the list goes on. And of course it’s
debatable whether such trainees actually receive any
education worth taking home with them.
The problem is that when you have poor and relatively
uneducated people from the Chinese hinterland making just
2,000 yuan per month (JPY26,000), almost anything sounds
better than what they have, especially when a recruiter
mentions Japan. The report details how trainees are
inveigled into a contract, and once committed, how they are
locked in to delivering that contract under very harsh (and
real) threats of legal action back in China.
This cheap labor addiction represents the reality of the
Japanese rural labor market. No doubt we’ll see the media
highlighting how locals are landing construction jobs and
getting back on their feet — that makes for feel-good
copy. But with only a comparatively small number of such
jobs going, there may well be a larger number of new
“trainee” visas being issued so as to ensure that
the rural factories and farms stay in business for a while
Earlier on this month, the Yomiuri newspaper carried an
article about an auto parts manufacturer in Akitakata,
Hiroshima, which is being investigated for hiring more
foreign “trainees” than allowed by the rules. The company
apparently padded the number of its regular employees, so
that it could bring on an additional 3 Chinese trainees
to add to the 3 already working there. The company had
discovered that not only were the trainees able to do the
same work as locals, they are more than 50% cheaper.
While this case may not seem like such a big deal, it is
the tip of a pretty ugly iceberg. The government’s foreign
trainee program, which started with the grand design of
helping to lift the basic skills of Japan’s neighbors, now
appears to have degenerated into being little more than a
pipeline of low-cost laborers to keep struggling small
manufacturers and farmers going.
The trainees work/train under near-slavery conditions and
the fall-out from this seems to be increasing. Last year
alone, 1,888 of them ran away from their postings, many
going on to become illegal workers elsewhere in the
country. Broken down by nationality, they numbered 3,516
Chinese, 2,629 Vietnamese, and 1,498 Indonesians — pretty
much the same ratios as the nationalities being brought in
under the program.
There are about 83,000 trainees accepted into Japan each
year, about 160,000 in total, of which just over 70%
(55,000 annually) are from China. They are allowed to work
(ummm, sorry, “train”) in 62 different types of industry,
such as agriculture, food processing, construction,
apparel, and animal husbandry.
The numbers in agriculture are a particular eye-opener and
foretell labor trends in this country. Young Japanese
really don’t want to work the land and thus there are now
about 9,000 foreign trainees bolstering the sector,
compared with just 2,200 Japanese high school graduates.
That means there is a 4:1 likelihood that next time you
want to buy a daikon or eggs directly from the farm, you’d
better be able to speak Mandarin.
The trainee system has been turned into a form of legalized
“slavery”. Most trainees for the duration of their 3 years
have virtually no employment rights (they are, after all
supposed to be trainees not employees) and are paid
unbelievably low compensation — just JPY66,000 (average) a
month plus accomodation in the first year, and a more
luxurious JPY118,000 (average) or so for the following two
years. Could you survive on this? We’d have problems…
The treatment some of these trainees are receiving is
pretty shocking. The “Association Tokushima”, a group
assisting Chinese laborers with problems in Japan, says
that they have documented a case of a 27-year old female
trainee working for a Tokushima-based food processing
plant, who received just JPY70,000/month for working 8
hours a day, 6 days a week, and an overtime allowance of
just JPY300/hour. Apparently she was working 14 hours a
day, then moon-lighting doing farm work on Sundays.
In another case, covered in the Asahi Shimbun back in
August, a Chinese female trainee arrived in Japan to learn
how to grow spinach and strawberries. But somehow she wound
up in a Forestry company. While there, she was required to
clean the company president’s home and even polish his
shoes. During her first year, in 2004, she received an
allowance of JPY50,000/month and JPY300/hour for overtime.
After she “graduated” from her first year and become a
so-called documented worker, her salary was supposedly
lifted to JPY112,000/month plus overtime. But in reality
the company deducted JPY90,000/month for rent, futon lease
(really!), washing machine lease, etc. To top it all off,
one of her managers had her apartment key and about 4
months into her traineeship started visiting and demanding
Conditions like these came to the notice of the press in
August, when a Chinese trainee at a pig farm in Chiba
complained about the harsh work conditions and was told
that his traineeship would be terminated. This of course
meant that he would be banished back to China — trainees
seldom get an extension unless the sponsoring company wants
them. In despair, he went berserk and stabbed 3 people,
including an official of the Chiba Agricultural
Association, the very organization that had brought him to
Japan in the first place. The official died. Since then,
the Ministry of Agriculture and other trainee
program-related ministries have started to review means of
enforcing the rules of the program that are supposed to
protect the trainees from these types of abuses.
According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare,
companies accepting foreign trainees and workers are mostly
small-scale businesses with less than 19 employees. There
were more than 180 documented cases of fraud or
mistreatment last year (2005) and it is suspected that a
lot more cases go unreported. In fact a Ministry of Health
survey found that of 731 reviewed companies, a full 80% of
them were violating the minimum wage law and labor
standards law for their 2nd- and 3rd-year trainees.
Obviously the problem is severe enough that the Ministry is
allocating JPY400m (US$3.38m) to its quango looking after
the placement of trainees, JITCO, for the purpose of
monitoring participating companies to make sure that they
stay compliant with the trainee program rules.
With the falling birth rate and migration of the domestic
workforce out of hard labor jobs, Japan clearly has to turn
to foreign workers to keep things going. The government
knows this and is infact planning to expand the trainee
system. Among the proposals are to increase the number of
trainees a company can employ from just one for every 20
staff, to an unlimited number, and to increase the variety
of jobs that a trainee can fill. Some employer
organizations are even calling for rule changes to make it
legal to bring in unskilled foreign workers in the same way
that they can already do with skilled ones.
But the expansion can’t go ahead until someone takes
responsibility for properly protecting the welfare of the
trainees. Although JITCO is being assigned this role, with
the increased number of inspectors, in fact, given that
they are a major player (they account for about 60% of
trainees) in sourcing and matching the trainees, and so it
seems like the current problems are in fact JITCO’s to solve.
Instead, we feel that the government should legislate to
keep traineeships to just one year and make sure that
classes from a local education institution — which need
new students — are incorporated. Once trained, graduates
should be allowed to become regular workers and enjoy the
benefits of a minimum salary, labor rights, and the ability
to get their visas renewed. Those that don’t pass their
first year should be sent home.
Already a step in the right direction is being taken, in
the way that semi-skilled Filippino health care workers are
to be handled. If they pass their language tests and gain
a solid record during their training period they will be
allowed to stay and work in Japan indefinitely… [Note from Debito: Hah.]
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Hi Blog. The GOJ is trying to plug the leak of NJ trainee nurses leaving Japan despite their best efforts on the qualifying exam. But after all these years of insufficient institutional support, it’s too little, too late, and disorganized at that; according to the Asahi article below, morale is clearly low for them. Mayhaps the jig is up, and word is getting round at last that the NJ nurse training program was after all just another guise for a revolving-door labor force? Arudou Debito
Many Indonesian nurse trainees who failed their exams have returned home amid confusion over who would be allowed to stay for another year to retake the test.
The government decided to allow 68 of the 78 Indonesians who failed this year’s nursing exam to stay and take another exam next year. But 25 of the 91 Indonesians who took the exam in March have already left.
“I first heard about an extended stay some time ago, but I was not given any details,” said a woman in her 30s who failed the exam and left in April. “After all, I think we are not needed.”
Another woman in her 30s, who also left in April after working at a hospital in the Kansai region, said, “I might have reconsidered if the government had decided (on an extended stay) earlier.”
The woman, who failed in the exam by a slight margin, knew she could be allowed to stay. But she said she has lost her enthusiasm to work in Japan because of a lack of support from the government.
The two are among 104 nurse trainees who came from Indonesia in August 2008 under a bilateral economic partnership agreement. The trainees were expected to pass the Japanese-language nursing exam in three years. But only 13 passed the exam this year, on top of the two who passed last year.
The government decided in March to allow unsuccessful trainees to stay for one more year under certain conditions.
In early June, the health ministry notified medical organizations that had accepted trainees that those who had scored at least 102 points out of a possible 300 can stay.
“I will go at it because I want to work as a nurse in Japan,” said a woman in her 20s. “But I am afraid I might not be able to get enough support.”
A trainee who scored 202, one less than the lowest successful score, said it is difficult to maintain his motivation because he cannot prepare for the exam during working hours.
Ten Indonesian trainees whose score was below 102 points will have to leave in August.
“I was shocked because I wanted to take the exam next year,” said a 34-year-old woman working at a hospital in the Kanto region. “I couldn’t hold back my tears when I was told I could not stay. My heart is broken.”
She lost her mother to disease and became a nurse in Indonesia. She came to Japan because of the country’s advanced medical technology. Her score was below 100.
The hospital introduced a new training program in April, devoting two hours during working hours to Japanese language studies.
An official at the hospital acknowledged that there are problems with trainees who cannot score 102 after studying in Japan for three years.
But the official criticized the government for rejecting “people who could be polished into diamonds” simply by their test scores.
A health ministry official said the minimum score of 102 was decided out of consideration for relations with Indonesia.
“It was designed to prevent a diplomatic problem, by keeping a large number of trainees from going back to Indonesia,” the official said. “The Foreign Ministry made the decision, considering the number of trainees that would not lead to a problem.”
The Foreign Ministry told the health ministry that trainees should be allowed to stay if their scores were among the 81 highest scores from the top, including those of successful applicants, and the health ministry decided on the minimum score of 102.
The government conducted a hearing on trainees’ enthusiasm and their hopes to stay after the exam in March, but those who should leave were eventually determined by the scores.
Japan has accepted nurse trainees from Indonesia and the Philippines under economic partnership agreements.
Seventy-three have already returned to their home countries, with 43 during the three months through May.
“If things are left as they are, nurse trainees will leave Japan one after another,” an official at a hospital that accepted trainees said. “The government needs to fundamentally revise the system at an early date.”
A health ministry official said the system is designed to accept those who pass the exam, and that it cannot be helped that those who have lost their confidence leave.
Yuko Hirano, a professor of health and medical sociology at Nagasaki University’s graduate school, said the Great East Japan Earthquake, which occurred immediately before exam results were announced, might be one factor.
“Nurse trainees might have become worried because I don’t think they were given sufficient information on the nuclear accident and other issues,” she said. “I suspect those concerns, coupled with dissatisfaction with the support provided, have led to their departures.”
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Hi Blog. The Sankei reports on May 25 that the Ministry of Justice will be loosening some of its strictures on NJ visas (the Sankei uses the word nohouzu in its headline; I’m not 100% sure of the nuance but it sounds like “a wild and endless expansion of favorable treatment regarding NJ entry visas”; rather snotty, but that’s the Sankei for ya).
The new Immigration policy is directed at NJ with very high skills (koudo jinzai — a good idea) and their families (who will also be allowed to work; wow, that’s a change!), will have a points system for evaluation (another good idea), will offer longer visa periods (5 years), and will loosen the specificity between work visas. It’s being touted as a means to make Japan more appealing to NJ labor (you had better!).
Sounds like a step in the right direction. But it’s still 中途半端. What’s missing is GOJ guaranteeing some degree of protection of labor and civil rights after NJ get here. And what about qualifications? Just try practicing law, medicine, or most other licensed skills in Japan now without going through the rigmarole of domestic certification, with walls so high (cf. the NJ nurses from Indonesia and The Philippines over the past few years) that almost all NJ applicants fail (and, magically, have to return home as usual after three years, just like any other revolving-door “Trainee” or “Researcher” NJ laborer).
This isn’t the first time a points system etc. has been floated (only to die the death of a thousand meddling bureaucrats) either. I guess the mandarins are realizing what a fix Japan is in without NJ labor. But if this kind of policy is going to happen at all, the almighty MOJ has to be the one proposing it. Then perhaps the waters will part for Moses. Let’s wait and see.
But this is on balance “good” news. But not “great” news unless the GOJ also does something to force domestic actors to treat NJ nicely. Which is doubtful. Arudou Debito
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Hi Blog. Getting back to business, here is an excellent series of articles on how important NJ labor has been and will be to Japan’s future. Eighteen pages on the whos, whats, and why-you-should-cares in the Nikkei Business magazine dated May 2, 2011 (thanks to MS).
After the cover (Title: Kieta Gaikokujin Roudou Ryoku: Nihonjin dake de shokuba o mamoreru ka, or “Disappeared NJ Labor Force: Can Japanese maintain the workplaces by themselves?”) and table of contents, we open with a splash page showing Chinese waiting for their bags at the airport carousel after returning to China.
Pages 20 through 23 give us an assessment of NJ labor in several business sectors: Restaurants, Textiles, Finance, Convenience Stores, Agriculture, IT, Education, Tourism, and Airflight, headlining that the NJ labor force has “evaporated”.
Pages 24 and 25 give us the raw data, noting that the majority of NJ (55%) work in small companies of less than 100 employees, and that the near majority of NJ laborers (44%) are Chinese. The point is that “a closed Japanese labor market is impossible”.
Pages 26 and 27 give us a close up about a farm that lost none of its workers, and even asked (for a change, given the Japanese media) what NJ thought. It was all part of the magazine’s suggestions about what should be done to improve things and give NJ a stake: Accountability, Bonds, Careers, and recognizing Diversity. Even offered suggestions about how to simplify Japanese.
Kyodo — Large numbers of foreigners will be needed to help revive the farming and fishery industries in areas damaged by the March 11 mega-quake and tsunami, the head of a reconstruction panel said Friday.
“It is important to draw human resources, including permanent foreign residents” to the hard-hit Tohoku region, Makoto Iokibe, chair of the Reconstruction Design Council, said at the Japan National Press Club.
Iokibe said many cities and towns in the region, known for its strong farming and fishery industries, were suffering from depopulation evern before the calamities, so population growth will be vital to rebuilding the area.
Iokibe, who is also president of the National Defense Academy of Japan, said the country cannot avoid a debate on raising taxes to fund reconstruction, given its heavy debt load and fiscal constraints.
The advisory panel to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, which Iokibe took charge of in early April, has been asked to develop the first set of reconstruction proposals by the end of June.
COMMENT: As submitter CJ commented: “What foreigner WOULDN’T leap at the opportunity to perform manual labor all day bathed in background radiation while being treated like a potential criminal and expected to leave when no longer needed, sacrificing pension contributions in the course of doing so?”
Touche. Especially since day laborers are now a hot commodity for hot radioactive reactor cleanups, see below. Get freshly-imported foreign workers doing this instead and you’ll have no family in Japan complaining. Arudou Debito
OSAKA — An Osaka day laborer who responded to an ad for a truck driver in Miyagi Prefecture found himself working beside the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station, it was learned Monday.
The man, whose name has not been released, has filed a complaint with a job placement center in Osaka’s Airin day labor district. The Osaka district labor bureau is also investigating the case.
According to the Airin center, a job notice came around March 17 from a Gifu-based firm, Hokuriku Koki, which was seeking a truck driver in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture. Onagawa is also home to a nuclear power station, but Yoji Takeshita, an Airin job center official, said the ad did not specify where the driver was supposed to take the truck.
The job promised ¥12,000 a day and the contract was for one month.
But about a week later, the man called the Airin center saying he was actually in Fukushima, not Miyagi Prefecture, and that he was wearing protective clothing and cleaning up debris around the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
On Monday, after the center spoke to the man and Hokuriku Koki, it was further learned he had spent about two weeks near reactors No. 5 and No. 6, working with water tankers to supply the pumps that were being used to keep them cool…
The man completed his work and returned to Osaka in late April. But he filed a complaint with the Airin center, saying that while he was paid ¥24,000 a day — twice what he’d been promised — he didn’t receive a radiation badge until the fourth day on the job and that the work was different from what he had been promised…
The past two months have been uncomfortable for Japan, and for the country’s foreign residents. Non-Japanese (NJ) have been bashed in the media, unreservedly and undeservedly, as deserters in the face of disaster.
Consider the birth of the epithet “fly-jin.” A corruption of the racist word gaijin for foreigners, it appeared in English-language media as a label for NJ who apparently flew the coop in Japan’s time of need. The Japanese media soon developed its own variants (e.g., Nihon o saru gaikokujin), and suddenly it was open season for denigrating NJ.
For example, the Wall Street Journal (March 23) announced in English and Japanese articles an apparent “fly-jin exodus,” portraying NJ as fleeing, then sheepishly crawling back to their Japanese workplaces to face hazing. Tokyo Sports Shimbun (April 14) ran the headline “Tokyo Disneyland’s biggest reason for closing: repatriating NJ dancers” (oddly, Disneyland reopened days later).
Tabloids reported that “all foreigners have fled Japan” (Nikkan Gendai, April 11), or that a wave of migrating “bad foreigners” would render Tokyo’s Ueno a lawless zone (SPA!, April 12). The NJ-bashing got so bad that the government — unusually — intervened, quashing Internet rumors that foreign gangs were roaming the rubble, raping and pillaging, or that foreign terrorists had caused the earthquakes.
More moderate media still reported that escaping NJ labor was hurting Japan’s economy, citing farms and factories employing NJ “trainees,” fast food outlets, convenience stores, the IT sector and language education. Mainichi Shimbun (April 25) shed crocodile tears over the possible death of Japan’s textile industry due to the lack of cheap Chinese workers.
I saw no articles putting things into perspective, comparing numbers of AWOL NJ with AWOL Japanese. Cowardice and desertion were linked with extranationality.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t doubt that many NJ did move due to the Tohoku disasters. But my question is: So what if they did?
I have my doubts that a) it’s any more significant than the fact Japanese did, or that b) it’s worth blaming NJ anyway. Japanese overseas, if advised by their government to leave a trouble spot, would probably do the same. I also doubt overseas media would criticize the departing Japanese so harshly.
So here’s what I don’t get: Why should Japan care if NJ are leaving? Japan hasn’t exactly encouraged them to stay.
Consider some common attitudes towards NJ: Larkers and freeloaders, they’re here just to make money, enjoying our rich, safe society before going “home.” NJ also get accused of threatening our safety and stability, as criminal gang members, terrorists or illegal workers. NJ are such a threat that the National Police Agency created a Policymaking Committee Against Internationalization (sic) in 1999, deputizing the nation’s hotels, employers and general public to join in their racial profiling and help ferret out “bad foreigners committing heinous crimes.”
Moreover, NJ are publicly portrayed as people to be viewed with suspicion, justifying Japan’s first neighborhood surveillance cameras in alleged “hotbeds of foreign crime.” They are even denounced by the likes of Tokyo’s governor, Shintaro Ishihara (recently re-elected to a fourth term), for infiltrating and subverting Japan’s very democracy (JBC, May 4, 2010).
On the other hand, NJ human rights remain unprotected. They are sometimes subjected to “Japanese Only” exclusionary rules and hate speech, neither of which are (or look likely to become) illegal activities in Japan. Meanwhile, local governments asking for kinder national policies for their NJ residents (e.g., 2001’s Hamamatsu Sengen, a set of proposals put forward in Shizuoka Prefecture to help foreign residents integrate) continue to be ignored by the central government. Indicatively, we still have no official policy to support and assimilate immigrants.
Rarely are NJ residents praised for the good they do for Japan, such as increasing our taxpayer base, contributing to the labor force, even sticking around to raise funds and deliver supplies to the Tohoku disaster areas. Instead, we get sentiments like “Japan must be rebuilt by us Japanese only” from the Asahi Shimbun (March 20) and Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s speeches.
All this might change, if NJ were ever given a stake in Japan. But rarely do they get the same opportunities as Japanese.
I speak from personal experience. We were promised, during Japan’s Bubble Era and “internationalization” push in the 1980s, that if we immigrants learned the language, worked hard and waited our turn on the corporate ladder, we would be treated equitably and promoted just like our native Japanese colleagues.
A quarter-century later, how’s that going? Pretty piddling. Few NJ have advanced to the top echelons of Japanese corporations in Japan. Few NJ “trainees” can ever hope to graduate beyond temp-worker status, picking strawberries for slave wages. Few NJ have become deans of universities, let alone gotten beyond basic contract work in education. Few NJ graduates of Japanese universities, despite years of corporate promises, have gotten genuine, promotable jobs in Japanese corporations here. And even after two decades of sweetheart visa status, few nikkei South Americans who lost their jobs in the recession were considered re-employable, unlike fellow laid-off Japanese: Only 1 percent of the former were offered any government retraining, with the rest tossed bribes to give up their pensions and “go home.” (ZG April 7, 2009)
Look, Japan decided in the 1970s that it wanted a quick-fix energy source to power its high-speed growth. It neither wanted to pursue available (and potentially safer) sources (such as geothermal), nor rely on foreign oil. So it built one of the world’s highest concentrations of nuclear power plants on some of the world’s most seismically active land. Did people really expect that someday this atomic house of cards would not come crashing down? Come on — it was the classic case of accidents waiting to happen.
Then, when they did happen, and people (regardless of nationality) began to look out for themselves and leave potentially dangerous areas, they got blamed for either overreacting or deserting? That’s rubbing salt in the wounds.
But it’s the NJ who got it particularly bad, since the worst critics were from within their own ranks. The word “fly-jin,” remember, was coined by a foreigner, so this meanness isn’t just a byproduct of systematic exclusion from society. This is sociopathy within the excluded people themselves — eating their own, egging on domestic bullies, somehow proving themselves as “more dedicated than thou” to Japan. What did these self-loathers ultimately succeed in doing? Making NJ, including themselves, look bad.
The point is that Japan made a mistake with its nuclear policy, and will pay for it in land, lives and reputation. Yet the past two months have demonstrated that NJ — ever weaker and disenfranchised — are being scapegoated to draw attention away from those truly responsible for this mess: the inept, cosseted Japanese nuclear industry, perpetually in bed with a bureaucracy that turns a blind eye to safety standards and abets coverups.
So let me counterbalance “fly-jin” by coining a word too: “sheeple.” By this, I mean people who timidly follow the herd even when it hurts them as a whole. They are unwilling to impinge upon their comfortable, convenient middle-class existences, or threaten their upward social mobility, by demanding a safer or more accountable system. Worse, they decry those who do.
If these sheeple had had their way, Japan’s nuclear industry’s standard operating procedure of disinformation and coverup would have continued after Fukushima, as it did after previous nuclear accidents in Tokai and Kashiwazaki. But this time the accident was big enough to potentially irradiate the international community. Ironically, it sometimes falls upon the dread foreigners to save the sheeple from themselves.
But again, the situation is particularly pathetic for NJ (and the opportunistic NJ rents-seekers) because, given their permanent “guest status” in Japanese society, they are expected to act like sheeple without ever being a full member of the herd. They neither have the same opportunity to speak their minds as residents, nor defend themselves from unfair bashing in public.
So bully for the fly-jin, or anyone, for protecting themselves and getting out. Why stay and be a sheep or a scapegoat?
Debito Arudou’s new novel “In Appropriate” is now on sale (see www.debito.org/inappropriate.html) Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments on this issue to firstname.lastname@example.org The Japan Times: Tuesday, May 3, 2011
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Hi Blog. The Ekonomisuto Weekly of March 26, 2011, devotes three pages to the effects of the Fukushima Disasters on both Japan’s tourism/export and NJ labor markets. Scans below, courtesy of MS. In the vein of how Japanese media coverage has been unsympathetic, even critical, of NJ leaving Japan, page three is of particular note. It offers harder numbers of NJ departures (although again with no comparison with Japanese movement), does not stoop to a tone of blame, and even accepts that NJ have a choice to work in other countries, so Japan had better take some measures to make itself more attractive to NJ labor or else. That’s more like it.
I have long found the policymaking attitude of “working in Japan should be its own reward, so we needn’t try to make things more hospitable for foreign labor” puzzling, so this article is refreshing. I’ll be dealing with that attitude in part in my next Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column, to be published in the Tuesday, May 3 edition of the JT. Enjoy. Arudou Debito
Tens of thousands of worried foreign workers left Japan shortly after a crisis at the nuclear power plant that was crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, causing serious labor shortages in some industries.
After foreign governments lifted their temporary evacuation advisories issued in the wake of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, many Americans and Europeans started coming back to Japan, albeit gradually. But workers from neighboring countries such as China have yet to do so.
Chinese people in particular — mostly students and trainees — had occupied key parts of the workforce in many Japanese industries, and therefore if they continue to stay out of Japan for an extended period of time, they could have a grave impact on the industries and force firms to review their business strategies or cut production.
“We are closed for a while,” said a notice written in rather awkward Japanese pasted on the shutter door of a Chinese restaurant slightly away form the main street of Yokohama Chinatown, the biggest Chinese quarter in Japan.
According to the cooperative association of shop owners in Chinatown, of the total of 2,500 people working there, about 300 of them, mainly part-time workers and students from China, returned to their country. As a result, about 10 out of some 320 stores, including souvenir shops, had to suspend their business operations.
The number of visitors to Chinatown at present accounts for about 80 percent of figures before the disaster, according to Kensei Hayashi, head of the cooperative association. There are shops that have enough labor to conduct business now, but they are stretched. While Chinatown hopes to see more people visiting the quarter the way they used to, there are growing concerns that an acute labor shortage could hit the town hard.
At Yoshinoya, a major beef bowl restaurant chain in Japan, about 200 foreign part-time workers including Chinese students, or about one-fourth of the total number of such workers in the Tokyo metropolitan area, quit their jobs in the first week after the March 11 disaster. The restaurant chain has managed to continue to operate by sending its employees to the shops from stores in other areas and hiring new workers.
Lawson, a major convenience store chain in Japan, also saw a number of foreign students quitting their part-time jobs at its stores in central Tokyo, but it has managed to keep its stores open by dispatching employees from headquarters. One Chinese person who had been set to work for Lawson from spring turned down the job offer.
A large number of foreign companies operating in Japan urged their employees to evacuate to areas outside Tokyo or abroad in the wake of the nuclear disaster. But some signs are emerging now that the situation is subsiding. Those companies that moved their offices to the Kansai region or elsewhere temporarily have started moving their offices back to Tokyo.
At Berlitz, a major English conversation school in Japan, the number of foreign instructors dropped by 30 to 40 percent immediately after the earthquake, but it has come back to about 90 percent of the total workforce it had before the disaster.
In the case of Chinese workers, many of them are students or trainees, and therefore it is often difficult for them to secure enough money to return to Japan. There are cases of “worrisome parents not letting them return to the country,” said a Chinese resident of Japan. Such being the case, it is unlikely that they will return to their workplaces in Japan anytime soon.
Japan’s sewing industry, which had accepted more than 40,000 trainees from China, saw them returning to their country in droves in the wake of the nuclear crisis. The Japan Textile Federation says about 30,000 Chinese trainees remain in their home country. Each company in the industry is required to keep the number of Chinese trainees below about 20 percent of its total workforce, but if the current situation were to continue, the industry as a whole would likely be forced to cut production drastically.
If the sewing industry were to fall into stagnation, the entire textile industry, including clothing, yarn and dyeing sectors, would suffer serious damage. “While production is being shifted abroad, the domestic industry in Japan has been able to survive by making high-quality and high-value-added products. But the industry could fall apart due to the earthquake disaster and the nuclear accident,” says the Japan Textile Federation.
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Hi Blog. Here’s yet another article from a more reputable source, the Nihon Keizai Shinbun, talking about the phenomenon of NJ allegedly leaving Japan behind and having an adverse effect on Japan’s economy.
For the record, I don’t doubt that NJ have left Japan due to the Tohoku Disasters. I just have my doubts that a) it’s any more significant than the Japanese who also left, yet get less nasty media coverage (I have yet to see an article comparing both J and NJ “flight” in terms of numbers), b) it’s worth blaming NJ for leaving, since Japanese overseas would probably do much the same if advised to do so by their government in the face of a disaster, and c) the media is actually doing their job investigating sources to nail down the exact statistics. Let’s see how the Nikkei does below:
Some bogus journalistic practices unbecoming of something as trusted as the Nikkei, to wit:
Providing a generic photo of people drinking at a Tokyo izakaya and claiming that they’re talking about repatriating NJ (that’s quite simply yarase).
Relying on piecemeal sources (cobbling numbers together from Xinhua, some part-timer food chains, an eikaiwa, a prefectural employment agency for “Trainee” slave labor, and other pinpoint sources) that do not necessarily add up to a trend or a total.
Finishing their sentences with the great linguistic hedgers, extrapolators, and speculators (in place of harder sources), including “…to mirareru“, “… sou da“, “there are cases of…” etc. All are great indicators that the article is running on fumes in terms of data.
Portraying Japanese companies as victimized by deserting NJ workers, rather than observing that NJ thus far, to say the least, have helped Japan avoid its labor shortage (how about a more positive, grateful tone towards NJ labor?, is what I’m asking for).
And as always, not comparing their numbers with numbers of Japanese exiting. Although the article avoids the more hectoring tone of other sources I’ve listed on Debito.org, it still makes it seems like the putative Great Flyjin Exodus is leaving Japan high and dry. No mention of course in the article of how many of these NJ might also be leaving Japan because they have no stake in it, i.e. are stuck in a dead-end or part-time job with no hope of promotion, advancement, or leadership within their corporate sector.
Once again, it’s pretty flawed social science. The Nikkei could, and should, do better, and if even the Nikkei of all media venues can’t, that says something bad about Japanese journalism when dealing with ethnic issues. Read the article for yourself. Arudou Debito
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Hi Blog. More on the Open Season on NJ. Here is Internet news site Zakzak headlining that Yoshinoya, famous beef bowl chain restaurant, is being affected by the “big-volume escaping of NJ part-timers”. It apparently has lost a quarter of its NJ staff (over 800 souls) fleeing from the fears of radiation from the Tohoku Disasters. Then Zakzak gives us the mixed news that Yoshinoya is still profitable compared to its losses the same period a year ago, but is expected to take a hit to its profits from the Disasters.
Not sure how that relates, but again, the headline is that NJ are fleeing and that it’s raising doubts about whether the company is still “okay”. Even though Zakzak notes that the company is filling in the gaps with Japanese employees (er, so no worries, right? The Disasters, not the alleged NJ flight, are the bigger threat to solvency, no?). So… journalistically, we’ll hang the newsworthiness of a company’s profitability on the peg of “escaping NJ”?
If we’re going to have this much NJ bashing, how about an acknowledgement of how much NJ labor has meant to Japan and how we’re thankful for it, so please don’t leave?
Nah, easier to bash them. Takes the heat off the company for their own variably profitable business practices, and creates more attractive headlines for the media. It’s a win-win situation against the bullied and disenfranchised minority. Arudou Debito
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Hi Blog. Debito.org is pleased to announce another Official(TM) Japan Open Season on NJ. We get these fads occasionally, like “NJ have AIDS” (1986), “NJ have SARS” (2003), “NJ are criminals” (2000-4).
Now, with the advent of “Fly-jin” (or the variant “Bye-jin” — which is better, some might retort, than being “Die-jin”), it’s now “NJ are deserters”. And they can be conveniently blamed for various social ills. Here, I’ll anticipate a couple:
1) “Fly-jin” are responsible for Japan’s lack of English ability because they fled their posts as English teachers. (Not so far-fetched, since they have been blamed in the past for the same thing because conversely “NJ have been in Japan too long“)…
2) “Fly-jin” are responsible for our fruits and vegetables becoming more expensive, since NJ “Trainees” deserted their posts as slaves on Japanese farms and left things rotting on the vine…
3) “Fly-jin” are responsible for a further decrease in Japan’s population, since some of them took Japanese citizens with them when they deserted Japan…
Okay, that’s still fiction. But who says people in Japan aren’t creative? I never anticipated NJ being blamed for the closure of Tokyo Disneyland, as the Tokyo Sports Shinbun does on April 14, 2011:
No, it’s not due to power outages or rolling blackouts or the need to save power to show solidarity with the Tohoku victims or anything like that. They have to have NJ faces as dancers and people in parades, therefore no parade, no Tokyo Disneyland. We’re closed, and it’s your fault, NJ. Makes perfect sense, right?
Enjoy the Open Season on you, NJ, while it lasts. I anticipate it’ll dissipate with the radiation levels someday. Arudou Debito
KAZO, Japan — The ground started to buck at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and Masayuki Ishizawa could scarcely stay on his feet. Helmet in hand, he ran from a workers’ standby room outside the plant’s No. 3 reactor, near where he and a group of workers had been doing repair work. He saw a chimney and crane swaying like weeds. Everybody was shouting in a panic, he recalled.
Mr. Ishizawa, 55, raced to the plant’s central gate. But a security guard would not let him out of the complex. A long line of cars had formed at the gate, and some drivers were blaring their horns. “Show me your IDs,” Mr. Ishizawa remembered the guard saying, insisting that he follow the correct sign-out procedure. And where, the guard demanded, were his supervisors?
“What are you saying?” Mr. Ishizawa said he shouted at the guard. He looked over his shoulder and saw a dark shadow on the horizon, out at sea, he said. He shouted again: “Don’t you know a tsunami is coming?”
Mr. Ishizawa, who was finally allowed to leave, is not a nuclear specialist; he is not even an employee of the Tokyo Electric Power Company, the operator of the crippled plant. He is one of thousands of untrained, itinerant, temporary laborers who handle the bulk of the dangerous work at nuclear power plants here and in other countries, lured by the higher wages offered for working with radiation. Collectively, these contractors were exposed to levels of radiation about 16 times as high as the levels faced by Tokyo Electric employees last year, according to Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which regulates the industry. These workers remain vital to efforts to contain the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plants.
They are emblematic of Japan’s two-tiered work force, with an elite class of highly paid employees at top companies and a subclass of laborers who work for less pay, have less job security and receive fewer benefits. Such labor practices have both endangered the health of these workers and undermined safety at Japan’s 55 nuclear reactors, critics charge.
“This is the hidden world of nuclear power,” said Yuko Fujita, a former physics professor at Keio University in Tokyo and a longtime campaigner for improved labor conditions in the nuclear industry. “Wherever there are hazardous conditions, these laborers are told to go. It is dangerous for them, and it is dangerous for nuclear safety.”
Of roughly 83,000 workers at Japan’s 18 commercial nuclear power plants, 88 percent were contract workers in the year that ended in March 2010, the nuclear agency said. At the Fukushima Daiichi plant, 89 percent of the 10,303 workers during that period were contractors. In Japan’s nuclear industry, the elite are operators like Tokyo Electric and the manufacturers that build and help maintain the plants like Toshiba and Hitachi. But under those companies are contractors, subcontractors and sub-subcontractors — with wages, benefits and protection against radiation dwindling with each step down the ladder.
Interviews with about a half-dozen past and current workers at Fukushima Daiichi and other plants paint a bleak picture of workers on the nuclear circuit: battling intense heat as they clean off radiation from the reactors’ drywells and spent-fuel pools using mops and rags, clearing the way for inspectors, technicians and Tokyo Electric employees, and working in the cold to fill drums with contaminated waste.
Some workers are hired from construction sites, and some are local farmers looking for extra income. Yet others are hired by local gangsters, according to a number of workers who did not want to give their names.
They spoke of the constant fear of getting fired, trying to hide injuries to avoid trouble for their employers, carrying skin-colored adhesive bandages to cover up cuts and bruises.
In the most dangerous places, current and former workers said, radiation levels would be so high that workers would take turns approaching a valve just to open it, turning it for a few seconds before a supervisor with a stopwatch ordered the job to be handed off to the next person. Similar work would be required at the Fukushima Daiichi plant now, where the three reactors in operation at the time of the earthquake shut down automatically, workers say.
“Your first priority is to avoid pan-ku,” said one current worker at the Fukushima Daini plant, using a Japanese expression based on the English word puncture. Workers use the term to describe their dosimeter, which measures radiation exposure, from reaching the daily cumulative limit of 50 millisieverts. “Once you reach the limit, there is no more work,” said the worker, who did not want to give his name for fear of being fired by his employer.
Takeshi Kawakami, 64, remembers climbing into the spent-fuel pool of the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi plant during an annual maintenance shutdown in the 1980s to scrub the walls clean of radiation with brushes and rags. All workers carried dosimeters set to sound an alarm if exposure levels hit a cumulative dose limit; Mr. Kawakami said he usually did not last 20 minutes.
“It was unbearable, and you had your mask on, and it was so tight,” Mr. Kawakami said. “I started feeling dizzy. I could not even see what I was doing. I thought I would drown in my own sweat.”
Since the mid-1970s, about 50 former workers have received workers’ compensation after developing leukemia and other forms of cancer. Health experts say that though many former workers are experiencing health problems that may be a result of their nuclear work, it is often difficult to prove a direct link. Mr. Kawakami has received a diagnosis of stomach and intestinal cancer.
News of workers’ mishaps turns up periodically in safety reports: one submitted by Tokyo Electric to the government of Fukushima Prefecture in October 2010 outlines an accident during which a contract worker who had been wiping down a turbine building was exposed to harmful levels of radiation after accidentally using one of the towels on his face. In response, the company said in the report that it would provide special towels for workers to wipe their sweat.
Most day workers were evacuated from Fukushima Daiichi after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which knocked out the plant’s power and pushed some of the reactors to the brink of a partial meltdown. Since then, those who have returned have been strictly shielded from the news media; many of them are housed at a staging ground for workers that is off limits to reporters. But there have been signs that such laborers continue to play a big role at the crippled power plant.
The two workers who were injured two weeks ago when they stepped in radioactive water were subcontractor employees. As of Thursday, 21 workers at the plant had each been exposed to cumulative radiation levels of more than 100 millisieverts, or the usual limit set for nuclear plant workers during an emergency, according to Tokyo Electric. (That limit was raised to 250 millisieverts last month.)
The company refused to say how many contract workers had been exposed to radiation. Of roughly 300 workers left at the plant on Thursday, 45 were employed by contractors, the company said.
Day laborers are being lured back to the plant by wages that have increased along with the risks of working there. Mr. Ishizawa, whose home is about a mile from the plant and who evacuated with the town’s other residents the day after the quake, said he had been called last week by a former employer who offered daily wages of about $350 for just two hours of work at the Fukushima Daiichi plant — more than twice his previous pay. Some of the former members of his team have been offered nearly $1,000 a day. Offers have fluctuated depending on the progress at the plant and the perceived radiation risks that day. So far, Mr. Ishizawa has refused to return.
Working conditions have improved over the years, experts say. While exposure per worker dropped in the 1990s as safety standards improved, government statistics show, the rates have been rising since 2000, partly because there have been more accidents as reactors age. Moreover, the number of workers in the industry has risen, as the same tasks are carried out by more employees to reduce individual exposure levels.
Tetsuen Nakajima, chief priest of the 1,200-year-old Myotsuji Temple in the city of Obama near the Sea of Japan, has campaigned for workers’ rights since the 1970s, when the local utility started building reactors along the coast; today there are 15 of them. In the early 1980s, he helped found the country’s first union for day workers at nuclear plants.
The union, he said, made 19 demands of plant operators, including urging operators not to forge radiation exposure records and not to force workers to lie to government inspectors about safety procedures. Although more than 180 workers belonged to the union at its peak, its leaders were soon visited by thugs who kicked down their doors and threatened to harm their families, he said.
“They were not allowed to speak up,” Mr. Nakajima said. “Once you enter a nuclear power plant, everything’s a secret.”
Last week, conversations among Fukushima Daiichi workers at a smoking area at the evacuees’ center focused on whether to stay or go back to the plant. Some said construction jobs still seemed safer, if they could be found. “You can see a hole in the ground, but you can’t see radiation,” one worker said.
Mr. Ishizawa, the only one who allowed his name to be used, said, “I might go back to a nuclear plant one day, but I’d have to be starving.” In addition to his jobs at Daiichi, he has worked at thermal power plants and on highway construction sites in the region. For now, he said, he will stay away from the nuclear industry.
“I need a job,” he said, “but I need a safe job.”
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Hi Blog. Continuing with the recent theme of what reforms Japanese society needs to face the next century, here’s Martin Fackler from the NYT making the case about the structural barriers that waste the potential of youth in Japan. Bit of a tangent, but not really. Fresh ideas and entrepreneurial energy (regardless of nationality) should be welcomed as revitalizing, but as Fackler writes, the sclerotic is turning necrotic and people are seeking opportunities elsewhere. Arudou Debito
THE GREAT DEFLATION
This series of articles examines the effects on Japanese society of two decades of economic stagnation and declining prices.
TOKYO — Kenichi Horie was a promising auto engineer, exactly the sort of youthful talent Japan needs to maintain its edge over hungry Korean and Chinese rivals. As a worker in his early 30s at a major carmaker, Mr. Horie won praise for his design work on advanced biofuel systems.
The Great Deflation
But like many young Japanese, he was a so-called irregular worker, kept on a temporary staff contract with little of the job security and half the salary of the “regular” employees, most of them workers in their late 40s or older. After more than a decade of trying to gain regular status, Mr. Horie finally quit — not just the temporary jobs, but Japan altogether.
He moved to Taiwan two years ago to study Chinese.
“Japanese companies are wasting the young generations to protect older workers,” said Mr. Horie, now 36. “In Japan, they closed the doors on me. In Taiwan, they tell me I have a perfect résumé.”
As this fading economic superpower rapidly grays, it desperately needs to increase productivity and unleash the entrepreneurial energies of its shrinking number of younger people. But Japan seems to be doing just the opposite. This has contributed to weak growth and mounting pension obligations, major reasons Standard & Poor’s downgraded Japan’s sovereign debt rating on Thursday.
“There is a feeling among young generations that no matter how hard we try, we can’t get ahead,” said Shigeyuki Jo, 36, co-author of “The Truth of Generational Inequalities.” “Every avenue seems to be blocked, like we’re butting our heads against a wall.”
An aging population is clogging the nation’s economy with the vested interests of older generations, young people and social experts warn, making an already hierarchical society even more rigid and conservative. The result is that Japan is holding back and marginalizing its youth at a time when it actually needs them to help create the new products, companies and industries that a mature economy requires to grow.
A nation that produced Sony, Toyota and Honda has failed in recent decades to nurture young entrepreneurs, and the game-changing companies that they can create, like Google or Apple — each started by entrepreneurs in their 20s.
Employment figures underscore the second-class status of many younger Japanese. While Japan’s decades of stagnation have increased the number of irregular jobs across all age groups, the young have been hit the hardest.
Last year, 45 percent of those ages 15 to 24 in the work force held irregular jobs, up from 17.2 percent in 1988 and as much as twice the rate among workers in older age groups, who cling tenaciously to the old ways. Japan’s news media are now filled with grim accounts of how university seniors face a second “ice age” in the job market, with just 56.7 percent receiving job offers before graduation as of October 2010 — an all-time low.
“Japan has the worst generational inequality in the world,” said Manabu Shimasawa, a professor of social policy at Akita University who has written extensively on such inequalities. “Japan has lost its vitality because the older generations don’t step aside, allowing the young generations a chance to take new challenges and grow.”
Disparities and Dangers
While many nations have aging populations, Japan’s demographic crisis is truly dire, with forecasts showing that 40 percent of the population will be 65 and over by 2055. Some of the consequences have been long foreseen, like deflation: as more Japanese retire and live off their savings, they spend less, further depressing Japan’s anemic levels of domestic consumption. But a less anticipated outcome has been the appearance of generational inequalities.
These disparities manifest themselves in many ways. As Mr. Horie discovered, there are corporations that hire all too many young people for low-paying, dead-end jobs — in effect, forcing them to shoulder the costs of preserving cushier jobs for older employees. Others point to an underfinanced pension system so skewed in favor of older Japanese that many younger workers simply refuse to pay; a “silver democracy” that spends far more on the elderly than on education and child care — an issue that is familiar to Americans; and outdated hiring practices that have created a new “lost generation” of disenfranchised youth.
Nagisa Inoue, a senior at Tokyo’s Meiji University, said she was considering paying for a fifth year at her university rather than graduating without a job, an outcome that in Japan’s rigid job market might permanently taint her chances of ever getting a higher-paying corporate job. That is because Japanese companies, even when they do offer stable, regular jobs, prefer to give them only to new graduates, who are seen as the more malleable candidates for molding into Japan’s corporate culture.
And the irony, Ms. Inoue said, is that she does not even want to work at a big corporation. She would rather join a nonprofit environmental group, but that would also exclude her from getting a so-called regular job.
“I’d rather have the freedom to try different things,” said Ms. Inoue, 22. “But in Japan, the costs of doing something different are just too high.”
Many social experts say a grim economy has added to the pressures to conform to Japan’s outdated, one-size-fits-all employment system. An online survey by students at Meiji University of people across Japan ages 18 to 22 found that two-thirds felt that youths did not take risks or new challenges, and that they instead had become a generation of “introverts” who were content or at least resigned to living a life without ambition.
“There is a mismatch between the old system and the young generations,” said Yuki Honda, a professor of education at the University of Tokyo. “Many young Japanese don’t want the same work-dominated lifestyles of their parents’ generation, but they have no choices.”
Facing a rising public uproar, the Welfare Ministry responded late last year by advising employers to recognize someone as a new graduate for up to three years after graduation. It also offers subsidies of up to 1.8 million yen, or about $22,000 per person, to large companies that offer so-called regular jobs to new graduates.
But perhaps nowhere are the roadblocks to youthful enterprise so evident, and the consequences to the Japanese economy so dire, as in the failure of entrepreneurship.
The nation had just 19 initial public offerings in 2009, according to Tokyo-based Next Company, compared with 66 in the United States. More telling is that even Japan’s entrepreneurs are predominantly from older generations: according to the Trade Ministry, just 9.1 percent of Japanese entrepreneurs in 2002 were in their 20s, compared with 25 percent in the United States.
“Japan has become a zero-sum game,” said Yuichiro Itakura, a failed Internet entrepreneur who wrote a book about his experience. “Established interests are afraid a young newcomer will steal what they have, so they won’t do business with him.”
Many Japanese economists and policy makers have long talked of fostering entrepreneurship as the best remedy for Japan’s economic ills. And it is an idea that has a historical precedent here: as the nation rose from the ashes of World War II, young Japanese entrepreneurs produced a host of daring start-ups that overturned entire global industries.
Entrepreneur’s Rise and Fall
But many here say that Japan’s economy has ossified since its glory days, and that the nation now produces few if any such innovative companies. To understand why, many here point to the fate of one of the nation’s best-known Internet tycoons, Takafumi Horie.
When he burst onto the national scene early in the last decade, he was the most un-Japanese of business figures: an impish young man in his early 30s who wore T-shirts into boardrooms, brazenly flouted the rules by starting hostile takeovers and captured an era when a rejuvenated Japanese economy seemed to finally be rebounding. He was arrested five years ago and accused of securities fraud in what seemed a classic case of comeuppance, with the news media demonizing him as a symbol of an unsavory, freewheeling American-style capitalism.
In 2007, a court found him guilty of falsifying company records, a ruling that he is appealing. But in dozens of interviews, young Japanese brought him up again and again as a way of explaining their generation’s malaise. To them, he symbolized something very different: a youthful challenger who was crushed by a reactionary status quo. His arrest, they said, was a warning to all of them not to rock the boat.
“It was a message that it is better to quietly and obediently follow the established conservative order,” Mr. Horie, now 37, wrote in an e-mail.
He remains for many a popular, if almost subversive figure in Japan, where he is once again making waves by unrepentantly battling the charges in court, instead of meekly accepting the judgment, as do most of those arrested. He now has more than a half-million followers on Twitter, more than the prime minister, and publicly urges people to challenge the system.
“Horie has been the closest thing we had to a role model,” said Noritoshi Furuichi, a 25-year-old graduate student at the University of Tokyo who wrote a book about how young Japanese were able to remain happy while losing hope. “He represents a struggle between old Japan and new Japan.”
Mr. Furuichi and many other young Japanese say that young people here do not react with anger or protest, instead blaming themselves and dropping out, or with an almost cheerful resignation, trying to find contentment with horizons that are far more limited than their parents’.
In such an atmosphere, young politicians say it is hard to mobilize their generation to get interested in politics.
Ryohei Takahashi was a young city council member in the Tokyo suburb of Ichikawa who joined a group of other young politicians and activists in issuing a “Youth Manifesto,” which urged younger Japanese to stand up for their interests.
In late 2009, he made a bid to become the city’s mayor on a platform of shifting more spending toward young families and education. However, few younger people showed an interest in voting, and he ended up trying to cater to the city’s most powerful voting blocs: retirees and local industries like construction, all dominated by leaders in their 50s and 60s.
“Aging just further empowers older generations,” said Mr. Takahashi, 33. “In sheer numbers, they win hands down.”
He lost the election, which he called a painful lesson that Japan was becoming a “silver democracy,” where most budgets and spending heavily favored older generations.
Social experts say the need to cut soaring budget deficits means that younger Japanese will never receive the level of benefits enjoyed by retirees today. Calculations show that a child born today can expect to receive up to $1.2 million less in pensions, health care and other government spending over the course of his life than someone retired today; in the national pension system alone, this gap reaches into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Abandoning the System
The result is that young Japanese are fleeing the program in droves: half of workers below the age of 35 now fail to make their legally mandated payments, even though that means they must face the future with no pension at all. “In France, the young people take to the streets,” Mr. Takahashi said. “In Japan, they just don’t pay.”
Or they drop out, as did many in Japan’s first “lost generation” a decade ago.
One was Kyoko, who was afraid to give her last name for fear it would further damage her job prospects. Almost a decade ago, when she was a junior at Waseda University here, she was expected to follow postwar Japan’s well-trodden path to success by finding a job at a top corporation. She said she started off on the right foot, trying to appear enthusiastic at interviews without being strongly opinionated — the balance that appeals to Japanese employers, who seek hard-working conformists.
But after interviewing at 10 companies, she said she suffered a minor nervous breakdown, and stopped. She said she realized that she did not want to become an overworked corporate warrior like her father.
By failing to get such a job before graduating, Kyoko was forced to join the ranks of the “freeters” — an underclass of young people who hold transient, lower-paying irregular jobs. Since graduating in 2004 she has held six jobs, none of them paying unemployment insurance, pension or a monthly salary of more than 150,000 yen, or about $1,800.
“I realized that wasn’t who I wanted to be,” recalled Kyoko, now 29. “But why has being myself cost me so dearly?”
A version of this article appeared in print on January 28, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition.