Japan now a place to avoid for international labor migration? NHK: Even Burmese refugees refusing GOJ invitations, electing to stay in Thai refugee camp!


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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.

That’s what I mean — word is getting around, and no amount of faffing about with meetings on “let’s figure out how We Japanese should ‘co-exist’ with foreigners” at the Cabinet level is going to quickly undo that reputation.

Immediately below is the article I’m referring to.  Below that I offer a tangent, as to why Burmese in particular get such a sweetheart deal of guaranteed GOJ refugee slots.  According to media, “From 1982 to 2004, Japan accepted only 313 refugees, less than 10 per cent of those who applied. Even after its rules were slightly liberalized in 2004, it allowed only 46 refugees in the following year. Last year it accepted only 34 of the 954 applicants.  Those numbers are tiny in comparison with Canada, which accepted more than 42,000 refugees last year, despite having a much smaller population than Japan.  But they are also tiny in comparison to European countries such as France and Italy. On a per capita basis, Japan’s rate of accepting refugees is 139th in the world, according to the United Nations.”  This means that Burmese make up between a third to a half of all refugees accepted!  Why?  As a holiday tangent, consider the elite-level intrigue of a wartime connection between the Japanese Imperial Army and SLORC…  Arudou Debito


Japan to receive no Myanmar refugee this year
via NHK
Published on Wednesday, 26 September 2012

All 16 people on a list of Myanmar refugees preparing to enter Japan have dropped out of the program. They have decided to remain in a camp in northwestern Thailand.

The 16, from 3 families, said they were worried about life in Japan. They had already quit studying Japanese language and culture.

The Japanese government started the program 2 years ago to help refugees who escaped from conflicts and persecutions in their home countries.

45 people from 9 families have used the program to move to Japan.

One of those leaving the program this year said he wanted his children to study technology in Japan, but was concerned that he had no support network in the country.

He had planned to move to Japan with his wife and 4 children.

Myanmar’s democratization has convinced some refugees to return home.

The Japanese government says it plans to continue the program next year.


Now for the political intrigue:


JPRI Working Paper No. 60: September 1999
Japan’s “Burma Lovers” and the Military Regime (excerpt)
by Donald M. Seekins

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.

Full article at http://www.jpri.org/publications/workingpapers/wp60.html


61 comments on “Japan now a place to avoid for international labor migration? NHK: Even Burmese refugees refusing GOJ invitations, electing to stay in Thai refugee camp!

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  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Markus #45

    I agree with you and Eric C; Japan is a culture based on bullying. The ‘politeness’ and ‘gaman’ of the ordinary folk is just the way that they have been brainwashed into rationalizing taking it lying down- it’s their way of telling themselves that pretending it’s not there isn’t a cowardly way of avoiding responsibility and being controlled into subservience, but rather being un-phased by bullies is a ‘unique’ aspect of Japanese culture that proves their ‘superiority’. It’s a cop out that they have bought into. Accepting this fact might go some way to understanding high-school bullying, sexual and power harassment, and domestic violence.

    As for the way customers treat staff in Japan, it makes me sick. No-one dreams of earning minimum wage (although the way Japan’s economy is going, it could soon become a valid aspiration), so when I see twenty somethings literally drop coins from their purse onto the combini counter, to go running all over the floor, leaving the 40-something baito staff to go scurrying after them without so much as a ‘thank you’, I want to give both them and their parents a bloody good slap.

    It goes back to a misconception about ‘the customer is God’. I am sure you must have heard about that, and been told that it is ‘Japanese culture’. This is of course, a lie. The phrase was coined by an enka singer (pop-factoid; enka started in China in the early 1900’s as a form of political dissent) in the 1960’s, who was interviewed after a live performance. during the interview he said that ‘when I sing live to fans (customers), I sing as if I am singing to the gods’. This comment has been taken out of context, misquoted, and become an irrefutable part of Japans ‘traditional culture’.

    — A source for this would help, if you have one.

  • Don’t want to derail any of the threads in this very intertwined discussion, but related to this blog entry about Japan’s special relationship with Burma: GOJ forgiving Burma’s debts and offering even more money:

    The Japan Times Friday, Jan. 4, 2013
    Tokyo’s Aso, Thein Sein hold Myanmar economic talks
    Kyodo, courtesy of JEB

    NAYPYITAW — Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso told Myanmar President Thein Sein on Thursday that Tokyo will provide ¥50 billion in fresh low-interest loans by March after writing off Naypyitaw’s overdue debt totaling some ¥500 billion by the end of January.

    During their 80-minute chat in the Southeast Asian nation’s capital, Aso also assured that Japan will give its full support to Myanmar’s efforts to get on the road to a genuine democracy, Japanese officials said.

    “Japan wants to maintain sound relations with Myanmar even if its government changes,” Aso said at a news conference in Naypyitaw. “Myanmar has been heavily in debt and unable to attract investment. Japan will remove those obstacles and support the country.”

    It is the first time Japan has specified the timing of resuming its yen loans to Myanmar. Tokyo had said it will write off Myanmar’s overdue debt in January and lend ¥50 billion under concessionary terms early this year.

    The loan, if extended, will be Japan’s first to Myanmar in 26 years. It is expected to include ¥20 billion for improving the infrastructure of an industrial park and ¥19 billion for upgrading an existing thermal power plant, according to a Japanese official.

    Aso became the first Cabinet member to travel abroad since the inauguration of the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week. The new government aims to seize on the expanding demand in Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries to help Japan’s economy grow faster.

    Since Thein Sein established a reform-minded government in March 2011, Myanmar has begun opening up to the world after years of military rule, making a transition to democratic governance.

    During the meeting, Thein Sein welcomed Aso’s role in the new Cabinet and expressed hope for Japan’s continued support for Myanmar. He also thanked Japan for deciding to resume financial assistance, saying Tokyo’s aid policy toward Myanmar influenced those of European nations and the United States.

    Aso handed Thein Sein a letter from Abe, and Thein Sein, for his part, asked for Abe to visit Myanmar, according to the Japanese officials.

    The meeting was also attended by Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of the Nippon Foundation, a Japanese philanthropic organization that has long been involved in helping improve the welfare of ethnic minorities in Myanmar.

    Aso also met with Finance and Revenue Minister Win Shein and other senior government officials Thursday in the former junta-ruled country’s administrative capital. The Myanmar side thanked Japan for its active role in helping develop the Tirawa special economic zone on the outskirts of Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar.

    Aiming to pave the way for more Japanese firms to enter the fast-growing market, Aso will visit Tirawa on Friday and confer with local business officials before returning home Saturday.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Debito

    The enka singer was Minami Haruo (1923-2001), who said he ‘concentrated when singing songs as if praying to kami’, but was mis-quoted by the 3 members of the comedy trio ‘Let’s Go Sanbiki’ as having said ‘the customer is god’, and in such a form it entered the pop-culture of the 1960’s.

    This wikipedia article;

    repeats the mistake, and mis-quotes him.

  • #49Markus

    I think you’ve hit the mail on the head there. In essence it becomes no different to discussing matters of life and evolution between a religious nut and someone who is an atheist, the religious nut is a “believer”. All logic reasoning and thus a complete and total acquiesce of questioning, is required. One must trust/believe what is not, never to question it, just accept it. Whereas the atheist never shall as they are always questioning and always requiring evidence/proof of an omnipotent being that controls us, rather than “trust me/believe me” as sufficient proof.

    Those of us “enlightened” enough to break free from the glossy enforced image of what Japan likes to portray to others, can never look at Japan in the same way again. Any mention of “wait a minute…what about…” type discussion yields that same automaton reply as one receives from any religious person, when their faith is questioned.

    Until this false veil is lifted from the masses, just as in 16th Century Europe when those questioned the existence of God or worse accused of being a Witch, “we” shall be considered outcastes that deserve only one fate.

    The only way is via a revolution “of sorts”. I thought that the global crash or at least the Earthquake and the lack of responses and cronyism and siphoning off of aid into their own pockets would be the catalyst, or even the Nuclear debate which is now swatted away again like a fly, because “they” want it back…but no. Nothing. Not even the blue rinse brigade, which is an every growing number.

    Until there is a seismic shift, not of the tectonic plates (as that didn’t work) but the masses and their thinking, it shall remain so. And a case of like it or lump it. I cannot see anything that will become the catalyst, since all those initiation issues that sparked revolutions in other countries have occurred here, and nothing, just a damp squid of a reply at best, or the business as usual quite indifference suffering in silence.

    Thus the only conclusion I can come to is when, not if, but when, Japan’s economy is so bad that serious health and employment issues become the norm, companies closing on a weekly basis, may be, just may be a movement/leader will rise up take the centre stage and demand to break free for change, real change, and break the dictatorship of the Govt-company bonds of what it wants that to that of the masses and what the electorate really want, true transparency and accountability. It only takes one….

  • @EricC (#48) “Needless to say, having observed this all very closely with my own eyes, and had my conclusions confirmed by several famous writers on the topic, as well as many Japanese friends, I made the choice to leave the place. I might have been able to bear the place a few years longer if I were single. But there was no way I was going to raise my children in that poisonous atmosphere.”

    I don’t have children, but I still feel every day spent in Japan is detrimental to my social abilities, and I don’t like it. I recently went to the US for a week, which was the first break from Japan after over one year, and I noticed some very bad traits on myself I must have picked up here. I have already lost a good part of my ability to interact socially in a healthy way, i.e. having a chat with a stranger, or simply saying “hi” when someone enters the elevator I’m in. It’s not a profound realisation, but I realised that it takes a considerable effort not to become like “them”.
    If this anti-social behaviour creeps in a middle-aged guy after one year, I can only imagine how hard it would be to de-program children who have spent the first years of their lives in Japan. Your earlier posts about parents who subject their children to this society are not at all exaggerated.
    Oh, and I would be very happy if you’d share what famous writers / works you are referring to. I’ve read too many bad books about Japan, I need something to balance out all the misinformation. Debito, if you feel this thread shouldn’t be convoluted further, maybe you could send Eric C my email address (which I entered into the comment form).

  • @JohnK (#54) I am not so sure about what the Japanese majority really want. One would be inclined believe they want freedom, because it’s a basic human need. But then again, I’ve yet to hear a considerable amount of voices asking for more transparency and freedom. What I hear more frequently is warning voices that say “let’s not become like the (broken) Western societies” and “we need to improve the economy”.
    It seems the Japanese, in general, would opt for more perceived “safety” and “things working smoothly” rather than more freedom and transparency. The concept of transparency is diametrically opposite to the concept of vagueness, which according to the Japanese, makes their country run so smoothly (but really is just covering a stink with a lid, to use one of their proverbs).
    The first step would be for the majority to realise a need for profound change, then look for the people to bring it. Otherwise, you’d need one of those “well-meaning dictators” that, as history shows, never seem to do what they promised.

  • Baudrillard says:

    At John K above, you are spot on. But according to postmodernists such as Guy Debord, revolution in western countries or Japan is impossible due to the mass hypnosis of the media spectacle.

    The only way, according to him, to overcome this, is to fight fire with fire; Debord’s aim and proposal is “to wake up the spectator who has been drugged by spectacular images,” “through radical action in the form of the construction of situations,” “situations that bring a revolutionary reordering of life, politics, and art”. In the situationist view, situations are actively created moments characterized by “a sense of self-consciousness of existence within a particular environment or ambience”.[11]

    And I like this quote: “In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false.”[14]

    Sounds like Japan mythology and “reverse logic”.

  • Baudrillard says:

    “What I hear more frequently is warning voices that say “let’s not become like the (broken) Western societies” and “we need to improve the economy””

    Sounds like the Chinese Communist Party. A shocking lack of democratic maturity. Also reminds me of a quote from A Clockwork Orange:

    “The people will let freedom go for a quieter life…”

    “Otherwise, you’d need one of those “well-meaning dictators” that, as history shows, never seem to do what they promised.”

    I think we are about to get one, once Abe hands in his sick note again.

  • #56Markus

    Funny I’ve often pondered what do they really want..what do they really really want…(sorry couldn’t resist)…and I agree that “safety” and “things working smoothly” are their top priorities. But this does not mean one cannot have this without transparency and accountability. Switzerland is a good example of this, they didn’t like the idea of Minerats everywhere, so they voted to ban them. Not racist, just democracy in action and open and transparent.

    With so many closed door meetings and “let us sort this out, we know better”….and with no open debate, its hardly surprising such apathy exists. If the electorate do not want nuclear power…tuff, those in power do etc etc….”your” vote is only to rubber stamp and hence maintain the status quo and “safety” and “smooth running” of things. Transparency is not required…let “us” tell you what is needed. Transparency…what for…who needs it….things run smoothly, neh?

    The vagueness you describe is simply because it is “engineered” to be so, as it gives those in power absolute control and thus to give the impression of a smooth running well ordered society; just don’t rock the boat, or else!!

    Knowing how the society thinks/works..the ends always justify the means. Therefore if “safety” and “smooth” running of things is required….at what cost??…don’t care..just get it done. Once acquired, what have you to complain about..??…oh can’t complain anyway…you have been “engineered” not to express any views. QED.

    I think most people here see the need for some kind of change…but as soon as it involves those “thugs” in all those corridors of power losing what they tenaciously hold onto or changing….they play the trump card, “fear”. Knowing only too well, those well “engineered” citizens shall exhibit the automaton response that is required when said card is played. QED.

  • @55/Markus: Thanks for the comment. I hope that Debito gives you my email address (Debito, if you’re reading this, please feel free to do so by private email to Markus). It’s very important for me to retain my anonymity, so I cannot post it publicly here, as I’m sure you can understand.

    But, I can answer your questions: The authors and books that had the most profound impact on me regarding Japan were as follows:

    Dogs & Demons (Alex Kerr)
    Lost Japan (Alex Kerr)
    The Enigma of Japanese Power (Karel van Wolferen – I should also note that his blog is good)
    The Wages of Guilt (Ian Buruma)
    Shutting Out The Sun (Michael Zielenziger)
    Arudo Debito (this blog)

    I’ve also read a lot of histories written by men who were prisoners of the Japanese in places like Changi, as well as survivors of the Death Railway, the Bataan Death March, the Sandakan Death March etc.

    I’ve also had lots of conversations with Japanese and foreign writers on Japan, but I don’t want to give specific names because doing so would allow some people to guess my identity.

    I’ve also had lots of conversations, many of them in Japanese, with Japanese academics, journalists and ordinary citizens on all the issues we’ve discussed here.

    All that said, the biggest “source” for my conclusions and views regarding Japan come directly from my own experiences living there for over 10 years. I speak and read Japanese on a high level, and I had a job that allowed me to meet people from all levels of Japanese society and occasionally to enter various companies and governmental or public organizations. I do not consider myself a “Japan basher.” Indeed, I consider myself a friend of Japan. There are so many things I like about the country. However, there are areas that I feel need criticizing. And my criticism is intended as constructive criticism. Moreover, I think it’s important to correct the common misperceptions of Japan. I have a lot of close Japanese friends and I have enormous respect for the people (especially those who somehow escaped the brainwashing) and I think they deserve so much better than they are presently getting.

    I hope this answers your questions, Markus. If Debito kindly gives you my address, we can continue this by email.

    — Rats, JAPANESE ONLY didn’t make the list…

    I’ve sent you each other’s email addresses privately. Enjoy.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Baudrillard

    Picked up my copy of ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ yesterday. Absolutely fascinating to read and then relate to Japan. Thank you!

    @ Markus #56

    Yes, I hear frequently that Japan must avoid becoming like a broken western society too.
    I think that this is a combination of pride, racism, absconsion of responsibility rationalization strategy, and not least of all (but most amazingly since the Japanese continuously trumpet that they are ‘different’ from the rest of the world) a lack of understanding that Japans serious problems are different in nature.


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