Asahi: Japan treats 1 million foreign workers as ‘non-existent’, and shouldn’t. Another recycled hopeful article.


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Hi Blog.  In the wake of my previous blog entry about a new exploitative visa system for the next generation of Nikkei workers, here’s a hand-wringing article from the Asahi about how people don’t (but really should) accept NJ as part of Japanese society.

It seems like these articles are cyclical — I remember them from a good ten years ago (for example here and here and here and here).  But papers gotta sell, even if magazines anywhere gotta hawk the same weight-loss and exercise regimens to the reading public.  Fortunately, the Asahi draws the same conclusions I would. Alas, next serious economic downturn, all this will be out of the window and foreigners will be unaccepted again.

Maybe I’m getting too old to hope for much change anymore.  Where’s the tipping point?  Dr. Debito Arudou


Japan treats 1 million foreign workers as ‘non-existent’
July 27, 2017
PHOTO:  A foreign student from Vietnam, right, is taught how to deal with customers at a convenience store in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. Foreigners are often seen at convenience stores in urban areas of Japan. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Foreign workers in Japan are increasingly being seen as a valuable resource amid Japan’s declining birthrate and growing elderly population.

However, recent headlines in the media express concern about the influx of immigrants.

“Should we accept immigrants?” one publication asked.

Another worried that, “What will happen if foreigners become our bosses?”

The reality is that the number of foreign workers now totals more than 1 million. Japanese are increasingly coming in contact with foreigners in their daily lives, so they are no longer an “invisible presence.”


The Justice Ministry announced in January that foreigners working in Japan totaled 1,083,769 as of the end of October 2016.

Economic magazines such as Nikkei Business or Weekly Toyo Keizai have published articles related to immigration and foreign workers.

One contentious point among those articles is the existence of foreign workers working under a status akin to “unskilled labor,” which is not permitted, in principle, in Japan.

The Justice Ministry says that there are no rules and definitions concerning immigration in domestic law. So, Japan accepts immigrants under the title of “technical intern trainees,” who are expected to disseminate technology upon their return home, or “foreign students,” instead of accepting them as unskilled workers.

An article in the June edition of the monthly business magazine Wedge was titled, “Before we realized it, Japan has become a nation of immigrants.”

The article analyzed the situation where foreign students are employed in physical labor, working on farms and in factories and in the service industry, such as at hotels as cleaning staff, while introducing local communities that accepted immigrants as a measure to halt declining populations.

“When we are in Tokyo, it is hard for us to notice, but a work force shortage in local areas is so serious that those areas have no choice but to accept immigrants,” said Shinya Shiokawa, editor in chief of Wedge. “No one can be apathetic to them.”

While accepting immigrants has been discussed, foreign workers are more likely to be employed at restaurants or convenience stores in urban areas.

“Foreigners or people who have roots in overseas countries are talked of as if they do not exist, although they are already present in Japan’s society,” said Hiroshi Komai, professor emeritus of Hitotsubashi University, specializing in international sociology.

Until the 1950s, Japan was a nation that was dispatching immigrants to South America and other countries. In the 1980s amid a rising yen and the nation’s economic bubble, Japan was attracting an influx of foreigners.

In 2006, the internal affairs ministry drafted a plan to facilitate diversity in local communities.

While the central government banned immigrants from employment in low-skilled jobs, it allowed them to work under the name of trainees or on-the-job training. Komai said that local governments and nonprofit organizations have taken the lead in accepting immigrants and encouraging multiculturism in society.

“The central government has consistently treated immigrant workers as ‘they are present but non-existent,’ but the measure has already met limitations,” Komai said.


In the literature world, immigrants figure prominently in many stories in other countries. In Japan, however, the presence of immigrants in literature is not as common.

In Japan, there are many books on ethnic Koreans who were born and grew up in the country. One is “Geni’s Puzzle,” written in 2016 by Che Sil, a third-generation Korean, who was awarded the prestigious Oda Sakunosuke Prize. On the other hand, novels themed on “immigrants who come to Japan” are extremely rare.

“There are many overseas mystery novels that deal with immigration issues,” said Fuyuki Ikegami, a literary critic. “But in Japan, perhaps because Japan hasn’t accepted immigrants politically and socially, the theme can’t be as easily utilized and matured in a story.”

However, there are signs of change. Novels such as “i,” written by Kanako Nishi in 2016, and Yuzaburo Otokawa’s “R.S. Villasenor,” in 2017, describe immigrants coming from other countries.

The latter is the story of the daughter of a man from the Philippines who brings traditional Filipino craftwork to the traditional Japanese art of dyeing.

“While describing cultural integration, it tactfully addresses the immigration issue as a theme in a natural way,” Ikegami said.

Hiroshi Tanaka, a professor emeritus of Hitotsubashi University who specializes in Japan-Asia relations, said the existence of a “nationality dogma” in Japanese society is a barrier.

“Japanese people have a strong sense that Japanese society exists for people who have Japanese citizenship,” he said. “The length of residing in Japan doesn’t matter, and people other than Japanese can’t be admitted as a member of society.”

Tanaka said that the most important thing now is to operate on a standpoint of “for whom society exists.”

“Society exists particularly for people living there. If residing there, people should be treated the same whether they come from other countries or they don’t have roots in Japan. But that sense is still weak in Japan, and we have to change that,” he said.

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21 comments on “Asahi: Japan treats 1 million foreign workers as ‘non-existent’, and shouldn’t. Another recycled hopeful article.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    ‘Another worried that, “What will happen if foreigners become our bosses?”’

    You’ll be able to go home on time, get paid for all and any overtime you might do, and take all of your paid annual leave allowance every year.

    Oh! The horror! The horror!

    I’m literally LOLing at these people who are frightened of being free. That’s the ‘Japanese nation as Stockholm syndrome victim’ that I was talking about a couple of months back, right there!

    • Glad to see you back Jim. 🙂

      And you should continue to comment with confidence, since if the Japanese government were to make the suicidal world-stage mistake of attempting to falsely arrest me or you or ANY comment writers here at Debito’s site the Japanese government would thus make us international martyrs for the non-crime of criticizing in writing the currently legal-in-Japan race-based-discrimination against non-Japanese-races (as well as making internationally known Japan’s continued lack of humaneness to non-Japanese-races, and Japan’s continued lack of Civil Rights Law to protect ALL races legally residing in Japan – a lack of legislation which puts the Japanese government in blatant violation of the United Nations’ CERD Treaty – among many other grave Human Rights violations embedded within the current Japanese cultural values and laws) which is why our family’s highly intelligent/powerful/motivated/eager/efficient Jewish American litigator partners and media mogul family members are already well-prepared and ready to immediately release worldwide public-opinion-strengthening news stories concurrent of course with top attorneys in Japan immediately filing the appropriate litigation procedures against the illegally acting Japan government officials (from the police officers to the prosecutor and focusing specifically on the Justice Ministry officials involved who monitored this site and gave the unofficial illegal orders) about such an illegal false arrest, with ample evidence to be presented internationally and in court, resulting in the worldwide public opinion consensus as well as the Japanese supreme court justice ruling to overwhelmingly conclude that specific Justice Ministry officers and public workers below them violated Japan’s many laws in the illegal prosecution and persecution of comment writers at Debito’s site, and that the opinions we have written here are absolutely legal, quite substantiated, and indeed vital to the non-protected residents of Japan and even (in my opinion) beneficial to humanity in general by decreasing the chance of Japan entering another war of aggression, and by increasing the chance of world Peace through Equality.

      I seriously “wish they would” make the mistake, of initiating a false arrest of any comment writer here at Debito’s site, because that would immediately give my family the ability to begin the international media spotlight on Japan and on this highly publicized legal case, which will lead to the world demanding our immediate release, the illegally-acting government officials involved to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the Japan’s current laws, and Japanese legislators (like my Japanese wife’s well-known and well-respected Kokkaigiin [member of the House of Representatives in Japan’s Diet] legislator cousin, and all of his fellow legislators) to receive sudden STRONG outside “gai-atsu” pressure from American (and Israeli) heads of state: to immediately enact the long-overdue legislation of Civil Rights Law in Japan, for Japan to stop being in violation of the United Nations’ CERD Treaty which requires Equal Human Rights Laws for ALL races legally living in Japan.

      So, again, glad to see you back Jim. Please continue to comment with confidence. 🙂

  • “What will happen if foreigners become our bosses?”

    This is a real concern for a lot of Japanese. They cannot stand the thought of a foreign superior at work. Have you ever been a manager of Japanese people? I have, and some of them straight up quit. Others stayed but wouldn’t follow my directions. It’s a nightmare.

    Now where I work, at a Japanese company, I am not a manager level because the president says it would cause unrest. Even though I have been with the company longer than anyone, including the president, Instead I have higher pay, and that seems to be OK. It’s a laugh.

    • “Before we realized it, Japan has become a nation of immigrants.”

      There has been a recent influx of immigrants, but all are from SE Asia, so nothing has really changed. Every one I see speaks and acts Japanese, so I really dont understand the turmoil or horror of all these gaijin. Its not like the danchi is being overrun by all races of foreigners playing loud music or different smells etc.

      “This is a real concern for a lot of Japanese. They cannot stand the thought of a foreign superior at work. Have you ever been a manager of Japanese people? I have, and some of them straight up quit. Others stayed but wouldn’t follow my directions. It’s a nightmare.”

      Absolutely. Been there seen that. Was even told by a Japanese that Japanese people will never work for a foreigner if they have a choice. There are those who do it at bases, embassies etc, but they form groups, and there is a Japanese leader who administrates for them. Whats interesting about the ” I will never work for a foreigner” dynamic is that at many Japanese plants factories etc overseas, there isnt one foreign manager in the place.

      Speaking for me, I will never work for a Japanese if I have a choice.

    • I have no trouble believing your story, nor that of timtime2, but I would like to point out one little survey the results of which were promising:

      A full 88.8% of respondents stated that as long as communication in Japanese is effective, they didn’t care about the nationality of their superior. I know it’s just one survey, but still, that they were able to produce such a result is, I think, a good sign.

      • Yeah right. Such self-virtue-claiming surveys assume people consciously admit to themselves the truth about their dark selfish feelings, and assume people tell the truth in surveys about their dark selfish feelings.

        People lie in surveys in general (for example, note the surprising difference between recent presidential election polls and the subsequent voting reality) and people in this culture of respecting lies instead of truth, “tatemae” instead of “honne”, “uso mo houben” instead of “suki ka kirai ka hakkiri iu”

        The proof is in the reality which we multiple-decade-residents of Japan have seen and continue to see every day.

        Japanese-culture’s love of “nai” DNA humans, and Japanese-culture’s hatred of “gai” DNA humans, is the reality which continues unchanged, every subsequent generation, even the youngest supposedly “less xenophobic, less xenophobic” still are holding on to preferring “Japanese” over “Gaijin”.

        So the reality we experience every day proves that this “48.8% of Japanese people claim that ‘it doesn’t matter at all’ if their boss is Japanese or Gaijin” is NOT even close to the truth, and that this “88.8% of Japanese people claim that they ‘don’t mind’ if their boss is Gaijin as long as the Gaijin speaks Japanese well” is DEFINITELY NOT even close to the truth.

      • baudrillard says:

        @HJ, well they say that if communication in Japanese is effective its OK but there is a lot of cultural baggage that they havent even considered.
        Consider, the teacher who went the extra mile, wrote lengthy feedback about his students, and who says (in Japanese) that the book the students want to do is “a bit difficult for them but if they study really hard they can do it’

        ….and who is then fired for insulting them.

        I really didn’t get this at all, but the older Japanese all took the same hard line and said, the teacher had belittled the students’ previous efforts. he would have done better to have remained silent.

        Ditto, I was once fired from a job because the security guard didnt like it that I spoke Japanese to him every time. He didn’t want to be bothered. They preferred someone who did not speak Japanese.

        Just speaking Japanese is not always enough to navigate the minefield that is the hypersensitivities of the Japanese company staff.

        • Yep, as Japan’s loved & respected TV-Asahi News Station Anchorman Kume Hiroshi admitted, Japan does NOT like non-Japanese-races to become fluent in Japanese: “gaijin wa nihongo ga katakoto no hou ga ii yo ne (it’s better to have foreigners speaking in broken babyish non-fluent Japanese…)”

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    >>“What will happen if foreigners become our bosses?”

    Would be interesting should this become a norm at Japanese companies. Seems like a remote possibility to me.

  • Brooks Slaybaugh says:

    Well as long as foreigners are on limited contracts, there is no acceptance.
    So people are forced to leave and then new, younger foreigners replace them. I can’t call that an immigration policy.
    With foreigners on different contracts, there could be hope for change.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ JDG et al, “Another worried that, “What will happen if foreigners become our bosses?” As I read that, I thought of JDG and knew what our mutual reaction would be! Yes, you did not disappoint. (Welcome back).

    This is of course what certain Japanese (salarymen) are REALLY worried about, the loss of being able to “lord it over” any Johnny Gaikokujin they encounter and “Japan’splain the rules” and/or call that snitch site line if the uppity NJ doesnt hang on to every word of cliched wisdom they utter.

    @timtime2 a manager of Japanese people? I have, and some of them straight up quit. Others stayed but wouldn’t follow my directions. It’s a nightmare.”

    Yes, that is what happened to me too. One disgruntled salesman tried to report me to the police box as well, but they told him employer/employee disputes weren’t their jurisdiction. Another new employee quit and kicked up a stink just because I used to come in at a slightly different time from her (30 minutes later, but natch, I worked until later).

    Seems like they expect the NJ to be in a lower rung of the ladder, permanently. It makes lowly employees feel that “at least they are Japanese”, as the article mentions, part of an exclusive club.
    (” people other than Japanese can’t be admitted as a member of society.”)

    What is contradictory is that the Abe Zeitgeist is promoting this again, along the lines of “Hey, you pay more tax, you work harder, you get less pay, but still, you are a a member of Beautiful Japan. You are Special”.

    Finally, I don’t know what they are so worried about. There are successful precedents, Carlos Ghosn at NIssan did OK, although he kind of initiated a mass purge of 21,000 staff before they had the chance to quit in anti NJ pique perhaps.

    • Brooks Slaybaugh says:

      Yes, which is why younger people seem to get preference, since it is assumed they are easier to control. As Japanese get older they too can deal with age discrimination.How odd that an older worker is not valued for their experience but instead could be perceived to be a troublemaker who could rock the boat Also, without any adequate language training, NJ can be left at the bottom. Compared to Germany or Australia, where foreign workers can take language classes taught more professionally. In Japan, classes are mostly done by retirees, with a lack of decent training at times. Seems that saving money is the priority. Those that good at Japanese have to shell out a lot of money and time to get better. Not easy when working full-time or overtime.

    • Thanks for sharing this. Super nice to see an article featuring someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. It’s quite clear this Woodford fellow has a solid grip on the unfortunate reality of corporate and bureaucratic stagnation unfolding here. We can all only hope that by some miracle he is proven wrong about the outcome.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    I’m sorry, but I’m not ‘back’.
    Baudrillard and Woodford totally get it; Japan is a cul de sac- it’s going nowhere and it’s got nothing to offer.
    The Colin Jones article I warned about still stands; the Japanese have allowed Abe to take away their inalienable human rights with out meaningful protest or civil debate in the slightest. So what makes anyone here think that activism can protect/increase protection of human rights for NJ?
    We haven’t got a hope.
    The age of activism is over. We comprehensively lost.
    Now is the time to set out a warning beacon; ‘Stay away from Japan; it’s not worth your investment of time and money.’
    And that’s all we can do, leave a warning sign.
    This is a debate readers should have had. Yeah, sure, lets catalog instances of racism and discrimination, but what’s the point in debating it anymore? It’s totally unproductive.
    The best we can do IMHO is just document a list of reasons to ‘Japan pass’.
    All the debate seems like misguided group therapy.

    • Yes brother Jim, the Colin Jones article you warned about still stands. (

      Yes, the Japanese have allowed Abe to take away their inalienable human rights with out meaningful protest or civil debate in the slightest.

      Yes, there may be not much hope that activism can protect or increase protection of human rights for Non-Japanese in Japan.

      Yes, setting out warning beacons to ‘Stay away from Japan’ may be all we can do.

      Yes, cataloging instances of racism and discrimination in Japan may be all we can do.

      Yes, just documenting a list of reasons to ‘pass on visiting or living in Japan’ may be the best thing we can do.

      And yeah, any delusional discussions of helping Japan improve may indeed be like misguided group therapy.

      And yet, I have always enjoyed and been grateful for your thoughts here at Debito’s site over the many years, and even though there is a risk of persecution and prosecution (by Japan’s MoJ – which would immediately backfire on them by putting the international media spotlight on Japan’s grave violation of U.N. Treaty), I still hope you will continue to courageously post your thoughts here whenever you feel like it. 🙂

      Perhaps one could correctly call this comment section a “group therapy” for victims of Japan’s race-based discriminatory-actions, even so, I hope you still might continue to join our “sessions” as much as possible (even though these sessions admittedly probably won’t lead to Japan self-improving) because posting thoughts, jokes, and warnings to the outside world (warnings which might help prevent new victims, and which might even spark outside “gai-atsu” pressure from those readers abroad with media power), at the very least this comment section helps the writers let off a little steam, and helps the readers to feel a little better: to continue to get confirmation that folks like us (with similar experiences here in Japan, consciously noticing reality and courageously sharing thoughts) are still alive and kicking. 🙂

    • Baudrillard says:

      @ JIm, what this site can do is document the abuses, the ptifalls, and the slight improvements that NJs can benfit from (e.g. pensions) in their daily lives, should they e.g. have fallen in love with someone from this “imprisoned isle” , to paraphrase JFK.

      Any improvements may only be slight, but I think the situation is improving for mixed nationality kids- they can to be claimed as Japanese, although full blooded foreigners, regardless of income, occupation, or status, will basically be excluded from meaningful participation in Japan, other than “spending money and going back home eventually” to praraphrase Sick Note’s so called immigration “policy”.

      (I am going to refer to Sick Note as such from now on, why make it easy for paid shrills of the Liberal Dicktatorship Unity to monitor)

  • The foreigners they should worry about becoming boss are not those like Ghosn or Woodford, but those who run the tech companies in Asia that are currently eating their lunch. The number of Japanese companies that will be bought by Chinese competitors over the next 20-30 years should be a primary source of concern – it may be that the only thing that stops them at present are the same Japanese labor laws that the Abe govt is seeking to gut. Once they can fire non-productive employees w/o hindrance, they`ll be here like white on rice, expatriating technology, machinery and processes, and manufacturing in low-cost factories abroad….

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Shoe on the other foot!

    Japanese teachers in Austria cry foul when deported following expiry of 6 month tourist visa (N.B. the Japanese run school employing them failed to get them a work visa in the first instance!), and same schools teachers cry foul over Austrian legal requirement to pay into national health insurance scheme.
    Clearly, this endangers the school as a business and threatens it survival. Explanation? Austrian xenophobia.

    Since these two points are the same in Japan, hypocrisy is mind blowing!


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