SCMP: “Japan: now open to foreign workers, but still just as racist?” Quotes Debito.

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Hi Blog.  As a follow-up to what I wrote for the Japan Times in my end-year column last January (see item #1), here’s the SCMP offering more insights into the issue of Japan’s new visa regimes and the feeling of plus ca change.  My comment about the article is within the article.  Debito Arudou Ph.D.

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Japan: now open to foreign workers, but still just as racist?

Japan is opening its doors to blue-collar workers from overseas to fill the gaps left by an ageing population
Resident ‘gaijin’ warn that the new recruits – whom the government refuses to call ‘immigrants’ – might not feel so welcome in Japan
By Julian Ryall, South China Morning Post, 11 May, 2019
https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/3009800/japan-now-open-foreign-workers-still-just-racist

Japan’s reluctance to allow foreigners to fill the gaps in its labour market has finally crumbled, as the country begins issuing the first of its new visas for blue-collar workers from overseas.

The first exams for applicants are being held in locations across Japan and also in Manila, following the introduction last month of new visa classifications that the government expects will lead to the admittance of more than 345,000 foreigners over the next five years.

Teething problems appear all but inevitable given the nation is famously insular, is not experienced with large-scale immigration and has a deep distrust of change.

Companies struggling to find enough employees as the population ages and fewer young people enter the workforce have broadly welcomed the new immigration rules – though there are still many who insist that the government has made a mistake and that local people’s jobs and social harmony are at risk. Ultra-conservatives, meanwhile, are railing at the potential impact on the racial purity of their island nation.

And there are foreign residents of Japan who fear the new rules may encourage even more overt discrimination against “gaijin”, or foreigners, than already exists. According to government statistics, there are 2.217 million foreign residents of Japan, with Koreans, Chinese and Brazilians making up the largest national contingents.

The new visa has two versions, both requiring a company to sponsor the foreign worker and provide evidence that he or she has passed various tests, including on Japanese language ability.

Fourteen industries – including food services, cleaning, construction, agriculture, fishing, vehicle repair and machine operations – are covered by the first visa, aimed at those with limited work skills. The worker’s stay is limited to five years, with the option of visa renewals, but they are not permitted to bring their family members to Japan.

The second type of visa does permit skilled workers to bring their families to Japan when they meet certain criteria, although this has led to domestic criticism that the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has opened the door to enabling immigrants to settle permanently in Japan, despite the government’s insistence they are only in the country temporarily and are not immigrants.

Industry analysts say the issue needs to be addressed urgently, although they also warn that the 47,550 visas that are expected to be issued in the first year of the new scheme, and the total of 345,000 over the initial five years, will still fall well short of what domestic industries require.

Japan’s open to foreign workers. Just don’t call them immigrants

“Government statistics and industry are both telling us that the labour market is completely empty,” said Martin Schulz, senior economist for the Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo.

“With the boom in the construction sector ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, companies are becoming desperate,” he said. “They are finding it very hard to fulfil their current project requirements and they are refusing to take on new projects.

“But in truth, Japan has no choice but to open up to foreign workers,” Schulz said. “Even with more automation and robots, there are simply not enough people.”

Yet there has been significant resistance among those who fear their jobs will be taken by foreigners who will work longer hours for lower wages, those who say outsiders will cause problems because they will be unable to assimilate into Japanese society or struggle with the language barrier.

The concerns about foreigners settling in Japan cut both ways, however.

Very often, according to French expat Eric Fior, it’s the relatively minor but persistent incidents of discrimination in Japan that get under his skin. Such as the time it snowed heavily one winter and the janitor of the building in Yokohama where he had his office shovelled the snow away from every door in the building. Except his.

Or the time he confirmed with the management of the property that he could have some flower boxes outside his office door, just like the other tenants, and he was given permission to do so. Three days after he positioned the flower boxes, the nearby tap he used to water them was disconnected.

He asked the janitor where it had gone and got a shrug in reply. As the man turned away, Fior could see the tap in his pocket.

“What can you do?” said Fior, 47. “Japan is such a polite country on the surface and everyone smiles and bows, but there are a lot of times when you get the sense that not far below the surface is the wish that us foreigners were just not here.

“But there really is little point in confronting them as nothing will get done and we just end up with the reputation of ‘foreigners who cause problems’,” he shrugged.

Reports of discrimination against the foreign community in Japan are countless and varied – from landlords who refuse to rent to non-Japanese for no apparent reason other than their nationality, commuters who refuse to sit next to a foreigner on a packed train or signs at the entrances to bars or restaurants baldly stating “No foreigners” – but a new study indicates the scale of the problem.

Conducted by the Anti-Racism Information Centre, a group set up by activists and scholars, 167 of the 340 foreign nationals who took part in the study said they had experienced discriminatory treatment at the hands of Japanese.

Replying to the study, a foreign part-time shop employee recalled a Japanese customer who did not like seeing foreigners working as cashiers, refused to be served by them and demanded Japanese staff. Another response to the study noted the case of a Chinese employee of a 24-hour store who was reprimanded after speaking with a Chinese customer in Chinese and ordered to only speak in Japanese.

Others reported being refused rental accommodation or denied access to shops.

Activists point out, however, that the Japanese government’s new regulations that relax visa requirements for workers from abroad mean that there will soon be tens of thousands of additional foreigners living in Japanese communities.

“It’s a net positive that Japan is bringing over more people, since that may help normalise the fact that non-Japanese are contributing to Japanese society,” said Debito Arudou, author of Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination.

“But it is disappointing that Japan still is not doing the groundwork necessary to make these newcomers want to stay and contribute permanently,” he said. “The new visa regime still treats these non-Japanese entrants as ‘revolving-door’ workers, with no clear path to permanent residency or citizenship.

“And – as the surveys seem to indicate – one fundamental flaw in these plans is that non-Japanese are insufficiently protected from the bigotry found in all societies,” Arudou said.

“Japan still has no national law against racial discrimination, remaining the only major industrialised society without one. Even government mechanisms ostensibly charged with redressing discrimination have no enforcement power.”

Tokyo needs to pass the laws that make racial discrimination illegal, empower oversight organisations and create an actual immigration policy instead of a “stop-gap labour shortage visa regime”, he said.

“At the very least, tell the public that non-Japanese workers are workers like everyone else, filling a valuable role, contributing to Japanese society and are residents, taxpayers, neighbours and potential future Japanese citizens,” he added.

Discrimination is arguably felt more by people from other Asian nations than Westerners, while even Japanese women are often described as second-class citizens purely as a result of their gender.

“I first came to Japan in the 1970s to attend university and, being from a third-world country, the Philippines, I encountered a few obstacles when I was looking for apartments,” said Joy Saison, who today has her own business and is a consultant to a French start-up company.

“Despite fulfilling the requirements for a Japanese guarantor and having bank statements, there were many occasions when I was refused,” she said. “Back then, going to an ‘onsen’ or restaurant with ‘gaijin’ friends was a pain, too. If none of us looked Japanese enough, we were refused entry right at the door.”

But Saison has a theory about racism in Japan.

“Japan has always been a homogenous society and so the default mindset here is that anything alien to them gets scrutinised and is not trusted,” she said. “But having a win-win attitude will get you on their good side.”
ENDS

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22 comments on “SCMP: “Japan: now open to foreign workers, but still just as racist?” Quotes Debito.

  • “Japan has always been a homogenous society and so the default mindset here is that anything alien to them gets scrutinised and is not trusted,” she said. “But having a win-win attitude will get you on their good side.”

    Can someone explain this to me?

    It sounds like a total Uncle Tomamism.

    Seriously, what is she saying?

    Reply
    • I would agree. I also have to take exception to the article’s completely unproblematized translation of “gaijin” as “foreigner.” It is a racial slur for minorities, a fact which becomes undeniable when it is hurled at minority Japanese.

      I cannot stress how badly I wish foreign media would stop trying to downplay or sugarcoat Wajin racism. Even when blatantly criticizing Japan’s racism problem, they still take a soft approach. Let’s call a spade a spade. I cannot fathom any reputable publication anywhere explaining the N-word as simply meaning “black person.”

      Reply
      • I suggest that Japan gets this treatment due to either rose tinted views from afar that it is “western/democratic” and more fearfully, that much as Stalin’s Russia was sugar coated as being on the good guys side in WW2, so is Japan in any future conflict with “communist” countries.

        Reply
        • Jim Di Griz says:

          @HJ, yeah. When right-wingers with megaphones on the street scream ‘GAIJIN DA!’ at Japanese who disagree with them, it kinda gives up the game; it’s a racist pejorative meant to insult.

          @Baud, see the NYT article I link below. You are right; Abe is deliberately setting out to portray Japan as an inter beacon of liberal democracy abroad whilst turning Japan into an oppressed police state.

          Reply
    • Jim Di Griz says:

      Utter rubbish! The Japanese don’t believe in win-win outcomes, they believe in vertical hierarchies, like winner-loser.

      Reply
      • AnonymousOG says:

        Yep, according to that January 2019 WEF survey, 64% of people in Japan polled have a Win-Lose philosophy, namely: for Japan to improve, Gaijin Countries “must become worse off.”

        (Conversely, 80% of people outside Japan have a Win-Win philosophy, namely: “all countries can improve at the same time.”)

        https://tinyurl.com/WEF2019

        http://www.debito.org/?p=15465#comment-1712414

        Anyway, in my opinion, that interviewee Ms. Joy Saison was correct in her first five sentences in that article:
        “I first came to Japan in the 1970s to attend university and, being from a third-world country, the Philippines, I encountered a few obstacles when I was looking for apartments. Despite fulfilling the requirements for a Japanese guarantor and having bank statements, there were many occasions when I was refused. Back then, going to an ‘onsen’ or restaurant with ‘gaijin’ friends was a pain, too. If none of us looked Japanese enough, we were refused entry right at the door. I have a theory about racism in Japan: Japan has always been a homogenous society and so the default mindset here is that anything alien to them gets scrutinised and is not trusted.”

        She simply was incorrect in her final sentence in that article:
        “But having a win-win attitude will get you on their good side.”

        A more correct final sentence might be “But if you bend over and take without complaint the way the embedded racist philosophy of Japan treats ‘Gaijin’ as forever second-class sub-human animals undeserving of equal treatment, then hopefully Japan might occasionally throw you a bone.”

        Yep Scipio and Jim, you both were right to call out her incorrect “win-win Japan” claim.

        Still, her first five sentences were sufficiently honest (especially in a newspaper article, as an interviewee with her name on it, with the possibility of subsequent revenge from Japan Inc. for her honesty), so I give her some respect. Stay strong Joy! 🙂

        Reply
        • this got me thinking about an interview with a South American I did in Japan: “But if you bend over and take without complaint the way the embedded racist philosophy of Japan treats ‘Gaijin’ as forever second-class sub-human animals undeserving of equal treatment, then hopefully Japan might occasionally throw you a bone.”

          He was of the opinion that if you do not expect or ask for anything in Japan, eventually you will be given it. He was quite abrasive and argumentative when I did not quite share his optimism, or suggested that e.g. by the time Japan got round to throwing me a bone, like a part time job for 1 man yen, I would no longer be available having moved on to other work to simply make a living.

          He thought I should leave Japan as I had a “negative, selfish (western) attitude”

          Reply
      • Baudrillard says:

        every negotiation goes like this “please do this for cheap/free” Me; no, I can’t unless you change the day. Them: we cant change the day please do it on the days we want, for cheap or free”. Me : no I can’t unless you change the day. Them:we cant change the day please do it on the days we want, for cheap or free”.
        Repeat several times a week- borderline harrassment in the hope of wearing you down and saying “alright then just to stop them calling”.
        No concessions offered, or some pointless thing they think is of value like “Our company is famous (so it ll look good on your resume” or some other postmodern, brand value,taking advantage, tactic.

        Then they complain NJs are only interested in money (and wont take one (except its never just one time) for Team Japan).

        Reply
      • After decades I still am trying to understand why they want to study western negotiation tactics, unless of course it so they know how westerners think in order to take advantage, but have no intention of using any of the tactics themselves.

        Reply
    • Baudrillard says:

      Yeah, silly conclusion. It is that good old happy go lucky, positivity that is great of the Philippines, which unfortunately plays right into Japanese “genki” stereotypes, but as others will say, is not a “win-win” at all as Japanese dont do win-win per se, though they might throw Joy a bone or two doubt she will get into that onsen.

      Reply
    • Seems we all did a double take on that “win-win attitude” part.

      I suspect if you come to Japan to “make it” you have a different mindset, especially from a developing country. It’s only my impression, but the fact she has “her own business and is a consultant to a French start-up company” could confirm professional success. Interesting she’s a consultant for a French and not Japanese company, coincidence?

      Whereas if you already had a high standard of living before coming, it’s more likely you just expect to mantain it. In my experience, Westerners tend to hold Japan in high esteem and view it as a prime 1st world country. So when disregard for human rights comes along, the shock is greater.

      Reply
  • Japan has always been a homogenous society and so the default mindset here is that anything alien to them gets scrutinised and is not trusted,”

    Japan has never been a homogenous society. Japan has ethnic minorities and always has had in the Ainu and the Okinawans. Japan has been at constant tribal war with itself until the very recent era.

    Get a book and do your own research rather than listen to the repeated nonsense of talking heads.

    Reply
    • postmodern postwar propaganda; the myth of a homogenous Japan.Part of the nation building since the Meiji era.

      Reply
  • “Teething problems appear all but inevitable given the nation is famously insular”

    Treating japan like a baby – “teething problems” Like Japan has no experience with foreign workers.

    “Famously insular” should be “infamously”.

    Both examples of foreign media treating Japan with kid gloves as usual.

    Reply
  • Jim Di Griz says:

    3 out of 4 Japanese companies have no intention to hire NJ under new visa programs because of ‘worries’ about ‘culture’, ‘communication’, and work ‘quality’*

    * This is how you say that you are racially discriminating now without using the words ‘racism’ and ‘discrimination’.

    https://japantoday.com/category/national/japanese-firms-resist-hiring-foreign-workers-under-new-immigration-law-poll#

    Gee, hasn’t Japan got those AI robots ready yet? LOLZ!

    Reply
    • Ketchi Japan. “Of those considering hiring foreign workers, a majority said they have no plans to support them in areas such as housing, Japanese language study and information on living in the country, it showed.”
      One of the comments offered a sliver of hope though: “no problem, keep the labor market tight so we can squeeze higher wages out of employers as they cannot or will not import cheap labor”

      So if you are an NJ already here, bargain for more as you are a rare commodity, especially if youre qualified. Just try to make yourself indisposable.

      Reply
      • In my experience, Japanese companies are fully prepared to take a loss in income rather than increase a foriegner’s salary.

        Being indispensable is a different issue. I don’t know if you can become indispensable in a Japanese company. That’s why I’m starting my own company.

        Reply
        • I was. I just worked there a long time, did all the product design in English, had all the client database etc. Once they lost all the data, and who did they turn to for a back up? That is fairly achievable.

          If they are are going to mess with you, then you take your know how and contacts with you.

          Reply
    • At least they got out of the Southern Ocean. But its part of the same thing actually, ie. pacify western allies while same old same old nationalist agenda in their own borders.

      Whaling. There is no demand for it. it is purely driven by nationalism.

      Reply
    • “The leader who was Trump before Trump”, interesting article.

      I would argue that Abe has much more power domestically than Trump, thanks to the lack of political alternatives to the LDP and party discipline (and maybe self-discipline, lol).

      Reply
      • Surely the LDP as a whole is “The leader who was Trump before Trump”,and it could be taken as an insult. So, insensitive comments are OK in Japan? Well, thats nothing new, from Aso’s HItler obssession to Mori’s Divine Nation, to endless gaffes from Ishihara.

        Reply

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