Post #1500!: Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column Dec 1 2009 on making Japan more attractive to immigrants (with links to sources)


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Hi Blog. Indulge me a sec: I’m pleased to announce that this marks my 1500th post since the blog first began its daily updates in June 2006. Because 365 days times the 3.5 years since 2006 equals 1278 posts, that means we’ve been posting an average of more than one blog entry a day, consistently, for a third of a decade. Not bad. Carrying on — with my latest column today in the JT. Enjoy. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Policy suggestions to make Japan more attractive to newcomers
By Arudou Debito
JUST BE CAUSE Column 22 / ZEIT GIST Column 51
Published in the Japan Times Tues Dec 1, 2009
DRAFT ELEVEN, as submitted post revisions to the Japan Times
Version with links to sources

For the first time in Japan’s postwar history, we have a viable opposition party in power, one that might stick around long enough to make some new policies stick. In my last column for 2009, let me suggest how the Democratic Party of Japan could make life easier for Japan’s residents — regardless of nationality.

My proposals can be grouped into four categories: immigration, policing, human rights protections and public relations. Each in turn:

I) Immigration. Despite Japan’s looming demographic disaster — you know, the aging society and population drop due to low birthrates and record-long life spans — we still have no immigration policy. No wonder: The people charged with dealing with Non-Japanese (NJ) — i.e. the Ministry of Justice’s Immigration Bureau and sundry business-sector organizations — just police NJ while leeching off their labor. Essentially, their goal is to protect Japan from the outside world: keep refugees out, relegate migrant workers to revolving-door contracted labor conditions, and leash NJ to one- to three-year visas. For NJ who do want to settle, the Justice Ministry’s petty and arbitrary rules can make Permanent Residency (PR) and naturalization procedures borderline masochistic.

This cannot continue, because Japan is at a competitive disadvantage in the global labor market. Any immigrant with ambitions to progress beyond Japan’s glass ceiling (that of either factory cog or perpetual corporate flunky) is going to stay away. Why bother learning Japanese when there are other societies that use, say, English, that moreover offer better lifetime opportunities? It’s time we lost our facile arrogance, and stopped assuming that the offer of a subordinate and tenuous life in a peaceful, rich and orderly society is attractive enough to make bright people stay. We also have to be welcoming and help migrants to settle.

Suggestions: 1) We need a new immigration ministry, independent of the Ministry of Justice, to supplant the Immigration Bureau. It would decide clear and public standards for:

● what kinds of immigrants we want

● how we can give immigrants what they want, and

● how to make immigrants into Japanese, both in law and in spirit.

2) We need to loosen up a little. This would mean implementing policies often standard in countries with successful records of assimilating immigrants, such as:

● less time-consuming and arbitrary standards for awarding PR and citizenship

● faster-track PR and job-finding assistance for graduates of our schools and universities

dual (or multiple) nationality

citizenship granted by birth in Japan (not just blood)

● equal registration as “residents” (not merely as foreigners on separate rosters to police and track)

● equal access by merit to credit and loans (most credit agencies will not lend to NJ without PR)

● stable jobs not segregated by nationality (and that includes administrative-level positions in the civil service)

● qualifying examinations that allow for non-natives’ linguistic handicaps, including simplified Japanese and furigana above kanji characters

visa programs that do not split families up

● periodic amnesties for long-term overstayers who have been contributing to Japan in good faith, and

● minority schools funded by the state that teach children about their bicultural heritage, and teach their parents the Japanese language

It’s not all that hard to understand what immigrants need. Most want to work, to get ahead, to make a better life for their children — just like any Japanese. Recognize that, and enforce equal access to the fruits of society — just like we would for any Japanese.

II) Policing. As in any society, police are here to maintain law and order. The problem is that our National Police Agency has an explicit policy mandate to see internationalization itself as a threat to public order. As discussed here previously, NPA policy rhetoric talks about protecting “citizens” (kokumin) from crimes caused by outsiders (even though statistics show that the insiders, both in terms of numbers and percentages, commit a disproportionate amount of crime). This perpetual public “othering and criminalizing” of the alien must stop, because police trained to see Japan as a fortress to defend will only further alienate NJ.

Suggestions: To make the NPA citadel more open and accountable, we must:

● create clear guidelines for the NPA to stop racial profiling in basic interactions, and create an agency for complaints about police that is not managed by the police

● amend laws (particularly the Foreign Registry Law; NJ should also be covered by the Police Execution of Duties Law, which forbids searches without probable cause) so that NJ are no longer more vulnerable than Japanese vis-a-vis random street investigations

● make NPA manuals public (to see how police are being trained to deal with NJ), then revise and retrain so that police see their mandate as protecting everyone (not just citizens)

● hire non-native speakers as police to work as interlocutors in investigations

● create “whistleblower status” to protect and shelter NJ who provide evidence of being employed illegally (currently, overstayers reporting their exploitative employers to the police are simply arrested, then deported to face reprisal overseas)

● take refugee issues away from the Justice Ministry and give them to a more flexible immigration ministry — one able to judge asylum seekers by conditions in their countries of origin, and by what they can offer Japan

III) Human rights protections. Once immigrants become minorities here, they must be protected from the xenophobes found in any society.


● Grant the Bureau of Human Rights (or an independent human rights bureau within the proposed immigration ministry) enforcement and punitive powers (not to mention create an obligation to make the results of their investigations public).

● Strengthen labor laws so that, for example, abusive and unlawful contracts are punished under criminal law (currently, labor disputes are generally dealt with by time-consuming civil courts or ineffectual labor tribunals).

● Create and enforce laws upholding the spirit of pertinent United Nations treaties, including the Conventions on Civil and Political Rights, the Rights of the Child, and the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

● Most importantly — and this underpins everything — create a criminal law against racial discrimination. Include criminal penalties to stop all those places we know so well (businesses, hotels, landlords etc.) enforcing “Japanese Only” rules with impunity.

Of course, some of these proposals are practically impossible to adopt now, but we had better get the public softened up to them soon. The smart migrants won’t come if they know they will remain forever second-class residents, even if they naturalize. Their rights are better protected in other countries, so that’s where they’ll head instead of our fine shores.

IV) Public relations. This is the easiest task, because it won’t involve much tax outlay. The government must make clear statements, as Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama did last month at an APEC summit, indicating that immigration is a good thing for Japan, and stress the positive contributions that NJ have made so far. The media have focused too heavily on how NJ can’t sort their garbage. Now it’s time to show the public how NJ will sort us out for the future.

We are about to start a new decade. This past one has been pretty rotten for NJ residents. Recall the campaigns: Kicked off by Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s “Sankokujin Speech” in 2000, where he called upon the Self-Defense Forces to round up foreigners in the event of a natural disaster, we have had periodic public panics (al-Qaida, SARS, H1N1, the G8 Summits and the World Cup), politicians, police and media bashing foreigners as criminals and terrorists, the reinstitution of fingerprinting, and increased NJ tracking through hotels, workplaces and RFID (radio-frequency identification) “gaijin cards”. In other words, the 2000s saw the public image of NJ converted from “misunderstood outsider” to “social destabilizer”; government surveys even showed that an increasing majority of Japanese think NJ deserve fewer human rights!

Let’s change course. If Hatoyama is as serious as he says he is about putting legislation back in the hands of elected officials, it’s high time to countermand the elite bureaucratic xenophobes that pass for policymakers in Japan. Grant some concessions to non-citizens to make immigration to Japan more attractive.

Otherwise, potential immigrants will just go someplace else. Japan, which will soon drop to third place in the ranking of world economies, will be all the poorer for it.


1381 WORDS

Debito Arudou coauthored the “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants.” This article with links to sources at Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments on this issue and story ideas to

15 comments on “Post #1500!: Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column Dec 1 2009 on making Japan more attractive to immigrants (with links to sources)

  • This is a very comprehensive list. If even a fraction is achieved in the coming years, it will be a step in the right direction for Japan. While I imagine you plan to, I’d suggest publishing this in Japanese as well. That’s the audience that needs to be tapped into.

  • Beat Takeshi is going to (or already had) a show that was going to address the issue that Japan needs foreigners if it is going to survive in the 21st century. Does anyone have info on that?

  • Following on from Joe D., I’d also like a Japanese copy of this is one’s planned, it’ll come in very useful (I’m going to a workshop brainstorming session next week, the theme for the workshop is going to be taken from “jinken”)

  • Thank you for posting your article. I felt it
    a very thorough and reasonable argument.
    In my opinion, out of pure necessity, some
    or all of these ideas will come to fruition.

  • Excellent article. One of your best. Rationality, compassion and transparency are what is required here, although none of these qualities has enjoyed any relationship with the pen-pushers in Tokyo under the LDP. It may also be because of the easily veneered mistaken assumption from afar that benign, rational individuals controlled by an elaborate system of checks and balances governed Japan. Here’s hoping someone will listen. I’d even consider returning!

  • I also think the list is a very good one. However, I do not necessarily see a ‘need’ from the point of view of Japan’s power elites for most of these items to actually become reality. For example, I have yet to see an empirical argument that Japan needs to raise its birthrate or increase its population – plenty of emotional ones, but not the raw numbers. I still think that if push came to shove, most of the nationalist types would much prefer a decades long slump with belt tightening to get them through the demographic bubble of the aging popuation than actually see multiculturalism alive and well on the streets. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the list produced by Debito, but I think we are decades away from even having a real national debate on whether immigration (and hence Debitos’s list) is necessay. I wish it weren’t so, and I hope I’m wrong.

  • hi,
    i am a graduate student here in japan and i am studying irregular migrants.
    comprehensive policy suggestions. could you expound more on how best to implement them on a local (prefecture) level?

    el joma

    — Thanks for your inquiry. Follow the links to the Hamamatsu, Yokkaichi and Toyoda Sengens from here.

  • Found info on that program. Luckily, it hasn’t been aired yet. The show is called “Takeshi’s Nippon Mikata!” I’ve seen it a couple of times and it casually serves as Takeshi’s sounding board for topics lots of other shows won’t talk about, even his show on TV Asahi on Mondays. Anyway, the show airs on Friday, December 12 at 10PM. Here is the official website with a description of the episode:

    The episode’s title is: ガイコク人なしではニッポンが滅びる!?

  • Mark Hunter says:

    As much as I like Takeshi, his shows are about sensationalism, mainly. Often under the guise of semi-serious debate. I don’t put much stock in this effort. Saburo the salary man, his wife and kids do not want to see a serious debate when they flick on the tube during dinner – they’re too tired.

  • Sensationalism is exactly what he is going for, mainly to throw a mirror on the people who come onto his shows as guests; some of them display the ridiculousness of their line of thought and Takeshi is more than happy to ridicule them for it. It’s been his style of humor throughout his career, exaggerating things to the point of farce. Admittedly, he often lets the clowns have the show when I would like him to throw in a few zingers now and then, but he, too, has his sponsors. I find this new show on Fridays is less on sensationalism and more focused on being topical, though lightly as I mentioned before.
    And really, Saburo the salary man and his family are typical of most Japanese who avoid topical debates for the usual variety or “uta-ban.” But that doesn’t mean he should stop trying or the debate disappears entirely. At least someone on the airwaves with the clout to get a show like his on air is still trying to get Saburo to listen…

  • Mark Hunter says:

    When I hear Takeshi take a serious stand, with no comedy involved, for the rights of NJ in Japan, then I’ll believe he’s truly topical, not pandering to the masses.

    — Especially given that he’s NJ himself. (A Zainichi)

  • @TJJ – Beat Takeshi doesn’t need to naturalize, he’s not Korean. He’s Japanese, both of his parents are Japanese, all his siblings are Japanese and at least 3 of his grandparents were Japanese. “Beat” once said, years ago, that one of his grandmothers was South Korean. Later he retracted that and said she was buraku, and that he had been mistaken. The “Beat Takeshi is a Zainichi” thing is an urban legend, and one that can be found to be such with a simple google search.

    — Okay, please send us some links.

  • – Okay, please send us some links.

    Also note no serious article or biography on Beat mentions anything about his being “korean”. At the very most, if his initial story about his grandmother being from South Korea is true, he is 1/4 Korean blood. But the Kitano family can be traced back to the Edo period. He is Japanese, 100%, wild claims by the rabble on 2ch. notwithstanding.

    Do you in turn have a link that proves otherwise?

    — No, just some words from people close to the source.

    BTW, Chiebukuro is hardly a reputable source. Witness this, from exactly two years ago, it so happens:

    Subject: [s-watch] ヤフー「知恵袋」の「外国人旅行客」旅館業法の誤解
    Date: December 4, 2007 9:31:39 AM JST

    皆さまおはようございます。有道 出人です。時々、どれぐらい人が日本語が読めなくて唖然とします。今朝、友人から英語でお知らせがあり、和訳します。
    Hey Debito: Check out this “answer” from Yahoo’s “chiebukuro” (the Japanese version of Yahoo Answers, roughly):

    No distinction being made between residents and non-residents – an answer that’s outright wrong has already been chosen as the “best” and it looks like no more replies can be added!
    有道さん、ヤフーの「知恵袋」(Yahoo answersの日本語版」に載った「ベストアンサー」を見て下さい。

    質問日時: 2007/11/28 02:21:20 解決日時: 2007/12/1 04:37:22 質問番号: 13,635,389




    回答数: 1  質問した人: karust14さん 1-1 この質問内容が不快なら


    回答日時: 2007/11/28 08:32:30 回答番号: 42,993,840




    回答した人: cedoricbensonさん 2-1 この回答内容が不快なら


    やはりそのようですね ありがとうございました。
    コメント日時: 2007/12/1 04:37:22


    後程本社に抗議文を寄越します。宜しくお願い致します。有道 出人

    Any other source? But anyway, I’ll refrain from commenting for sure on this subject again until I talk to Takeshi himself, someday, I hope.


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