“NO BORDER” Nov 18 Meeting: Kokusaika & Keidanren laid bare



I spoke at the above gathering (http://www.zainichi.net) for about 40 minutes today. This is a little note to tell you what transpired:


This is essentially a misnomer, as these kids (college age already) are fluent in Japanese with some background in the native tongue of their immigrant parents. I met youth from China, Brazil, Peru, and most famously a young lady from Iran who came here at age seven, overstayed with her parents for a decade, and was granted a visa after much misgivings from the GOJ. Same with a young Chinese lady whose family had to go through the courts (lower court denied, high court granted) for a stay of deportation and one-year visas. Although all of these kids were just about perfectly culturally fluent in Japan (having grown up here as a product of the new visa regime, which started from 1990), they had a variety of faces and backgrounds that showed a lovely blend–a very hopeful one for Japan’s future. They made the best argument possible for visa amnesties for NJ with families–an extended life here that they have not only adapted to, but even thrived under.

The problem was they were grappling with things they really shouldn’t have to to this degree–identity. Being pulled one way by family ties overseas, and then another by the acculturation of being in a society they like but doesn’t necessarily know what to do with them. And refuses to let them be of both societies, either way their phenotypes swing. I suggested they escape this conundrum of wasted energy by ignoring the “identity police” (people who for reasons unknown either take it upon themselves to tell people they are not one of them, or who find the very existence of Japanized non-Japanese somehow threatening their own identity). They should decide for themselves who they are. After all, the only person you have to live with 24 hours a day is yourself (and believe me it’s tough)–so you had better do what you have to do to be happy. That means deciding for yourself who you are and who you want to be without regard for the wishes (or random desires) of millions of people who can’t appreciate who you are by any means considered a consensus. Trying to second-guess yourself into the impossibly satisfied expectations of others is a recipe for mental illness.


Rather than telling you what I said, download my Powerpoint presentation here (Japanese):


Coming late to the second talk sessions was a representative of Keidanren (Japan’s most powerful business lobby), Inoue Hiroshi, who was actually in charge of the federation’s policy towards business and immigration. He gave us a sheet describing future policy initiatives they would undertake, focusing optimistically on creating synergy between the varied backgrounds and energies of NJ and the diligence of Japanese companies.
Yet still trying to create an ultracentrifuge of “quality imported foreigners” over quantity (or heavens forbid–an open-door policy!). Orderly systematic entry with proper control, was the theme. And Taiwan’s system (for what it was worth, unclear) was cited.

When question time came up, I asked him whether Keidanren had learned anything from the visa regime they helped create (something he acknowledged) in 1990. All this talk of orderly imports of labor and synergy are all very well, but business’s blind spot is the overwhelming concern with the bottom line: People are imported and treated like work units, without adequate concern for their well-being or welfare after they get here. After all, if their standard of living was ever a concern, then why were the hundreds of thousands of people brought in under Researcher, Intern, and Trainee Visas made exempt from Japan’s labor laws–where they have no safeguards whatsoever (including health insurance, minimum wage, unemployment insurance, education–or anything save the privilege of living here with the dubious honor of paying taxes into the system anyway). Did they expect to create a system where there are no legal sanctions for abuse, and not expect employers to abuse it?

The Keidanren rep’s answer was enlightening. He said, in essence:

1) Japan’s labor laws are sloppy anyway, and don’t protect people adequately enough as they are (so that justifies exempting people from them completely?).

2) Japanese society is not wired for immigration (so why bring in so many foreigners then? the expectation was that they would not stay–meaning the system was only designed to exploit?)

3) There are plenty of elements of civil society out there filling the gaps (so you’re trying to take credit for those who try to clean up your messes?)

To me, quite clear evidence that they powers that be just don’t care. And it’s very clear it’s not clear that they’ve learned anything from the 1990s and the emerging NJ underclass.

The meeting closed with a really fine performance from a Nikkei Brazilian rapper who sang in Portuguese, English, and Japanese (I think–I find rapping indecipherable in any language). Now that’s synergy.

Arudou Debito
November 18, 2007

PS: And on a personal note, I might add that one of last year’s name “sponsors”, “Darling Foreigner” Manga star Tony Laszlo, of non-existent group Issho Kikaku (whose site, http://www.issho.org will celebrate in a couple of weeks its second anniversary of being under “site renewal”, with a decade’s work of hundreds of budding activists in Japan utterly lost), was not invited this year to the NO BORDERS gathering. In fact, his name has been completely deleted from the records of last year’s proceedings. Karma.


3 comments on ““NO BORDER” Nov 18 Meeting: Kokusaika & Keidanren laid bare

  • Great advice for the young one’s Debito – Bravo!

    As to the Keidanren Rep’s answers – wow. That was not what I was expecting at all. I was expecting the usual palm off, such as “We’re consulting with businesses and looking at what can be done”. Something like that. But we don’t even hear that. What we get is “Japan just can’t do anything about protecting these people from abuses”.


  • Douglas Sweetlove says:

    Not sure if I am with you 100% regarding those who deliberately overstay their visas in Japan, or choose to ignore them entirely. The government here is within its rights to decide who to let in and who not to.

    People who choose to violate those laws for whatever reason leave themselves (and their children) vulnerable to prosecution and deportation. Tragic, but still a decision made by the illegals and not by the government.

  • re: item 1 – indeed, it is a daunting task for the so-called “non japanese” (which includes me) to be true to their, rather, our own selves, for we are operating in a society that values homogeneity above everything else. and given that, we experience apprehensions of doing so in our pursuit to have a decent life in japan – i.e. getting a good job, having a full exercise of one’s liberties and rights, and peaceful living. but nonetheless, as cliche as it may seem, mr. arudou gave a truly sound advice to the audience.


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