FOREIGNERS IN JAPAN: INTERNATIONAL MARRIAGES, ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS AND JAPAN'S IMMIGRATION POLICY

FOREIGNERS IN JAPAN

The number of non-Japanese residents rose by 92,532, or 5.9 percent, to 1,648,037 in 2011 over the five years between the surveys, and the number of people of unidentified nationality rose by 568,120, according to the ministry. Among non-Japanese, there were 460,459 Chinese, accounting for 27.9 percent and the largest proportion overall, eclipsing the 423,273 South and North Koreans for the first time. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 24, 2012]

The number of registered foreign residents nationwide stood at 2,078,480 as of the end of 2011. Despite a steady decline in illegal immigration, the estimated number of illegal foreigners nationwide has remained large at 67,065 as of January 2012. In light of the situation, the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law was amended in 2009, and the Alien Registration Law was abolished in 2012.

The Justice Ministry reported that the number of registered foreign residents in Japan was 2,078,480 at of the end of 2011, down 55,671 from the previous year. This was the third straight year of decline since the number of foreigners peaked at the end of 2008, the ministry said. A ministry official said the latest decrease could be attributed to the Great East Japan Earthquake and the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The three prefectures hit hardest by the quake saw particularly large drops: 15.5 percent in Iwate, 13.2 percent in Miyagi and 15.1 percent in Fukushima. These figures exceeded the national average decrease of 2.6 percent.

By nationality, Chinese nationals were the largest group of foreigners with 674,871 registered as living in Japan. They were followed by Koreans at 545,397 and Brazilians at 210,032. Among the foreigners living in Japan are Brazilian and Peruvians of Japanese descent invited to work in Japan, tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees, Filipino and Indonesia nurses and African workers. There are also significant numbers of foreign businessmen and their families, English teachers, Iranians, and foreign students. The number of foreigners employed directly by Japanese companies reached a record high of 222,929 in June 2006.

Japan has the lowest percentage of immigrants and expatriate workers of any industrialized country. As of 2009 there were about 2.19 million nonethnic Japanese in Japan, or about 1.71 percent of Japan’s overall population of 127.5 million. These include 650,000 Korean residents (who for all intents and purposed Japanese citizens. ), The number of foreign residents in Japan (excluding long-term Korean residents) rose from around 600,000 in 1955 to around 1.5 million in 2006. Labor-rights group estimate that there were 500,000 undocumented aliens living and working in Japan in 2000. This up from around 110,000 in 1990.

Of the 2,152,973 foreign residents in Japan in 2007, 606,889 were Chinese, 593,489 were Koreans, 316,967 were Brazilians and 202,592 were Filipinos. In 2001 there 685,000 permanent residents and 1.09 million non-permanent residents. These included 632,000 Koreans (35.6 percent, most of the, permanent residents), 381,000 Chinese (21.4 percent), 266,000 Brazilians (15 percent), and 157,000 Filipinos (8.8 percent).

Americans and Europeans are refereed to as gaijin, an all encompassing term that literally means “outsider” but is sometimes erroneously translated as “barbarian.” The term is sometimes used to describe Koreans and Filipinos and other non-Western foreigners but generally is not.

Charisma Man “a manga created by Canadian Larry Rodney about a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Westerner adored by Japanese woman but regarded as a loser by Western women---won a loyal following among ex-patriots in Japan.

On why Western men are popular with Japanese women, Rodney told the Los Angeles Times, “Part of their success comes from the fact that many Japanese women are frustrated by their choices---Japanese men who often are very conservative and old-fashioned.”

Good Websites and Sources: Wa-pedia article wa-pedia.com/gaijin/foreigners ; Foreigners Complain About Japan japanprobe.com ; Black Tokyo, A site for Blacks living in Japan blacktokyo.com ; History of Africans in Japan cwo.com/~lucumi/shogun ; Japan Foundation, Specializing in Intercultural Exchange jpf.go.jp United for a Multicultural Japan tabunka.org ; Links in this Website: RACISM IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE ABROAD Factsanddetails.com/Japan

Sites for Expats Japanable site for Expats japanable.com ; That’s Japan thats-japan.com ; Orient Expat Japan orientexpat.com/japan-expat ; Kimi Information Center kimiwillbe.com ; Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report on Japan fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad ; Student Guide to Japan www2.jasso.go.jp/study ; Japan in Your Palm japaninyourpalm.com

New Laws for Foreign Residents of Japan

In August 2012, Eita Hagiwara wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Aiming to attract highly qualified foreigners while lessening illegal immigration, the government has revised its residency management system for foreigners living in Japan for the first time in 60 years. Under the revamped system, which took effect in July 2012, local governments are no longer charged with managing the alien registration system. Instead, regional immigration offices issue "resident cards" for foreigners with visas and other related legal statuses. [Source: Eita Hagiwara, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 18, 2012]

Foreign residents possessing resident cards are registered under the Basic Resident Register Law, and can apply for certificates of residence--juminhyo in Japanese--at relevant municipal offices. Resident cards are issued to foreign nationals (excepting diplomats) who are granted permission to live in Japan for a period of more than three months. The cards will replace alien registration cards issued under the old system. The maximum period of stay has also been extended to five years from the previous three years. [Ibid]

Other measures have also been taken to make life easier for foreign residents, such as eliminating the need for re-entry permit for residents who return to Japan within one year. In addition, a "special permanent resident certificate" will be issued to every permanent foreign resident, including South and North Koreans living in Japan. For special permanent residents such as Korean residents in Japan, a special permanent resident certificate will be issued instead of a resident card. [Ibid]

Under the old system, the central government handled procedures for granting foreigners permission to enter or stay in Japan under the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law. However, procedures for foreigner registration were handled by local authorities under the Alien Registration Law, resulting in a dual system. When the system was initially launched in 1952, it primarily dealt with Koreans who had emigrated to Japan before and during World War II. Therefore, local entities had little difficulty in obtaining the addresses and household information of foreign residents. [Ibid]

But with globalization, the number of foreigners in Japan has continued to rise. Under the previous system, however, an increasing number of foreigners were not properly registered and the number of those who failed to complete necessary procedures after changing addresses also rose. Consequently, it became difficult for local governments to obtain a proper grasp on foreign resident data.

The new system is designed to reduce the number of foreign residents staying in Japan illegally and to be more convenient for bona fide foreign residents. In the previous alien registration system local municipalities issued alien registration certificates to foreign residents without examining their resident status. This enabled foreigners staying in Japan illegally to obtain the certificates. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 10, 2011]

Foreigners with a resident card or a special permanent resident certificate are included in the national resident registry and they will be able to obtain a copy of their certificate of residence from their local municipality. On the other hand, those who stay in Japan illegally will not be included in the registry. This could prevent them from obtaining administrative services including education services and medical assistance because local municipalities will not be able to obtain necessary information, such as their address. [Ibid]

Becoming a Japanese Citizen

Under the National Law, foreign nationals who meet certain requirements, including being 20 or older, living in Japan for at least five years and not having a criminal record, can be granted Japanese citizenship. Most of those who chse to become citizens are long time Korean residents of Japan but in recent years more Chinese, Southeast Asian and some South Americans have become Japanese citizens too. [Source: Chung Dae Kyun, Yomiuri Shimbun, May 22, 2012]

Many naturalized Japanese citizens complain of the cumbersome procedure they have to go through and say they are still treated like foreigners after they come citizens even they are often more enthusiastic about Japan and Japanese culture than many Japanese.

In 2011,10,358 foreigners became Japanese citizens, while 712 lost their Japanese citizenship. Around 500,000 people became naturalized Japanese from 1952 to 2011. About 330,000 of these were former Korean residents.

Illegal Immigrants in Japan

There are around 300,000 to 400,000 illegal immigrants in Japan. Most are people that arrived with visas but overstayed them. The government wants to take a tougher stance on them while courts have called for more leniency.

The number of illegal aliens counted by the immigration bureau in January 2008 was 149,785, down from 21,054 from 2007 and down from a peak of 298,646 in 1993. The largest number are from South Korea.

In the late 2000s a lot of attention was focused on Noriko Calderon, a young schoolgirl with Filipino parents who had lived her whole life in Japan but faced deportation because here parents were undocumented, having entered Japan in the 1990s with other people’s passports. Noriko could only speak Japanese. Her father was briefly imprisoned at an immigration detention center. In the end she was allowed to stay in Japan for a year but her parents were deported. Noriko lives with her mother’s sister.

In 2009, a 51-year-old South Korean woman was able to enter Japan illegally by foiling Japan’s new immigration procedures with a fake passport and special fingerprint tape placed on her fingers that fooled the new fingerprint-reading biometric machines. The silicon tape used is reportedly easy to make, difficult to detect and widely distributed by criminal gangs, The woman had previously been deported after overstaying her visa. After the incident became public the Justice Ministry in Japan said it would review the biometric system.

The woman she paid a broker about $13,000 for a fake passport and the tape, which was applied only to her index finger by an aide to the broker. She said the broker helped many others use the same technique to enter Japan. She told the Yomiuri Shimbun the tape “had a floppy, rubber-like touch, and was flesh colored. Nobody could tell at a glance [that the tape] was affixed to my fingers, including the immigration officers.” Later “I crumpled it into a ball and disposed of it after I left the airport.”

People have also been caught trying to slip through immigration by filling down, cutting and using someone else’s fingerprints. Those caught were Chinese who paid around $700 to have their fingerprints surgically altered.

Human Trafficking in Japan

Japan is regarded as one of the top destinations for victims of human trafficking. Women from Thailand, the Philippines and other countries have been lured to Japan with promises of jobs in restaurants and computer shops and forced into prostitution. A woman who arrived in Japan from Columbia was sold for $40,000 by a human trafficker to a strip club, where she worked 12 hours a day, performing six shows and having sex with up to 48 men a day for ¥3,000 per customer.

The International Labor Organization has criticized Japan for treating victims like criminals and not doing enough to stop sex slavery. On the Japanese gangsters who control her, the woman fro, Hungary said, “When they say they would hurt my family I believe them. The Japanese police known everything about it, but did nothing.”

In 2005, a Japanese salaryman and a Thai woman were arrested for selling a 13-year Thai girl into prostitution in Japan for about $20,000. The girl was arrested and deported. She said she had come to Japan with a promise of a good job and ended up $40,000 in debt to the people that brought her from Thailand. She said she had sex with more than 200 men in several places in the Tokyo area and was paid only $250 plus minimal living expenses.

International Marriages in Japan

The number of international marriages has been rising steadily, with rate doubling between 1995 and 2005. There were only 7,000 in 1980 but over 36,000 in 2000 and 36,039 in 2004. These days six percent of marriages involve a foreigner.

Many of the Japanese men who enter into international marriages are in their 30s or 40s and meet their wives through Internet marriage agencies that charge around $20,000 for their services. In some cases the men married women that spoke virtually no Japanese and they couldn’t speak the language of the women they married. As of 2002, there were over 200 international marriage agencies and over half of them specialized in matches with Chinese women.

International marriages often get a bad rap in the media. There are or stories about bitter divorces and tales of Chinese women that marry Japanese men to get a resident visa and then disappear once they are in the country. There are also stories Russian women have entered Japan on 15-day transit visas and enter into fake marriage, sometimes with gangsters, to obtain spouse visas.

In 2003, 1 in 20 new marriages involved a non-Japanese partner and 1 in every 18 divorces involved a non-Japanese partner. The number of international divorces that year was 15,256, double the number in 1995, and almost half the number of international marriages the same year.

In international divorces involving Japanese women, the women often end up with the kids and the foreign husbands are denied rights to see them. There was one case involving an American husband who came home from work one day and found that his wife had left home and taken the kids. He never saw the kids again and was divorced by his wife through the mail. When this happens there is little the man can do.

In June 2008, a law that stated a Japanese man had to be married to a non-Japanese women for their child to be entitled to Japanese citizenship was ruled unconstitutional by the Japanese Supreme Court. Under the new law Japanese citizenship will granted to children involved in such cases if the father recognizes paternity.

International Marriage Partners in Japan

Japanese men in international marriages are most likely to marry Chinese, Korean and Filipino women. Japanese women in international marriages are most likely to marry Chinese, Korean and American men.

Many more Japanese men marry foreign women than Japanese women marry foreign men. Of the 48,414 marriage involving Japanese and foreigners nearly 80 percent were between Japanese men and foreign women, with 38 percent of the wives being Chinese, 26 being Filipina and 18 percent being South or North Koreans. Of the 10,842 Japanese married outside of Japan, 85 percent were between Japanese women and foreign men.

Some Chinese wives have a hard time. In February 2006, a Chinese woman married to a Japanese man stabbed two children to death in her car while her 5-year-old daughter looked on. The murder took place near Kyoto. The woman is said to have had a difficult time adjusting to living in Japan and had been paranoid about the way her daughter was treated at school. During an interrogation she told police: “Since I don’t speak Japanese well, I couldn’t communicate [with mothers whose children attend her daughter’s kindergarten] and was frustrated by the differences in lifestyles.” She also said, “I felt other children were to blame for my daughter not getting along [at the kindergarten] and that my daughter would be spoiled further [if I did nothing] so I killed them.”

Daarib was Gaikokujin (“My Darling is a Foreigner”) si a popular manga series written by American husband and Japanese wife team Tony Laszlo and Saori Oguri

Arranged Marriages for Japanese Farmers

Many single rural men choose poor women from the Philippines, Thailand, Korea, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China and even Brazil and Peru as their wives from pictures in catalogs. "I realized that if I didn't get a bride from Thailand," one farmer told the Los Angeles Times, "I would probably spend the rest of my life alone."

The men usually pay marriage brokers around $25,000, who make the arrangements and work out the details, and travel to home country of the women, who invariable can't speak Japanese. If the couple likes each other, the Japanese man often gives her family some money (up to $30,000) and she returns with him.

The success of the marriages between farmers and foreign women has been hit or miss. The New York Times described a Filipino marriage partner who so impressed her Japanese community with her positive attitude that another local farmer married her sister. The Los Angeles Times described brides hounded by in-laws for a male heirs and farmers who were dumped by their wives soon after they arrived in Japan so they could seek higher paying jobs in the city. It is reported that of the eight marriages with foreign brides in the town of Tadami, two ended in divorce and two more were reportedly in trouble.

There is also local help for farmers in the countryside that are having a hard time finding wives. There are wife-seeking trips to Osaka and Tokyo for these farmers.

In 1995, there were more than 20,000 marriages between Japanese men and foreign women. This figure represented about 2.5 percent of all marriages and was a tenfold increase from 1970. A large number of the men were farmers with mail-order brides.

Chinese Immigrants in Japan

Chinese are the largest minority in Japan, surpassing Koreans for the No. 1 spot in 2007. The number of Chinese in Japan more than doubled from 252,000 in 1997 to about 560,000 in 2006. This does not include the tens of thousands of undocumented and illegal workers.

Japanese can often pick out Chinese on the street by the way they look and dress. Many of the legal Chinese immigrants are engineers, software designers and investment bankers. There are also large numbers of Chinese students.

Chinese commit around 40 percent of the crimes committed by foreigners. The crimes include robbery, creation of illegal underground banks and taking part in arranged marriages with Japanese to obtain residency permits.

Chinese are blamed in an increase of crime in Japan. On the news there are often reports of crimes by Chinese. Sometimes Chinese are stopped police and question without any reason. See Crime Below.

Large numbers of Chinese and Southeast Asians live in Sagamihara City, a town an hour outside Tokyo. Few of the new arrivals move to the Chinatowns in Yokohama, Kobe and Nagasaki. The Chinese that live in these places have been there for some time.

Japanese Chinatowns

Christal Whelan wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “Japan's three best-known Chinatowns---in Nagasaki, Yokohama and Kobe---all opened in the 19th century and drew immigrants mostly from provinces along the coast of China: Guangdong (especially from Guangzhou) and Fujian, as well as Sanjiang--a collective term for the three eastern provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Jiangxi. Thus, during the Meiji era (1868-1912) Cantonese was the most widely spoken dialect among Chinese residents in Japan. Typical of the times, the Chinese of This epoch identified with their home provinces rather than a nation. For example, the Shanghainese associated themselves with the Shanghai area. [Source: Christal Whelan, Daily Yomiuri, December 4, 2011]

One of the most important institutions for fostering the continuity of heritage among overseas Chinese in Kobe is the Kobe Tongwen Chinese School. Established in 1899 with primary and middle schools, it is one of the largest overseas Chinese schools in the world and has long served as the center of education for Chinese in the Kansai region. Initially, Cantonese served as the language of instruction but the school switched to Mandarin (the official language of China) during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), a move that ultimately led to Mandarin becoming the common language of that Chinatown.

Not far from the school is Kobe's Chinatown known as Nankinmachi. Small in comparison to Yokohama's Chinatown, it remains a lively enclave of over 100 restaurants and outdoor food vendors. But for upscale Chinese cuisine, one of Kobe's most traditional restaurants--the elegant Totenkaku--is found in Kitano, a neighborhood of residences built by wealthy foreigners who settled there in the late 19th century.

Illegal Chinese Immigrants to Japan

An increasing number of illegal Chinese are heading to Japan. Many are smuggled in on fishing boats, shipping containers or are hidden in special compartments inside cargo ships. In some cases 50 people are squeezed in a space only one meter high and 60 square meters for an eight day journey. Sometimes Chinese boats use satellite positioning devices for rendezvoused with Japanese vessels for the trip to shore. Most of the Chinese who make the trip believe they can become rich if they make it to Japan.

Most illegal Chinese immigrants to Japan are dropped off along the coast of Kyushu or the Japan Sea. Some are brought to major ports. Hundred have been arrested at Japanese piers. Fifty-one were arrested at one time after being discovered in truck container on a Bolivian flagged vessel. Most make it. Snakeheads sometimes help them find cheap apartments and menial jobs. Most of those that are caught are caught after they been arrested or caught doing something else.

Many of the Chinese illegal immigrants who go to Japan are from Fujian and Zhejiang provinces in southeastern China. By one estimate a half million Fujians have made their way to China. Most come from the city of Fuzhou or cities and towns nearby. Most are middle class or upper middle class. The poor can't afford the smuggling fees.

Snakeheads in Fujian charge between $10,000 and $20,000 for passage to Japan, compared to between $20,000 and $40,000 to the United States. The fee for England is $45,000. For Hungary $12,000.

Chinese Prostitutes in Japan

In Kabukicho in Tokyo may of the prostitutes and sex workers are Chinese. Many of them work for Chinese gangs rather the yakuza. They enter the country on student visas or obtain spouse visas after they "marry" Japanese men. They are in demand because they work for less than their Japanese counterparts.

Many of the Chinese women are educated and ambitious to get ahead. The work at hostess bars and love hotels from 9:00pm to 5:00pm, making considerably more money than they could back home, and spend their free time studying and taking English and Japanese lessons. With some, once they save enough money they go home and start businesses.

One 25-year-old prostitute told the New York Times, "None of us like Japanese men. They're so different from Chinese people. They are cold, and we're warm. They like distance, and we like to e close. I wouldn't choose them for pleasure.”

Latin American Immigrants in Japan

As of 2008, there were about 330,000 Japanese Brazilians in Japan. They are the third largest group of foreigners in Japan after Koreans and Chinese. They began arriving in the 1980s in search of high-paying factory jobs. One fifth of all Japanese Brazilians now live in Japan. So many Brazilians live in the small city of Teshima outside of Tokyo there is a branch of the Banco de Brasil and local shops sell Brazilian sausages. In Ueno, Mie Prefecture the Brazilian community is large enough to support a Portuguese newspaper. About a third of the 33,000 Brazilian school-age children in Japan attend schools in which the primary language is Portuguese.

In 2004, there were 280,000 Brazilains in Japan. In 1998, there were 41,000 Peruvians and 222,000 Brazilians with Japanese residency up from 864 Peruvians and 4,159 Brazilians in 1989. Most are Nikkeijin, second- and third-generation descendants of Japanese. In 1989 rules were loosened up, allowing Nikkeijin in the country. In the late 1990s the government encouraged Latin Americans of Japanese decent to move to Japan to fill menial jobs under the belief they would assimilate better than other groups.

One Japanese man told natural History, “the first time the Japanese Brazilian came to town, I was really surprised. I thought wow look at these weirdos. What in the world are they anyway. They looked Japanese, but they weren’t real Japanese. They acted completely different, spoke foreign tongue, and dressed in strange ways. They were like fake Japanese, like a fake superhero we see on TV.”

Brazilians are blamed for crime in Japan. Some commit crimes and escape to Brazil, which doesn’t have an extradition policy with Japan.

Thousands of Brazilians and Peruvians of Japanese descent that were hired as temporary workers lost their jobs during global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009 . Many of them were employed by Toyota or one its affiliates. Laid off Brazilians and Peruvians were paid to leave Japan, with each unemployed foreigner of Japanese descent given $3,000 and each family member given $2,000.

Japan Needs Immigrants

Japan needs immigrants as it is becoming increasingly unable to take care of its own aging population. Over time, as Japan’s populations grows older, there will be too few people to care for the elderly, fill the manufacturing jobs that drive the economy and even grow food to feed people.

Many believe the solution to Japan’s population problem is to let more immigrants into Japan. Hidenori Sakanaka, director general of the private think tank Japan Immigration Policy Institute wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “We believe that to effectively cope with a crisis that threatens the nation’ existence, Japan must become an “immigration powerhouse; by letting manpower from around the world enter the country...By allowing people from a wide variety of racial and cultural backgrounds too mingle together, a new breed of culture, creativity and energy will arise, which will surely renew and revitalize Japan.

“The shrinking population is the biggest problem. The country is fighting for its survival,” Sakanaka told the New York Times. “Despite everything, America manages to stay vibrant because it attracts people from all over the world,” he said. “On the other hand, Japan is content to all but shut out people from overseas.” [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, January 2, 2011]

Lee Hockstader wrote in the Washington Post: “Given the forces of history and culture, the notion of a multiethnic Japan may seem impossible, a tautology in a country where nationality and ethnicity are fused to the point of being nearly indistinguishable. Yet a multi-ethnic Japan is what the country needs to become if it is to survive.” A large spectrums of peoplein Japan---politicians, demographers, economists. business leaders---feel such a move in necessary but it doesn’t seem anything about is going to be done about it soon.

Japan’s Immigration Policy

Japan has been unable to formulate a coherent immigration policy. Politicians usually stay clear of the topic. What passes for policy is an enforcement approach in which immigrants and foreign workers are allowed in only in special circumstances and rounded up and deported if they break the rules. No one has come up with a vision how they can be accommodated. The logo on Japan’s official immigration agency depicts a plane leaving rather than arriving.

Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times, “Though Japan had experienced a significant amount of migration in the decades after World War II, it was not until the dawn of Japan’s “bubble economy” of the 1980s that real pressure built on the government to relax immigration restrictions as a way to supply workers to industries like manufacturing and construction. [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, January 2, 2011]

“What ensued was a revision of the immigration laws in a way that policy makers believed would keep the country’s ethnic homogeneity intact. In 1990, Japan started to issue visas to foreign citizens exclusively of Japanese descent, like the descendants of Japanese who emigrated to Brazil in search of opportunities in the last century. In the 1990s, the number of Japanese Brazilians who came to Japan in search of work... surged.” Many of them ended up in Toyota City---a manufacturing area associated with Toyota in Nagoya. [Ibid]

“But the government did little to integrate its migrant populations. Children of foreigners are exempt from compulsory education, for example, while local schools that accept non-Japanese-speaking children receive almost no help in caring for their needs. Many immigrant children drop out, supporters say, and many foreign workers in Toyota City say they want to return to Brazil.” “Japan does not build strong links between immigrants and the local community,” said Hiroyuki Nomoto, who runs a school for immigrant children in Toyota City. [Ibid]

Ten Million Immigrants to Deal with Japan’s Population Woes

Sakanaka of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute has proposed that Japan accept about 10 million immigrants over the next 50 years in order to make up for the labor shortage and lighten the economic burdens caused by its shrinking population. Sakanaka wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun. “If this proposal is employed, the 10 million immigrants, most of who will be young workers, will lessen the burden to young Japanese in funding social welfare programs for the elderly. The new immigrants will be “comrades” not competition in tackling the challenges of a graying society and a declining population....The immigrants will also serve as a driving force in converting ths homogenous and uniform society into one with diversity, where a galaxy of talents people will interact to create a vigorous multiethnic society...The world will surely welcome the opening of this country’s doors to immigrants as a “revolution of Japan”...This is the making of a new nation that could develop into a change as radical as the Meiji restoration.”

Sakanaka said his proposal would mean increasing the number of foreign residents fivefold to about 10 percent of Japan’s population.”Japan has long been a rather homogenous country. I believe by gathering a diversity of ethnicities we can become an even better society with a new sense of values and inspirations,” the ex-bureaucrat told Kyodo. “Immigration-related businesses can also help stimulate the economy.” [Source: Kyodo, November 22, 2010]

Sakanaka’s proposal to accept at least 10 million immigrants was adopted in an immigration plan drafted in 2008 by lawmakers of the then ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) but actual implementation is expected to face high hurdles. Public opinion, such as stereotypical fears that immigration leads to more crime, is unlikely to change overnight. Opinion polls taken the 2008 LDP plan was unveiled showed that a majority of Japanese opposed it. A survey of roughly 2,400 voters in 2010 by the Asahi Shimbun showed that 65 percent of respondents opposed a more open immigration policy. [Ibid and New York Times]

Sakanaka has admitted that more has to be done to eradicate discrimination against foreigners, such as educating Japanese children from a young age on how to get along with people of different races. “Conflicts between the majority and the minority will remain,” he said. “Japanese people too must change and prepare themselves toward coexisting with multiculturalism.” [Ibid]

Sakanaka also suggests that immigrants be given Japanese language and vocational training at local schools that are under-enrolled, and that they be provided with job search assistance.” “I do not intend to say they should come and work as cheap labor. Unlike foreign workers who are to return eventually to their own countries, immigrants come with the expectation to settle permanently,” Sakanaka said. “’so as long as we treat them properly, they will contribute to society.” [Ibid]

Letting Refugees in Japan

Japan is very stingy about letting refugees into the country. Even though it is a signatory of the U.N. convention on refugees, Japan has traditionally been reluctant to grant refugee status. In 2009, 1,388 foreign nationals applied for refugee status in Japan. The same year only 30 were granted such status, including some who filed applications before 2009, according to data released by the Justice Ministry.[Source: Kyodo, November 22, 2010]

“Japan’s refugee policy lags way behind the rest of the world,” Shogo Watanabe, a lawyer actively involved in human rights issues concerning refugees and other foreign residents in Japan, told Kyodo. “From the very beginning when Japan ratified in 1981 the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, it has never had a consistent policy.” [Ibid]

“’stipends from the government are limited to four months in principle. Some end up having to sleep in parks,” Watanabe said. “Many to whom Japan refused to give recognition eventually settled in the United States and New Zealand. Japan really needs to consider comprehensively how it is to accept and handle refugees, including the provision of assistance after granting asylum,” he added. [Ibid]

Problems with Japan’s Immigration Policy

Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times, “The barriers to immigration to Japan are many. Restrictive immigration laws bar the country’s struggling farms or workshops from access to foreign labor, driving some to abuse trainee programs for workers from developing countries, or hire illegal immigrants. Stringent qualification requirements shut out skilled foreign professionals, while a web of complex rules and procedures discourages entrepreneurs from setting up in Japan.” [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, January 2, 2011]

“Despite facing an imminent labor shortage as its population ages, Japan has done little to open itself up to immigration. In fact... actively encouraging both foreign workers and foreign graduates of its universities and professional schools to return home while protecting tiny interest groups. Experts say increased immigration provides one obvious remedy to Japan’s two decades of lethargic economic growth. But instead of accepting young workers, however---and along with them, fresh ideas---Tokyo seems to have resigned itself to a demographic crisis that threatens to stunt the country’s economic growth, hamper efforts to deal with its chronic budget deficits and bankrupt its social security system.” [Ibid]

In November 2010, the Justice Ministry lifted some regulations for residence visas for foreign dentists, nurses, maternity nurses and health workers who have Japanese qualifications.

Point System for Foreigners in Japan

In December 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: The Japanese government has decided to start a "point system" for foreign workers next spring to attract highly skilled talent, Justice Ministry officials said. Factors such as academic career, employment history and annual income will be translated into points under the system for those who wish to work in Japan. Those with high scores will be given preferential treatment while living in Japan, they explained. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 29, 2011]

The system is a measure stipulated in the government's New Growth Strategy to promote acceptance of able foreign workers to boost Japanese technological innovation and economic growth. Under the new system, the ministry expects about 2,000 foreign workers to enter Japan each year.

The system will target foreign workers with skills in three fields: academic research, high-level technological expertise, and business management and administration.Basic points will be derived from academic career, employment career and annual income. Employment at companies assisted by the government and graduates of Japanese universities will be given "bonus points." Those with 70 points or more will be prioritized when applying for permanent residency, requiring only five years of uninterrupted stay in Japan, compared to the normal requirement of 10 years. Other areas include lifting a 28-hour work week restriction on spouses, and conditional permission of accompaniment for parents and domestic servants. The ministry will analyze the system one year after its introduction. Depending on the results, it will revise the system if necessary, the officials added.

Foreigner-Linked Crime Drops 12.7 Percent

Crimes committed by foreigners dropped 12.7 percent in 2011 to 17,286 cases, a preliminary survey released by the National Police Agency showed. The number of foreigners questioned, arrested and handed over to prosecutors last year also fell, totaling 10,061, down 15.2 percent from 2010. Both numbers have been on the decline since peaking in 2005, the survey said. Foreigners with permanent residency status were not included in the data. [Source: Kyodo, February 24, 2012]

Among the crimes committed, fake marriage cases soared 26.1 percent to 193 during the period, with the number of foreigners probed rising 17.6 percent to 554. The police have been clamping down on illegitimate marriages because they are believed to be generating the infrastructure to carry out a host of other criminal activities, the survey said. Penal Code violations meanwhile slumped by 10.2 percent from the previous year to 12,590, while infringements on the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act and other laws dropped 18.8 percent to 4,696 cases.

By country of origin, China topped the list of law breakers, with 4,012 citizens, accounting for 39.9 percent of the total, followed by regional neighbors South Korea and the Philippines. The number of foreign suspects who fled overseas in 2011 also slipped, by 4.0 percent, to a total of 677, the NPA's survey said.

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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