"Getting to know 1.3 million foreign neighbors." That's the title of a seven-page article in Flash (Jan 22).
The reason for the article's timing should be obvious. After the majority party rammed new legislation through the Diet last month, Japan's immigration policy has changed for the year to allow entry by a maximum of 345,000 foreign workers who do not come under the category of having a special qualifications or skills.
The main impetus behind passage of the law, which will take effect from April this year, is to address the increasingly severe shortage of workers in certain agricultural, manufacturing and service sectors. At the end of 2017, foreigners here under this status of residence, called gino jisshu or technical trainee, numbered some 274,000, broken down by 77 occupational categories engaged in 139 varieties of tasks.
Under the new system, the status will be segmented into types 1 and 2, with the former limited to a duration of five years without possibility of extension. Type 2 will recognize the individual as holder of an "advanced skill" which makes him or her eligible for extension of stay and also able to bring family members into the country.
Yoshifu Arita, an Upper House member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, resolutely denounced the new law, describing it as "lacking content, hollow, empty and vacant. The framers of the proposed bill said they would provide basic guidelines, but it's been all wrong from the get-go."
Arita has gone on record in the Diet to attack abuses in the trainee system that led to deaths, due to various causes, of 69 individuals between 2015 and 2017. (In the eight years ending in 2017, he determined, the deaths rise to 174.) In addition, he pointed out, some 26,000 workers left their jobs and cannot be traced, although they are still believed to be in Japan.
"It is possible some of those deaths were due to suicide," Arita told Flash. "We don't know if the victims were entitled to workers' compensation. None of those cases were verified and now here we are on the verge of starting a new system that makes no provisions for dealing with the problems, so it's likely that the same tragedies will be repeated."
American Tv "talent" Patrick Harlan, a 25-year resident of Japan, doesn't think much of the five-year limit.
"Let's assume they work hard and acquire not only skills but Japanese language and comprehension, to the point that they can contribute to society," he says. "Then at the end of five years it's time to go home. I think that's getting the priorities backwards."
Instead of repatriating their earnings, Harlan suggested that with longer, or even permanent, residence, their patterns of consumption would change, and they'd buy a car and a house and think about spending their future in Japan, "which would serve to support Japan."
"To do that, however, minimum wages that would ensure a regular livelihood would need to be guaranteed," he pointed out.
After obtaining more views from an Italian, Sri Lankan and Chinese national, and visiting "Little Yangon" and "Little Ethiopia" neighborhoods in Tokyo, Flash's reporter traveled to "Little Saigon" -- where 178 Vietnamese now reside -- which has sprung up around the Icho public housing tract in Yamato City, Kanagawa Prefecture. Many of the breadwinners are employed by nearby plants producing motor vehicles and parts.
Four establishments selling Vietnamese groceries and serving meals can be found in the neighborhood.
According to Akio Komatsu, chairman of the Icho Autonomous Residents Association, in the initial years following their arrival, there were plenty of rough spots, with disputes arising between neighbors of different nationalities. Japanese encouraged the newcomers to take part in various events and exchanges, and backed by staff at the local elementary school, several NPOs and government agencies, eventually the Danchi Matsuri festival with international food, music and dances became something of an institution at Icho.
"We've learned that in living with foreigners when a problem occurs, instead of biting the bullet and doing nothing, it's important to convey one's thoughts and intentions," Komatsu said. "The Japanese way -- that 'They ought to understand' -- won't work. More than that, people need to make efforts to understand the customs and culture of their foreign counterparts and develop tolerance."© Japan Today