Actually, I am not an expat. I built a business in Japan over a period of 20 years and I have a family with three children who are all in Japanese schools. I am fully aware of the complexities of raising children in Japan, which doesn't have the custom of neighborhood babysitters. The time burden on mothers and many times fathers, is quite heavy, particularly in larger families. In my company, I have a young Japanese woman who is going to give birth in 6 weeks, she has been looking for a day care center so she can come back to work as quickly as possible. Her three month search hasn't been successful as of yet. With her first child, it took her almost 9 months to find a day care center. Day care centers may be built over the next few years, but there is a severe shortage of staff which is actually the bigger problem.
What is going to hit young families in Japan over the next 5-15 years will be the pressure of caring for both children and elderly within the home. Japanese healthcare services do help with elderly in some communities, but soon there will just be too many elderly and not enough caretakers in the Japan. In rural communities, it is very common for elderly children to be taking care of their parents.One person I knew in this situation said point blank, "who will take care of my mother and me if I become disabled". The problem is in the home. Young couples cannot take care of children and their elderly without help. This is the problem we looked at when we decided to write the viewpoint on allowing foreign domestic workers into Japan.
We fully agree that the question of "working conditions and rights" as mentioned by as_the_crow_flies is extremely important. What is needed is a well defined visa status for foreign domestic workers which doesn't exist now. One option the Japanese government would have, if this visa status was established, would be to allow temp staff agencies to sponsor the visas of foreign domestic workers. These workers then could be contracted out to any families that required their services. There would be a few other regulations that would have to be changed, but this would be in the realm of the possible.
The expat community in Japan as we knew it back in the 1980s and 1990s is much, much smaller now. The expat community had been made up of well paid people in finance, a very large number of these people have long since moved to Hong Kong, Singapore and other financial centers. This group of expats did not figure into our thinking relative to the viewpoint. What we are concerned about are the highly skilled workers that the Japanese government has been trying to attract to Japan to contribute to revitalizing economic growth in Japan. Japan is hoping to bring in foreigners with special skills and innovative ideas that will lead to new products, assist Japanese companies to compete globally, create new companies, etc. These people will most likely be engineers, scientific researchers and possibly entrepreneurs.
Highly skilled foreigners with children who do decide to move to Japan in the future will need domestic help that suits their needs, particularly in families with both parents working. English speaking ability will be important to these families. If foreign domestic workers are allowed into Japan under the right circumstances, their presence could help both young Japanese families and highly skilled foreign workers. Japan has done many things right, if the visa status can be created and the correct sponsorship and working regulations put in place, Japan could be the country to develop the right way to host foreign domestic workers.
Bryan Norton Labor Force Diversification Task Force ACCJ
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