Seoul court rejects slave labor claim against Japanese firms

Of note:

South Korean court on Monday rejected a claim by dozens of World War II-era Korean factory workers and their relatives who sought compensation from 16 Japanese companies for their slave labor during Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea.

The decision by the Seoul Central District Court appeared to run against landmark Supreme Court rulings in 2018 that ordered Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate Korean forced laborers.

It largely aligns with the position maintained by the Japanese government, which insists all wartime compensation issues were settled under a 1965 treaty normalizing relations between the two nations that was accompanied by hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid and loans from Tokyo to Seoul.

A total of 85 plaintiffs had sought a combined 8.6 billion won ($7.7 million) in damages from 16 Japanese companies, including Nippon Steel, Nissan Chemical and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The court dismissed their civil lawsuit after concluding the 1965 treaty doesn’t allow South Korean citizens to pursue legal action against the Japanese government or citizens over wartime grievances. Accepting the plaintiffs’ claim would violate international legal principles that countries cannot use domestic law as justification for failures to perform a treaty, the court said.

Some plaintiffs told reporters outside the court they planned to appeal. An emotional Lim Chul-ho, 85, the son of a deceased forced laborer, said the court made a “pathetic” decision that should have never happened.

“Are they really South Korean judges? Is this really a South Korean court?” he asked. “We don’t need a country or government that doesn’t protect its own people.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how the ruling would affect diplomacy between the estranged U.S. allies, which have faced pressure from the Biden administration to repair relations that sank to postwar lows during the Trump years over history and trade disputes.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it respects the decisions by domestic courts and is willing to engage in talks with Tokyo to find “rational” solutions that can satisfy both governments and the wartime victims.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Tokyo was carefully watching the developments in South Korea and hoping that Seoul would take a responsible action to improve ties. He said bilateral relations were still in a “severe condition” because of issues related to Korean forced laborers and wartime sex slaves.

“We believe it is important for South Korea to act responsibly to resolve the outstanding problems between the two countries and we will be watching concrete proposals by the South Korean side aimed at resolving the problems,” Kato said at a news briefing.

The plaintiffs had said the workers endured harsh conditions that caused “extreme” mental and physical pain that prevented them from resuming normal lives after they returned home at the end of the war.

The Seoul court said in its ruling that it had to consider that forcing Japanese companies to compensate the victims would cause significant “adverse reactions” for South Korea internationally.

“A forcible execution (of compensation) would violate the large constitutional principles of ensuring the safety of the country and maintaining order, and would constitute an abuse of power,” the court said, describing its ruling as an “inevitable” decision.

In April, the court issued a similar ruling on a claim by Korean victims of Japanese wartime sexual slavery and their relatives, another sticking point in bilateral relations. In that ruling, the court denied their claim for compensation from Japan’s government, citing diplomatic considerations and principles of international law that grant countries immunity from the jurisdiction of foreign courts.

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have been strained since South Korea’s Supreme Court in 2018 ordered Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate Korean forced laborers. Those rulings led to further tensions over trade when Japan placed export controls on chemicals vital to South Korea’s semiconductor industry in 2019.

Seoul accused Tokyo of weaponizing trade and threatened to terminate a military intelligence-sharing agreement with Tokyo that was a major symbol of their three-way security cooperation with Washington. South Korea eventually backed off and continued the deal after being pressured by the Trump administration, which until then seemed content to let its allies escalate their feud in public.

South Korea’s tone on Japan has softened since the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden, who has been stepping up efforts to bolster three-way cooperation among the countries that declined under Donald Trump’s “America first” approach, to coordinate action in the face of China’s growing influence and North Korea’s nuclear threat.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in in a nationally televised speech in March said his government was eager to build “future-oriented” ties with Japan and that the countries should not allow their wartime past to hold them back.

Source: Seoul court rejects slave labor claim against Japanese firms

Japan’s proposed immigration law revisions deal fresh blow to refugees

Of note:

While Japan accepts very few refugee applications annually, legal changes designed to crack down on what the government says are abuses of the asylum process are expected to make it even harder for genuine refugees to find shelter in the country.

Japan has been criticized by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees for accepting only around 1 percent of applications it receives. In 2020, it certified just 47 people as refugees out of the 3,936 applications lodged.

Moradi, an Iranian who fled to Japan in 2007 and declined to give his full name, was granted refugee status last year after winning a case at the Tokyo High Court to conclude a 13-year legal struggle. He filed a total of three applications and two lawsuits.

“I felt like I was reborn after spending so many days just enduring. I plan to live in this country for the rest of my life,” he said through a Japanese interpreter.

The 56-year-old converted from Islam to Christianity and said he would be considered an apostate and could even face execution if he returns to Iran. Moradi now lives in Saitama Prefecture with his Iranian wife, who he later brought to Japan, and works full-time at a recycling company.

According to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, of those who were recognized as refugees by Japan between 2010 and 2018, about 9 percent, or 19 people, had applied multiple times.

But Japan’s parliament on Friday started deliberations on a bill that aims to amend the immigration law so that foreigners can be deported after they have applied for refugee status three times.

As of January 2020, there were around 82,000 foreigners illegally overstaying in Japan. Some 10,000 repatriate annually after receiving deportation orders but about 3,000 stay in the country each year, making repeated asylum applications as deportation procedures are automatically halted for people claiming refugee status.

Tomoko Uraki, a lawyer representing Moradi, said the revisions could result in the deportation of refugees who, like her client, should be protected.

“People who would be recognized as refugees in other countries are not being recognized in Japan, but that part of the law is not being revised,” she said.

Shogo Watanabe, a lawyer who specializes in helping people from Myanmar apply for refugee status, notes that none of the 2,000 Myanmarese who applied for asylum in the past three years was approved.

“It is clearly wrong to push through a provision allowing deportation after the third application before carrying out the proper practice of refugee recognition,” he said.

In a joint statement dated March 31, a group of United Nations’ experts called on the Japanese government to review its proposed revisions, saying they failed to meet international standards from the standpoint of human rights.

The bill lacks provisions specifying a maximum detention period and instead contains penalties for foreigners who refuse to return to their countries of origin, including up to one year in prison for those who physically resist while on an airplane.

Source: Japan’s proposed immigration law revisions deal fresh blow to refugees

Japan’s Changing Immigration and Refugee Policy – The Diplomat

Of note:

During the current ordinary session of the Diet, the Japanese government plans to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act in order to prevent the long-term detention of foreign nationals. To this end, a cabinet decision to revise the legislation was made on February 19, 2021.

The revision of the legislation was influenced by domestic and international criticism against Japan’s immigration and refugee policy. In September 2020, the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a report of opinions that the long-term detention of asylum seekers in Japan should be improved in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Indeed, quite a few foreign nationals have repeatedly applied for refugee status so that they could stay in Japan during the multiple recognition processes, causing lengthy detentions.

In order to rectify the system, the Japanese government decided to limit the number of times one can apply for refugee status. In theory, such a measure would shorten detention period and facilitate earlier deportation. Moreover, the new legislation could enable detainees to live outside of a detention center under supervision of an authorized individual or organization. Notably, the legislation would allow those who cannot return their home countries, due to conflicts, to stay in Japan, which is a meaningful change.

On the other hand, it was reported that the government-drafted legislation contains a number of controversial provisions, too. For instance, the legislation would enable the government to deport detainees after a third application, unless proper reasons and evidence for refugee status are provided. Moreover, the authorities will be allowed to levy criminal penalties on those who refuse deportation orders. Although the revised legislation would allow detainees to live outside of detention centers under supervision, those who flee would be legally punished by penalties, such as an imprisonment of up to one year, a maximum fine of 200,000 yen ($1,900), or both. Thus, the content of the revised legislation demonstrates that Japan’s immigration and refugee policy could remain strict.

The history of Japan’s immigration and refugee policy dates back to the 1917 Russian Revolution. At that time, asylum seekers from Russia fled to Japan. The Empire of Japan did not recognize them as refugees, but many, including Fyodor Morozoff, were allowed to stay in Japan. At the end of the 1930s, many Jewish people being persecuted in Europe by Nazi Germany sought escape. Jewish asylum seekers fled to Japan with transit visas issued by a Japanese diplomat, Sugihara Chiune, but they were not given refugee status upon arriving in Japan. After the end of World War II, the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the Refugee Convention) was adopted in July 1951. The Japanese government enacted its Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act in October that same year. In 1967, the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Protocol) entered into force.

In 1975, Vietnamese asylum seekers arrived in Japan, and in 1978, the Japanese government formulated its refugee policy to accept refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In 1981, the Japanese government signed the 1951 Refugee Convention as well as the 1967 Refugee Protocol, and revised its domestic legislation. In 2002, it was broadcasted on TV that North Koreans had sought asylum in the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang, but their attempt ended in failure. In 2004, the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act was revised, and a provisional stay system and panel of refugee examination councilors was introduced in Japan. In 2010, the Japanese government initiated its third country resettlement (refugee resettlement) program, although its contribution is considerably limited. In 2016, then-Prime Minister Abe Shinzo announced a plan that the government would accept Syrians as students in Japan. In academia, some experts have suggested Japan’s future identity as a “migration state,” predicting the emergence of a reformed national immigration policy.

A shift in Japan’s immigration policy did occur under the Abe administration. In April 2019, the government decided to accept low-skilled and semi-skilled foreign workers under a specified skills visa program as a measure against labor shortages in Japan. In the program, some specified skilled workers (Category I) are allowed to stay and work in Japan for up to five years unaccompanied by their family members, and other specified skilled workers (Category II) are able to extend the duration of their stay in Japan. Under the amended legislation, the government planned to accept 345,000 foreign workers in five years. This was regarded as a critical policy shift in Japan’s immigration policy, yet some Japanese people were worried about the deterioration of social order as well as an increase in crime rate due to the influx of immigrants. Abe explained that “it was not an immigration policy that has everyone so worried,” and the acceptance of specified skilled workers remains limited. As a recent public opinion survey indicates, the Japanese public has mixed feelings toward the government’s policy on permanent residency for foreign nationals.

Non-Japanese nationals who overstayed their visas in Japan and receive a deportation order are supposed to leave Japan or to be sent to a detention center. It has been reported that most foreign nationals who receive deportation orders do leave Japan, but those who have family in Japan and those who fear that their safety would be threatened in their home countries refuse to be deported. In such cases, the duration of detention tends to be prolonged, causing inhumane situations in detention centers.

In June 2019, a Nigerian man passed away in a detention center in Nagasaki prefecture as a result of a hunger strike to protest against his lengthy detention of more than three years. The Nigerian man received a deportation order after serving time in a prison for a criminal offense. He asked for provisional release, claiming that he had right to stay in Japan as he had married a Japanese women, although the marriage ended in divorce, and had children. The death of the Nigerian man caused domestic and international criticismagainst the lengthy detention and the monitoring system in Japan.

The coronavirus pandemic has further aggravated the health conditions of detention centers in Japan. In April 2020, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a statement calling for the prompt release of detainees to prevent the spread of infection. The detention facilities released more than half of their detainees as a measure against the spread of the coronavirus, but in August 2020, a detainee at the Tokyo Regional Immigration Services Bureau located in Tokyo’s Minato Ward tested positive for COVID-19. In March 2021, it came to light that more than 50 detainees at a detention center in Shinagawa in Tokyo tested positive for the virus, which can be regarded as a cluster infection. The Suga government therefore needs to take the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic in detention centers into deeper consideration.

In comparison with other countries, the refugee acceptance rate in Japan is one of the lowest. In 2019, Japan recognized only 44 foreign nationals as refugees (0.4 percent of all applicants), whereas the United States accepted 44,614 refugees (29.6 percent) and Germany accepted 53,973 refugees (25.9 percent). Globally speaking, as a host nation of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the international community is becoming more and more interested in Japan’s immigration and refugee policy as well as its policy toward human rights.

In order to protect human rights of foreign nationals in Japan, it is essential for Japanese politicians and bureaucrats to remember and respect the Constitution of Japan as well as international law. Article 97 of the constitution stipulates: “The fundamental human rights by this Constitution guaranteed to the people of Japan are fruits of the age-old struggle of man to be free.” Furthermore, Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rightsreads: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” In the name of the supreme law of the nation, Japan is expected to change its immigration and refugee policy for the better and to faithfully observe the related international human rights law, especially the principle of non-refoulement, which guarantees “no one should be returned to a country where they would face torture, cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment and other irreparable harm.”

Source: Japan’s Changing Immigration and Refugee Policy – The Diplomat

Japan court upholds ban on dual citizenship

Of note:

A Japanese court upheld a ban on dual citizenship on Thursday, rejecting a suit that challenged the measure’s constitutionality and sought damages for those affected.

Japan is one of around 50 countries internationally, including China and South Korea, that only permits its citizens to hold one nationality.

Under current rules, Japanese people who acquire another passport are asked to relinquish their Japanese citizenship, but in 2018 eight plaintiffs started legal proceedings, arguing the rule was unconstitutional.

One of them, Hitoshi Nogawa, has told reporters that being forced to give up his nationality was a “painful experience.”

“I obtained Swiss nationality because my job requires it, but I’m emotionally attached to Japan and this is the foundation of my identity,” the Asahi Shimbun newspaper quoted him as saying.

The plaintiffs are six men who have already obtained Swiss or Liechtenstein citizenship, and two Japanese men who want to obtain foreign citizenship without losing their Japanese passports, local media said.

They argued that the rule was a violation of the constitution’s right to pursue happiness and protection of equality under the law.

But on Thursday, the Tokyo district court rejected their suit and request for damages, a spokesman said, upholding the constitutionality of the rule.

The government argued there was no national interest in permitting multiple citizenships, Kyodo news agency reported.

The issue was thrust into the spotlight with the rise to fame of tennis star Naomi Osaka, who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father but raised in the United States.

Osaka had dual citizenship but under Japanese law was technically required to choose one nationality when she turned 22, though authorities in Japan have been known to turn a blind eye to dual nationals in some circumstances.

The 23-year-old announced in 2019 that she would be renouncing her US citizenship.

Source: Japan court upholds ban on dual citizenship

Editorial: Tightening Japan’s immigration regs no excuse to trample human rights

Of note:

A government expert committee has submitted its recommendations for dealing with the problem of foreign citizens being held for months, and in some cases years, at Japan’s immigration detention centers.

The committee has called for a system of penalties for foreigners who ignore deportation orders, as well as for the government to consider how to handle people who make repeated refugee claims. The proposed rules are notable for their severity.

As of the end of 2019, there were 1,054 people being held at Immigration Service Agency of Japan detention facilities. Of those, 462 had been locked up for six months or more. According to the agency, the long-term detentions are due to people refusing to be repatriated. However, most foreigners without a legal residency status have left Japan after being ordered to do so. In a great many cases where a person has refused to go, it is because their lives would be endangered if they went home, or because they have families in Japan.

In light of this, it is questionable whether imposing penalties for those refusing deportation orders would have a significant impact on repatriation. We rather worry that the move will result in shrinking support for foreigners who cannot go home.

The committee’s recommendation that measures be considered to deport refugee claimants mid-application in exceptional cases was apparently based on the recognition that there are quite a few people abusing the system by filing repeated claims to avoid leaving Japan. However, deporting a person who may be a refugee is forbidden under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

We must wonder if, considering the scant few people granted refugee status here compared with global norms, this country’s refugee system isn’t too strict already. A total of 10,375 people applied for refugee status in Japan last year. Of those, only 44 were accepted. Perhaps the government had best rethink its evaluation process before talking about mid-application deportations.

Taking a foreigner to an immigration detention center is supposed to be preparation for them to be deported. Many other places have legal maximums for how long a person can be detained in this way. For example, the upper limit in the European Union is six months. There is no such rule in Japan. However, the expert committee report does not address limiting detention times in a concrete way. It does call for a review mechanism to be created for cases where a person has been held for a certain length of time, to evaluate whether continued detention is appropriate. However, we believe these reviews should not be conducted by the immigration agency or its parent, the Justice Ministry, but by the courts.

The United Nations has expressed concerns about Japan’s immigration system on multiple occasions. Last year, a Nigerian man who had been held at a detention center for three and a half years died of starvation following a hunger strike.

To avoid long-term detentions, the government should consider a flexible approach to granting temporary leave permission to detainees, allowing them back out into the world for a set time. Special consideration is also needed for those detainees with families and well-established lives in Japan.

Strengthening immigration management in this country cannot be made an excuse to obviate the human rights of foreign citizens.

Source: Editorial: Tightening Japan’s immigration regs no excuse to trample human rights

Japan’s ban on multiple citizenship outdated, unconstitutional: expert, plaintiffs

Will be interesting to see results:

Japan’s Nationality Act, which forbids multiple citizenship, is again in the spotlight after tennis player Naomi Osaka selected Japanese citizenship over American nationality in 2019. Meanwhile, there is an ongoing legal battle being waged by plaintiffs arguing that the law is unconstitutional.

Over 70% of member states of the United Nations permit their people to have more than one citizenship. In a world where it’s become quite common to see individuals from diverse backgrounds and for people to compete on the global stage, some experts are demanding that Japan do the same.

The Japanese Nationality Act stipulates that a child born to a Japanese parent is legally Japanese. Meanwhile, some nations have a system where a child born in such countries to a Japanese parent becomes a dual citizen of that place and Japan.

The Japanese law requires anyone who was born with or obtained multiple nationality before the age of 20 to pick one of them before their 22nd birthday. Those who acquire citizenship of another country after turning 20 must decide which one to keep within a two-year period.

Naomi Osaka held both Japanese and U.S. citizenships but decided to keep her Japanese citizenship before she turned 22. Her choice has been seen as an indication of her desire to compete in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics as a Japanese tennis player.

But because individuals who choose to keep their Japanese nationality are only “obliged to make an effort” to give up other citizenships, there are people in Japan who continue to hold two or more passports. According to a 2018 estimate by the Justice Ministry, about 925,000 Japanese have multiple citizenship.

Furthermore, foreigners wanting to acquire Japanese nationality are required to submit a certificate showing they have forfeited their original citizenship. But those from countries without renunciation procedures can also become dual citizens. On the other hand, Japanese people who choose a foreign nationality “of their own will” automatically have their Japanese citizenship revoked.

Hitoshi Nogawa, 76, a businessperson from Switzerland, is one of eight plaintiffs who have filed a suit against the Japanese government arguing that “depriving people who obtained foreign nationality of Japanese citizenship against their will is a violation of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to pursue happiness and other privileges.”

Nogawa, who effectively lost his Japanese citizenship for acquiring Swiss nationality, said, “I identify as Japanese, but it feels like I’ve become half a person. I feel bad for my ancestors and, in the current situation, I don’t plan on being buried with them.”

Born in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, Nogawa moved to Switzerland in his 20s and established a trading company. In order to bid on a public works project, he needed Swiss citizenship, which he obtained in 2001. He did not encounter any trouble until 2013, when he was told by the Japanese Embassy there, “If you don’t choose one (nationality), it’s going to be a problem.”

The request is based on the Nationality Act, which stipulates that people who acquire foreign citizenship lose their Japanese nationality, and requires them to submit a citizenship renunciation notification.

For Nogawa, giving up his Swiss nationality would have posed a problem for his work and discarding his Japanese citizenship would have meant losing his identity. Caught in a dilemma, he refused to respond to the embassy’s request and did not submit the notification. In 2015, he tried to renew his Japanese passport but was rejected. To this day, he has not been able to renew it.

Nogawa and seven others living overseas filed a suit with the Tokyo District Court in March 2018. Six of the plaintiffs, who have already acquired citizenships of different countries, are demanding confirmation that they are in possession of their Japanese citizenship, and two others who seek to obtain foreign nationality are looking for confirmation that they will not lose their Japanese citizenship when they do so.

The stipulation in the Nationality Act that bans multiple citizenship has not been revised since it first went into force under the Meiji Constitution, Japan’s prewar and wartime supreme law. Teruo Naka, a lawyer of the plaintiffs’ legal team says the law “does not correspond to the flow of the times.”

In contrast, the government argues that “people having multiple citizenship could cause friction between nations depending on which country’s protection they come under” among other counterarguments. The Justice Ministry, which enforces the Nationality Act’s provisions, explains that “the withdrawal of Japanese citizenship is not a deprivation, and reacquisition is allowed if necessary.” The suit is proceeding at the district court.

As of 2019, around 150, or 75% of United Nations member states, permit multiple nationalities. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.”

Teru Sasaki, professor of transnational sociology at Aomori Public University, conducted an online survey of Japanese citizens in 2019, in which around 60% of the 3,171 respondents supported the option, “Japanese citizens who obtain a foreign nationality should not have to lose their Japanese citizenship.”

The study results suggest that “society is tolerant of multiple nationalities, and there is a gap between the sense of ordinary citizens and the legal system,” said Sasaki.

Employment regulations for some civil servants, including Diet members, require that they have Japanese citizenship, and people who have foreign nationality cannot become diplomats. To permit multiple citizenship, discussions on job restrictions may also be necessary.

Source: Japan’s ban on multiple citizenship outdated, unconstitutional: expert, plaintiffs

Can Japan Embrace Multiculturalism?

Appears to be a good overview of the challenges and welcome any comments from those with experience in Japan:

In April 2019, Japan officially opened its doors to lower-skilled foreign workers under a major revision of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act. The creation of the Specified Skills visa program for blue-collar and other workers represents a historic change in Japanese immigration policy. But questions linger as to whether Japanese society, often described as insular and homogeneous, is prepared to welcome foreign residents and facilitate their participation on an equal footing.

Can Japan Become More Open?

I was confronted by such questions when I traveled to Cairo last December, at the behest of the Japan Foundation, to speak in Parliament and at Cairo University. “Do you think Japanese society can change and become less insular?” I was asked. “Isn’t the government just admitting foreign workers to do the jobs Japanese people don’t want any more?”

These are legitimate concerns. The Japanese have a reputation for looking down on nonwhites from other countries. Moreover, the recent deterioration in diplomatic relations between Japan and its neighbors, China and South Korea, has affected popular sentiment regarding the citizens of those nations. The far-right Japan First Party attracted considerable media attention during the unified local elections of 2019 with its anti-Korean, anti-immigration rhetoric (though the party has yet to win a seat at the local or national level).

It should be stressed that one rarely encounters such extreme forms of bigotry among ordinary Japanese people. Foreign students and trainees from Asia and elsewhere have entered Japan by the tens of thousands over the past two decades and have become a familiar sight behind the counters of convenience stores. Almost everyone in the local community views them positively, as intrepid, hard-working young people coping with the demands of life far from home. Increasingly, the Japanese people are coming to see that their society will need foreigners if it is to continue functioning as the native population dwindles and ages.

However, there is no doubt that foreign residents face serious challenges adapting to life in Japan, and that much remains to be done to ensure that our new immigration system works. In the following, I review some of the steps taken thus far before spotlighting the key issues demanding action.

Community-Driven Change

Until quite recently, the central government has done very little from a policy standpoint to assist foreigners living in Japan or promote their integration into society. On the other hand, local governments and nonprofit organizations have been working hard to fill the gap at the regional and community level. The municipal governments of Nagoya and Kitakyūshū and the Nagano prefectural government have set aside an annual “multicultural month” devoted to educating the public about cultural diversity and tolerance. In terms of legislation, Miyagi Prefecture has led the way with its Ordinance Pertaining to the Promotion of the Formation of a Multicultural Society , aimed at “building a community that upholds the human rights and social participation of all prefectural residents regardless of nationality or ethnicity.” The government has established a support center and other multilingual resources for foreign nationals and holds regular social events bringing together Japanese residents and foreigners living and working in the prefecture under the Technical Intern Training Program (see below). Shizuoka Prefecture has passed a similar ordinance.

Hate speech is an important target of efforts to promote tolerance. The central government made some attempt to address the issue with the 2016 Act on the Promotion of Efforts to Eliminate Unfair Discriminatory Speech and Behavior against Persons Originating from Outside Japan, although it fell short of criminalizing such behavior. Osaka enacted its own ordinance against hate speech in the same year, and in December 2019, Kawasaki became the first municipality to pass an ordinance that makes hate speech a punishable offense.

In Shinjuku, a municipality in central Tokyo with a large foreign population, a community council was established by local ordinance with the aim of building a more harmonious and livable community for Japanese and foreign residents alike. The Shinjuku Multicultural Community Building Committee, of which I am chair, holds regular meetings where representatives of various ethnic groups freely share their experiences and opinions. In this way, we are working to shed light on and improve the living conditions of Shinjuku’s growing population of foreign nationals.

Discrimination in Daily Life

As part of its effort to build a harmonious multicultural community, Shinjuku has conducted an extensive questionnaire survey of its foreign and Japanese residents. The results of the 2015 survey help to highlight the challenges facing newcomers to Japanese society as they attempt to lay the basic foundations for daily life, from renting an apartment to opening a bank account.

The 2015 Shinjuku survey asked foreign residents how frequently they felt subject to discrimination or prejudice in their dealings with Japanese. A full 35% responded that “it happens sometimes,” and another 7.5% reported that “it happens often.” More than half of these (51.9%), the largest number, identified “apartment hunting” as a situation in which they encountered discrimination. The second most frequently cited situation was “looking for a job” (33.2%), followed by “administrative procedures” (25.6%).

Comments in the “free response” section of the survey reveal a wide range of impressions. A woman from Myanmar had nothing but praise for Shinjuku, declaring that, in her seven months in Japan, everyone she had dealt with, from municipal officials to hospital and school employees, had treated her and her family courteously and kindly and that she had seen no evidence of discrimination. However, another woman lamented that her husband had been turned away time and again when searching for an apartment for the sole reason that he did not speak Japanese. She called on municipal authorities to publish local housing guides for foreigners.

Overcoming the Language Barrier

The language barrier is cited time and again as an obstacle to integration with the local community. In the 2015 survey, 58.6% of respondents reported experiencing difficulties with the Japanese language. “Reading newspapers and notices” was the problem most frequently cited (49.3%), followed by “understanding instructions from municipal officials and hospital staff” (46.6%) and “ordinary conversation” (37.6%). Among the comments in the free-response section were calls for multilingual editions of the Guide to Living in Shinjuku and other publications. “It’s very common to find oneself in violation of the rules simply because one can’t read Japanese,” commented one Chinese woman. Others called for expansion of the Japanese language classes sponsored by the municipal government. “One class a week is not enough to master Japanese,” said a Chinese woman, adding that “lessons focused on Japanese used in daily life would be ideal.”

The language barrier can be a serious issue for children as well as adults. Lack of proficiency in Japanese often leads to poor achievement and social isolation at school. Indeed, just “looking like a foreigner” can provoke bullying in many cases. Some parents transfer their children to international school to protect them, but for many the tuition is prohibitive. Children who are bullied or shunned at school are apt to drop out and grow up undereducated, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and isolation.

In December 2018, in conjunction with the revised immigration law, the government announced a package of “comprehensive measures for acceptance and coexistence of foreign nationals.” Under the policy, the government, recognizing foreign residents as members of the community, has allocated ¥21.1 billion for measures to promote inclusion and integration. In June 2019, it enacted the Act for the Promotion of Japanese Language Education, which explicitly recognizes the government’s responsibility to provide language instruction to foreigners living in Japan. These are important steps forward.

Closing the Back Door

Unfortunately, the “comprehensive measures” do not have the force of law and do not guarantee the rights of foreign residents. The lack of guarantees is particularly alarming in light of the continued expansion of the Technical Intern Training Program, which has been widely criticized for opening the door to human rights abuses and illegal immigration.

Established in 1993, the TITP has served for years now as a backdoor for foreign workers, who are recruited from other Asian countries ostensibly for training purposes. Admitted for a limited stay, the “interns” are assigned to farms, factories, and construction firms in need of cheap labor. They work at minimum wage and are not permitted to change jobs. Human-rights abuses have been reported, and some 9,000 of the interns have gone missing, according to the latest government figures.

As of fiscal year 2018, approximately 80,000 foreign trainees were entering Japan each year under the program. Recently, the number of interns assigned to workplaces in Kyūshū and Shikoku has spiked as labor shortages worsen in those outlying regions. There is good cause to worry that these workers, denied such basic rights as fair wages and freedom of movement, will encounter hardship and discrimination as they pour into communities that have little prior experience with foreigners. The result could be more disappearances and visa overstays, as well as potential public safety problems. What we need is a fundamental law on the status and rights of foreign residents in Japan.

“One Team” for Japan’s Future

During the 2019 Rugby World Cup, held in Japan under the motto “One Team,” the multinational, racially diverse Japanese rugby team thrilled and inspired fans with its historic advance to the top eight. Overcoming their differences to achieve a common goal, the Brave Blossoms offered a shining example for Japanese society to follow in the coming years.

Japan’s population is declining at a rate of nearly 500,000 a year. The number of foreign residents is increasing at a rate of about 200,000, and that growth is expected to pick up.

The future of Japanese society hinges on our ability to adapt our systems and our attitudes to these new realities. The government needs to send a clear message about its commitment to building an inclusive society in which foreign and Japanese nationals can live and work together harmoniously.

(Originally published in Japanese.

Source: Can Japan Embrace Multiculturalism?

As 2020 Olympics Approach, Japan’s Treating Foreign Workers Like Indentured Labor

Frightening comparable to  Qatar with the 2022 FIFA World Cup and other Gulf states where passports and other documentation are held by employers:

As Japan ages and the population declines it needs foreign workers more than ever, but it’s unlikely to get them when employers can snatch your passport and keep it, even after you quit—leaving you in legal limbo.It all seems like something that you’d expect to happen in a dodgy part of the Middle East, but nope, it’s happening in the Land of Omotenashi, where everyone is putting on a friendly face with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on the horizon.

Foreign tourists with money are very welcome. Foreign laborers? Not so much. Yet they are needed. The Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) union published a report last year, The Dark Side of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, claiming that laborers—many of them foreign—already are being overworked and exposed to dangerous conditions. There simply aren’t enough Japanese to do the jobs that need to be done.

Even if all the sporting venues, new hotels, and housing for the Olympics are completed in time for the start of the games in July, staffing those facilities adequately may be a colossal challenge.

There’s even concern there won’t be enough security staff to police the venues, and the Japanese government is considering asking Japan’s Self Defense Forces to do the job. But soldiers can’t take up the slack elsewhere.

Japan’s Cabinet Office announced last year that the nation has a shortage of about 1.2 million workers, primarily in the construction, agriculture, fishing and hotel industries. Teikoku Data Bank lists 10 major industries in Japan that already are short on labor, not only in construction, but in the automobile industry and information technology.

Perhaps that is why Japan is willing to look the other way when laws get bent, as long as empty workbenches are filled. But Japan’s rep among potential recruits is such that many are discouraged from coming here. The abuse of foreign workers often occurs within the antiquated laws of this country, and the Japanese government seems to have no interest in solving the problem.


On Thursday, a Filipino woman, with the financial aid and support of the independent nonprofit called POSSE, which supports labor issues here, sued her employer in the Yokohama District Court. She is requesting the return of her confiscated passport and her graduation certificate, as well as financial compensation. Without her passport, she cannot find a new job or leave the country. Her employer, ironically, is an Immigration Law Firm in Yokohama.

According to the lawsuit and her lawyers, “Brenda”—who has asked us not to use her name, lest she be branded a troublemaker when she seeks future employment—arrived in Japan in 2017. After finishing Japanese language school, she began working for the law office in Yokohama in April of 2019.

“If I give you your documents, you’ll run away.”
— Brenda’s Japanese employer

Brenda was asked to give her employer the documents necessary to process her visa paperwork, and she signed a contract that allowed her boss to “manage” these materials. She did interpreting, translating Tagalog into English, and other secretarial work for the firm. However, when she was paid after the first month she discovered her entire salary was under 100,000 yen (about $900), well below the cost of living. That was half of what she had been promised. She tried to quit the firm, but her boss refused to give her back her papers, saying, “If I give you your documents, you’ll run away.”

Eventually, in early July she did resign, but the firm still refused to give her back her passport. She went to POSSE, which is known for helping young workers, students and foreign laborers.

Makoto Iwahashi, a staff member there, says that when they went to the law office with Brenda to talk to her employer, he refused to cooperate and yelled at them to leave.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” says Iwahashi. “In order to make non-Japanese work long hours for very little pay without quitting, a number of companies confiscate their employees’ passports.” Many foreign workers complain about poor conditions, wage arrears, workplace injuries, and unfair dismissal, he said, but regulations to protect the rights of foreign workers are far behind where they need to be.”

“This is, after all, a country where Karoshi (death by overwork) is a word everybody knows.”
— Shoichi Ibusuki, labor rights lawyer

“Many workers speak little Japanese,” says Iwahashi, which is a major handicap. “They are afraid to speak up or report the harsh conditions.”

Iwahashi notes that in many countries withholding an employee’s passport is against the law. The Immigration Bureau of Japan says there is nothing illegal about an employer keeping the passport of a foreign worker who is not under the technical trainee program. The Labor Ministry of Japan has issued guidelines discouraging employers from holding onto passports, but there are no penalties for violators.

If Japan wants to attract the large number of workers it needs, says Iwahashi, it’s going to have to do a better job protecting their rights.

Brenda told The Daily Beast, “I had heard stories about foreign workers being treated badly in Japan, but I never expected it from an Immigration Law Office. I guess because they know the law, they know they can get away with it.” She said she feels like an untethered kite in the wind, unable to find work because now she doesn’t have the necessary paperwork to apply for a job, and unable to leave Japan because she does not yet have a new passport, or her old one back.

Still, Brenda is a little lucky. POSSE is paying for the lawsuit and soliciting funds for the court case, which may take up to two years. “Even if the embassy reissues my passport, I’m going to fight this. I will stay and I will work and I will fight. I’m surely not the first foreigner in Japan to suffer this treatment, but I would like to be the last one.”

Brenda’s former employer, the Yokohama legal firm, has not yet responded to requests for comment, despite phone calls, letters, and emails.

Shoichi Ibusuki, the noted labor rights lawyer representing Brenda, says that it’s very rare to sue for the return of a passport in Japan. Most employers would simply return the passport rather than go to court. “But then again very few foreigners would ever be able to take their employers to court in the first place.”

The road to restitution and fair treatment for foreign workers is long and hard; the odds of winning are not on their side.


“In 2015, I was able to gain back wages from one surly employer of a foreign agricultural worker,” says Ibusuki, “but I had to get a court order to seize 1,000 chickens and their eggs, in lieu of compensation.”

At that point the recalcitrant employer chickened out, as it were, and paid up what he owed—after what had been more than a court battle of more than two years.

Partly for cultural reasons, Japan has never been a model nation when it comes to labor laws and worker protections. This is, after all, a country where Karoshi (death by overwork) is a word everybody knows. Japan’s working hours are some of the longest in the world, according to the International Labor Organization, despite numerous attempts at reform.

It may be a lot to expect a country notoriously unfriendly to labor conditions with its own people to integrate foreign labor successfully, and the history is not encouraging.

In the old days, Japan solved labor shortages in part by conquering Korea or parts of China and integrating them into the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. This doesn’t work so well anymore, but the archaic labor laws have not advanced far from this “golden era” when labor was synomous with slavery.

Modern-day servitude in Japan is more subtle, and a prime example of how it works is the Technical Intern Training Program. It started in 1993 and has come under fire repeatedly  as a breeding ground for the exploitation of foreign labor.

“The ultimate virtue of a Japanese worker: endure silently and work long, long, long hours for low pay.”
— Yoshihisa Saito, an associate professor at Kobe University

The Japan Times in an editorial, “Overhaul Foreign Trainee Program”, bluntly stated that a large number of trainees “are in fact used as cheap labor under abusive conditions.”

“Japanese labor laws are deeply flawed and outdated, unfit to protect Japanese workers, much less foreign workers,” says Yoshihisa Saito, an associate professor at Kobe University Graduate School of International Cooperation Studies. He notes that while there appears to have been progress made in integrating foreigners into the workplace, most of these advances are merely cosmetic. Saito emphasizes, “There are a multitude of legal ways that a Japanese company can keep a non-Japanese employee in servitude, other than simply taking their passport.”

In the end, Saito points out, the Japanese system for recruiting “is not about measuring skill but measuring endurance. Japanese companies want people who have gone through and completed spartan training programs, who make no complaints, and can build pleasant relationships at their workplace. This is seen as the ultimate virtue of a Japanese worker—endure silently and work long, long, long hours for low pay.”

Japan is a lovely place to visit as a foreign tourist. But currently if you want to work at Hotel Japan as a foreign laborer, you will need to check your human rights and your passport at the front desk.

You can’t change hotels and, to paraphrase The Eagles, while you can check out anytime you like, you may not be able to leave.

Source: As 2020 Olympics Approach, Japan’s Treating Foreign Workers Like Indentured Labor

Plain Japanese key to inclusive, multicultural Japan


With Japan hosting increasing numbers of foreign visitors and residents, plain Japanese is spreading as a means of more inclusive communication in various situations, from disasters to tourism.

“Every language must be respected, and when we communicate with people who don’t speak Japanese, responding in their native language should be a priority,” said Akira Yoshikai, head of Yasashii Nihongo Tourism Kenkyukai, a group which promotes plain Japanese and its potential in tourism.

“But when it’s not practical to do so at an individual level, plain Japanese could be another option,” he said.

Plain Japanese targets those who can use the language to navigate things like shopping and making plans with their friends, according to a plain Japanese research group at Hirosaki University in northeastern Japan’s Aomori Prefecture.

It uses all three components of the Japan writing system — hiragana, katakana and kanji Chinese characters — but at a level of second- or third-grade elementary school students.

Also, for ease of understanding, sentences can be written completely in hiragana. Hiragana can also appear above Chinese characters, called furigana, to indicate its pronunciation.

Difficult terms are often rephrased. For example, evacuation shelter would be stated as ‘a place where everyone can stay for safety.’

In Yanagawa in southwestern Japan’s Fukuoka Prefecture, the city government created in 2016 badges indicating tourists and locals who prefer to speak in plain Japanese.

The badges carry messages written in Japanese — “Plain Japanese please” for tourists and “Hosting in plain Japanese” for locals.

Yoshikai, who was involved in making the badges in Yanagawa, his hometown, said he first got the idea of utilizing plain Japanese in tourism from a conversation with his mother.

“She said she wasn’t able to talk to foreign tourists because she can’t speak English. But many of the tourists to Yanagawa were from Asia, including Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea,” Yoshikai said.

Ad agency Dentsu Inc. estimated in 2016 a total of 8 million people from the three Asian neighbors were learning Japanese, either at school or as a hobby, and over 60 percent of Japanese learners in those areas wanted to speak the language when they visit the country.

“Not many people are aware that there are so many tourists who want to speak Japanese,” he said.

Municipalities including Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture, Kagoshima Prefecture and Tokyo’s Kodaira city and Setagaya Ward have held lectures for citizens to learn about plain Japanese and how to use it in tourism.

In 2018, the number of foreign tourists to Japan surpassed 30 million for the first time, with the government aiming to welcome 40 million in 2020 when Tokyo hosts the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

In the first 11 months of 2019, about 29 million tourists visited Japan, according to the Japan National Tourism Agency. The top three places tourists came from were China, South Korea and Taiwan.

As a reference for municipalities, the Olympic and Paralympic Games preparation bureau has set up a portal site that offers information and case studies of how to provide multilingual assistance, including plain Japanese.

But many Japanese people still have a stereotype that foreigners speak English, Yoshikai said.

“The problem is not that Japanese people are not good at speaking English,” he said. “Rather, it’s that daily Japanese used by native speakers is difficult for beginners to understand.”

Some of the factors making Japanese difficult are its honorific expressions as well as its importance of context, often abbreviating constituents of sentences, according to Yoshikai, who has a teaching license for Japanese as a second language.

“Daily Japanese is difficult to deal with just by learning from textbooks,” he said. “While the government is beefing up Japanese language education, shouldn’t we, the hosting side, be doing something too?”

The number of foreign residents in Japan reached 2.73 million in 2018, up 6.6 percent from a year earlier, according to the Justice Ministry. Chinese accounted for 28.0 percent of the total, followed by South Korean at 16.5 percent and Vietnamese at 12.1 percent.

According to a survey by the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics, 62.6 percent of the foreign residents in Japan said they understand Japanese, while 44 percent said they understand English.

With the government introducing a new skilled worker visa in April 2019 to bring in more foreign labor, “Japanese society will be more multicultural at a pace we have never experienced,” Yoshikai said. “Being able to use plain Japanese will be a must for native Japanese speakers.”

Plain Japanese was originally developed to provide emergency information in case of disasters, after many foreigners were troubled by a lack of information during the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake that devastated Kobe and its vicinity, killing more than 6,400.

Among foreigners in the area, for every 100 people, 2.12 were injured, while the ratio for Japanese was 0.89, according to a survey by the Urban Disaster Research Institute in Tokyo. The data suggested a lack of information increased risks for foreigners.

Usage of plain Japanese has been evolving in this area as well with the help of new technologies such as social media.

In October 2019, when Typhoon Hagibis made landfall on Japan’s main island of Honshu, a plain Japanese tweet written all in hiragana by the Nagano prefectural government went viral. The powerful typhoon left more than 90 people dead and flooded tens of thousands of homes.

The tweet, which carried the official phone number offering disaster information in 15 languages, were not only retweeted more than 40,000 times but received a number of thank-you comments, with some Twitter users even voluntarily translating the post in various languages.

“We didn’t expect this much impact,” said an official in charge of disaster response at Nagano Prefecture, one of the areas hardest hit by the typhoon. “We didn’t think it would be translated into multiple languages and we can’t be more grateful for the support.”

He said tweeting in plain Japanese was decided amid the disaster, responding to requests from followers of the prefecture’s twitter account to offer information in plain Japanese as well.

“With more people using different languages in Japan, it’s definitely necessary to give consideration to them when offering disaster information,” the official said.

Plain Japanese is not only helpful for foreigners, their children raised in Japan or Japanese returnees who spent years overseas, but also for Japanese who have a hearing disability, Yoshikai said.

Those who grew up using sign language as a major communication tool could face challenges similar to foreigners in trying to understand Japanese, whose grammar is different from that for signing, Yoshikai said.

“(Using plain Japanese) will be an opportunity for the majority of Japanese people to rethink what their language and society is like,” he said.

“When you become aware of one minority group, it makes you realize other minority groups around you,” Yoshikai said. “I hope the idea of plain Japanese leads to a society where a diverse group of people can live as they are.”

Source: Plain Japanese key to inclusive, multicultural Japan

A Crying Need for Japanese-Language Instruction Among Immigrants

Coming to terms with immigration and related integration realities:

The number of foreign residents in Japan has been growing by about 150,000 annually since 2014, reaching an all-time high of 2.8 million in 2019. At a time of mounting concern over labor shortages and other consequences of demographic aging and population decline, these newcomers—most of whom are under 30—represent a vital resource. The crucial question is whether they can build rewarding lives as productive and accepted members of Japanese society. That will depend very much on their ability to communicate in Japanese, a notoriously difficult language for foreigners to learn.

Unfortunately, it is not at all unusual to encounter foreign residents who are functionally illiterate in Japanese even after living here a decade or more. Many are ill-equipped to cope in the event of an emergency.

The Japanese government must bear much of the blame for this state of affairs. While Germany, South Korea, and many other countries sponsor semi-mandatory orientation and social integration programs, including language instruction, the Japanese government has left it to local communities to respond as they see fit with the resources at their disposal. Fortunately, that is beginning to change.

Signs of Change

The impetus for change has come from the passage in December 2018 of the amended Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, which officially opened Japan’s doors to lower-skilled foreign workers. In conjunction with the new law, the government announced a package of “comprehensive measures for acceptance and coexistence of foreign nationals.” Although this policy document does not have the force of law, it articulates a commitment by the Japanese government to support the social integration of foreign nationals. This in itself is a major step forward.

With regard to the specific issue of language training for foreigners, the measures include budget allocations for improvement and expansion of the existing “community Japanese-language education” program, which relies on local volunteers, with the goal of  ensuring access to instruction in all communities nationwide. It also earmarks funds for the development of multilingual online language-training resources to meet the diverse needs of learners.

In the spring of 2019, the Commission on Japanese-Language Education (an advisory organ under the Agency for Cultural Affairs), of which I am a member, began deliberations on specific measures aimed at improving the level of Japanese-language education in Japan. One major agenda item is the development of a national system for the certification of qualified instructors. The goal is to boost the skills and expertise of Japanese-language teachers; to enhance the prestige of the profession; and to raise the level of Japanese-language education in Japan. We are also considering steps to standardize Japanese proficiency testing and align proficiency levels with those of the Common European Framework of References for Languages.

The Responsibility of the State

Meanwhile, an even more important step forward came in June 2019 with the enactment of a new law that recognizes the government’s responsibility to offer Japanese-language education to foreigners living in Japan. The bill was drafted and submitted by a cross-partisan group of lawmakers led by former Minister of Education Nakagawa Masaharu. While cognizant of the need for far-reaching, comprehensive legislative action to facilitate integration of foreign nationals into Japanese society, Nakagawa decided to place top priority on a Japanese-language education bill in the belief that it addressed an urgent need and was likely to win broad support in the Diet.

Article 1 of the law states that the government “shall carry out comprehensive and effective measures for the promotion of Japanese-language education and thereby contribute to the creation of a dynamic, inclusive society that respects cultural diversity.”

The law’s significance consists in its stipulation that providing Japanese-language education for foreign nationals in Japan is “a responsibility of the state.” It calls for a basic policy to be drawn up by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) and approved by a cabinet decision. It also calls on local governments to draw up policies consistent with that of the central government.

Notwithstanding the recent change in the Immigration Control Act, the government of Prime Minister Abe Shinzō continues to insist that it is not adopting “immigration policies” in the sense of measures to encourage or facilitate the permanent settlement of foreigners in Japan. Amid this denial, the explicit commitment to providing Japanese-language education to foreign nationals as a foundation for their acceptance and meaningful participation in an inclusive society is a major step in the right direction.

Challenges on the Ground

But to get a real sense of the task before us, we need to heed the actual voices of foreign residents and those attempting to serve them at the community level.

The Shinjuku Multicultural Community Building Committee was established by municipal ordinance in Shinjuku, Tokyo, where foreign nationals from more than 130 different countries account for 12% of the population. The committee, which I have the honor to chair, consists of more than 20 Japanese and foreign residents representing various demographic segments of the community. The members gather once every few months to discuss the challenges and issues confronting Shinjuku’s foreign residents. In the course of chairing these meetings, I have learned a great deal about the issues surrounding Japanese-language learning and teaching in this diverse community.

The first point to understand is that most foreign residents here are genuinely eager to study Japanese but find the obstacles daunting. While Shinjuku’s international community includes corporate executives with ample time to learn the language, many other foreign residents are juggling school and work, often holding multiple jobs. Mothers with small children, likewise, have very few options when it comes to attending language classes. We need to recognize and accommodate the increasingly diverse and complex circumstances of Japan’s foreign residents.

I also hear many complaints from the teaching side. In the absence of funding from either the central or local government, community-level Japanese-language education has had to rely on volunteers. Most are middle-aged or older married women who only want to teach during daytime hours on weekdays, and more and more are retiring from their volunteer jobs. As a result, Shinjuku’s community Japanese programs suffer from an acute shortage of personnel. Nor are they equipped with the resources and expertise to meet the diverse learning needs of this growing population. The question many people are asking is whether continued reliance on volunteers is a viable option.

Foreign residents also stress the need not just for Japanese instruction but also for direct “life guidance” to equip people from other cultures with the practical skills they need to function on a daily basis. A committee member representing the Nepalese community, for example, has made the point that an increasing portion of the young Nepalese who come to Japan to study or train have no previous experience with urban living. They come from rural areas and have never even been to Kathmandu. It is essential, he argues, that such people receive a basic orientation immediately after arriving if they are to avoid the pitfalls of navigating this alien environment. Providing such orientation could head off needless trouble.

Although Shinjuku’s municipal government has prepared living guides in multiple languages, which it issues to foreign students and trainees when they arrive, it offers no orientation classes, nor am I aware of any local governments that do so. As the foreign population of Japan diversifies, the central and local governments must work together to develop and institute an orientation program for new arrivals, along with Japanese-language instruction geared to foreign nationals who must learn local customs while living and working in Japan.

A Brewing Educational Crisis

Although adequate Japanese-language instruction for adults is critical, the educational needs of foreign children today are even more pressing.

According to data published by MEXT, as of May 1, 2018, there were 50,759 students in Japanese public schools identified as needing remedial Japanese-language instruction—an increase of 6,812 from the previous survey two years earlier. A recent MEXT survey found that, of the high school students identified as requiring remedial Japanese instruction as of 2017, a full 9.6% subsequently dropped out, as compared with a 1.3% dropout rate overall. Of the students requiring remediation who graduated in 2017, only 42.2% subsequently enrolled in a university, college of technology, or other postsecondary school, as compared with 71.1% of all 2017 high school graduates. A full 18.2% of them were unemployed, as compared with a 6.7% rate overall.

Learning to speak Japanese is not the biggest linguistic challenge facing foreign schoolchildren in Japan. The biggest challenge is kanji. During their six years in elementary school, Japanese children learn to read and write more than 1,000 kanji. Foreign children who transfer into the system after the beginning of third grade are already at a serious disadvantage. Poor reading skills tend to affect academic performance in almost every subject. By fifth or sixth grade, when many Japanese schoolchildren are already attending juku or enrichment programs, foreign students often find themselves socially isolated. Bullying is also a serious problem.

In places like Tokyo and Hamamatsu (Shizuoka Prefecture), where foreign students are no longer a rarity, many teachers work extra hours coaching them to improve their Japanese skills and help them catch up academically. A few schools have even hired additional faculty and staff in order to offer pull-out classes, with interpreters providing assistance. But only a fraction of the foreign children living in Japan have access to such support.

Foreign students face a major hurdle when it comes time to take the high school entrance examinations. The test results determine what kind of high school they can attend, which in turn determines their college and career prospects. And the vast majority of foreign students must take the written examination in Japanese in direct competition with their Japanese peers. In big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, there are a few schools that offer special admissions processes for foreign students, and there are also a growing number of nonprofits and other organizations dedicated to helping those students. But again, all too few have access to those services.

As the foregoing suggests, the academic and social pressures of school education in Japan can be overwhelming for young foreign nationals. When the stress builds up, students are apt to avoid school or simply stop attending altogether. In Japan, elementary and junior high school education is compulsory only for Japanese citizens, not for the children of foreign nationals. As a consequence, when a foreign student drops out, school authorities seldom intervene.

Leaving these children uneducated and unsupervised cannot possibly be a good thing, either for them or for the community as a whole. The government needs to address this brewing crisis by drawing up a robust policy for educational support, intervention, and accommodation and implementing it rigorously at the local level in collaboration with foreign residents, NPOs, Japanese-language instructors, and others.

Leaving No One Behind

Some progressive municipalities are leading the way with their own initiatives to support the adjustment and social integration of foreign nationals living in Japan. The city of Yokohama has established the Himawari Japanese-language support center to help recently arrived children adjust to Japanese schools. Hamamatsu has launched a program to ensure that all foreign children attend school. But for most municipalities, the education of non-Japanese children is still uncharted territory.

South Korea has established Rainbow Centers at 25 locations around the country to provide basic instruction in Korean language and customs to foreign children before they enter school. By comparison, Japan has only begun to develop dedicated facilities for such purposes, and it has a long way to go in terms of training and hiring the qualified professionals—including language teachers and interpreters—needed to staff them.

The number of foreigners living in Japan is now roughly equal to the entire population of Hiroshima Prefecture. They have much to contribute to Japanese society, both culturally and economically. But that potential will go untapped in the absence of a concerted effort to develop our language-education infrastructure. Through flexible partnerships with municipalities and nonprofits, the government must actively support language and social-integration programs tailored to the needs of individual communities and fulfill its responsibility to “leave no one behind.”

Source: A Crying Need for Japanese-Language Instruction Among Immigrants