平和
和平
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MIGRATION

JAPAN
25 March 2014

2011.05.15 - 327  Kobe Matsuri

Japan's experiment in ethnic immigration

Japan's experiment in ethnic immigration -- inviting Latin Americans of Japanese ethnicity to settle in Japan -- has not been successful. The cocktail of samba and sushi did not blend.

Japan's experiment in ethnic immigration -- inviting Latin Americans of Japanese ethnicity to settle in Japan -- has not been successful. The cocktail of samba and sushi did not blend, and a large number have now returned home. What are the lessons?

Although Japan has traditionally been a very closed country, large numbers of Japanese citizens have left their country to settle overseas countries (they are known as “Nikkeijin” in Japanese). Japanese emigration began in 1868, the first year of the Meiji era. In the following decades, the Japanese government encouraged substantial emigration to deal with its stagnant economy. Emigrants went to Hawaii, mainland United States, Australia, New Caledonia and Fiji.

Emerging restrictions on Japanese migration to the US and Canada coincided with an increased demand for labour in Latin America on coffee plantations. Between 1899 and 1941, more than a quarter of a million Japanese migrated to Latin America (mainly Brazil and Peru). As happens today, many of these migrants were falsely led to believe that they would make fortunes and return to Japan in triumph.

In the lead-up to the Second World War, the Brazilian Government took measures to force assimilation, and prohibit the teaching of the Japanese language. And by 1942, Japanese migration to Brazil was stopped.

In 1952, however, Japanese emigration resumed in light of the poverty and unemployment in post-war Japan. Following the mid-1960s, Japanese migration to Brazil was replaced by foreign direct investment by Japanese companies.

Since the late 1980s, an increasing number of Nikkeijin have been returning to Japan. This was in part due to economic and political instability in Latin America. It was also facilitated by a revision of the Japanese immigration law in 1990 which allowed anyone whose parent or grandparent was Japanese to apply for a long term resident visa.

The Japanese government thought that because Nikkeijin had Japanese blood that they would integrate better and faster, and that they would be more reliable as workers.

The number of these Nikkeijin migrants (mainly from Brazil) increased from practically zero to almost 400,000 in 2007, or about 20 per cent of Japan's stock of migrants. (Over this period, the number of foreigners living in Japan – from 1.1 million in 1990 to 2 million in 2005, three-quarters of whom come from neighboring Asian countries.)

Nikkeijin workers tend to work in manufacturing, especially for subcontractors in automobile and electronic parts sectors. Since Nikkeijin are clustered in smaller industrial cities (like Hamamatsu, Toyota, Toyoshashi, and Oizumi), they have had a visible social and economic presence. Many Nikkeijin do not speak good Japanese (that's why many ATM machines in Japan offer the Portugese language). And since social customs in Japan are very different from Brazil, they often encountered various problems.

While a party with Samba music at midnight might be common in Brazil, it can result in a serious conflict with Japanese neighbors. Nikkeijin children have poor attendance at school because of their weakness in Japanese language. And juvenile delinquency and crime also increased.

Overall, there have been insufficient attempts at national integration policy, although local governments have been making efforts. Migrant support organizations (which are non-government organizations) have been active in local-level service provision to migrants.

When the global financial crisis struck in late 2008, the Nikkeijin were hit the hardest of any social group, in part because of their temporary work contracts and also because Japan's manufacturing export sector was hit very hard. The Japanese government offered them free travel back home … on the condition that they do not come back! Many did go home, and there are now less than 300,000 in Japan.

Overall, the immigration policy for Nikkeijin was based on the fantasy that people of Japanese ethnic orgin would fit into the Japanese economy and society better than other potential immigrants. However, in the space of a generation or two, these Nikkeijin had become culturally very different from Japanese people.

Japan does need immigrants, and does need a sensible immigration policy. But the government should select immigrants based on the needs of the economy and society, as do countries like Australia and Canada, which have very successful immigration policies.

For example, Japan is in desperate need of care workers and nurses. But they are not considered skilled workers, and their migration is thus difficult. Recent economic partnership agreements with Indonesia and the Philippines include provision for the entry of a limited number of such workers, but these measures are far too timid.

But this is just one very obvious point.

Overall, Japan needs an immigration policy that: responds to the many needs of the labor market in the context of an ageing and declining population; engages in the global competition for talent, which could help reinvigorate the economy; contributes to the development needs of its neighboring poor countries; recognizes immigration as a key element in building an Asian community; avoids building up a known stock of illegal immigrants; and that takes seriously the integration needs of its immigrants.

Promoting tolerance and respect by Japanese natives towards immigrants should be a key element of its integration policies. Unfortunately there are still too many press reports of Japanese bullying Nikkeijin.

Author

John West
Executive Director
Asian Century Institute
www.asiancenturyinstitute.com
Tags: japan, migration, Nikkeijin, Brazil

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