Saturday, August 01, 2009

Is Japan Trying to Kick out Some of the Paltry Number of Immigrants?

So claims Daniel W. Drezner on his Foreign Policy blog on the basis of an NYT article. (What else?) Not exactly what I’d been looking for, but I felt compelled to comment, and, too late, I realized that the comments section had been closed already, so…
The NYT article misrepresents the Japanese government’s actions, in the event failing to focus on the very real policy failures regarding the predominantly Latin-American immigrants of recent Japanese origin. The immigrant workers and their families, like any Japanese citizens and other permanent residents, may choose to stay in Japan and draw unemployment benefits and go on welfare. But jobs are hard to come by in the current economic environment and life on the dole does not hold out much hope for the future as far as building a stake for a comfortable life back home is concerned. The government payoff in exchange for a ban of indefinite duration from Japanese soil is the other side of the coin, an option—the choice is up to the immigrants. I would go along, probably support, a cooling-off period of definite duration, but the ban is not permanent, as the report claims. Of course there is a good chance that the “indefinite” may end up being “permanent” if the Japanese economy continues to underperform. That is why many of those immigrants are sticking it out.

Personally, I think that the Japanese authorities should have handled it differently—from the beginning, when the immigration policy was altered to bring in these people. Specifically, the immigrants and their families should have been encouraged to integrate. Most importantly, school-age children should have been required to attend Japanese schools, and the national and local governments should have given them every practical support. Adults also should have been given incentives to take up ongoing education. They could have been a good test case for a rational, controlled immigration program. It would have been the subject of less controversy than a full-fledged national debate on the broader issue would have invited. But that’s not the NYT’s argument.

Finally, it may be of interest to you that Komeito is the only political party that takes up the cause of immigrant workers and their families in its election manifesto. Komeito and DPJ also want to give permanent residents the right to vote in local elections.


Anonymous said...

I note that you indicated measures the Japanese government should have done in the 80's when they created a special visa class to bring in the South American nikkei. However, the main reason this special visa class was created in the first place was based on the (erroneous) assumption that those of Japanese descent would naturally into Japanese society.

Of course, they were completely mistaken and after almost twenty years, Japan now even has a 2nd generation of these immigrants - many of whom fail to finish school and end up delinquent or working in low-paying blue-collar jobs like their parents. The crappy economic downfall certainly hasn't made things any better for them in particular.

Although he was no longer Vice Minister of Justice at the time, Kono Taro, indicated a few years ago at a Keidanren luncheon almost exactly what I indicated above. That the decision-makers at the time were looking for solutions to the then manufacturing labor shortage - and that they assumed the Japanese blood would guarantee successful integration into Japanese society. Bwa ha ha...

Kono also indicated that now realizing their mistake, they were seeking ways to rectify the situation. He termed the decision to bring them in to fill short-term labor shortage a clear "mistake". At that same luncheon, he also indicated possible conditions such as Japanese language proficiency as a requirement for visa renewal.

In any event, the sudden one-way ticket back offer seems to have been one of the many ideas brewing for the past few years. The current economic crisis seems to finally have been the trigger.

What is just a little bit ironic about all this is that for many, it's the second time their family has been encouraged to leave Japan. In her 2000 paper "Shedding The Unwanted: Japan's Emigration Policy", Toake Endoh indicates many of the Japanese encouraged to emigrate abroad by the Japanese government were targeted because it was feared they might other contribute to 'social unrest'. These socially undesirable groups included significant numbers of burakumin, as well as left-wing communities within the peasantry and coal miners.

Had the bureaucrats of the 1980's more carefully studied the rationale behind the decision-making of their predecessors in the 1920's and 1950's, they may have very well decided to scrap their idea to encourage immigration of the South American nikkei in the 80's and 90's.

Jun Okumura said...

I thank you, Anonymous, for directing me to this fascinating study. I particularly appreciate Endoh’s distinction between propositions that she backs up with data on one hand and assertions—which she identifies by the words “believe” and “conjecture”—that she cannot or chooses not to explicate for the purposes of the study. She does not consciously try to slip unfounded presumptions by you with rhetorical sleight-of-hand. But I do have some doubts as to her core argument.

Specifically, I think that Endoh makes a convincing case that “[t]he policy also had a distinct political function—to attempt to prevent civil strife within Japan and to maintain social order.” But she also makes a stronger claim, that the Japanese government “employed its emigration policy to weed out actual and potential sources of social unrest and to send them abroad.” Is she claiming that peasant, burakumin and labor activists were targeted by the authorities for emigration? Or is she asserting that the authorities attempted to “weed out” every peasant, burakumin and coal miner in the southwest regions (one wishes she gave us a definition of “southwest”; otherwise, her tables are near useless) out of the general population? Either way, the use later in her narrative of the word “dissident” without qualification to describe the emigrants suggests that she believes that the authorities were highly successful in identifying and targeting them. And logic suggests that them had to be the former, at least in the post-WW II years, because, by her own account, the postwar count amounted to a paltry 70 thousand, a mere fraction of the enormous internal migration to the cities that continues even today. But were they really “dissidents”? Then how to explain the success of the “attempt[s] to re-program the former dissidents to be obedient national loyalists and to re-incorporate them into Japan's organic polity” that she describes later?

A more plausible explanation is that Japanese emigration policy was more “effective” with regard to economically and socially disadvantaged regions and classes/occupations and the authorities actively encouraged its use in such circumstances but the actual emigrants reflected the general population of those classes/occupations and if anything were less radicalized than the activists that the authorities would have wanted to target if they could. I say “plausible” because I do not have the resources—i.e. time and money—to devote to this matter. But Endoh has failed to make her case either, and her facts (sorry, Matt) actually work against it.

Either way, as was often the case when you used to comment on this blog more frequently, I fail to see any connection between her study and your claim—in this case that the authorities might have refrained from encouraging the return of the emigrants and their families in the 80s and 90s.

matt at said...

Consider, if I am a Nikkei living in Japan and having difficultly finding work, one option might be to go back to Brazil (or Peru or wherever) and work there. Now if I have money to do so, I can maintain my visa in Japan, and return to Japan at a later time (via a reentry permit).

Think about it. As difficult as it might be to believe, for some of these Nikkei, Japan is now their home. They have friends, contacts, a community. Leaving that isn't easy, but at least they have the right to return. How much is the right worth? I doubt its something you want to put a price tag on.

Now, what if I am down and out and don't have the money for a plane ticket home. Well, I decide I'll just have to hunker down and do my best in Japan. But then the government steps in and says, hey buddy -- that's no problem, we'll give you the money. But there's a catch ... you can't come back (until we say so) ...

That is, the program has nothing whatsoever to do with *helping* some Brazilians go "home", but only with giving them money to leave. Basically a bribe to get them out of the country. This is far from being humanitarian and is actually quite cold and callous.

It sends a strong message that those being bribed are not desired in the country. This, of course, is the exact opposite of the message they probably got when they were enticed into the country. The government is clearly of two faces here.

Are you saying this is all okay? The principled thing for the government to do would be either nothing, or to have further extended some type of aid to help people in these communities. The ticket home program stinks to high heaven. You don't pay residents to leave the country anymore than you pay *citizens* to leave the country. It's just not done. I doubt the program will be much of a success, and it will rightly be seen outside of Japan as more evidence of the Japanese government's xenophobic outlook.

I am optimistic that at least in this area the DPJ might be able to show a more enlightened policy. But I won't hold my breath.

PaxAmericana said...


Yes, it's okay.

You say that "you just don't pay residents to leave." But, is that true? Hasn't Germany had periods of bribes to the Turks to leave?

On a different matter, many states and cities in the US have given one-way tickets to other states to people arrested for relatively minor crimes. And, of course, the issue of crimes by illegal aliens, frequently with long periods of residence in the US, would take up hours of discussion. Oftentimes, they are simply sent back home.

In any case, you see the principled thing as doing nothing, which will presumably lead to the social problems of unemployment. I would argue that principles are quite rare in the world of politics, and that avoiding social problems is a fairly high priority for any decent government.

Jun Okumura said...

Matt, PaxAmericana:

I’m sure that Matt wouldn’t object in principle to giving unemployed foreigners whose unemployment benefits have run out a third option (going on welfare and turning to crime being the other two); taking a one-off a payoff to go back to their countries of origin. I hope that Matt wouldn’t oppose the imposition of some restrictions on their return to Japan, if only to avoid fraud. It gives the unemployed anther choice—nothing more, nothing less. “Calculating?” Yes. “Cold?” No.

Has the measure been designed properly? Case in point: Is a ban of indefinite duration excessive? I think it is. After all, it’s actually counterproductive if your intention is to have as many unemployed foreigners leave as possible. Besides, a right to return after, say, five years, will have no practical meaning if you don’t have a job lined up at the other end.

More important than whatever message this episode sends or doesn’t send to the rest of the world is what kind of immigration policy the world sees when it looks toward Japan. My argument is that the details of the latest measure are not the real problem. But that’s what we wind up when there is insufficient consensus to move decisively in one direction. I assume that the DPJ will be open to a more proactive approach to immigration, but that it will not make it a priority item in the first years of a Hatoyama administration.

Finally, Matt, you’re arguing on behalf of a rather specific type of person to make your case. That’s a useful rhetorical device that appeals to the emotions if you are engaging in advocacy (or writing a feature article), but if you are trying to but if you are trying to develop or analyze government policies, they should be judged on their effects across the whole spectrum.

Durf said...

I went heavily on the speculative fiction when I wrote a bit about this, but the financial aid for one-way tickets hasn't ever struck me as a horrifying, racist approach to the problem. (Particularly since it was presented alongside funding for language and jobs training to help unemployed immigrants improve their chances of getting new jobs in Japan.)

The government's language makes it quite clear that these people won't be coming back on the Nikkei visa exemption program, not that they can't come back at all. If the manufacturing sector sees business pick up and decides it wants to rehire a bunch of these experienced workers, companies will always have the option of sponsoring work visas for the South American nationals so they can get back into the swing of things.

Jun Okumura said...

Hi, Durf. Just read your blog as well. I’d missed the constitutional angle. From what I can gather, it appears that the authorities can ban sansei without amending the law but not nisei.. One point: My guess is that the immigrants who take the money and go back home are not likely to have the skills or job description to come back on a different working visa.

matt at anarchyjapan said...

I took some time to dig a little deeper into this topic and posted my full opinion on my blog. Here is a link:

Jun Okumura said...


Thanks. I'll be sure to look into it later.

matt at anarchyjapan said...

I just wanted to post a "thank you" for reading the article and commenting thoughtfully!

Thank you!

Jun Okumura said...

You’re welcome, Matt.

Matt has gone to the sources on this issue to make a good case for his views and a good primer on the issue itself. He always does his homework.

You know, that would be totally appropriate for his epitaph?

He always did his homework