The UCLA Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies held its annual Global Japan Forum on May 20, 2016. The event was the culmination of a three-year cycle focusing on Japan’s interaction with a globalizing world. It featured ten presenters engaging with topics ranging from the politics of naming someone an “immigrant” to Japan’s guest work programs in a larger East Asian context.
Terasaki Center Director Hitoshi Abe opened the conference by remembering the important contributions Paul Terasaki made to Japanese studies at UCLA, including more than six million dollars in financial support. Presenters and guests participated in a moment of silence to commemorate Paul Terasaki’s life and legacy. Director Abe then highlighted the goals and direction of the Global Forum in its ability to create a “more dynamic view on Japan.”
Modes of Access
The first panel of the conference established the historical background of Japan’s immigration policies from the 1990s to today. Focusing on two of the largest categories of temporary migrants, students and guest workers, the panelists unveiled the complexities and incongruities of programs intended to foster an international student or skilled labor pool.
Takeyuki Tsuda of Arizona State University presented on the front, back, and side doors of Japanese immigration policies in the 1990s to the early 2000s. For Tsuda, the “side door” was used to balance a “disconnect between economic needs and a strict immigration policy.” The three core principles of Japan’s immigration policy in the 1990s were: 1. No unskilled immigrants; 2. Only highly skilled and professional workers; 3. All foreigners to be admitted on a temporary basis only. The multiple “side doors” to the policy were a flexible corporate “trainee” program (which included many smaller manufacturing businesses), the importation of “ethnic” Japanese nikkei South Americans, and large numbers of part-time students and entertainers.
Ryoko Yamamoto of SUNY Old Westbury expanded on the category of immigrant students. She outlined how the government implemented two long-term projects to increase the number of foreign students studying in Japanese universities. The first, in 1983, was intended to increase the foreign student population from ten thousand to one hundred thousand by 2003. The second plan, launched in 2008, intends to increase that number to three hundred thousand by 2020. The first plan was defined by “pendulum-like government regulation” and uneven growth. The most recent plan is defined by a focus on English language training and a long-term goal of keeping international students in Japan after graduation as a kind of “safe” internationalization.
Kristin Surak of SOAS University of London placed Japanese guest work programs in a larger East Asian perspective. She compared the kinds of guest work programs implemented in Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. Taiwan passed the 1992 Employment Services Act. This allowed 3-year work permits to about 550,000 people, approximately 55% in manufacturing and 46% in care work. Migrants were handled by brokers in both the sending countries and in Taiwan. Japan created the Technical Intern/Trainee Program in 1991 and expanded it in 1993. This also created 3-year permits for approximately 150,000 people, though it existed in a fuzzy legal gray area. The program was not explicitly a labor program within the state literature, especially in relation to the manufacturing industry that saw many new “trainees.” Finally, South Korea enacted the Industrial Training Program in 1991. This created non-renewable 3-year work permits for about 150,000 manufacturing migrant workers. The government outsourced the management of these workers to NGOs, and these organizations often received direct payments from the South Korean government.
Roger Waldinger of UCLA’s Department of Sociology provided comments to these papers while also highlighting the many kinds of migration that exist in the world—for example, mass migrations of rural residents to urban areas in their own country. In a global context, he argued, Japan appears to be “the great exception” to the narrative that residents of developing nations immigrate to developed nations. Yet, public opinion polling data from 2013 does not in fact appear any more “restrictionist.” The surprising data, he argued, was that so few foreigners—only 2%—wanted to immigrate to Japan.
The “I” Word
Having sat on important committees regarding immigration implementations, Keizo Yamawaki of Meiji University gave a unique behind the scenes glimpse of how government policy is formed and implemented at the highest levels. He outlined how foreign residents make up approximately 1.8% of the Japanese population (or approximately 2.2 million people). Among that population, nearly two-thirds are de facto immigrants and another 30% have permanent residency. Contemporary policy is increasingly embracing a multicultural (tabunka kyōsei 多文化共生) approach to immigration. Yamawaki noted that 2012 saw the first summit on multiculturalism hosted in Tokyo, and added that the current government has come to focus on “foreign human resources,” even if they have not yet established a clear immigration policy.
Glenda Roberts of Waseda University also discussed the topic of government policy on immigration, pointing to the reality that past and current trends prevent the Japanese central authorities from embracing what she called “the I word”—imin 移民, or immigration. She clarified, saying, “not taking up immigration policy means keeping the current categories, not preventing immigration.” These categories, she noted, where precisely those that had already formed the core of the conference: international students, skilled workers, and trainees. On the topic of refugees, she noted that Abe has stated that Japan first had to address its own demographic problems. These problems, particularly a shrinking population and workforce, have been addressed by a committee on securing the labor force, a committee that wanted to do away with the concept of “unskilled labor” so long as it did not use the term “immigration.” Thus, she argues, “hidden immigration” will continue so long as it is not named as such.
UCLA geographer Lieba Faier made sure to critically interrogate the concept of multiculturalism in her response, noting that the term means different things to different people and can be easily used to reinforce problems of privilege and commodification of culture. She argued that hospitality itself, as commonly used, is an aporia. It maintains an insistence of retaining power over “one’s own home.” Thus, there is always some degree of hostility in hospitality. In the end, she argues in favor of Jacques Derrida’s “unconditional hospitality,” which would include “giving up mastery of space and embracing the possibility of being changed by the other.”
Incorporation and Perception of Ethnic Minorities
Michael Sharpe of CUNY York argued that “Japan’s ethnic citizenship regime, political opportunity structure, and the structure of civil society severely limits Latin American nikkei political incorporation.” He explained that the structure of civil society caused ethnic minorities to struggle to overcome their relatively small population, the myth that they will eventually return to their home countries, a dearth of large policy organizations, and language assimilation difficulties. The state policy makers are in fact in the crossfire of both re- and de-ethnicization programs that have been mobilized by those in political power on both the left and right.
Seiki Tanaka of the University of Amsterdam presented his research on polling Japanese citizens on the topic of immigration. His hypothesis predicted two voices regarding foreign workers: those in favor of increasing immigration, and those against. His paper focused on the perceptions of corporate managers. He expected to see some correlation between one’s career and one’s experience with foreign residents in relation to opinions on increasing or decreasing immigration. After collecting data, however, he found that corporate managers were not as focused on maintaining homogeneity as he had anticipated. As predicted, corporate managers appreciated foreign workers within the context of increased economic productivity, yet he found these same managers to be indifferent to increased heterogeneity within the Japanese population.
Michael Thies, of UCLA’s Department of Political Science, engaged with these presentations in a response that keenly differentiated political and economic relationships. “Left” and “right,” he noted, described political or economic positions on such topics as the size of government. Using these terms complicates analysis of ethnicity, human rights, or immigration. Furthermore, proportional representation only reflects citizens and those who can vote, thus it axiomatically does not include oppressed minorities. In the end, one could make the argument that all civil society is neutered, not just those aspects of civil society related to minority politics.