Monday, July 07, 2008

Mendacity and Hope as Regards Immigration

On blogs and lists, the concern troll is a duplicitous subspecies of the troll. Instead of attacking the values of a person or community directly, the concern troll affects the air of a reasonable, caring person who, despite a great deal of sympathy for the views expressed, has one small problem with the values of the author or other readers. The concern troll then proceeds to advance a reprehensible argument that he or she justifies out of a false concern that the alternative view is simply not viable, either politically or culturally.

On Thursday, July 3, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, the country's premier business daily and the Voice of The Establishment, played the concern troll for the entire nation on the subject of immigration.

In an editorial entitled "When the Government is Thinking about Aid for the Education and Training of Foreign Settlers, Thinking About A Human Resources Opening of the Country" (Teijū gaikokujin no kyōiku kunren ni seifu mo shien o, jinzai kaikoku o kangaeru) the editors of the Nikkei wanted to come out and say:

"We do not like the thought of having immigrants coming to Japan to live and work. Period."

They knew, however, that such a bald statement would be seen for what it is: an anachronistic, ethnocentric knee-jerk display of bigotry.

So instead of being upfront about fears that Japan could become a nation of immigrants, the editors expressed their concern -- by presenting a picture of what Japan might become.

For this exercise, they relied on the Liberal Democratic Party's liberal wing for a template.

On June 19 the "Project Team for the Way to An Immigration Nation with Japanese Characteristics" (Nihongata imin kokka e no michi purojekuto chiimu) -- a division of the LDP's national strategy directorate (kokka senryaku honbu) nominally overseen by Kimura Yoshio but widely portrayed as being under the sway of former LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao, the LDP's current champion of classical liberalism--suggested that Japan have an immigrant population of at least 10 million, i.e., about 10% of the population , quintupling the current figure, by 2050.

A goal which, given the rate of worker retirements and the low birthrate, and in comparison to European, American and Australian figures, is actually quite modest.

"Aha!" went the shout in the editorial offices of the Nikkei. "So it is 10% foreigner population that is the goal, it it? there a place in Japan that today has around a 10% foreign population--a microcosm, if you will, of what Japan would be like under this plan?"

Oh, yes. Of course.

"Minokamo City is a city of 55,000 people. About 5900 persons, that is to say about 10.8% of the population, are foreigners, most whom are Brazilians of Japanese ancestry (nikkei brazirujin). Restricting oneself to counting only persons in between the ages of 20 and 29, then one out of four persons in the city is a foreigner. Most are working in Sony Corp. subsidiaries that are manufacturing mobile telephones and digital cameras.

When you go around the corner, what catches your eye are the restaurant signs and garbage separation rules signs, written in Portuguese. Emergency broadcasts in the city are two language, Japanese and Portuguese.

In the public elementary and middle schools, 240 children have foreign nationality. Of those, half cannot understand Japanese. In order to get the children to adjust to student life, the city five years ago established its own classrooms to given instruction on minimal Japanese and Japanese culture. Together with a non-profit organization, it has begun providing Japanese courses for adults too.

What caused the increase in the number of foreigners (gaikokujin) was the 1990 Immigration-Control and Refugee-Recognition Act revision that admitted without limitation persons of Japanese ancestry. It was a means to respond to the dearth of labor during the bubble years. At first most of those taking advantage of the program were temporary workers staying only a short time and then returning home. Now the stays have become lengthy ones, with an increase in the persons inviting their families to come over. At the end of last year the number of Brazilians living in Japan reached 317,000, with 80,000 of them holding permanent residence status (eijūken)."
The editorial goes on from there. It is worth the effort to grab the full text while it is still available.

The above extract nevertheless demonstrates most of the editorial strategies employed.

- Fear of complexity

Rather than coming out and saying, "Immigration would be bad for the cohesion of the nation," the editors instead show how complicated life has become in places where foreigners are numerous--how the city has to print its posters in more than just one language and how emergency messages, announcements that can mean the difference between surviving a disaster or perishing, must be broadcast in two languages.

- Fear of an emerging underclass

A recurring concern theme is how vulnerable the new immigrants are -- half their children cannot function at school, the adults do not have basic life skills. Later on, it talks about how sad it is that companies exploit immigrant workers, who do not know how to or cannot defend themselves against unfair working conditions. Foreigners also do not understand or trust the national healthcare system, leaving them unwilling to seek medical help early on.

- Elision

All throughout this first section and all the way through to the end, the sentences sway effortlessly between foreigners (gaikokujin) persons of Japanese ancestry (nikkeijin) and Brazilians (burajirujin) -- as if these three were interchangeable terms for the same entity.

The net effect of the essay is a profound sense of unease with a strong hint of decay, as if the presence of a proportionally significant populations foreigners in Minokamo and other similar towns in Gunma and Shizuoka has led to communities becoming unhinged. "We are concerned," the editors are hinting, "that what we see in these towns is the future of an immigration nation, where institutions are taxed beyond their limits, where so many cannot integrate themselves into society and where the laws are applied and obeyed only capriciously."

Hinting...but not saying...because the editors know it is a crock.

The disordered situation of Minokamo, Hamamatsu and most other towns with a large number of Brazilian and Peruvian residents is not a consequence of immigration numbers or even immigrant labor --but due to a specific, racist program. The 1990 revision did not open the door wide for immigrants who had specific capabilities, who were enthusiastic about living in Japan or who were escaping from an oppressive or life-threatening political system. It opened the door wide for the admittance of person whose faces, family names and ancestry (blood and semen) would not offend bigots.

The Japanese ancestry readmittance program had nothing to do with immigration--in fact, it was the negation of immigration. In the ideology of the bloodline and the fatherland, the Brazilians and Peruvians were returnees --persons who would fit in in Japan because of their genes, no matter what almost a century of life in Latin America had done to them culturally and psychologically.

That they have not fit in is proof not that entire idea was irrational, racist, unscientific and just plain dumb.

For the purposes of the editors of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, however, the failure of the ethno-centric, racialist program can somehow serve as an emblem of the spectre of an immigrant Japan.

And they are *concerned.*

* * *

The July 3 editorial is a hint of a rapidly widening rift opening up between Japanese multinationals and the small- and medium-sized companies on the subject of immigration.

The multinationals (and the irony of the appellation is not lost on me) are terrified of immigration. Their separate identities are maintained by their vast, seniority-based hierarchies, where loyalty is expected to be lifelong and groupthink is enforced by vast webs of unspoken codes and habitudes. Foreigners simply do not fit in in these structures--they are constantly demand rationality, fairness, honesty and just compensation--demands which are anathema to most managers of Japan's megacorporations (there are exceptions to this--I have met them). If a given multinational has a need to reduce labor costs to remain competitive, then the multinational has the option of simply assigning a non-core task to a foreign subsidiary or foreign supplier. Actual acceptance of foreigners into the core company can be avoided--indeed, one does not even want them living in one's cities and towns because the presence of Others makes things...complicated.

Complicated and distressing.

For medium- and small-sized companiess, the inculcation of lifelong obedience and demand obedience and loyalty from their employees only from the managerial core, which very often is comprised of family members.

More important to medium- and small-sized companies is the simple acquisition of labor, at the lowest cost possible. These companies cannot farm out their labor needs to divisions in other countries--they often do not have such divisions. What they need a way for low-cost labor to come to them.

Hence the split in the revisions of immigration policies advocated by Japan's business lobbies. The big boys of the Nippon Keidanren, while not hostile to immigration, want it to be limited to non-threatening, skilled labor--to educated persons with difficult-to-replicate attributes. This inception of persons with special skills is the kind of immigration that even the Nihon Keizai Shimbun is willing to countenance. I believe it to be the kind of immigration Deborah Milly is talking about in this somewhat jargony piece for CSIS.

By contrast, the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry represents a broader swath of Japan's corporations. It is interested in the legalizing the inception of low-cost, reasonable quality labor -- without caveats or concerns. It does not matter what color the workers skins may be, or that their Japanese is accented or imperfect, or whatever it is they will be doing does not require special skills. If foreign workers are willing to do the job at the wage being offered whilst living in Japan, obeying the laws and adapting as best they can to the unwritten rules of society, then the JCCI wants the government to develop the legal framework making it possible for firms to employ them.

Something for the embassies, trade missions and human rights advocates to keep in mind when investigating "Japan's attitude toward immigration" -- or so I would venture.


Hat tip the Asia Policy Point newsletter for the link to the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry policy paper.

Thanks also (belated) to D and jam for expressing their views.


Jan Moren said...

The core of conservatism is resisting societal change. And yes immigration is change, on a large scale. So is depopulation of course. This really isn't about limited-time work immigration; it is all about foreigners establishing themselves permanently in substantial numbers. What they really don't want to touch - don't even want to think about - is that prospect of immigrants establishing themselves and having their children becoming part and parcel of the societal fabric.

There seems to be some idea among some Japanese conservatives about a tree of ancestry culminating in a sort of regional Adam and Eve, with everybody in the nation connected in a hyperextended family. Quite a few of the less rational beliefs of the conservatives seem to originate from this (counterfactual) view of Japanese history. Actual immigration upends this image and would force people to redefine what constitutes "japanese".

And if there's anything a conservative does not want to do (and to be fair, most other people are understandably not keen on it either), it is having to completely rethink one's basic societal beliefs. The reaction is completely understandable and completely expected. It doesn't really help, of course; I am getting the feeling they are fighting a rear-guard action here, against something that, like it or not, will become inevitable.

Anonymous said...

Monsieur Shisaku,
Your analysis is as long as impressive and well-written. Actually, a couple of weeks ago, France's newspaper Le Monde ran a column on the recognition of the Ainu as a gesture that may also be seen as an implicit recognition of the... it's hard to say it in the same sentence... yes, the diversity of the Japanese people. And another article noted the obligation for Japan to open its frontiers to foreigners, sooner or later. Truth be told, it's not difficult to get a visa for Japan - not as much as it is to get one for America - but the real problem comes from the "us vs. them" ("Ware ware Nihonjin") perception of the rest of the world when you live there. They look at gaijin like talking dogs. In a globalized world, so many Japanese really have this archaic, furukusai and dassai way of thinking that will cost them more and more in terms of creativity, competitiveness, innovation and quality of services/infrastructures. They need doctors, nurses, waiters, and so on. But the only thing they are obsessed with is their old-fashioned nationalism. Japanese TV doesn't mention anything about the rest of the world in its program. Being in Japan, you would even think that Palestina and Israel settled their problems long ago. In fact, seen from the US or Europe, Japan's angry, ugly nationalism looks like a tempest in a teacup: nobody cares, and the Japanese themselves will have to open their frontiers to the unpleasant gaijin who talk loud and do not know how to behave Japanesely. It strikes me to observe a clever people being so stubborn and unwilling to adapt to its own stupidity. BTW, I would be happy to read your analysis on that book that you once recommended to me ("Kokugaku"), on the birth of Japan's nationalism. So, that first step toward a Japanese "multi-ethnicity" mentioned in Le Monde would be a positive reaction of the Archipelago to the wave of globalization. At long last. (I am surprised you did not mention it). And a good answer to the Nikkei boneheaded editorial. In fact, when the author of the editorial retires, he will be happy to have a nurse from Manila to help him in his daily life. Last but not least, I believe the foreigners living in Japan should have their voices heard by writing editorials too -- in Japanese, mochiron. As the Japanese people are reluctant to face those issues, gaijin-san could help them understand their grievances and the complex reality of a world where one in 35 is an immigrant.

See here:
and here:
for the articles from Le Monde.