Unfortunately, Japan is notoriously closed to foreigners, mainly because opinion polls show that most Japanese associate foreigners with crime. As of 2003, there were only 1.9 million registered foreign residents in Japan, equivalent to only 1.5% of the population. The real number of foreigners is even lower, considering that 600,000 are ethnic Koreans mostly born and raised in Japan and who speak only Japanese, and that most of the 270,000 registered Brazilians and 54,000 Peruvians are ethnic Japanese from South America who have returned to Japan.
While Taro Aso’s public statements as foreign minister have done little to help ease tensions between Tokyo and the rest of Asia, a family connection to wartime forced labor has raised further questions over his ability to oversee good relations with Japan’s neighbors.
Speaking at the opening of the Kyushu National Museum in Fukuoka last October, he described Japan as “one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture, and one race, the like of which there is no other on earth.”
Only two weeks after it was sent to the chamber’s floor and with little debate, the Lower House has passed a bill that will allow the fingerprinting and photographing of foreigners as they enter Japan.
At present, the United States is the only country that photographs and fingerprints entrants, although a few European countries fingerprint foreigners when they apply for visas at overseas diplomatic missions.
Japan used to fingerprint foreign residents for residency-registration purposes. But facing strong opposition, especially from the country’s Korean residents, the Justice Ministry abolished the system in 1999. Even when it was taking fingerprints of foreign residents, the ministry’s official position was that the fingerprint records held by the ministry would never be used in criminal investigations. The Criminal Procedure Law also states that the authorities may fingerprint a person without a warrant only when the person is being held in custody as a criminal suspect.
[The Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy] will discuss changing the country’s immigration rules so that more skilled foreigners can come to Japan for work. An outline is slated for release in May.
Meanwhile, the panel also agreed to discuss measures to address problems that may arise from an increase in the number of foreign residents in Japan. Such measures are to be finalized by the end of this year.
For about a decade the Japanese government has been loosening its labor laws. Companies that were forced to restructure in the 1990s demanded more flexibility in hiring, so the government expanded the number of job types that could be covered by temporary workers. The result has been a steady erosion of wages, since companies who hire temps deal with agencies rather than with unions or the workers themselves. They ask for lower wages and the temp agencies accommodate them.
On average, a full-time temp worker takes home about one-third the pay of a full-time company employee. But full time employees may lose even that advantage if the government and business community have their way.
Last June, the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren) proposed that regulations standardizing the 8-hour workday be eased.
In practice, what this means is that Japanese companies will no longer be compelled by law to pay office workers overtime if they put in more than eight hours; which in turn means that companies will be able to compel workers to stay at the office longer without adding to their labor costs. In the only country in the world that has a word for “death from overwork” (karoshi), such a development is chilling.
Next year, the government plans to submit a bill to the Diet for a Labor Contract Law, which will allow any company to set its own labor standards.
The bill will include the formation of a special commission that ostensibly protects workers’ rights, but such a law would in effect eliminate labor unions since it’s unlikely employers would allow collective bargaining clauses in their employment contracts.
At present, anyone who is fired for reasons they believe are unfair can take their employer to court. That option would probably become more difficult under the Labor Contract Law.
The panel will take up various problems facing foreign residents, including economic issues and language and other handicaps their children may face, [LDP Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo] Abe said. It will also try to ascertain how they have been accepted by local communities, he said. “Having admitted them into the country, Japan bears a certain degree of responsibility for their wellbeing,” he said.
[The director of a major Tokyo-based dispatch company] also said many Japanese employers prevent foreigners from signing up for the social insurance system because they do not want to shoulder part of the cost of the insurance. They have not shed their tendency to pay low wages to foreigners, she added.
In another controversial plan, the Justice Ministry will use electronic maps to locate foreigners believed to be staying here illegally, as well as businesses that have hired illegal workers, sources said.
Criticism had already been lodged against the plan, much like the Justice Ministry’s system set up in 2004 of having the public send e-mail information about foreigners who seem to be living in the country illegally. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations has criticized the e-mail tip-off system for encouraging citizens to betray their neighbors. The federation said the system should end.
A bill under deliberation in the Upper House to fingerprint foreigners entering Japan, which backers say is a necessary counterterrorism measure, must be defeated at all costs because it is discriminatory and vague, human rights groups said Wednesday.
Amnesty International Japan Secretary General Makoto Teranaka slammed the bill, saying it encourages discrimination against foreigners and violates individuals’ right to privacy. He claimed that if the bill is passed, Japan will become a “surveillance society.”
English teaching in Japan is not what it used to be. Conditions are changing; the work is harder to come by, wages are falling, and staff are increasingly taking their employers to court.
“It’s (the ALT industry) getting bigger and bigger, but as it gets bigger there is a race to the bottom in wages,” says [NUGW Tokyo Nambu deputy general secretary Louis] Carlet.
“In the bidding process the schools are desperate to decrease their bid and so of course they squeeze wages and take away all benefits and increase work hours.”
So the teachers, and eventually the students, are the ones that suffer. “More teachers take it because there is nothing else available. The reality is they are terrible jobs, with no job security.”