electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies

Article 6 in 2005
First published in ejcjs on 19 August 2005

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The Residency and Lives of Migrants in Japan Since the Mid-1990s1


Yuka Ishii

Associate Professor
Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University

Translated by Ania Siwicki

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Since the 1990s, Japan has been facing various issues related to the foreign residents who have settled in Japan and who have been slowly gaining recognition in Japanese society. The number of migrants and foreign residents has been increasing, and the perception of Japanese society vis-a-vis this new community has been changing gradually. However, Japanese society still faces the challenge of how to develop an awareness of diversity.

This paper examines several problems in relation to the working environment, the residential and living environment, children's education, and the ethnic networks of these residents. Through analysing policy papers and statistics and reviewing the results of fieldwork by Japanese scholars in the 1990s and the 2000s, the author tries to reach a better understanding of the present situation of the multicultural Japanese society.

Understanding the Residency and Lives of Migrants

In the Japan of the second half of the 1980s, increasing attention came to be paid to the arrival of what the literature has labelled 'new-comers' (nyūkamā), or 'recently arrived' (shinrai) migrants. It was clear that these individuals were no longer coming to Japan as temporary guests, but as long-term or permanent residents. In the 1990s, and especially from the mid-1990s, the issues faced by the new long-term residents, on the one hand, and the problems encountered by the Japanese society which was to accommodate them, on the other, were brought to the attention of researchers, the local communities in which they resided, and local governments2. Currently, in the 2000s, their diverse lives and various types of residency have further permeated the Japanese society into which they have settled. This paper focuses on the residency and lives of migrants who arrived since the mid-1990s and attempts to present an overall picture of research in Japan today. It also illustrates and analyses the problems and issues highlighted in the latest research.

Using statistical data, I will first provide a profile of these long-term migrants, and attempt to conceptualise the Japanese government's perception of long-term residency or 'denizenship' (teijū). Subsequently, I will consider what problems exist relating to residency and life at the level of both the migrants' particular ethnic group and the local community.

In Japan today, as a result of the trend whereby migrants increasingly opt for residency, having to some degree established roots in Japanese society, migrants are to a greater and greater degree viewed as 'people living in the community' (seikatsusha). They are not merely foreign workers, but members of the community, that is, people who pursue fulfilling lives, not only within the workforce, but also within the local community. Since the mid-1990s, research has been published that attempts to capture the overall picture of this new phenomenon3. This research is based on long-term surveys targeting particular ethnic groups and local communities. The subject of this research has been primarily fieldwork, based on qualitative surveys that concentrate on the experiences and perceptions of the individual migrant.

The approach in which an attempt is made to capture the overall life of a migrant is encapsulated by the use of the concept 'life-world', a term frequently seen in this research4. Life-world can be defined as the everyday world in which we live as individual members of society. Here, significance is placed on how each individual perceives the world in which they live, and what meaning they attach to it (Schutz and Luckmann 1973; Ehara 1985). The use of this concept signifies the birth of an awareness and understanding amongst researchers who are concerned with specific ethnic groups and local communities, of the importance of the pursuit of kyōsei (better ways of living together or co-existence), and the difficulties and struggles migrants encounter when living in Japanese society.

The same understanding is shared by researchers who are involved in ethnicity studies from an urban sociology perspective. The urban sociologist Hirota Yasuo identifies the common themes from urban ethnicity theory as follows. First, as the sphere of potential problems encountered by new-comers to Japan expands from the workplace to every aspect of life, the focus switches to problems relating to the 'individual' and his or her lifestyle. Second, the experience of ethnicity by people who cross national borders, the problems that emerge when people who identify with migrants come to feel like outsiders, the circumstantial response of migrants in dealing with circumstantial difficulties and the focus on particular adaptation techniques or life-skills adopted by these people means that people are turning to the West for hints on how to solve these problems. Third, the experience of feeling different to others not only by the individual migrant or his or her family but also by the local residents, has meant that people have become aware of co-habitation relationships occurring within local communities (Hirota 2001: 260)5. It is noteworthy that the perceptions and experiences of local residents, and not just migrants, are emphasised here. In analysing these problems, it is important to understand the way relationships are constructed amongst local residents and migrants within the local community, and not simply within a particular migrant ethnic group.

Further, the life-world of migrants is not confined to Japan and Japanese society. There are many cases where the migrant's relationship with his or her country of birth and its society, relatives residing in other countries or societies, and friends and others with similar backgrounds, are important elements in the construction of the life-world. The fact that migrants belong to this multi-layered world also influences their residency and life in Japan. Armed with this problem consciousness, in exploring the life-world of migrants, there have been surveys on the societal background of migrants in their country and/or society of origin (Watanabe ed. 1995; Araragi ed. 2000; Kawakami 2001).

In addition, migrant networks within Japan together with cross-border trans-national networks have become the focus of research as factors that can influence the life-world and the strategies migrants use to survive. Migrant networks within Japan provide migrants with information and resources useful in adapting to Japanese society, help to sustain a sense of identity and their development, and provide a foundation for empowerment in tackling a variety of problems. Even general research that provides an overview of the issue of migrants not infrequently mentions such networks. In addition, research has been published in relation to individual areas such as the role of such networks in ethnic business (Ishi 1995a; Itō 1995; Higuchi and Takahashi 1998; Higuchi and et al. 1998; Hirota 2001), religion (Ishi 1995b; Higuchi 1998; Watanabe and et al. 1999; Sugimoto 2002), and the mass media (Shiramizu ed. 1996; Shiramizu 1998; Ishi 2002). Migrants' self-help organisations have also been identified as linked to empowerment (Kuwayama 1995; Ishii 1995)6.

Whatever one's approach, in thinking about the residency and life of migrants in Japan today, the researcher needs to be simultaneously aware of the importance of the multiple levels of local, national and global, as well as the various actors such as national and local governments, NGOs, local Japanese residents, and above all else, the perceptions, actions and relationships held by the increasing number of foreigners. It is also necessary to observe what institutional frameworks influence or impact upon the subjective perceptions of these actors. Based upon such an understanding, I would like to explore both the problems faced by those who chose to live amongst Japanese in Japan and the fashion in which these problems have been discussed in the research.

The Increasing Numbers of Migrants and the Japanese Government's Perception of 'Denizenship'

The Present Situation: An Increasing Duration of Residency

Almost twenty years ago, in late 1986, the total number of registered aliens − individuals without Japanese nationality − in Japan totalled 867,237 aliens, accounting for 0.71% of the total population. During the second half of the 1980s, the so-called foreign worker problem emerged in Japan. In a reflection of this, the number of registered foreigners almost a decade and a half ago, in late 1991, had increased to 1,218,891 persons, or 0.98% of the population. The numbers have continued to rise. A little under a decade ago, in late 1996, the figure was 1,415,136, or 1.12% of the total population. As of late 2001, registered aliens numbered 1,778,462 persons, which accounted for 1.4% of the total population in Japan. In other words, while migrants constitute a small minority of the total population of Japan, at the same time, in terms of both absolute numbers and as a percentage of the total population, the figures have roughly doubled over the 15-year period from 1986 to 2001. The rapid increase in foreigners in Japan over this period has acted as a catalyst, forcing people in Japan to consider 'co-existing with the Other' ((Zai) Nyūkan kyōkai 2002: circled 3).

If we look at the data for late 2001 in more detail (Table 1), we can see that according to nationality, North and South Korea account for the greatest number of registered foreign residents in Japan, followed by China, Brazil, the Philippines, and Peru. It is possible to use this data to follow the trends since late 1992. These show that the number of North and South Koreans, many of whom are so-called 'old-comers' (ōrudo kamā or kyūrai gaikokujin), and who are often perceived as forming the majority of registered aliens in Japan, decreased in terms of both numbers and percentage. On the other hand, Chinese individuals are also included among the old-comers, but at the same time account for many of those who have recently come to Japan. The number of Chinese has increased in terms of both numbers and percentage in the past ten years, as have those for people from Brazil, the Philippines, and Peru ((Zai) Nyūkan Kyōkai 2002: circled 8).

Table 1: The number of registered foreign residents in Japan (1997, 2001)

Source: ((Zai) Nyūkan kyōkai 2002: circled 3)

Amongst those from China, Brazil, the Philippines, and Peru, many are migrants who show a tendency towards an increasing duration of residency. To a certain extent, evidence of such trends can be drawn from an examination of the data on residential qualifications. Qualifications that bespeak of long-term residency include Permanent Resident, Long-Term Resident, Spouse or Child of a Japanese National, and Spouse of a Permanent Resident. As of late 2001, there were 684,853 Permanent Residents who constituted 38.5% of the total number of registered aliens; 244,460 (13.7%) Long-Term Residents; 280,436 (15.8%) Spouses or Children of Japanese Nationals; and finally 7,047 (0.4%) Spouses of Permanent Residents ((Zai) Nyūkan Kyōkai 2002: circled 13). I would now like to examine in detail those categories that consist of the largest numbers of people, namely Permanent Residents, Long-Term Residents, and Spouse or Child of a Japanese National.

In terms of the percentage of all registered aliens, the comparative number of Permanent Residents is said to be on the decrease, while that of non-permanent residents is on the increase. Amongst Permanent Residents, the percentage and number of Special Permanent Residents, many of whom are Korean old-comers, is not only decreasing, but dramatically decreasing, from 543,464 individuals in late 1997 to 500,782 in late 2001. However, at the same time, there has been an even more dramatic increase in the number of General Permanent Residents, from 81,986 to 184,071 over the same period. It is of interest to note that, when comparing the figures for permanent residents in late 1997 and late 2001 in order of nationality (Table 2), while the figures for North and South Korea have decreased, those for China and others have largely increased. The increase amongst Chinese and others can be interpreted as an indication of an increase in new-comer migrant applications for permanent residency. Also, from 1998 to 2000 both the number of applications for permanent residency received and the number of applications approved increased. In 1998, the number of applications received was 17,682, while the number permitted was 13,126. In 1999 the figures were 25,835 and 20,034, and in 2000 were 33,764 and 30,651 (Hōmushō nyūkoku kanrikyoku 2002c).

Table 2: The number of permanent residents by nationality (1997, 2001)

Source: ((Zai) Nyūkan kyōkai 2002: circled 14)

There is a rising trend in the total number of Long-Term Residents (Table 3). In late 1997, the figure was 202,905 persons, but in late 2001 this had reached 244,460 persons. According to nationality, individuals from Brazil top the list, followed by people from China, Peru, the Philippines, and Korea. Large numbers of Nikkei individuals from South America migrated to Japan following the implementation of the 1990 Immigration Law Amendment, which permits foreigners of Japanese descent to work legally in Japan. Among these individuals, there was an increase in the duration of residency of some, but also an increase in the number of people repeatedly shuttling between Japan and South America (known in Japanese as ripītā or 'repeaters'). Individuals in both groups are increasingly making Japan their home. Many third-generation Nikkei are denizens (teijūsha), and many second-generation Nikkei are the spouses of Japanese nationals. Also, in late 1997 the number of Filipino Long-Term Residents (teijūsha) was 6,751 persons; and in persons; over the past five years this number has increased by 230% ((Zai) Nyūkan Kyōkai 2002: circled 16)7. Even amongst Filipinos these figures reflect a situation whereby Japanese society has increasingly become the foundation for their residency and life.

Table 3: The number of long-term residents by nationality (1997, 2001)

Source: ((Zai) Nyūkan kyōkai 2002: circled 16)

As of late 2001, there were 280,436 individuals registered as a Spouse or Child of a Japanese National. There has been no significant variation in this number over the past five years. By nationality, many people came from Brazil, China, the Philippines, Korea, and Thailand (Table 4). In the case of the Filipinos and Thais, many are perhaps cases where women have married Japanese men through so-called 'arranged marriages' or have come to Japan as 'entertainers' and subsequently married a Japanese man with whom they have become acquainted. It can be assumed that many women in this category together with the children resulting from these international marriages will reside in Japan for quite some time8.

Table 4: The number of spouses or children of Japanese nationals (1997, 2001)

Source: ((Zai) Nyūkan kyōkai 2002: circled 15)

An overview of the trends of this group when split into different age groups can shed further light on these residential and life issues. One characteristic of new-comers is that many have come to Japan in order to work, or to start a family (including marriage), and therefore many are relatively young. In late 2001, the largest age group consisted of those in their twenties, 479,942 (27.0%), followed by people in their thirties and then in their forties. Many of the new-comers are from China, Brazil, the Philippines, and Peru, and more than half of the members of these national groups registered in Japan are aged between 20 and 39. The number of children and adolescents is also significant. There are 125,525 children from ages 0-9, and 142,378 children aged 10-19 ((Zai) Nyūkan Kyōkai 2002: circled 21-22). The age composition of migrants in Japan is one factor that influences the particular characteristics of the residency and life issues they face.

It is not simply those arriving legally who reside in Japan for lengthy periods of time. There are also a considerable number of long-term residents amongst the so-called 'illegal overstayers' who remain in Japan even after their visas have expired. According to the Ministry of Justice's Immigration Bureau, as of 1 January 2002, there were an estimated 224,067 'illegal overstayers' in Japan. The top ten according to country (birthplace) appear in the following order: South Korea, the Philippines, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, Peru, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. This data demonstrates that many of the major countries of origin of the so-called 'new-comer migrants' are also the major places of origin in the case of illegal overstayers (Hōmushō nyūkoku kanrikyoku 2002a).

In analysing issues of residency and lives, it is noteworthy that in recent years there has been an increasing number of cases in which 'illegal overstayers' who have established roots in Japan and seek a more stable life have applied for Special Permission for Residency. To date, 'illegal overstayers' in Japan have not once been granted amnesty. The only means to put their residency on a legal footing has been through the Special Permission for Residency. Until recently, new-comers granted this status were limited to those married to a Japanese, or those who had produced a child with a Japanese partner and were raising that child. However, in September 1999, 21 individuals consisting of four Iranian families and one single Iranian, one family from Myanmar, and a single Bangladeshi, appeared at the Tokyo Immigration Bureau, seeking Special Permission for Residency. Of these 21 individuals, 16 were granted permission to stay. This case generated much social commentary in Japan (Komai et al. eds. 2000; A.P.F.S. ed. 2002). These individuals may be described as people seeking the right to residency as members of the community, appealing to the government that their lives were primarily situated in Japan and that, although there was no marital relationship with a Japanese, their children had mainly grown up in Japan. The number of Special Permission for Residency permits has seen a rapid increase over the last three years for which we have data, with 2,497 in 1998, 4,318 in 1999 and 6,930 in 2000 (Hōmushō nyūkoku kanrikyoku 2002b). These figures also highlight one aspect of the 'legal long-term residency' amongst the new-comer migrants.

The Japanese Government's Perception of 'Denizenship'

Faced with this situation, the Japanese government has developed a deeper understanding of denizenship. The Second Basic Plan for Immigration Control, which was announced in March 2000, contains a section entitled, 'The Smooth Settlement by Long-Term Foreign Residents in Japan' (Hōmushō 2000). This was perhaps the first time an immigration (policy) statement urged a smooth settlement (Ijū rōdōsha to rentai suru zenkoku nettowāku 2002: 9).

In the document the government reports having implemented the following steps. From July 1996, a foreigner who is parenting or in guardianship of a child who is the actual child of a Japanese and who wishes to stay in Japan with the child, will be granted 'long-term residency' as a general rule, provided certain conditions are met. These conditions are 1) that the child produced with a Japanese national has been in the care or under the guardianship of the person for a considerable period of time, 2) the person has parental authority (shinken) regarding the child, and finally 3) the child is recognized by a Japanese father to be his child. Given such, even after divorcing a Japanese spouse, a female foreigner residing in Japan under the qualification of a 'spouse of a Japanese national' may continue to live in Japan with the child. This measure will also apply (jun'yō) to 'illegal overstayers' (Anon. 1996). It is certainly difficult to say that satisfying the conditions of parental authority and recognition by the father will always prove an easy task. However, in view of its protection of the rights of people living together as a 'family', this can be regarded as a progressive amendment. Another measures implemented from October 1999 was a review of the periods of stay granted under various types of visa. Here, 'as one step to further stabilise foreign residency', of 27 residency qualifications, the duration of residency was increased for 21 types, a reform which lends itself to long-term residency. It has also become considerably easier to attain Permission for Permanent Residence (eijū kyoka)9.

The section on 'Future Policies' is based on the assumption that Japan will accept the skilled migrants it requires. It argues that there is a need to establish stability in status, to provide a suitably equipped living environment, to support the settlement process, and to endeavour to construct a society in which Japanese and foreigners can co-habit and co-exist harmoniously. For that reason, the government states the need to construct an overall administration of foreigners, after having investigated the administration of residency qualifications for Permanent Residents (eijūsha) and Long-Term Residents (teijūsha). It presents as an example the influence second and third generation Nikkei (Japanese descendants) have had on schools and regional communities. The government has urged that, regarding administrative services provided, human rights protection and residency welfare aid equal to that given to Japanese should be extended to foreigners, not simply from the relevant Ministry, but that co-operative relations be established with local public bodies and NGOs.

According to the document, in relation to the response to 'illegal overstayers', the fundamental aim is 'more effective control (torishimari) with the limited personnel [at our disposal]'. The government indicates that it has no intention of entertaining an amnesty policy. Conversely it is clear that Special Permission for Residency will be used as a means to legalise the status of 'illegal overstayers'. It is noteworthy that this is the first time the government has revealed it will use this means to legalise 'illegal overstayers' (Ijū rōdōsha to rentai suru zenkoku nettowāku 2002: 9). Special Permission for Residency is granted by the Japanese Minister of Justice, according to the individual circumstances of each case. Many of the foreigners who have received this permission were people who enjoyed a 'close' relationship with a Japanese person, 'and in various aspects was constructing the foundations to spend their future life in Japan'. The document gives as a concrete example 'a foreigner married to a Japanese, where it is a true marriage, and who has contravened no law (outside immigration law)'. In the case of a foreigner who has close links to Japanese society, 'the case will be given due consideration from a humanitarian perspective' and appropriate steps will be taken. The rise noted above in Special Residency Permits granted can be explained by this new position of the Japanese government.

In addition, based on the five-year experience under the Second Basic Plan for Immigration, the Japanese government announced the Third Basic Plan in March 2005 (Hōmushō 2005). The fundamental concept is almost the same as that of the Second Basic Plan. The Third Basic Plan also points out the need for cooperation among several ministries, local governments, and NGOs for the smooth settlement of long-term foreign residents. It should be noted that the government intends to accept a greater number of professional migrants or kōdo jinzai (highly-skilled workers). In order to promote the acceptance and settlement of such human resources, the government sets out the extension of the duration of stay with the proper visa and the clarification of the conditions for the permission of permanent residency.

Currently, foreigners the Japanese government perceives as potential long-term residents can be divided into the following categories: 1) skilled personnel who have the expertise and skills required in the Japanese labour market, 2) people who possess ties with Japanese society, and 3) refugees. The second category can be roughly divided into two groups. The first consists of those with historical links to Japan such as the so-called 'old-comer' zainichi Koreans, the second includes those who possess blood or marital links, new-comers such as nikkei (Japanese descendents) or people who are the spouses of Japanese nationals. At present, Japanese society is most conscious of the residency and life problems of the second group in everyday life. The government is currently responding to the difficulties experienced by refugees and the second group and, at the same time, is also deciding how best to guarantee the living conditions of people in the first category in order to attract more skilled personnel (migrants) in the future.

These people, naturally, are by no means culturally and socially homogenous. A topic of great current importance not only for the Japanese government but also for Japanese society is how to respond to cultural friction and how to integrate these individuals. There is a need to think about migrant issues occurring in Japan by simultaneously having regard to the particular and universal aspects of the problems experienced by each group.

Migrant Problems in Local Society

Problems related to the Working Environment, and the Residential and Living Environment

While the Japanese government today possesses an awareness of the issue of long-term residency by foreigners, it is also to some degree establishing a system in response to their needs. The current situation does not, however, provide an environment adequately equipped to provide for the demands of migrants. What therefore is the current state of affairs regarding the acceptance by Japanese society of foreign migrants and Japanese society's efforts with regard to the residency and lives of foreigners?

It has been noted in the literature that in regards to labour, medical and housing issues, migrants who work and reside in Japan illegally are in a disadvantageous position vis-vis those who work and reside legally, and even those who work and reside legally are in a disadvantageous position in comparison to Japanese citizens. These problems remain significant ones. However, together with the advancement of long-term residence, problems relating to lifestyle culture and the various relationships in the local communities are gradually being highlighted.

New-comer migrants were initially perceived as 'foreign workers', and many today share much in common with other labourers. Their daily labour in the workplace is one element of their life, and attention has been drawn to the relationships between Japanese and foreigners in the workplace10. There are studies on the perceptions held by both foreigners and Japanese, and we are now able to identify cultural friction and discord arising through work.

From the time new-comer migrants first arrived and settled in Japan, medical and housing issues were believed to be highly problematic. However, as is the case with the issue of labour, the nature of medical and housing issues have changed with the subsequent passage of time. Interest in medical issues is not confined to the problem of foreigners' access to medical treatment, but a focus has also recently been placed on the diversity of migrants and respect for cultural differences (Kuwayama 1995; Kubota and Sakai 2001a; Kubota and Sakai 2001b).

In relation to housing issues, until recently, the problem of access whereby landlords refused to deal with foreigners, together with the problem of the separation of household garbage as a point of cultural friction, have been highlighted as major problems. Although these problems have not completely disappeared, as the duration of residency lengthens, issues such as relations with neighbours and the position or status of migrants within the local community have come to be viewed as more important11. In this sense, housing issues have come to be recognised as tied in with more general issues of living in the community. In large cities and some regional cities with a certain degree of population density, the relationships between local residents and migrants will gain even greater significance in the future12.

However, some care is necessary when using terms such as kyōsei (co-existence). There are some cases where friction and conflict exist. Even where there is neither friction nor conflict, the relationship between foreigner and Japanese can be one where there is no face-to-face communication, and where both communities are struggling to establish ways to communicate with one another (Ikegami 2001: 105). Onai Junko notes from her case study of the Ōta and Ōizumi areas in Gunma Prefecture that a 'communal form of kyōsei' will not be easy in a situation in which, first, a lack of communication caused by a 'segregated form of kyōsei' has produced and spread 'negative images' of nikkei residents, and, second, Japanese prefer relations in which social interaction is kept to a minimum, even when dealing with other Japanese (Onai 2001: 191-193). Given this state of affairs, the formation of positive, forward-looking relationships remains an issue that needs to be addressed13.

In addition, the multi-faceted nature of these deepening problems demonstrates that it is necessary, now more than ever, to turn our attention to the particular life-stage of the migrant. The increase in families travelling together to Japan, family reunions and the creation of new families whereby an increasing number of migrants arrive in Japan accompanied by their families, or migrate to Japan after a marriage, or come to Japan and then marry, are all causes of the proliferation of long-term residency and present ever new needs and problems relating to the lives and residency of migrants. Because many migrants today are of the younger generation, typical issues include medical needs in relation to childbirth and raising children, and problems associated with relationships with the local community including children's issues. Education is an issue that best reflects a life-stage. The problems that effect migrants are defined both by the time they have spent in Japan after migrating, and by their relevant lifestage14.

Children's Education Problems: Diverse Educational Needs and Issues in Japanese Language Education

Education is an effective tool for social mobility, and migrants (like all parents) desire a good education for their children within the framework of their particular needs. Shimizu and Shimizu analyse these educational needs on the basis of an interview survey, conducted between 1998 and 2000, with over 100 new-comer migrant families. The results of the survey are analysed in three separate categories, 'South American Nikkei', 'Indo-Chinese refugees' and 'Korean new-comers' (Shimizu 2002; Shimizu and Shimizu eds. 2001).

Here the concept of the 'family narrative' is of significance. The family narrative is a 'concept designed to grasp "the subjective meaning of current residency in Japan" directly from the parent generation of each group' (Shimizu 2002: 81)15. The survey indicates that rather than examining the external conditions that define migrants' lifestyles, a greater emphasis should be given to approaching the issue from the perspective of 'what meaning migrants themselves attach to their lives in Japan' (Shimizu and Shimizu eds. 2001: 196). This reflects the current state of research since the second half of the 1990s − a focus on the importance of the subjective views and understandings of the migrants themselves.

I will try to give a brief explanation of each of these cases based on the above classification. The main motive behind South American nikkei's residence in Japan is to 'earn money' (economic reasons) and their stay is, at least initially, a temporary one. For that reason, they hope that their children will retain their mother tongue and maintain their native culture. However, strategies for the children's futures are often influenced by the family's uncertain future, and in many cases it is difficult to set clear goals. These nikkei also seem very eager to have their children acquire English. In contrast, the Indo-Chinese refugees want to establish a 'peaceful existence' in a land where their lives are not threatened (political reasons), and seem to have complete faith in the Japanese education system. However, because they have limited access to educational resources that can be used in the home and local community, they tend to encounter problems such as having children do badly at school and/or drop out of school. Korean new-comers have a strong will to make the most of all the opportunities offered in Japan (social reasons). This survey notes that it was conducted with Korean subjects living in Metropolitan Tokyo who are relatively wealthy and who have achieved high levels of education. The meaning they attach to experiencing school in Japan is that of a 'precious inter-cultural experience' which will be useful in the future. The survey indicates that children are seen as one particularly 'effective resource' in the family's upward social mobility (Shimizu 2002: 80-85). From the above, we can perhaps conclude that the educational needs of migrants are largely influenced by the differences in the economic, social and cultural resources they are able to mobilise, and also by the circumstances in their home countries before their arrival in Japan.

The dreams for the future that migrants paint for themselves also largely influences their educational needs. It can be said that many of the Indo-Chinese migrants do not have any particular model of success, while a large number of South American Nikkei waver between permanent residency in Japan and returning home (Shimizu 2002: 81-84; Shimizu and Shimizu eds. 2001: 257). It is important to note that the formation of expectations regarding the Japanese education system occurs within a framework of diverse needs16. It is difficult to exactly say to what degree Japanese schools are responding to these expectations. However, at the very least, it is necessary for the response to be mindful of the diversity of expectations and of the different strategies for the future embraced by each migrant group.

Furthermore, it has been noted that there are also problems concerning the teaching of the Japanese language. For the children to enjoy a better life, learning the Japanese language is necessary − if nothing else, it is a prerequisite for studying other subjects. In relation to language acquisition, Japanese schools have been criticised as assimilationist in nature. Ōta calls the Japanese language education provided for the children of new-comer migrants 'compensatory language education'. Compensatory education aims to compensate for the children's social, economic and cultural gaps. It is believed that their problems are rooted in a lack of Japanese language ability, and that the only solution to the 'problem' is for them to gain sufficient language ability. It is often at this point that the children's mother tongue and their abilities in the mother tongue receive a negative evaluation (Ōta 2000: 183-185). For those children who have a certain mastery of their mother tongue, this scenario gives birth to a painful and difficult situation.

For children of new-comer migrants, Japanese is an instrumental language which enables them to participate in school and social life in Japan, and is an important language in terms of a strategy for living in Japanese society (Ōta 2000: 228). It is not only essential to learn the social life language necessary for everyday life, but also the language of the school curriculum, the language of learning and contemplation. Unfortunately there are limits as to how much can be learned in Japanese language classes taught solely in Japanese (Ōta 2000: 172-175). If the mother tongue is treated with due respect in the process of Japanese language acquisition, an even deeper level of Japanese language acquisition becomes possible. Also, respect for the mother tongue is linked to the establishment of the child's own identity which is of great significance in the development of a positive view of the self (Ōta 2000: 186). Respect for multi-lingualism is linked to multi-cultural education and carries the possibility of allowing children to live enjoyably in school and Japanese society.

At the current time, it is difficult to say that mother-tongue instruction is sufficient in schools in Japan, a point certainly worth emphasizing. The reason is that the survival in Japanese society by children of new-comer migrants or indeed their upward social mobility is dependant on a high command of Japanese, not merely an ability to interact on a daily conversational level. The mother tongue, instrumental in the attainment of a high level proficiency in Japanese, and viewed as such, creates the contents of education for children, and systematically supports migrant children. This reassessment of foreign languages is a proposal of value for Japanese society.

Ethnic Media and Ethnic Networks

When thinking about the lives of migrants, it is necessary to remember that migrants' life-worlds do not exist merely within, but transgress the borders of, the host society. Many migrants are people who are embedded in trans-national networks consisting of family and relatives, and are thus able to compare Japanese society with other societies through the exchange of information. The ethnic media plays an important role in the migrant community, constructing trans-national networks and in the exchange of information17. Print media such as newspapers and magazines, broadcast media such as television and radio, and also IT media such as the internet, deliver information in various languages to both migrants and residents of the host societies.

The pioneering researcher of ethnic media in Japan, Shiramizu Shigehiko, lists the following as the sociological functions of ethnic media. First, an intra-group function (where ethnic media functions as a mechanism that promotes the adoption of life to Japan, supplying information relating to everyday life, and acting to provide a source of entertainment). Second, an inter-group function (where ethnic media functions as a bridge between the ethnic group and the majority: in the case of Japanese society, it functions to bridge the Japanese with the ethnic group and also to bridge the ethnic group with other ethnic groups). Third, a social stabilising function (through the delivery of information, both the ethnic group and Japanese society are kept informed, which acts as a stabilising force in both societies by preventing undue confusion) (Shiramizu ed. 1996: 19-28). These functions indicate that the ethnic media acts to stabilise the lives and identities of migrants, while simultaneously helps to ease adaptation to life in Japanese society and also plays a role in the formation of relations between ethnic groups and with Japanese society (the local community).

The literature has also focused on the potential ability of ethnic medias to influence both Japanese society and the migrants' country and/or society of origin. From his analysis of the Brazilian-Japanese media, Angelo Ishi observed that information on current events in Japan is not only translated into Portuguese, but that the media acts as 'special correspondents' reporting from Japan for the Brazilian media and also performs a role of a 'news agency' for Japanese society in relation to Brazil (Ishi 2002: 188-190). Ishi also makes the very interesting observation that while being simultaneously linked to the host country and society-of-origin, the ethnic media maintains its distance from both, functioning as a 'transnational media' (Ishi 2002: 170-171). With regards to its contents, the Chinese-language ethnic media in Japan is, on the one hand, heartily critical of the political situation in China, but a decisive ingredient in attracting a readership is its criticism of the host society, Japan. Regarding its criticism of Japanese society, many articles deal with human rights issues such as the unjust violence of the Immigration Bureau, acting to motivate a response from the Japanese government. There have been cases where these articles have been taken up in the Chinese media in China (Duan 1996: 84-86, 88-89).

The function of ethnic media may be thought of as strengthening migrant networks and also migrants' identities as trans-national border crossers. In thinking about the life-world of migrants in Japan, this existence as border crosser cannot be said to be a stabile element (Kawakami 2001). However, the fact that migrants residing in Japanese society indeed possess this element of being border transgressors means that their life-world is constructed from both local and trans-national relationships. It is unlikely that they will sever the bonds with their country or society of origin in order to assimilate to the host society. Rather, their long-term residency in the host society will be characterised by their various cultural backgrounds. Given this, research on ethnic media will provide suggestions about the multi-layered construction of and changes in their life-world. This information includes what types of networks are constructed within the host society and society of origin and within the migrant community on a local and trans-national level, what influence these networks have on the host society, and how they influence migrants' perceptions of their life-world. Consequently, the workings of any ethnic media are not simply confined to the migrant community itself. It will also lead to a questioning of the recognition of Japanese society as a diverse society.

Conclusion: Beyond the Awareness of Diversity

Japanese society has faced a large immigration flow and appeals to 'open the door' both from within Japan and from without. The current research in Japan has revealed the problems of local-level migrant. The experience and life-world of migrants has also been considered. The Japanese government has recognised the importance of facilitating the settlement of migrants into Japanese society. At a glance, the mutual understanding between migrant Other and non-migrant Self has been proceeding over the past ten years.

However, the immigrants' problems have not been improved drastically. Immigrants still face the same kinds of daily-life problems. As the periods of time during which they reside in Japan lengthen, some of them also experience the problems associated with settlement such as education problems when their children start to go to school. However, the Japanese government still lacks effective means to deal with these problems (although it has started to recognise that problems exist). For example, it does not have an one-stop agency for immigrants yet. Even in the Third Basic Plan of 2005, the Ministry of Justice stressed the needs of the total national policy (Hōmushō 2005). As a whole, the Japanese immigration policy still has an ad hoc tendency.

Moreover, it would be far too optimistic to conclude the attempt to understand the residency and lives of migrants has promoted kyōsei or a mutual understanding between Others and the Self. The grassroots practice is produced through daily encounters at the local community level. This theme can be seen in the research to date, and shown to some degree in the various chapters of a work I have recently edited18. Even in the research, a segregationist tendency can be observed in some places. Segregation is not a problem in and of itself. However, without mutual understanding, it might cause social instability.

Living next door to a person of a different culture in everyday life does not immediately indicate mutual understanding and integration. Today, when it is said that migrants are taking up long-term residency in Japan, whether both parties will seek to understand each other, or the extent to which they will achieve understanding, will be for the people living in the forums of everyday life to determine. The necessity of working towards the construction of such a relationship may also be questioned. Subsequent research must pay more attention to these issues. National and local governments (especially the national government) must respond both to the fundamental needs of immigrants and Japanese residents based on the research that has been published to date.

For the next stage, moreover, diversity itself should be understood conceptually in the Japanese context. At each level, from local to national, the Japanese people and society has come to experience cultural and other kinds of diversity. This is a first step. Beyond the awareness of diversity, however, to deal with the immigration problems means to review the Japanese national understanding of diversity and trans-nationality. From the past experience, and through a comparison with the other host countries' cases, constructing the Japanese concept of diversity is necessary to provide a foundation for policy and to establish Japanese popular perceptions.


1. This is a translation of a revised version of Ishii Yuka, 'Imin no kyojū to seikatsu − genjō to kadai' (The residence and lives of migrants [in Japan]: The current situation and issues), in Ishii Yuka ed. (2003: 19-55). The translator would like to express her gratitude to Associate Professor Ishii for her comments on an earlier draft of this translation.

2. For example, when the titles of academic monographs are examined, Komai Hiroshi used the phrase 'denizenship' or 'long-term residency' (teijū) in the series entitled Kōza gaikokujin teijū mondai, Akashi Shoten, all four volumes of which were published in 1995-96. Komai referred to the trend of increasing duration of residency in earlier works, including Komai (1993) and Komai ed. (1995). Also at a relatively early stage texts such as Miyajima Takashi and Kajita Takamichi eds. (1996) attempted to capture the overall picture of the issue of foreigners in Japan on the basis of this problem.

In the 1990s, new-comer migrant research was recognised by sociologists in Japan as an important area of research in Japanese society. 'Nihon shakai - kōzō to shotokusei', Chapter 2, Part 2, of Shōji Kōkichi defined ethnic studies as one area of study of Japanese society, listing the main research in this area (Shōji 2002). According to Shōji, the first two works to research new-comer migration were authored by Komai (1990), and edited by Okuda Michihiro and Tajima Junko (1991). These were followed by another monograph by Komai (1994), two works edited by Komai (1995; 1995-96), and a work edited by Miyajima and Kajita (1996). In this period of an emerging problem consciousness in sociological research, the increased seriousness of the real situation can be observed from these materials.

3. Examples include five big volumes (Watanabe ed. 1995; Araragi ed. 2000; Kawakami 2001; Ikegami ed. 2001; Onai and Sakai eds. 2001).

4. For example, several works feature the term seikatsu sekai or 'life-world' in their titles (Araragi ed. 2000; Kawakami 2001), while Onai and Sakai use the term in the title of both Part 2, 'Rōdō − seikatsu sekai no shosō', and in Part 3, 'Rōdō − seikatsu sekai no zentaizō to kikōka', of their work (Onai and Sakai eds. 2001).

5. See also another work by Hirota (1997), particularly Chapter 4 and the final chapter.

6. I have described the self-help organisations of women of Asian origin who have married Japanese men in the Tokyo metropolitan area (Ishii 1995).

7. Furthermore, Takahata Sachi offers her views from personal experience on the increase in Filipino 'denizens' (interviewed September 2002). First, as the search by Filipino nikkei for their roots and links with Japan continues, many second generation Filipino nikkei have come to work in Japan as spouses of Japanese nationals, while many of the third generation have done so after qualifying as long-term residents (teijūsha). Second, in cases where Filipino women married Japanese men, children from previous relationships with Filipino nationality can attain long-term residency qualifications if they come to Japan to join their mothers. Third, in July 1996 in a Ministry of Justice communication, a foreigner will be supplied with a long-term residency visa in cases where the individual concerned is divorced from a Japanese national but possesses parental authority over a child of Japanese nationality. The increase of people falling into these three categories is possibly linked to the rapid increase in the number of Filipino denizens. Also, permanent residency is generally available to all spouses after three years. If no problems arise, they can obtain permanent residency in approximately six months and therefore, many Filipinos would apply for permanent, rather than long-term residency.

8. I have analysed the marriages between Japanese and non-Japanese up to the early 1990s (see Ishii 1995).

9. Takahata's comments noted above (footnote 7) also apply to this situation.

10. For studies from this perspective, see the paper by Yumoto Makoto and Kitazawa Umehide (2001). This examines the topic of life in the workplace for nikkei Brazilians. In the workplace which was the subject of this paper, the authors argue that nikkei associated with other nikkei, and had little interaction with Japanese people. There were no positive remarks on the relationships between Japanese and foreigners or on mutual recognition. Conversely, Igarashi Yasumasa (1999) notes from the results of his own survey the awareness by the Japanese of foreign employees.

11. I have written on the housing problem based on a case study in Toyohashi City, Aichi Prefecture (Ishii and Inaba 1996). The local governments' housing problem is fundamentally a question of relationships with the local community. However, the suggestions and survey fall short of explaining how to construct such relationships in practice. As for this point, a report on reflections on an association researching living in cities is published (Machi Kyojū Kenkyūkai 1994).

12. Tsuzuki Kurumi (1998; 2001) considers the relationship between the nikkei Brazilians living in multi-unit apartments and the local community, including housing problems experienced, and observes the relationships between migrants and Japanese as they occur in the local community in an empirical fashion. Ikegami (2001) analyses the situation in Hamamatsu City. On the situation in Ōta and Ōizumi in Gunma Prefecture, see the paper by Onai Junko (2001).

13. On the conception 'kyōsei', see the work by Enari Miyuki (2002: 147-149).

14. From his case study of non-Japanese Asian women who have married Japanese men, Kuwayama has labeled migrants who have spent about five years in Japan 'first round migrants'. Those who have resided for between five and ten years and whose children have reached the schooling age are labeled 'second round migrants'. Problems encountered by first round migrants are largely homesickness, cultural friction, mutual misunderstandings and domestic struggles. Major concerns of second round migrants include playing a greater role in society, the search for their self-identity, their children's education, bullying at school, aging parents in their home country, illness and death (Kuwayama 1995: 195-196). Here, the criterion for analysis was the number of years of residency in Japan. However, when analyzing migrant issues generally, a deeper understanding would be achieved by dividing groups into years of residency and life-stages.

15. Previous research on the creation of the 'family narrative' concept is cited in a review of North American migrant literature by a pioneer researcher of new-comer migrants in Japan, the urban sociologist Hirota. The 'narrative' of the family is constructed through an 'adjustment to the realities faced by each family through which the migration logic is formed' (Hirota 1994: 320). Hirota is cited in the work edited by Shimizu and Shimizu (2001: 196). This citation provides evidence that researchers had come to recognise the importance of migrants' own subjective perceptions since the mid-1990s.

16. The recent appearance of Brazilian schools has given nikkei Brazilians an alternative to Japanese schools (Onai 2003; Onai ed. 2003).

17. Shiramizu provides the following definition of ethnic media. 'Ethnic media or ethnic minority media is "ideally" a medium that periodically delivers information, mainly using the language of the minority group, by persons of a minority racial and ethnic group living within a particular society (the senders), for the members of that minority group (the receivers). However, in reality members of the majority of that society (mainstream society) also can contribute, and the language of the mainstream society may also be used' (Shiramizu 1997: 132).

18. For existing research refer to the literature listed in footnotes 10 and 12. For a work I have recently edited, see Ishii ed. (2003).


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About the author

ISHII Yuka is Associate Professor at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Oita, Japan. Her PhD dissertation focused on ethnic relations and international migration in contemporary Malaysia, especially through the sociological analysis of the choice and strategy of ethnic Chinese. It was published as Esunikku kankei to hito no kokusai idō: Gendai Malaysia no kajin no sentaku by Kokusai Shoin in 1999. She has been expanding her research field over the Asia Pacific, especially Singapore and Australia.

She is also interested in Asian migrants in Japan, and has written several articles in Japanese and English on the topic. She is the author of an English article, 'Forward to a Better Life: The Situation of Asian Women Married to Japanese Men in the 1990s,' Graziano Battistella and Anthony Paganoni (eds.), Asian Women in Migration, Quezon City: Scalabrini Migration Center, 1996.

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