Lecture: Migrants in Japan

Agnes Gatpatan(Catholic Tokyo International Center)
Social and Pastoral issue:  No. 132 / June 1st, 2006

The author is a Filpina woman, lay missionary of Religious of the Assumption. Lecture given at Melchizedek gathering in St. Ignatius Church, April 12, 2006.

Japan is host to almost 2 million foreign residents. Many of you might already know the data, but let me show you again the profile of the non-Japanese residents here in Japan.

Number of Non-Japanese Residents in Japan by Country, as of 2004
Country Persons
South Korea and North Korea 607,419
China 487,570
Brazil 286,557
Philippines 199,394
Peru 55,750
USA 48,844
Other countries 288,213
Total 1,973,747

In the graph you will see that the majority of the non-Japanese residents are from South and North Korea and China. However, many of them are “old-timers” who came to Japan before or during the war. I guess we all know the historical background of this group. As far as the “new comers” are concerned, most of them came from the Philippines, Peru, and other South American countries. The next table shows the number of non-Japanese residents in Japan by qualification. 39% of them are permanent residents, and 13% are spouses of Japanese nationals. All the rest are registered under a particular profession, or occupation.

Number of Non-Japanese Residents by  Qualification (2004)
Status Number %
Permanent Resident 778,583 39
Japanese Spouse, etc. 257,292 13
Settler 250,734 13
Study in Japan 129,873 7
Residence with Family 81,919 4
Performance / Entertainer 64,74 3
Entering School 43,208 2
Training 47,682 2
Culture Knowledge,
International Operation
54,317 3
Technology 23,210 1
Technical Skills 13,373 1
In-house Transfer 10,993 1
Education 9,393 0
Professor 8,153 0
Permanent Resident
Spouse, etc.
9,417 0
Others 190,858 10
Total 1,973,747 100

Source:
Gaikokujin Torokusha Tokei ni tsuite
(Statistics on Foreign Residents)
Immigration Bureau, Ministry of Justice (Jun., 2005)

By definition, the word “migrant” means a traveler who moves from one region or country to another or a person who moves regularly in order to find work. That’s why, the word “migrant” is often associated with “migrant workers”. If we talk about the non-Japanese migrants, based on the data I showed you awhile ago, who among them are “migrants”? Let’s take a look at this table:

Number of Foreign Workers in Japan (2004)
Status of Residence Number %
Professor 8,153 4
Artist 401 0
Religious Activity 4,699 2
Journalist 292 0
Investor/Manager 6,396 3
Legal/account service 125 0
Medical service 117 0
Researcher 2,548 1
Instructor 9,390 5
Engineer 23,210 12
Specialist in Humanities 47,682 25
Intra-corporate transferee 10,993 6
Entertainer 64,742 35
Skilled Labour 13,373 7
SUBTOTAL 192,124 100
Designated Activities 61,508  
Part-time work of students (estimate) 106,406  
Worker of Japanese
descendants
231,393  
OVERSTAYING foreigners 207,299  
Spouse of Japanese
/ Permanent Residents
1,035,875  

Source:Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
Estimates by: Mr. Yasushi Iguchi, Prof. of Kwansei Gakuin University

This table shows the number of foreign workers in Japan. Out of the total number of workers who were issued “working visas”, the highest percentage of this group is the entertainers. Below, I added the Designated Activities, and the part-time work of students, the Nikeijins, and the overstaying foreigners. If we further summarize this table, it would look like this:

 Who are the foreign Migrant Workers?

Based on the definition I gave you awhile ago, perhaps we can now say, that the migrant workers in Japan comprise the following:

a) The Nikeijins who are working in factories. They are mostly Brazilians and Peruvians, and a few Filipinos.

b) This group is followed by the Overstayers, who are naturally working in the construction sites doing odd jobs or the dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs. The men came here as tourists, and the women came in as entertainers, but ran away from their promoters.

c) Then, the group of the highly skilled professionals such as the computer engineers, and the specialists, who are working in big corporations and who receive very high salaries.

d) Then, another significant group is the Entertainers who are mostly women from the Philippines, and a few from China, Indonesia and Russia. In the year 2004 alone, 82,277 Filipina women entered Japan as entertainers 8,277 women from China, 5,775 from Russia, and 3,012 from Indonesia, respectively.

I would like to mention two special groups: Why did I include the spouses of the Japanese nationals in the data of migrant workers? Because even if they are not holders of “working visas”, many of them came from the entertainment industry, and even if they are married to a Japanese national now, most of them are still working in the clubs as entertainers or dishwashers in the restaurants, or bed-makers in the hotels. They still continue to work so that they can send money to their families in the Philippines.

Another group of migrants which I would like to mention here are the Seafarers. They are the migrants whom we could not regularly see or meet in the streets because of the nature of their jobs. But a significant number of them from different countries are in the different Ports of Japan everyday.

 What is the Life Cycle of a Migrant in Japan?

From their country of origin, lets say, Peru or the Philippines, a father or mother would look for possibilities of a better job to ensure a brighter future for their family. These jobs are advertised by promoters or agencies in newspapers, or would be referred by friends who have been to Japan. Then, with the help of the agencies, they will be able to secure the necessary requirements and documents in coming over.

Once in Japan, they will experience so many difficult situations related to culture, language, working styles and emotional problems like loneliness, a sense of isolation and helplessness. Uprooted from their own culture, they will find difficulty on how to make sense of their new environment. However, they will do their best to cope, just to earn as much as they can to send money back home. Before the end of their working contract or visa, they would ensure and look for other means to stay longer. The only way for a migrant woman to stay longer or beyond her 6-month contract is to run away from the promoter and stay with friends, and look for another club who accepts overstaying entertainers. The other way is to marry a Japanese, and change her visa status to “spouse of a Japanese national”. Some marriages are real, some are business arrangements – where they will pay an amount of 500,000 to 1 Million Yen to the Japanese man for every year that the immigration will grant a visa to the woman. Some are fast-tracked marriages. They don’t know the real person they are marrying, and once they start living together, they are both strangers to each other. Some women thought that being pregnant will help them get a visa, only to realize that they don’t know the “ninchi” or fetus recognition system in Japan. The overstaying men will hop from one job to the other, praying for good fortune not to be caught in the process.

While doing their work in the construction sites, sometimes an accident will happen, or they will get sick. Until now, they have overstayed their visa and once hospitalized, they need a big amount of money, which many times they could not pay. Usually, when the sickness is serious, they opt to go home without any money.
Meanwhile, the women will do their best to keep the marriage. But because of differences in culture, motivation for the marriage, and many other factors, it is estimated that almost 50% of these marriages end up in divorce. Those who are able to maintain the marriage will stay here for a longer period and get a permanent visa status. Those who got divorced, but have children can renew their visa, and continue working. However, the woman who got divorced, but has no children either will look for another Japanese man to marry, or look for a job and overstay her visa, or go back to her home country and bear the shame of being a “failure” in the eyes of her neighbors. Meanwhile, more new comers are coming everyday to try their luck in this country.

Migration is Inevitable                      

In this age of globalization, migration is inevitable. Diversity is already a reality in most countries. In March, I attended a symposium at the UN-university entitled: “How should Japan respond to the issues of foreigners? Towards the integration of foreigners into Japanese society.” The Keynote speaker was the Director General of the International Organization for Migration, Mr. McKinley. He said, that now, developed countries are faced, not with the question of whether to accept migrants or not, but the only question to answer is: how can migration be managed to ensure that migrants play a positive and constructive role in the receiving country? This involves formulating laws and policies on migration management. Many countries in Europe and the US have come to terms with this. But Japan is coming to the question a bit later than these countries. However, although late, this is a good time for Japan to learn from the experiences of other countries on what options to take.

The UN report says that due to its aging population, Japan would need to bring in around 600,000 migrants per year in order to sustain its population and workforce. If the immigration bureau’s estimate of 200,000 overstayers is accurate, their existence now is the most known secret in this society. There are jobs available for them in the labor market or else, they will leave this country voluntarily and go home or look for greener pastures. But the Japanese government does not support this reality, and even pretends that they don’t exist. Oftentimes, when these migrants get into trouble, for example, if a woman becomes a victim of domestic violence and she reports it to the police, she is viewed as a violator of the immigration laws alone, and not as a victim. She is reported by the police to immigration and immigration will simply deport her back to her country.

The challenge for the government is first to accept that the need for migrants is inevitable, and that there is a need to help them integrate in this society so that they can positively contribute in the many aspects of life in Japan. A study prepared by the UN concluded that integration of migrants in host societies depends on the following areas: legal status, command of the national language, ability to find reasonable paid work, participation in civic life and access to social services. Many countries that have accepted the challenge are now setting up policies and programs related to this. The local people of the receiving country should also be prepared to support and acknowledge the positive contribution of migration in their own country.

Pastoral Challenges                      

Considering the situation I have previously presented, what are the pastoral challenges faced by the Church in Japan? Here are some suggestions we have in the Catholic Tokyo International Center for the parishes where there are non-Japanese parishioners or communities present:

1.   We are grateful that there are Sunday masses in different languages here and there, but there is a need to make our masses relevant to the life events and needs of the migrants. We need to bring up to our masses the realities, difficulties as well as the joys of the migrants. This is not difficult to do if we take time and effort to truly prepare our Sunday liturgies well.

2.   Please make us part of the church family. Make us genuinely participate not only in the liturgy, but in all the other aspects of the life of the church too. Help us integrate into the community without loosing our identity. As of now, their participation is in the form of singing in the choir, taking turns in the mass readings, cooking “adobo” and joyfully contributing a dance or a song number during special occasions. Genuine participation is not only these. They should also take part in the decision-making process of the community by being members of the Kyokai iinkai or parish teams or committees. They should be consulted in matters that affect them & their children.

3.   Please offer chances for ongoing formation and training in skills, faith, spirituality, life and family. We are a people rich in devotion, but poor in catechism. Most of us received our catechism when we were children and only a few got a chance to update their knowledge of the faith as adults. Also, we need to be trained to acquire life skills needed to function in the Japanese society. Please help us know how to appropriately express our culture in the context of the realities of life here in Japan.

Also, the helpers, volunteers, catechists in the parishes especially those facilitating the pre-baptism seminars and the other sacraments need training and formation, as well as materials and resources on how to effectively do their ministry. If there are formal or informal groups in the parish, please accompany them. Provide venues where their leaders can be trained and formed. The process of accompaniment can begin by taking time and effort in knowing them, in knowing their activities and plans, then guiding and helping them work for the service of the local community.

4.   We need venues for genuine intercultural dialogues. We need to meet each other to interact among us and with other nationalities so that we can truly understand and respect each other’s culture. I don’t only mean the coffee or tea sessions after the masses, or the cultural festivals and bazaars that we annually do in our parishes. These activities are good to begin the process of cultural understanding. But perhaps it is time to move on.
We need to study and work together in raising the awareness of the Japanese and the non-Japanese community members about the migrants’ situation. Everyone needs to understand how their country of origin and the Japanese society mutually contributed to their present realities. Maybe we can go into a deeper dialogue to reflect together, be aware, and humbly admit to each other our cultural biases. We can also organize activities that would help us reflect and affirm the contribution of each one in enriching each other’s culture. Deeper intercultural understanding will enable us to affirm the dignity of each one. Hopefully, through these, every person regardless of race or nationality can be honored and respected.

5.   Perhaps we need to gather together and reflect on how can migrants help in renewing the church in Japan. Although the migrants left their country of origin for economic reasons, they carried with them their faith. How can we give service to the local church? And when we have identified and defined these, the migrants needs accompaniment in carrying out their contribution.

6.   The last, but perhaps the most important, please provide space, time and programs for our children. Accompany them affectionately to know our faith and be confident of their identity. Support their learning and play, and give them tasks adapted to their capacity.
All these take a lot of time, creativity, and skills. The process of building a truly multi-cultural church is long and slow, not just a one-shot activity. We need to organize, reflect, and make concerted efforts by formulating short and long term pastoral plans together. We need to commit ourselves, Japanese and non-Japanese, in assisting and supporting each other the best we could. Perhaps the old system and patterns will not work anymore. We are willing to journey with you in finding new ways of being church.

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