I’m afraid this post is a week or so late, but on the 26th September we had another meeting of the Kawasaki City Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents. This was the fifth meeting of the assembly, and we finally got on to actually discussing issues, at least in the Life and Society subcommittee. As you may remember, at the end of our last exciting meeting, we still had to decide the order in which we would discuss the topics that we thought would take some time, so that was what we started last week’s session with. Fortunately, this proved to be almost completely uncontroversial, and it took about ten minutes to agree on an order. That meant that we could get on with discussing the topics we had chosen as not requiring too much time.
The first topic was immigration rules, and specifically the rules for family. If a foreigner has residence rights in Japan, they are allowed to bring their spouse or children over, and those family members can also get long-term visas. However, this is as far as it extends. The particular problem that people wanted to raise was that of parents. First, several of the women on the committee said that they wanted their mothers to come over when they gave birth, to help with the baby, but they could only come on tourist visas, which are limited to three months. Obviously, that’s not really long enough to help with a baby. The other major issue was that people wanted their parents to come live with them, as their parents were getting old. It seems that, if your parents have no other relatives in their home country, or cannot live by themselves, it is possible to get special permission for them to stay in Japan long-term, but this is rather limited. It might be better to spend time as a family before your parents lose their independence, for example, or you might be the best able to look after them, even though there are other children back in their home country.
Looking at other countries, South Korea is similar to Japan, while Canada is much more generous, admitting parents, siblings, and unmarried partners. Thus, we decided that we wanted to ask Kawasaki to ask the government to broaden the family category, to allow parents, at least, to come and live in Japan with their children. However, we also want to note that the availability of special permission is a good thing, so we are going to return to the issue next time, after our secretariat has looked into the details of when it might be available. We really don’t want to formally ask for something that already exists. However, that’s just the details of the proposal; the broad outline has been fixed.
The second topic was the availability of City Hall services on the weekend. There are a number of things that you have to do at the ward offices, but they are normally only open during weekday working hours, which can be difficult if you work. However, the material provided by the secretariat revealed that Kawasaki offices are already open two Saturday mornings a month, and that you can do almost all of the paperwork then. (The big exception is tax-related paperwork.) In particular, you can do foreigner registration. A lot of the representatives didn’t know about this at all, and although I knew the offices opened, I didn’t think you could do foreigner registration, or most of the other things. In addition, the comparative information the secretariat provided showed that Kawasaki has the most generous opening hours of any of the “shireitoshi”; large cities with a special form of government that makes them largely independent of the prefecture. As a result, we decided that we didn’t want to ask for any improvement of the services, but rather to ask for better publicity. However, that sort of topic is the purview of the other subcommittee, so we’re going to talk about passing it over when we have the next Chairpersons’ Meeting.
That took about an hour, for both together. I really hadn’t expected the topics to take so little time to discuss. It’s not a bad thing, but we were at a bit of a loose end. We decided what information we wanted the secretariat to prepare for the next meeting, and then talked about experiences of being foreign in Japan, such as being stopped by the police and asked for ID. This has never happened to me, but it has happened to a lot of the other representatives. This is a tricky topic, because most of it falls outside the jurisdiction of the city, but it is clearly very important to foreigners living in Japan. We’re planning to discuss something related to it later (surveying foreign residents to find out what the problems are), but it’s not clear what we can do about it directly.
Overall, then, the meeting went very well. We might even be able to get through the three remaining short topics next time, which would be great, as it would leave us plenty of time to discuss the complicated issues. The discussion as a whole went well, with only one representative saying nothing until asked directly for an opinion. Obviously, some people are more proactive than others, but everyone is participating, and, so far, we have reached unanimous agreement on what we want to say about the topics. Long may this continue.