Discussing What To Discuss

It’s nearly two weeks since we had the second meeting of the Foreigners’ Assembly, and I’ve still not written about it. So, I’d better rectify that. (There are quite a few things I ought to write about on this blog but haven’t yet, I’m afraid.)

As I predicted last time, we did not finish early. In fact, we had to extend the meeting by fifteen minutes to get everything done. Somewhat surprisingly, however, it wasn’t the discussion of topics for discussion that held us up. We split into two groups for that, and in our group we first went round the room, with everyone getting five minutes to say what they wanted to discuss. Everyone had topics to bring up, and everyone stayed within the allotted time, and on point while they were speaking. I was impressed; with twelve or so people in the room, I’d expected at least one person to not be good at meetings. We then had a short discussion, which gave me an idea of who the talkative people are. I’m going to have to be assertive if I want to get a word in edgeways. (Unusually, the most assertive and vocal people were all women.)

I raised three issues. First, I’d like to see the city conduct a formal survey of foreign residents’ experiences of discrimination, ideally using the same format as EU-MIDIS, so that we get comparative data. At the moment, we’re working with purely anecdotal data, so we don’t have a good idea of what the problems are. Second, although the assembly has discussed Japanese language education provision for children many times, it has never formally discussed provision for adults, and I think that would be a good idea. Finally, I’d like to talk about ways to help foreign residents get involved in local society, both to prevent them from becoming isolated, and to give Japanese residents more experience of their foreign neighbours. In the long term, I think it would help with a lot of the problems that foreigners seem to face.

There was some overlap with the points raised by other people, but points about children’s education came up a lot again. I just want to pick up on a few of the suggestions.

First, several people suggested that the city should help with providing education for children in their foreign parent’s (or parents’) language. They talked about “native language”, but the problem is that these children’s native language is Japanese, because that’s what they speak most of the time. Actually, I don’t think this is the city’s responsibility. I agree that it’s important — I’m trying to make sure that Mayuki can speak English, after all — but I think it’s something that we should do for ourselves. The city arguably has a responsibility to make it easy for foreigners to integrate into local society, but I don’t think that extends to supporting foreign language education.

Second, it seems that people are still having significant problems renting property. One problem is that landlords apparently often require a contact who is either a Japanese citizen or, at least, a permanent resident. This is obviously tricky for new immigrants. Another is that many landlords will apparently still not rent to foreigners. This is a problem that the assembly raised more than a decade ago, and Kawasaki passed an ordinance saying that landlords should rent to foreigners (and the disabled, and old people), and establishing a system that provides guarantors for such people. However, it would seem that that ordinance has not had as much effect as might have been hoped. (This is a place where proper statistics would be a really big help, but we don’t have them.) So, I think that we should discuss this issue again, and make a new recommendation. Perhaps the city should pass an ordinance with a penalty attached; I’m pretty sure Kawasaki has the authority to do that. (It’s a special city, with most of the powers of a prefecture; the largest cities in Japan all have this status, apart from Tokyo, which has a unique governmental structure.)

Anyway, that went very smoothly, and both groups reported back to the main meeting. Our secretariat will prepare an organised summary of the points for the next meeting, when we will actually pick topics.

The next bit took a bit longer. We had to decide whether to participate in city events (we did), and then split the members up between the committees that would plan our participation. I joined the editorial committee for the newsletter; it seemed like the obvious home for me.

So, we made some concrete progress this time, and the flow of the meeting boded very well for the future. My impression from the earlier meetings, that this would be a good group, was confirmed.

I hope that we can actually achieve something. We’ll have to work hard, and together.






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