The Kawasaki Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents holds an Open Meeting every year, and this year’s meeting was held on Sunday. Anyone may attend any meeting of the Assembly, so the Open Meeting isn’t particularly open in that sense. The difference is that, at the normal meetings, only the representatives are allowed to speak, whereas at the Open Meeting only the people who aren’t representatives are supposed to speak. That’s a slight simplification; the meeting is chaired by representatives, and the chairperson of the assembly gives a short speech about the assembly and what it does. However, the main aim of the Open Meeting is to get opinions from other people, both Japanese and foreign, with the aim of broadening the input to the assembly’s discussions.
I’ve been to two previous Open Meetings, as a non-representative, and given my opinions. This time, of course, I was a representative, and chairing the sub-meeting for Society and Daily Life.
This was a rather harder job than it seemed in previous years. This year, a group of people in Kawasaki who are opposed to the activities and existence of the assembly decided to attend the meeting in order to express their opinions. That is, of course, fine. Almost all of them followed the rules, raising their hands and waiting for me to call on them, and then making their points calmly and briefly. They even waited quietly when I asked whether there was anyone who hadn’t spoken yet who wanted to say anything, and didn’t complain when I gave priority to those new people who did raise their hands. Only one of them broke the rules, and all he did was shout while expressing his opinion. He was shouting about taking Kawasaki back for the Japanese, which isn’t really necessary, given the percentages and lack of influence that foreign residents have.
However, even though they were polite about it, it did create a rather tense atmosphere in the room, at least for me. It quickly became obvious that there were four or five people with similar opinions, as well as a slightly smaller number of people (both Japanese and foreign) who really didn’t agree with them. I had to ask people to change the subject rather than get into debates, as the Open Meeting is not really for debates, and, to everyone’s credit, they did.
There were a lot of useful opinions, even from the people who were not favourably disposed to the meeting as a whole. Everyone who spoke was in favour of conducting a survey to find out the current situation of foreigners in Kawasaki, to avoid basing policy on old data, for example. Some of the critical opinions were also not unreasonable; for example, in response to the opinion in the handout that it was difficult for foreign students in Japan to find jobs because they didn’t speak Japanese, one person commented that this is Japan, so that’s natural. That’s a reasonable point; there are going to be serious limits on the jobs you can do if you don’t speak Japanese, no matter what. There were also useful opinions for more favourably inclined people. For example, one person said that, when we talk about visas for parents, we need to look at the wider situation, such as support for elderly foreigners, rather than just consider “parents” as an abstract category. We had already touched on that sort of issue, but it is something we will have to consider carefully when putting our final submission together, along with the length of visa we want to ask for.
At any rate, I was exhausted when my bit of the meeting finished. After an hour and a half of chairing the meeting, I just wanted to sit down quietly, so I spent quite a bit of the post-meeting party doing just that. The party, fortunately, was much more relaxed than the meeting had been, apparently because the opposition group had gone to stage a protest outside.
We knew in advance that the opposition group were going to come, because they posted about it on their website. In fact, they’ve attended a couple of the ordinary meetings as well, so things actually turned out much as we imagined. They didn’t say anything at the ordinary meetings, because they weren’t allowed to, so we, or I, at least, expected that they would be as rule-abiding at the Open Meeting, as indeed they were. City Hall did, however, send rather more staff than normal, to make sure that there were enough people there to handle things if there was any trouble, and it was made clear to us that they would support us as necessary. Indeed, when the one man started shouting, a number of the staff went to talk to him and calm him down, so that he didn’t disrupt the meeting. Most of the Japanese people there were very supportive of the Assembly, and the representatives, and even those who weren’t stayed well within the bounds of courtesy and reasonable exchanges of views. The views expressed were not straightforwardly racist, either.
So, in the end, I think the Open Meeting was a success, if rather tiring for me. I hope that at least some of the other attendees felt the same way.