The Representative Assembly works by the Japanese fiscal year, which means that, just as our term began in April last year, so the first year ends at the end of March. However, we don’t have a meeting in March, so the meeting on Sunday was the last of the first year.
In the Society and Daily Life subcommittee, we started out by looking at a new document about support for foreign students, describing an opportunity for them to meet Japanese people that had been organised by the city along with one of the schools in Kawasaki. However, there were no further questions or comments on the topic, so we moved on to housing.
Rental housing for foreigners in Japan is a difficult topic. Some landlords refuse to rent to foreigners (which is perfectly legal), and many of those who will require a Japanese guarantor, which is, obviously, rather difficult for a foreigner to find in many cases. Kawasaki has a system, set up after requests from the Assembly some years ago, that will provide a guarantor for people who cannot find one, in return for a relatively small fee. While foreign residents do use the system, most of the people using it are older people, who face much the same problem. In addition, Kanagawa prefecture, which includes Kawasaki, has set up a network to support foreigners looking for accommodation, including a scheme for estate agents. This scheme educates estate agents about the problems facing foreigners, and members are required to be positive in helping them to look. According to the personal experience of one representative, it does seem to work. Finally, the rental accommodation run by the city is all open to foreign residents, although there are no statistics on how many foreigners are currently living in it. That includes the low-rent flats aimed at poor people, as well as city-run accommodation aimed at people of more average income and at older people.
The general opinion was that the systems themselves didn’t have any major problems. However, getting the information that they exist out to foreign residents who might need it seems a bit harder. We can assume that the representatives know more about the city government than most foreign residents, but most of us did not know about these systems. Strictly speaking, information problems are being dealt with by the other subcommittee, but we did canvass some ideas. For example, the secretariat prepared a summary of the systems for us, and it was suggested that something similar could be distributed to all foreign residents. In addition, those foreigners who know about it could distribute the information to their contacts in the foreigner community. (Not that I really have contacts worth speaking of in the foreigner community, but some other representatives do.) Getting information to the people who need it is clearly a major problem, and one that many organisations face. If people don’t know that a system exists, they won’t think to look for it, in most cases, so a truly effective system needs to be proactive. Even then, a lot of people don’t read everything they are given, and most people don’t remember everything they read. I suspect that there’s no perfect solution, and that we just have to make the information available through as many channels as possible, in the hope that someone in the circles around people who need to know it will remember it and pass it on.
After that discussion, we looked at the five topics we’ve discussed so far, and decided that we might take the issues of immigration, support for foreign students, and support for housing to the final proposals, at the end of next year. From next time, we will start discussing the deeper issues, with pensions and labour. We’ll be looking at the pension system, and at the support the city provides for foreign residents who are looking for work.
This is about on schedule. I’d hoped that we’d be able to finish our discussions of the five short topics within the first year, and we have, so I think that there’s a very good chance that we’ll consider seven topics properly before picking the two we want to make concrete proposals about. There’s a fairly severe limit on what we can do with sixteen normal meetings over two years, so I think that will be a pretty good result. I hope next year’s discussions go as well as this year’s.