About ten years ago, I applied to join the Kawasaki City Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents. My goal was to get the city to carry out a survey of its foreign residents, to find about the problems they were experiencing, in particular the experience of racism. At that point, there was no good data on experiences of racism in Japan, just a bunch of anecdotes. I found it relatively easy to persuade the other representatives that the survey was a good idea, and after adding other things that they wanted to know about, we proposed it to the city.
The city accepted the proposal, and five years ago carried out a survey. I was on the committees designing and analysing it, and I have already written about the results of that survey on this blog.
However, the proposal was for a survey every five years, which means that another one was due. And, it turns out, the city carried it out, this time with no involvement from me. They have sent me a copy of the report, which can also be downloaded online (in Japanese), and there is a summary available in English. I would just like to reemphasise that I had nothing to do with preparing the survey, or the English summary.
So, my first comment on this survey is that I am absolutely delighted that the city has done it again, as requested. We now have two data points only five years apart, and the chance of the survey happening again in 2024 is pretty good. We can already see some changes, and future surveys will just make this even better. The surveys should already be essential reading for any academics studying foreigners in Japan, as well as for the city government here in Kawasaki.
The diversity of foreign residents in Kawasaki is, perhaps, the really outstanding result of this survey. The diversity of nationalities was already known, because the city publishes those statistics every year. At the time the survey was done, there were 43,817 foreign residents of Kawasaki (just under 3% of the total population), of whom 15,888 were Chinese, the largest single group. There were 7,743 Koreans, of whom 4,328 were “Zainichi Koreans”; Koreans descended from Koreans who arrived in Japan before the war ended, and stayed. Then come people from the Philippines, at 4,515, Vietnam (3,696), and Nepal (1,390). The number of Vietnamese and Nepalis has increased four or fivefold since the last survey, so not only are the foreigners diverse, the composition is changing. It is, however, worth pointing out that about 90% of the foreigners in Kawasaki are Asian (or Japanese-descent Brazilians, although that is a small group in Kawasaki), so that non-Asian foreigners make up less than 0.3% of the total population.
They live all over Kawasaki, although there is a noticeable bias towards the south, around Kawasaki Station; this is where the Zainichi Korean community is based, but there are a lot of other foreigners there as well. Their jobs also cover a wide range. About a third work in highly skilled jobs, but only about 6% work in language-based jobs, such as language teaching or interpreting. About 8% are in management, and about 10% in clerical work; around 10% work in factories or construction, while about 15% are in sales or services. (10% are “other”; not entirely sure what that would be.) The proportion of foreigners who are permanent, full time employees has gone up since the last survey, to about 38%, driven entirely by a rise from 20% to 31% among women, but there are substantial numbers in every form of employment.
On top of this, we know that Kawasaki is not representative of the whole country. It has fewer South Americans and Vietnamese, and fewer foreigners working in unskilled jobs, than the national average. So, not only are the foreigners in Kawasaki diverse, regions of Japan are diverse in terms of the kinds of foreigners living and working there. Other areas should do surveys like Kawasaki.
Given this diversity, I can only pick out a few points that I think are particularly interesting. The full report is about 200 pages long, so there is a lot of material that I cannot cover here.
First, renting a home is still a problem. Of the people surveyed, 26% had been rejected by a landlord for being foreign (up from 21% five years ago), while estate agents had refused to introduce 14% to particular landlords because they were foreign (new question this time). (In this case, it is almost certainly because the agent knows that the landlord will say no; the estate agent may also be biased, but this is not evidence of it.) 21% had trouble finding a guarantor, up from 17% last time. Bearing in mind that only about 47% of foreigners rent on the private market, more than half of the people who had the chance to face this problem, did.
Now, it is difficult to compare numbers, even for the same city, but it really looks as though this problem has become worse. Since it affects a central part of life (a place to live is very important), I think that the city should be taking strong action on this point: as in, a city ordinance, with a fine for refusing to rent to someone because they are foreign. Kawasaki recently passed an ordinance with fines for people who persist in hate speech (a problem noticed by about 20% of foreigners; fear of actual violence only affects about 7%), so the city is obviously willing to do this for problems that are, on the evidence, less serious.
I was on the committee that advised on the law against hate speech, and it was really difficult to come up with something that was both likely to have an effect and not patently unconstitutional. This raises the question of why the city was willing to take that much trouble over a lesser problem, but has yet to take similar, and legally simpler, action on a more serious problem. (There is no constitutional problem with forbidding landlords to discriminate on the basis of nationality.)
It is not as if the city did not know about the relative impact of the issues: the last survey had similar results — if anything, the difference was larger. The city’s committee on provision for foreign residents also pointed out that something should be done about the problem. (In know this because I was on it, and insisted that we look at this problem.) So, why these priorities?
The cynical theory is that the far right groups who indulge in hate speech are marginalised and powerless, while landlords are important campaign donors.
A more generous hypothesis is to do with organisation. The Zainichi Koreans are the only group of foreigners in the city with organised activist representation as a group. They have been here as a community for decades, while the other groups of foreigners are dominated by short-term residents. Zainichi Koreans suffer more hate speech than any other group of foreigners in Japan. Indeed, most of it is specifically directed at them, and not at foreigners in general. On the other hand, they suffer less of every other form of discrimination than any other group. (This is clear from both the Kawasaki surveys, and from a national survey done a few years ago.) Thus, it is natural for them to be concerned with the discrimination that they actually suffer from, and to put pressure on the city to do something about it. And there are no countervailing groups to press for the problems that affect other groups of foreigners.
Another possibility is visibility. Anti-Zainichi demos marching through the Korean Town of Kawasaki are highly visible, and highly embarrassing. Foreigners being individually refused accommodation are largely invisible, and so doing nothing about that does not hurt the city’s reputation particularly.
Embarrassment may be a factor in another way. This problem was one of the first raised by the Representative Assembly, back in the 90s, and the city did pass an ordinance to address it, by offering a way for foreigners to get a guarantor when renting. The fact that this seems to have been almost completely ineffective may be something that the city would rather not acknowledge.
Finally, foreign (particularly American) activists tend to focus on hate speech, and criticise it as a general feature of Japanese society. In my experience, they take it for granted that it is illegal to discriminate when renting property, and thus do not push on that issue. (It is illegal in the USA, and thus not an issue they are normally concerned with.)
Whatever the reason, I think it is a mistake. I think Kawasaki should be prioritising getting this problem fixed.
Another area where I think there are important problems is schools. In this case, however, racism is not the issue. The percentage of people reporting that their children were bullied for being foreign has dropped slightly, to about 7%, which appears to be similar to the rate of bullying over the whole school population. Obviously, the individual cases are serious problems, but Children Are Cruel, so bullying is never going to disappear completely; the best you can do is reduce the rate, and catch cases early. This rate does not, to me, suggest that there is a systemic problem, or that the structures already in place are unable to cope. Bullying is not part of the general experience of growing up foreign (or haafu) in Kawasaki.
On the other hand, the number of parents reporting problems due to their children’s Japanese competence has roughly doubled in the last five years. This is, in my opinion, a serious problem. Children who cannot speak Japanese will miss out on education, and, if they stay in Japan, be locked into low-status jobs for their whole lives. I think the city should be providing support for all of them, so that they can learn Japanese and successfully attend high school. In this case, the city does provide some real support, which is, apparently, sufficient for children who start Japanese school at six. (This also came up when I was on the city committee.) However, it is grossly insufficient for older children.
This is not, however, an easy problem to solve. Providing Japanese education is not cheap or easy, particularly not if you also want to integrate the children into regular classes, which is a very good idea in itself. Further, if a child joins a Japanese school at the beginning of the third year of junior high with no Japanese, it is impossible to get their Japanese to a level suitable for high school admission by the following year (unless the child is a genius). I would like the city to commit to getting any child who starts at or before the beginning of junior high to a Japanese level suitable for the high school entrance exams, in time for those exams. That gives about three years in the shortest case, which I think is possible, although not easy. But, unlike the rental problem, doing anything to address this problem needs money and human resources. There are other important problems that need to be balanced against this one — children with foreign parents are not the only ones having trouble in school.
Incidentally, the data on school attendance showed the importance of careful analysis. 35.6% of respondents said that their children were not in school, which sounds terrible — except that the overwhelming majority of those children were under two years old. Because a lot of the foreigners are recently arrived in Japan, there is a tendency for their children to be young. Looking at the statistics, it seems that 100% of children from six to eighteen are in school. Which is definitely a good thing.
As with last time, there was a section for free comments. This included a couple of complaints about the damn criminal foreigners flooding the city, which is odd given that only foreigners received the survey. There were, however, a lot of comments about why people like Kawasaki, and they tended to agree on the positives. Kawasaki is a really good place to live. You can easily do all your daily activities close to your home, and if you want to go further afield, the transport links are great. There were also a lot of comments about people being friendly, and a lot of people saying that they haven’t experienced any discrimination. (Far more than those who say they have, which is what the statistics would lead you to expect.) The individual complaints were also what one would expect from the statistics, but an important reminder that the individual cases of something that is rare can be a major problem for the people involved.
One set of comments were particularly significant for me. A fair number of people commented that the existence of the survey itself made them feel good about being in Kawasaki, because they realised that the city cared about their opinions and situation. That wasn’t why I proposed it, but I am very pleased that it is having that effect.
Overall, things do not seem to have changed much since the last survey. Some problems seem to have got worse, while others seem to have got a bit better. In some ways this is disappointing, but in terms of city policy, five years is really not a long time. If a problem became visible in the 2014 survey, the city would have known about it in 2015. If it moved really quickly, it might get ordinances passed by 2017. That’s only two years before this survey, and that assumes swift action. To be honest, it is not surprising that we have not seen much progress this time.
By next time, however, we should be able to see something. And that is another reason why it is important to keep doing these surveys.