Experiences of Racism in Japan

It has recently been reported that the Ministry of Justice is to survey 18,500 foreign residents to ask about their experiences of racism and discrimination. A lot of the reports are describing this as “unprecedented”, but while it is larger scale than the Kawasaki survey, and apparently focused on racism, the Kawasaki survey is a precedent. One benefit of the reports is that they have motivated me to get the discrimination section of the report on the interview survey translated into English, and publish it online. You should read this before the rest of the blog post, or the post will not make sense.

Problems of Discrimination and Human Rights among Foreign Residents of Kawasaki

As for my translation and discussion of the results of the questionnaire survey, I have separated the translation of the report, which was approved by the city, from the rest of this blog post, which is about my reactions to it.
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Racism in Japan

Actually, the content of this post would be more accurately described as “reflections on the results of a survey of experiences of discrimination on grounds of foreign nationality in the municipality of Kawasaki”, but that isn’t snappy enough for a blog title, and quite a lot of what I say will be directly relevant to consideration of racism in Japan.

First, though, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, the survey of foreign residents that the city of Kawasaki conducted has completed its first phase, and the results have been published in Japanese. As promised, I have translated the analysis chapter looking at discrimination, which I wrote, into English, and I am making it available here. You should really read that before reading the rest of this post, because this post is based heavily on those results.

Experiences of Discrimination among Foreign Residents of Kawasaki

The translation is separated from the blog post in this way because the translated chapter was peer reviewed, in the sense that it was looked at by the Japanese academics on the survey committee, all of whom are specialists in this field, and the wording was approved by the city of Kawasaki, in Japanese. This blog post is neither; it is just my opinions. One simple example: the report translation does not use the word “racism” at all, because I was asked to avoid the Japanese equivalent. This blog post will use that word, because it is, for the most part, what we are talking about.

The first thing I want to emphasise is that, despite the limitations of the survey, these results are based on responses from around 900 foreign residents of Kawasaki. They are, therefore, better than anyone’s personal experience when it comes to the big picture. These data are flawed, but they are the best we have at the moment, as far as I know. The biggest unknown is how far these results generalise to the rest of Japan. Kawasaki has spent 20 years trying to make the city easier for foreigners to live in, and one would like to think that those efforts have had some results. On the other hand, as part of the Greater Tokyo area, Kawasaki has a lot more recent foreign immigrants than other areas of Japan. More data would be ideal, and I will be giving thought to ways to convince other areas to perform similar surveys.

The biggest and most surprising result of this survey is that Westerners face at least as much racism as anyone else in Japan. This is not the conventional wisdom, and not the result I was expecting to get. It’s not even that the results for Westerners are low, but not low enough for the difference to be statistically significant. On the contrary, in many cases the results for Westerners are high, and occasionally that difference is statistically significant. In particular, the results say that you are more likely to be stopped by the police for “walking while white” in Kawasaki than to be stopped for “walking while Filipino”. That question is also one of the more objective questions on the survey. On the other hand, it also shows that you are much less likely to be stopped for looking foreign in Kawasaki than in Europe, and rather suggests that the reason police harassment of foreigners in Japan is not treated as a major issue is that it is, in fact, not a major issue.

A less surprising, but still interesting, result is that the level of discrimination in Japan is roughly comparable to that in Europe. Japan is certainly not significantly more racist than Europe, and thus is probably significantly less racist than the USA. The fact that a number of white people who have lived in Japan have a different impression can be explained by the previous result: white people suffer at least as much racism as other minorities in Japan, and if you’re used to “none”, this doubtless feels like a lot. In this connection, it is worth mentioning that, in the section for comments on what you think is good about living in Kawasaki, quite a few people, of various ethnicities, mentioned the lack of any experience of racism. There were more comments about the need to get rid of discrimination, but it is possible to live in Japan as a member of an ethnic minority for years and experience no racism. That is my experience, as it happens, but it is now clear that such an experience is far from limited to white people. My impression is that ethnic minorities in the USA do not have that chance.

That brings us to an important analytical point. This survey makes it clear that, when considering racism, Japan is not the USA. “People of colour” is not a useful category for the Japanese situation, as it distinguishes one group that does suffer racism from a group that mixes up the majority who do not with other groups who do. “White privilege” really doesn’t exist here. Further, racism is not an omnipresent part of Japanese society. Far too many foreign residents have encountered it, but a large number have gone for years without noticing it at all. The analytical tools and ideas developed for the US are unhelpful at best and misleading at worst when applied to Japan. I’m not aware of any useful analytical tools for the Japanese situation, but the research is at a very early stage.

I probably won’t be contributing to it much, because I’m on one of the official committees that will advise the city of Kawasaki on how to respond to these results. Thus, I’m likely to be too busy trying to improve the situation to spend much time analysing it. From that perspective, the most important result is the prevalence of racism in housing. It’s one of the very few areas that really looks worse than Europe, and it’s a serious issue. It’s also something concrete that the city can plausibly do something about. I would like to see the city pass an ordinance making it illegal to refuse someone accommodation purely on the basis of their nationality, but that might be a bit difficult to get through. At the very least, however, I think Kawasaki needs to push their existing program to reduce such discrimination with rather more vigour.

The city is going to conduct interview surveys to follow up on the questionnaire, and supplement some of its weaknesses. Indeed, we had the meeting to finalise much of the design of that yesterday. The interviews will cover racism, if the interviewees bring it up as a significant topic, and I hope that it will tell us more about the nature of the racism that people face here. In the meantime, I hope that these results will inform the debate about racism in Japan, and inspire other people to gather more data, in other areas, to build up an accurate picture for the whole country.

Note added November 2016: The results of the interview survey have been published, and I have, once again, translated my section of the report for my blog.

Results of the Kawasaki Survey of Foreign Residents

The results of the questionnaire-based survey of foreign residents of Kawasaki were published yesterday. Most of the results are, of course, published in Japanese, but there is an English summary. (I had nothing to do with the English part of the English summary. I feel the need to make that clear.)

I’ve been working on this survey in one way or another since 2009, and I’m still not finished, because we are currently planning the interview survey that will follow up on the results of the questionnaire.

2009 was when I applied to become a member of the Foreign Residents’ Assembly (FRA). My general purpose was to contribute to the city and my community, but my specific goal was to get the city to carry out a survey like this. I thought, and still think, that having actual data on the situation of foreign residents would be very useful. Fortunately for me, the other representatives agreed, and provided a broader base of opinions on what should go into the survey. We formally requested that the city carry out such a survey in 2012.

The city moved quite quickly, agreeing to investigate the possibility of doing a survey, and setting aside budget for it for the 2013 fiscal year. At the beginning of that fiscal year, a team was established to work on it, mostly composed of Japanese social scientists. I was added to the committee as the token minority member. We spent a year working out the details of the survey, so that we could make a concrete budget proposal to the city.

The city agreed to supply the budget, so the survey was carried out in 2014. The survey was sent out, and the results tabulated, by a contractor, but we, on the team, did the data analysis and wrote the report. I only wrote a small part of the report: the section on experiences of discrimination. In the near future, I plan to translate that section into English and post it here, along with some more commentary. I’m also going to read the whole report, because I only read it bit by bit as it was being written, and I don’t think I’ve read the whole thing yet. I’ve certainly not read the final version of some parts. I expect that there will be other things that I want to say as a result of that.

One interesting fact, that is in the summary, is that half of the children of foreigners in Kawasaki have Japanese citizenship. (That is probably because the other parent is Japanese.) Before we did the survey, we (on the FRA, I think) had asked the city how many children with foreign roots there were, and they had no idea. They knew how many had foreign citizenship, but the children with foreign parents and Japanese citizenship were invisible. We now know that there are as many Japanese children with foreign roots as there are foreign children, which has implications for educational provision.

None of the survey results specify actions that the city should take. That’s not their purpose. They are supposed to inform decision making. I expect that the FRA will make use of the results, as will the Multicultural Coexistence Promotion Policy Assessment Committee (which I am on). That’s the next step.

The publication of the report marks the success of a long project for me, but the real work starts now.

Proposals on Surveys and Pensions

Oh dear, it really has been too long since I posted to this blog. I’ve just started a new job, at the Japan Institute of Logic, so I’ve been extremely busy. I may have to start tweeting, since they’re supposed to be really short.

Anyway, today we had another meeting of the Kawasaki Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents. There are only two more left, so it was quite important that the process of drafting our proposals for the mayor move forward. While getting a couple of dozen foreign residents together to discuss life in Kawasaki is one of the purposes of the Assembly, its main purpose is to produce concrete proposals for the city government to act on and make life better for the foreign, and Japanese, people who live there. So getting the proposals together is very important.

Obviously, they have to be in Japanese, but fortunately the secretariat does the detailed drafting for us. We decide on the content, they draft something, and then we look at the draft and ask for changes. Last time, we decided on the content of the proposal for a survey concerning the foreign residents of Kawasaki. This would cover such things as experiences of discrimination, problems with services, education, or housing, the distribution of information, and the ways in which foreign residents were participating in civic life. Kawasaki did do a similar survey, in 1993, but nothing large scale has been done since, so knowledge of the current situation is a bit limited. We’re asking for the survey to be done every five years, and to have questions that overlap with similar surveys in other countries (the EU did a big one a few years ago) so that the situation in Japan can be objectively compared with other places. We are, of course, asking that the results be public. The hope is that this data will help the Representative Assembly to address the most important issues, as well as helping other organs of the city government.

Today, we looked at the draft that had been prepared, and asked for a number of changes. Some of them were because we’d changed our minds since last time (the first draft said once every two years, which is a bit much), but most were because we wanted a slightly different emphasis from the way the proposal had been drafted. The changes are pretty straightforward, and all were agreed unanimously, so I think the revised draft will be very close to what we want.

We also discussed the pension problem. As I’ve mentioned before, the Japanese pension system is not very good if you come from a country without a pension treaty with Japan and stay for more than three years, but go home before you retire. This is obviously a problem for people who are working here, and the Assembly addressed it before, in 2003, asking for the amount of money paid back when you leave the country to be increased.

That hasn’t happened, so we agreed to ask again, but also to encourage the conclusion of more treaties with foreign countries, so that more people can take advantage of that and sort out their pensions that way. In addition, since those two points are things that only the national government can do, we agreed to ask the city to prepare multi-lingual and easy-to-understand explanations of the system.

We’ll have the draft to look at next time, so we can get a revised version made before the final meeting. Thus, we’re in good shape to meet the deadline. In fact, we have a rather nice problem, in that it’s not clear that we will need all the time we have for discussion at the next meeting; we finished about 15 minutes early today. The other subcommittee don’t have this problem, shall we say, so it’s going to be a bit tricky to balance the overall running of the final meetings, but I’m sure we’ll manage.

Personally, I don’t expect too much from the pension proposal, although we’ll probably get the multi-lingual explanations. Japan is in the process of reforming the whole pension system anyway, so these problems might well go away and be replaced by different ones. It’s important to remind the decision-makers of the foreign residents, but we’re still a very small group. On the other hand, I very much hope that the survey will happen every five years, because it would provide immensely useful information. If that happens, I’ll feel that my time on the Assembly was very well spent.

Thinking About the Report

This session of the Kawasaki Foreigners’ Assembly is coming to an end. We still have about six months to go, but that’s only four normal meetings, so we have to get started on deciding our final report and suggestions to the city government.

In Sunday’s session, the Life and Society Subcommittee did manage to get started on that, but first we discussed the participation of foreign residents in society. It’s obviously very easy for foreigners to get isolated; it’s common to arrive knowing no-one, and there’s often a language barrier as well. There are a lot of ways for foreign residents to get involved in life in Kawasaki, such as committees run by the city, and the local organisations called Jichikai and Chonaikai. As far as the secretariat could discover, there are no city committees that exclude foreigners from membership, and the local organisations certainly don’t. However, the problem is how foreigners who have newly arrived in the city can find out about these organisations, and, once they’ve found out, how they can make the first approach. One representative suggested that the children’s groups that most of the local organisations run are a good way to start, and that’s certainly true for people who have children. Not everyone does, of course. The city probably can’t give information about newly resident foreigners to the organisations, because that would be a privacy violation, but it might be possible to tell new residents about the organisation; since the city knows your address, it can tell you exactly who to contact in your area.

Once people are involved in society, a lot of other problems get solved, not least the problem of a sense of isolation, and it can help with a lot of the problems of information flow. Once a foreigner has Japanese friends, then even if they don’t read Japanese, they have people they can ask to find out about things. Equally important, a foreigner who is involved in local society can make positive contributions to it. Of course, easier integration would also help Japanese people moving into the area, and there are quite a lot of them in Kawasaki, so if we do take this to the final report, I would definitely want to think about approaches that would be useful to both Japanese and foreign residents.

After that discussion, we went on to talk about what we would like to see in the report. We can make two, or just possibly three, recommendations. (The Education Subcommittee also gets to make the same number of recommendations.) On Sunday, we only got as far as everyone saying which subjects they would like to make recommendations about, and saying why. Everyone contributed, and I didn’t even have to encourage them too hard. Quite a lot of people wanted to address participation in society, some sort of survey of foreign residents, and the general flow of information to foreign residents. The residence conditions for parents, support for finding good accommodation, and the pensions issue were also raised.

So, the last thing we agreed on was how we would start the next session. First, we will vote on whether to have two or three recommendations. (I think we should go for two, because deciding on three in four sessions strikes me as very ambitious.) Then, we’ll vote for the issues. Everyone will vote for the same number of issues as there will be in the report, the lowest-scoring issue will be eliminated, we’ll all vote again, and so on until the right number is left. Since we are only going to vote, not discuss the issues, I think we should be able to get through that in about fifteen minutes, which will leave most of the session for discussing concrete content for the recommendations.

I thought the last session went very smoothly, a sentiment that was echoed by one of the other representatives. It’s a bit of a shame that we’ve got good at working together at the end of our term, but it’s also not really surprising. I am, at least, optimistic that we’ll be able to produce recommendations that we all support.

Pensions

Last Sunday was the first meeting of the Kawasaki Representative Assembly of Foreign Residents of this fiscal year. The first meeting should have been in April, but after the earthquake quite a few of the representatives were temporarily out of Japan, and the city authorities had a lot of other things to organise, so it was postponed. One of the things we had to decide on Sunday was when to have an additional meeting to make up the numbers; fortunately, that was quite easy.

In the Life and Society subcommittee, we were discussing work and pensions. This is the first of the deeper topics we are looking at, and the discussion went well. We first looked at the support available to foreigners looking for work, and that didn’t take too long, because the support available seems quite good. There are centres aimed at providing advice to foreigners in various positions: those on visas like spousal visas, which don’t restrict their jobs; those on specialist visas; and students looking for part-time work. They are also willing to go slightly beyond their official remit, to cover foreigners who are in effectively the same position, even if the reason is different. (For example, people accompanying another foreigner on a family visa have about the same restrictions on work as students, so the centre that deals with students looking for part-time work will also help them.) As normal, the problem was whether the people who need to know about the support do, and how we could make sure that the information gets to them. However, this is not, strictly, part of our subcommittee’s remit, so we left that and moved on to pensions.

The question here is “how, exactly, do pensions work for foreigners in Japan?”. The basic answer is simple: exactly the same way they work for Japanese people in Japan. Foreigners in Japan aged between 20 and 59 are legally required to join the national pension scheme, either independently or through their company, and they are entitled to pensions under the same conditions as Japanese citizens: if you have contributed for at least 25 years, you get a pro-rata pension based on the number of years for which you paid in.

The devil really is in the details. If you arrive in Japan over the age of 40, you do not have to join the scheme, since even with a voluntary extension of payments to 65 there is no way you can get 25 years. If you leave Japan before paying in for 25 years, you are not allowed to continue paying, but you do get some money back. Unfortunately, if you’ve paid in for more than three years, you get about 18 months’ worth back, even if you’ve been paying in for 20 years. This is a well-known problem. On the other hand, if you pay in for 25 years, you get a pension, even if you leave Japan. There are also treaties with several countries, and more under negotiation, that allow you to count years paying into either country’s pension scheme towards your basic entitlement, so that 10 years in Japan plus 15 years in your home country would entitle you to 10 years worth of Japanese pension (one quarter of the full amount).

We had a lot of questions. If you leave Japan, how, exactly, is the pension paid? Bank transfer fees can be quite high. What about company pension schemes? What if you’ve paid into pension schemes in two other countries, both of which have treaties with Japan? How long does it take for a treaty to be negotiated? (Particularly relevant to the representative from a country with no treaty yet, but where negotiations have started.) And so on. The people from the secretariat are not pension specialists, so they were frequently at a loss for an answer. In the end, we decided to ask someone from the city’s pensions department to come and explain things to us; the ordinances establishing the assembly give it the power to ask people to come. Next time, we’ll put our questions to an expert, and I hope that things will become clear. I still don’t know whether we’ll actually make a direct request about pensions in the final report; there may be nothing that the city can do, in which case it’s a bit of a waste of space. We might well want to say something about it in the newsletter, however, for the information of other foreigners in the city.

I think the session went very well, and the deputy chair of the subcommittee agreed. Everyone contributed with questions and opinions, and I think we asked all the questions we wanted to, even if we didn’t get answers. Since the questions will be given to the pensions specialist in advance, there’s a very good chance that we’ll get the answers at the next session.

End of the Year

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.

Progress Report

There was another meeting of the Kawasaki Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents on Sunday. Because the Open Meeting has a completely different format, this was the first normal meeting for over two months, with the result that most of us had more-or-less forgotten what we had been talking about. Fortunately, the secretariat had a summary for us, which made things a bit easier.

Two members of the assembly moved out of Kawasaki, and so had to resign. There aren’t many absolute requirements on members of the assembly, but being a foreign resident of Kawasaki is one of them. As a result, the first business of Sunday’s meeting was the formal appointment of their replacements. This was followed by three reports on what had happened in the Open Meeting, because the format meant that each representative only attended half of it; we had to be at the sub-meeting for our own subcommittee, and so missed what happened at the other one. This report let everyone catch up.

The next order of business was the progress report from the city. Every year, the Assembly makes concrete proposals, which the city is required to take seriously, and to report back on. The issues that the city has not judged to be dealt with are brought back every year. Some, like trying to persuade the national government to change the pension system, have been unresolved since the Assembly was established. The pension system problems might get solved by accident in the near future, because the government is planning a full-scale reform, but it won’t be anything to do with that recommendation. Others, addressed directly to the city, seem to be making progress. One, in particular, sounded from the report as though it will be completed by the time the city reports next year.

This is obviously a very important part of the process, but it did take quite a bit of time, leaving us without much time for discussion. Nevertheless, we did make progress. We wrapped up our discussion of immigration, agreeing to revisit it when we were deciding on what to make formal proposals. We also finished discussing the library system, and that probably won’t make it to a formal recommendation, because the current situation seems pretty good. We can recommend and donate foreign-language books to boost the holdings, but they aren’t at all bad already.

We then moved on to talk about support for foreign students. It seems that the budget crisis has led to scholarships being cut, but one representative commented that it would actually be more useful to provide support for finding relatively cheap places to live, and part-time work to help pay the tuition fees and living expenses. Another point raised was the importance of pastoral support. Going to university can be isolating at the best of times, even more so when you are going to a foreign country. The provision of somewhere to go and talk about problems, probably outside the university, would be useful, but a more positive approach was also called for. That is, it would be good if it was someone’s job to check up on the foreign students and make sure that they were coping and didn’t have any serious problems. When you are faced with serious problems and get depressed, it’s not uncommon to not think to look for help, so someone actively coming to check on you can be a literal life-saver.

Finally, we had time to quickly look at the documents for the housing support services provided by the city, ask for documents for the next meeting, and make our plans for next time, which include starting our consideration of the deeper problems we listed in our first meetings.

Actually, before our discussions we spent quite a lot of time talking about the process by which our annual reports and recommendations are put together. That didn’t advance our discussions, but it was important, because it means that everyone is now clear on what will happen when, and how these things are decided.

In any case, the assembly is still going well, and I think we will have useful recommendations to make by the end of our term in March 2012.

Open Meeting

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.

Libraries, Scholarships, and the Open Meeting

This entry has been very delayed, because my parents were over for Mayuki’s 7-5-3, and I didn’t have much time for writing the blog. I’ve not written about the 7-5-3 yet, because I’m waiting for Sonoe’s photographs, but I do plan to. I also plan to write something about our visit to Nara. Today, however, I want to write about the most recent meeting of the Kawasaki Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents, which was on the 7th.

The first, and most important thing, is the Open Meeting. If you are actually reading this from Kawasaki (or, indeed, somewhere close by), please come to the Open Meeting, on December 5th, at the Takatsu Shiminkan, which is at the top of the Marui building in Mizonokuchi. It starts at 2pm, and there is more information in Japanese here. The whole meeting will be in Japanese, so some competence in the language would be useful. Mind you, the same is true if you are living in Japan.

The Open Meeting was also an important part of our discussions at the meeting on the 7th. After commiserating over the lack of a Citizen’s Festival, which was cancelled due to a typhoon, we split into our subgroups. The first thing we, in the Life and Society group, had to discuss was how we would limit the number of topics suggested at the Open Meeting, to make things easier for people. I could have handled this discussion better; it went on for far longer than I would have liked for such a purely administrative matter. One problem was making it clear that the suggested topics would not limit what the attendees said; rather, they were to give some idea of what people might like to comment on. Then there were a number of procedural problems, including the subcommittee agreeing on a resolution, then drifting towards changing its mind, before the secretariat reminded us that we would have to have another vote to do that. We decided to stick with the original resolution, and picked three topics to suggest to the Open Meeting.

Then we were able to get back to our proper job. We revisited family visas briefly, agreeing that our recommendation should be focused on one thing, and phrased gently, rather than attacking the government (because, as I’ve mentioned before, the Japanese immigration system is not at all bad from a global perspective). However, since that is one of the topics we will suggest to the Open Meeting, we then left it, since we have lots of time to finalise our recommendation. It makes sense to listen to what other people have to say before deciding.

The next topic was foreign language books in Kawasaki libraries. As with the weekend opening hours of the ward offices, the situation was rather better than most of us expected. There are a lot of foreign language books, and the council has a deliberate policy of buying them. The main concerns were that the foreign books tend to be a bit old, and that there may be a bit too much bias towards English. However, it is possible to recommend books, and the library committees have a basic policy of buying books that are recommended (which I suspect explains the seven Sanskrit books), so we asked for the details on how to do that. We also asked for the details of how we can donate books to the libraries. These are, of course, ways that we, and foreign residents of Kawasaki more generally, can improve the library book situation, rather than just asking the council to act, and this is an important part of how the committee is supposed to work.

We also looked at the information the secretariat had provided on scholarships and support for foreign students, but there wasn’t time to do more than go through the information and get some clarifications. As a result, I suspect that we will discuss the same three topics at the next standard meeting, in January. I think we’ll be able to finish discussions on immigration, and we may be able to finish discussions about the libraries as well, but I don’t think we’ll finish with student support, nor with housing issues. Still, it is possible that we will get through the short topics within our first year, which would be a good achievement.