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Cherry-Picking System in Japan: Foreign Workers in Japan

Nami Sasai

February 27, 2019


Japanese people begun to see more and more foreigners throughout Japan these days. They seem like tourists or workers. Why is the number of foreign workers increasing rapidly in Japan? The time when Japan needs to live closely with foreigners seems to come now. For a country of island with mono-cultural society, can Japan incorporate diversity in itself?


Depopulating Japan


According to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, there are currently 67.2 million workers in Japan. In 2010, the number of working-age populations (between 15 and 64 years old) was over 80 million, but this number will decrease to 67 million in 2030. In other words, working-age populations will decrease from 63.8% to 58.1% during 2010 to 2030. On the other hand, the population of foreign workers is about 1.28 million in 2017(See Figure 1). This number increased by 18.0% from last year. It is likely that as the number of native workers declines, the number of foreign workers will increase to cover the shortage.


Figure 1: The number of foreign workers


Source: The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare


   To cope with this situation, the government declared Japan will accept 500,000 more foreign workers by 2025. The government also decided to accept foreigners not only in highly technical fields but also for the simple manual labor. In other words, foreign workers who have a distinguished technical background or have certain level of Japanese-language certification will be allowed to work in Japan for 5 years. In April 2019, the government will create this new qualification for construction, agriculture, and nursing care, where the labor shortage is serious.


What Is “Foreign Technical Intern Training System”?


Japan’s visa status already has “the technical intern training system” for foreigners. This system allows foreign people from developing countries to learn unique Japanese-honed industrial skills to help their mother countries’ development. This system stipulates that it must not be used for the adjustment of supply and demand of labor force in Japan. However, the government has already begun to issue foreign workers visa to cover the worker-population shortages in Japan. Some foreign workers visit Japan not only to learn technical skills, but to earn for living. Unfortunately, the relationship between Japanese and foreigners is not always a good one. There are many problems among foreign workers, including unpaid working, long working hours, disappeared workers, no freedom of changing jobs and even human rights violations such as sexual and power harassment. One of my classmates is currently hired as a part-timer at a Japanese bakery factory works together with some foreign workers enrolled under the technical intern training program. She sometimes witnesses that a chief of factory treats some foreign workers unfairly. Some Japanese often misunderstand that foreign workers cannot comprehend Japanese very well, and the factory chief, too, has often yelled like “Stop it!” or “Don’t do that!” in his demanding voice. Without many experiences in Japanese language and culture, it is unfortunately difficult for those who enrolled in the technical intern training status to work smoothly in Japan.


To Become a Country Selected by Foreign Workers


Germany is the second-leading society which is successfully co-existing with working-immigrants. As Japanese depopulation issue has already begun, it should learn from another country's experience and practices. In Germany, the language training for immigrants has been extended by up to 900 hours and the orientation about German law orders, culture, and history was extended to 45 hours. On the other hand, in Japan, there are no such public systems for immigrants to learn Japanese language and society. The only available opportunity is at the Japanese language classes for immigrants. These classes are not public programs and most of them are run by small local NGOs and volunteers. Classes are taught by non-professional good-will teachers and are only open for specific hours per day. Some curriculum are not the qualified program and foreigners can attend only certain days per week. Japan needs to establish a up-to-date language education system for foreigners like Germany's before accepting many foreign workers.


It’s Not Only Workers But Citizens


The government does not currently admit foreign workers as official immigrants even though they are working and integrated as citizens of community in Japan. Even the Japanese people want to understand and communicate with the foreign people, Japan is missing the public resources to promote the deep understanding for better friendship. Japan needs to offer more professional seminars for foreigners who want to learn Japanese language and culture so that we can create more positive connections between Japanese people and foreign workers in the coming years.

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