The Yokkaichi City Chamber of Commerce and Industry hosted a seminar for businesses on employing foreign workers in Mie Prefecture. The keynote speaker was Taro Tamura, a long term foreign resident of Japan with a wealth of experience who spoke on ‘Building Regional Workplaces Together with Foreign Workers’.
Multiculturalism in Japan is defined as Japanese and foreign residents working and living together in harmony for mutual benefit. Tamura emphasized that it was important for Japan’s future that workplaces were built together with foreign workers and that there was a need for Japan to adapt to the problems and challenges that it faces in this new era.
Foreigners who live and work in Japan tackle many different issues in their day to day lives, of these the biggest difficulty for many is the language barrier. Japanese language education is still lacking when it comes to foreigners residing in Japan.
In addition, Japan itself is likely to face many problems caused by changes in its population and climate change. There is also expected to be a pension crisis caused by Japan’s aging population.
Tamura argued that without the resources of the foreign community, there is a possibility that Japan will go into decline.
He cited the example of fire services in different regions struggling to find new, young recruits. Without more cooperation between local services and foreign residents, women and older citizens, local communities will be left without the resources to protect themselves.
Countermeasures once deemed effective in the past are no longer adequate, new measures should be drawn up which combine the resources of both the Japanese and foreign resident community.
Already a variety of ideas have been put forward to deal with the major population changes Japan is experiencing and one of those is to focus on building a multicultural society.
Currently, Japan is home to some two million foreign residents. Many returned to their home countries after the 2008 Lehman Shock and the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake but a large number have either stayed in Japan or returned to Japan after a period abroad.
The number of foreign residents obtaining permanent residency has also increased in recent years. In 2002, there were around 224,000 permanent residents in Japan but today there are more than 600,000. Foreign residents who have obtained permanent residency are now part of Japanese society and one benefit is that as this number increases so do levels of consumer spending throughout Japan.
In countries where multicultural societies are already established, foreign residents are active in many different fields and find acceptance in society.
Some have voiced fears that if the number of foreign workers in Japan increases then Japanese unemployment figures will rise as a result. However, the seminar cited research in Europe and the USA which has shown that workers coming from abroad do not take jobs from locals and in fact create new jobs regionally and contribute to an overall increase in wages.
Tamura also spoke during the lecture about addressing the differences in how Japanese and foreign workers are treated in the same workplace. His belief is that by solving the following issues facing workers of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, all will be able to coexist in Japanese corporations and society:
Important Issues facing Foreign Residents
－ Few opportunities to acquire Japanese language skills
－ Few Interpretation and Translation Services
－Low uptake of health insurance and pension schemes
－Children and students unaware of school entry requirements (minor employment rules)
－Unstable employment conditions mean daily life in Japan is insecure
－No experience of disasters and unfamiliar with evacuation proceedures
－Few opportunities to interact with local people
－Friction from different cultures colliding, discrimination from prejudice
Despite large numbers of foreign residents living in Japan, perceptions have not changed meaning the legislation system is still ill-prepared and society suffers from a lack of resources.
Tamura also emphasized that it’s not just the responsibility of businesses and individuals to bring about a multicultural society, but that of society as a whole.
Finally, Tamura offered the conclusion that multiculturalism is not simply being kind during daily interactions with foreign residents but Japanese and foreign residents working together to build a better society.