Why are migrants discriminated against?

by Yutaro Nishioka

However you define the term “globalization,” it must be associated with the exchange of goods, ideas and people around the world. As the wave of globalization heightens, people’s movements from a country to another, i.e. migration, also increase. Some can travel easily, while others can’t. According to Katharine Sarikakis’s article, “Access denied: the anatomy of silence, immobilization and the gendered migrant,” contrary to media representation of migrants costing the economy, overall, non-EU migrants make a significant contribution to labor input. However, the “mobility” in terms of geography, politics, culture, legislature, and society is not equally for everyone.  The article says that the status of migrant subjects is described as loss of communication rights, and that migrants, especially female ones, lose their status as an “interlocutor” through silencing and immobilization. The article also states that the status of female migrants is determined by the international gender division of labor, institutional patriarchy and sexual violence.

But why is that the case? Why are migrants, especially the female ones, deprived of their communication rights and mobility? The article quotes, “whether we are willing to debate seriously and pay attention to the conditions of people who are not citizens or voters is a test of this House and a test of our humanity.” So I would like to discuss the possible causes of the discrimination against migrants.

First, I argue that the fact that many people don’t even pay attention to or realize the conditions of the lives of migrants is one of the causes of discrimination against migrants. Those that have little “connection” with the migrants could not care less about the migrants’ lives, because the improvement of the condition of the migrants’ lives would not affect the lives of non-migrants. They are only concerned with and too busy trying to improve their own lives rather than the migrants’, just like the migrants would not be interested in improving the condition of the non-migrants’ lives. This lack of connection – connection in the sense that one does not care about the improvement of the life of a person in a foreign group of people – between the lives of migrants and non-migrants, I would argue, is one of the causes of discrimination.

Another possible cause of discrimination against migrants is associated with human psychology. According to Steven Neuberg, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University, “people perceived as being foreign—perhaps because they look different than us, speak different languages, eat different foods—automatically activate perceptions of disease threat. And groups who are perceived to pose disease threats activate prejudices characterized by physical disgust” (Bushwick, 2011). Psychologists say that it is natural for people to over-perceive threats, which causes emotions of fear, anger, and disgust towards outsiders. “Whether it was Italians or Irish, Poles, Jews, Germans, Chinese or whomever, each of these groups were initially perceived to pose a wide range of threats and consequently evoked powerful prejudices. It was only once people came to see these groups as nonthreatening, usually as they were seen to adopt “American” norms, that they were perceived as Americans,” says Neuberg (Bushwick, 2011).

Neuberg seems to address discrimination only from an individual’s perspective, but his theory can be extended to the societal level to shed light on structural racism. Stereotypes and discriminatory ideas that stemmed from one individual’s interaction with another foreigner gets perpetuated to others and spread to a larger group of people, i.e. society, creating preconceived notions about people whom they’ve never even met.

This is why some foreigners are not perceived as a disease threat, and others are. Those that the natives came to accept as nonthreatening are today less discriminated against. Those that came to be accepted by the natives can be seen by the natives not only as “nonthreatening” but even as “beneficial.” For example, the natives could learn new culture, technology, etc. from the foreigners.

Although Neuberg fails to mention this in Bushwick’s article, historically, his theory has also presented itself as being bidirectional. This means that even after the foreign migrant group was seen as nonthreatening, certain historical events could affect this perception and revert them back to being seen as threatening; e.g. Japanese that had been allowed to live in the US became “threatening” to the Americans during WII when Japan and US were fighting. Therefore, foreigners that were once assimilated could be “re-discriminated” against by historical events.

According to the case study written by Huong, Huynh, Li, Lopez, and Yuda (2009), “migration can offer women important opportunities that include a chance to improve her economic, social, or gender-related status leading to improved lifestyle and self esteem.” However, many of those women are exposed to vulnerability through exploitation, human trafficking and abuse. The study states that much of the work done by migrant women is not regarded as “work,” because the kinds of work they engage in are often care work, domestic work, factory work, and entertainment, which is why their work is often under-paid and under-valued. Receiving countries’ laws often do not support permanent migration for unskilled labor workers, which may put women in a more vulnerable position as they are more likely to engage in undocumented migration and the informal labor sector with poor working conditions, exploitation, low wages and abuse.

As Neuberg suggests, people need to learn to see the “outsiders” as nonthreatening in order to prevent hostility and discrimination against them. We also need to raise public awareness of the issue so as to address the lack of “connection” between the lives of migrants and non-migrants, and the disadvantages that women migrants currently face.


Bushwick, Sophie (2011). “What Causes Prejudice against Immigrants, and How Can It Be Tamed?” Scientific American. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-causes-prejudice-aga/

Huong, H. T., Huynh, N. T., Li, W., Lopez, P., and Yuda, M. 2010. Migration case study: Why does gender matter in migration? In Solem, M., Klein, P., Muñiz-Solari, O., and Ray, W., eds., AAG Center for Global Geography Education. http://cgge.aag.org/Migration1e/CaseStudy4_Singapore_Aug10/CaseStudy4_Singapore_Aug10_print.html

Sarikakis, Katharine. 2012. Access denied: the anatomy of silence, immobilization and the gendered migrant. Ethnic and Racial Studies 35(1).

JSL and life in Japan

by Moraima Flores

“and asking ourselves, if some LM reach higher education against all odds, what combinations of factors and circumstances have enabled them to do so” (Kanno 2004, p. 245)

I arrived to Japan in August 2007 ready to start high school and without any knowledge of Japanese. I found this school in Osaka prefecture where they accepted up to 14 foreign students per year with no previous Japanese language knowledge required. The entrance exam consisted in three tests: math, English and an essay written in your first language (Spanish in my case). They allowed me to use a dictionary Japanese-Spanish during the tests so it would help me understand what I was asked to do.

Classes started in April, and I remember getting to school all nervous. I met my new classmates to find myself in a class of about 40 students, and all the foreign students (we were 8 that year) were place in the same class. Even though my classmates and teachers were really friendly, I remember feeling really isolated the first few months because I was the only one in the entire 2008 class of about 140 students who could not communicate properly with anyone.

This school was a public school, and from what I was explained, not a very good one given that it’s placed in the middle of the ranking of “how good” or “how difficult” it’s to get in. My teachers would tell me that it was “average” in terms of education. Most of the students graduating from this school would choose to find a permanent job, or would go to specialized schools (senmon-gakko) upon graduation. Still, there was a big number going to university, all of them private and not that well-known, so I remember getting laughed at when I said I wanted to go to Ritsumeikan, because this university was outside the possibilities of my high school. I noticed, though, that the foreign students would go to better universities than most of the Japanese students. In my class, out of us eight, 6 students opted for tertiary education upon graduation, and 4 of those got accepted to either Ritsumeikan University or Kansai University, two of the most prestigious universities in the Kansai area.

Before the year started we were asked to take a Japanese test designed by the school to place us in JSL classes based on our proficiency at the time. There was a big gap between those students who went to junior high school in Japan and those of us who just arrived. In our first year, at the beginning we were all pulled out of our home room and taken to the remedial classes, but sometimes we would be allowed to take classes with our Japanese peers in our home room to see if we could follow or not. I took all of my academic classes, except for English and math, in another classroom, but this varied from student to student depending on their Japanese language proficiency or, in my case, how good one was in that particular subject. In the remedial classes, all of us would carry dictionaries, and were encouraged to stop the class if we had any questions. All of the teachers from the remedial classes would summarize the content in handouts with ‘furigana’, sometimes adding drawings, graphs and even technical words written in our mother tongue for us to understand it better.

The school was flexible in its curriculum allowing their students to choose up to more than half their subjects by 3rd year. The school encouraged foreign students to keep studying their mother language, so it set up “first language” classes for us even if they only had one student for certain languages (like it was my case). To be honest, I sort of refused to take this class because it made me feel even more isolated and the teacher, although a native speaker, was not prepared to teach a high school level student in Spanish. The content was very basic, and she ignored the differences between the way Spanish is spoken in Paraguay and the way it is in her country, sometimes even making fun of my choices of words. By my third year I refused to keep on taking Spanish classes and decided to focus more on Japanese.

The school offered a variety of after school clubs, and one of them was the “Tabunka-koryu-bu” (Multicultural exchange club), to which all the foreign students were active members of. Moorehead (2013) described in his research the ‘Amigos’ room where the students would go to study or to relax from their stressful school environment, we used to call this place the ‘Tabunka room’ at my school. We were called in once a week after class to discuss extracurricular activities like festivals or international exchange reunions we could participate in. There was an active group of teachers in Osaka prefecture who organized numerous international exchange reunions through out the year; they seemed to keep up to date about the curriculum, the students and teachers of other schools to provide mutual support. All the foreign students were welcome to the Tabunka room, which we considered our “safe place.” As Moorehead (2013) described, most of the foreign students would go to this room to talk, play and just relax from our stressing ‘trying to fit in’ life in our home rooms. However, there would always be a teacher there who would usually help us with our homework, sometimes the teachers would hear that we are not doing good in certain subject so they would make us stay after school to study and offer guidance.

The JSL classes weren’t easy; they would be heavy and condensed, a lot of grammar and kanji to learn. The aim of the school was that by the time its foreign students reached senior year they wouldn’t need remedial classes and would be able to study with their Japanese peers in their home rooms. The foreign students were strongly encouraged to take JLPT exams every year, and the ultimate goal was to obtain N1 by senior year. The teachers would set up re-enforcement classes after school, or even during the summer/spring break for subjects that couldn’t be tackled during school hours like preparation for interviews (for university entrance or work), JLPT practice exams, essay academic writing, etc.

As Kanno (2004) and Moorehead (2013) pointed out, JSL education and support for foreign students vary depending on the school and prefecture. I would want to add that it might also vary depending on the level of education, given that in high school the system is designed for students to carry more responsibility than they would in middle school, expected to choose a future path and to find the best way to achieve their goals relying more in previously acquired knowledge than on their parents or teachers; whereas in elementary and middle school the students carry less responsibility, leaving this to parents and teachers alike. Since the school I attended to only accepted 14 students per year, I’m left wondering what happened with the ones that don’t get in. Do they go to other schools? Or they just don’t attend any? The fact that the government has a budget for this kind of programs shows that there’s recognition for diversity in the education system, but as Moorehead (2013) and Kanno (2004) showed, it’s not standardized.


Kanno, Yasuko. 2004. “Sending mixed messages: Language minority education at a Japanese public elementary school.” Negotiation of Identities in Multilingual Contexts. Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, edited by A. Pavlenko, and A. Blackledge. London: Multilingual Matters.

Moorehead, Robert. 2013. “Separate and unequal: The remedial Japanese language classroom as an ethnic project.” The AsiaPacific Journal 11(32):3.

Because they are not here “just for the time being”: Education for immigrant children

Diversity the norm in one German classroom (fromhttp://www.dw.de/diversity-the-norm-in-one-german-classroom/a-16865390)

by Kyungyeon Chung

Education is an important block for state and citizen-building. Especially in public schools, what is taught in classrooms reflects what is valued in society, and vice versa. Schools are the first and foremost tool governments will reach out to, when in need of public campaign. Many times, this reflection can regard more overarching values such as democracy; sometimes it can be more particular such as desire for unification in South Korea, or “collective communalism” in Japan (Moorehead 2013). In such cases whereby national education system serves to shape citizens, the incoming flow of immigrant children can pose a big challenge to the state- and the society’s perception of itself.

In the article “Separate and Unequal” by Robert Moorehead, remedial language lessons for immigrant children in Japanese public schools are argued to be an ethnic project. Having come back to the ‘homeland’ from Latin America, immigrant children with Japanese heritage required JSL lessons that were supposed to help them reach an equal footing with native-born students. However, in reality, keeping immigrant children in a separate classroom with little structured support, their potential and possibilities continue to be restricted, while native-born students proceed ahead. The author describes how this system gravely fails the students, further separating them along racial lines, and reflects “particular conceptualizations of the children’s’ future lives as members of Japanese society” (Moorehead 2013). Such particular conceptualization stems, at least partially, from Japan’s societal perception of it as an ethnically and historically homogeneous country that values harmony, uniformity, and collectivism.

This sort of challenge is not only experienced by Japan, though. Germany has also undergone several changes to address similar problems. In the article “From homogeneity to diversity in German education”, Anne Sliwka, a professor at Heidelberg University of Education in Germany, describes the issue in detail.

Since the large influx of immigrants in the 1960s, the German government became increasingly aware that the immigrants of diverse backgrounds were not there temporarily but would settle (Sliwka, 2010). At the time, the fundamental paradigm behind German education is the assumption that the homogeneity of learners in a group best facilitates their individual learning (Sliwka, 2010). Based on this assumption, Germany has long maintained a system divided into four or five general categories in which children were sorted into the “right” type of school for them (UK-German Connection, n.d.). However diverse educational needs of immigrant children came to highlight the shortcomings of this generalized system and unrealistic expectation of homogeneity.

Following the recognition of heterogeneous student population, there have been several shifts in the field: more policies are programed to support individualized lessons; data are collected to account for cultural, socio-economic and linguistic differences; growing research on equity in classrooms (Sliwka, 2010). As time passes, this slow yet growing shift in the education paradigm in Germany from the focus on ‘average’ to acceptance of diversity would further encourage the society-wide recognition and appreciation as well. Sliwka writes “changing the way the German educational system views diversity also entails cultural change in the society at large” (2010).

Both cases of Japan and Germany illustrate how education needs of immigrant children can encourage dialogues in the nations to think twice and hard about their perception of itself as a homogeneous nation. However the immigrant population is here to settle, live, and grow. The process will no doubt take a long time and require more than a change in curriculum or educational agenda. However, schools can be a very good starting point. After all, appropriate teaching from early age can lay sound foundations for healthy dialogues in society for a long time to come.


Moorehead, Robert. 2013. “Separate and Unequal: The Remedial Japanese Language Classroom as an Ethnic Project.” The Asia-Pacific Journal 11(32):3.

Sliwka, A. “From homogeneity to diversity in German education.” Educating teachers for diversity meeting the challenge. Paris: OECD, 2010. 205-217.

UK-German Connection. “The school system in Germany.” UK-German Connection. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 June 2014. <>.

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How to Educate Foreign Children

by Yutaro Nishioka

Robert Moorehead‘s research, “Separate and Unequal: The Remedial Japanese Language Classroom as an Ethnic Project,” addresses education for immigrant children in a Japanese elementary school. He examines the connection between the Japanese as a second language (JSL) classroom and the school’s homeroom classes, as well as the impact of the JSL class on immigrant children’s academic development.

The teachers of the elementary school claim that the JSL classrooms not only help the immigrant students to learn the Japanese language but also enable them to relax from challenging situations in an effort to adapt to the Japanese culture and language. The research reveals that although professional norms in Japanese education value equality, collectivity, and mutual interdependence, the JSL classrooms separate those immigrant children from the regular Japanese students in the homeroom class, by which the gap between the immigrant children and regular children never disappears.

Is this an effective way of educating the immigrant children? I don’t think so. In this blog post, I’d like to discuss the experiences of my friend (fully Japanese) who moved abroad and received education in a context outside Japan at the age of 7, and argue that the way the JSL program attempts to educate immigrant children is not effective.

My friend was born and raised in Japan until the age of 7, when she moved to Switzerland due to her mother’s job. Like a normal Japanese child, she had gone to a Japanese kindergarten and elementary school. Since she had had no previous English education, she initially had an extremely hard time learning English to understand her teachers. Unlike the immigrant children that learn Japanese outside their homeroom classes, she was in the ESL (English as a second language) class only for the first 3 months, and after the 3 months she was treated the same way as the other students. She also went to a Japanese school every Saturday to maintain and improve her Japanese.

The reason why she was in the ESL class only for the first 3 months is that the level of English used in the ESL class was not much different than that of other students because they were only 6-7 years old. She also reports that whenever she was pulled out of the class, she felt “embarrassed and isolated.” She doesn’t know whether the teachers sensed her feelings, but she is glad that she quit taking the ESL so that she stopped feeling uncomfortable any more. After leaving the ESL class, she learned English ‘naturally’ on her own just by studying with the other students without being isolated.

Those who believe in the effectiveness of the JSL program in educating immigrant children in Japan would have to say that she could not have learned English to reach the regular students’ standards. However, the fact is that she quickly learned English to the point where the others would not be able to tell she was not a native English speaker, and she was doing just as well as the other students whose native language was English. In fact, she says she now speaks English even better (or more comfortably) than her Japanese. She not only moved on to high school but also to a university in Canada. I have a few other friends that went through a similar situation as hers, and they all learned English without being isolated from the native students and brought their English to the native level.

Moorehead’s study mentions that while 97 percent of Japanese youths aged 15-18 are in high school, only 42 percent of Brazilians and less than 60 percent of Filipinos go to high school. In contrast, all of the friends of mine that went abroad and acquired English are now in university. This clearly implies the ineffectiveness of the present JSL program.


Moorehead, Robert. (2013). “Separate and Unequal: The Remedial Japanese Language    Classroom as an Ethnic Project.” The Asia-Pacific Journal 11(32):3.

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About denizenship and refugeeism

Anonymous student post

Denizenship and refugeeism lead people to seek belonging. I think belonging has a good point and a bad point, so it is difficult that I decide whether belonging is good or bad. In a good point, belonging gathers people and produces a sense of solidarity, because people can share their emotions and information. When people get intimate with one another, they can get connectedness in the belonging. In other words, they can get ibasho. In a bad point, people in a belonging may have a stereotype, because belonging usually makes a specific concept. If people stick to a concept, when they know different concepts, they will have difficulty understanding them.

In current society of Japan, people have to get belonging to spend their average daily life safely. In other words, if people can’t get belonging, they can’t earn decent wages, and they are danger of life such as homeless. Generally speaking, becoming a permanent employee, or so-called seishain, connects to a safe and stable life. That is why a lot of people want to be a permanent employee.

However, for some people such as foreigners, handicapped people, single parents, furitā, and so on, it is difficult to be a permanent employee. They often work as temporary workers or contract workers. They earn a low salary, and don’t compensate social security system, so they struggle every day. In Allison’s book, Yuasa notes, ”postwar Japan bred its own form of welfare that depended on the corporation and family and organized little public welfare itself” (2013, p.58). Once you are laid off your job, you can’t come back your former status in the current society of Japan, which Yuasa describes as “sliding down society” (suberidai shakai) (2013, p.58). The gap is expanding more and more.

Under this circumstances getting belonging is finding a permanent job, because the government don’t take sufficient welfare policy, so people have to stand their own two feet. In addition, other relationship of human except work disappears. For example, you don’t know the face and name even your neighbors. In this society, people will not be able to ask for help. To avoid isolation, people are eager for belonging unconsciously, and this anxiousness sometimes people make believe a bad concept or a cult such as Aum Shinrikyou, I think.

In conclusion, your life depends on your job as Allison quotes Amamiya, “ikizurasa (hardship of life) is connected to poverty and labor issues” (2013, p.65). In my opinion, it is essential to get belonging for getting good jobs.

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Equal status and rights

Anonymous student post

Every person in a society has the right to be treated equally, to vote or to work, whatever their sex, religion, or race. I think that denizenship is a fundamental human right. However, if you are migrant or refugee, you may not be allowed those rights. They do not find secure job, citizenship or security at home. This is the strange condition. Every people should be granted those fundamental rights.

A refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their home country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster. It is involved in many factors such as social, political or religious. They want a stable or safe life. However, there is a critical reality. I think that they have rights that they live ordinary life as we live. Besides, a migrant is a person who moves from one place to another place in order to find work or make money. They are also said the same thing. Recently, it seems that globalization is advancing in the world. Many companies start to expand overseas. So the mobility of economy is more active. Then a stream of people between nations is also active. I think that the number of refugees and immigrants increases because of globalization.

I think that many people want to belong to elsewhere. As Anne Allison writes, “Everyone needs a place, identity, affiliation. We need an ‘ibasho’ that finds us necessary.” Ibasho is a place where people feel relaxed or comfortable, such as home, school or office. Then equal status or right may lead to those feelings. I do not know that whether it is good or bad. It depends on their thoughts. Then it is difficult to achieve equal status or right.

In Japan, there is a word of ‘kakusa shakai’. It means the present economic structure with severe disparity. There is the difference of salary between regular and contract or irregular worker. Foreign or immigrant workers are also influenced. Many people belong to social organization or company and work there. Some people build private business management. I do not know where belong to elsewhere or work in the future. Then I hope that it is to achieve the equal status or right. In addition, immigrant or refugee live a stable life. There are many issues to achieve. The government or international organization or agency establish some policies about immigrants and refugees or provide some assistance.


Allison, Anne. 2013. Precarious Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

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But we’re speaking Japanese!

This funny video tackles the issue of how we often struggle when someone’s race doesn’t seem to match our expectations of how the person should act. People who might look Japanese don’t necessarily speak the language, while people who might look like gaijin (ahem, like me) can be quite fluent.

This video really resonates with me, as I just came back from presenting at a conference in Daegu, Korea, on migration in Asia. The conference had speakers from several Korean universities, and representatives from Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan. As the representative of Japan, I was the only non-native to represent a country—and the only non-Asian at the conference. And yet no one seemed surprised that the speaker from Japan was a white guy from the United States, who was talking about Peruvians in Japan. A sign of progress, perhaps.

My vision of my future as a woman

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

by Mizuki Watanabe

According to Anne Allison, current Japanese society is absolutely precarious and complicated. Especially for women, it is very difficult to find a stable job such as not a clerical worker but a managerial worker in a company. Therefore it is essential for me to think about my future clearly.

I have been interested in law since I was twelve years old. I became interested in this topic for the first time when I attended a trial my father was conducting as a lawyer. It was a first time to know what is law and what my father does as a lawyer. The topic of the trial was to acquire an application for refugee status of an illegal immigrant from Myanmar. Then I understood that Japanese government was extremely strict toward immigrants and it was really hard for them to settle as well. Actually different from other developed countries, immigrants in Japan are extremely a small number. Later I asked my father about immigrants in Japan and what is law. The more I studied, the more I was interested in that. And I became to think I wanted to be a lawyer like him.

Now my future plan is to be a lawyer and to protect immigrants’ rights in Japan. To achieve my dream, I have to enter law school after I graduate Ritsumeikan University and study three years, because now my major is international relations. I wanted to enter the law faculty however I felt. Nevertheless it is good for me because I can study both of international relations and law. Studying international relations is helpful to understand immigration in Japan. Or I am thinking it is also good for me to work at company for some years before I study in law school because it must be important to know the Japanese social system in companies.

For women, to have qualifications is one key word to make their lives stable. Most women workers in Japan leave their companies when they are married or pregnant. After that, they will stay at home as “a wife” and do cooking, cleaning, raising their children, and so on. There must be many people who think when their children grow up, want to work again. However it is difficult for them to find stable jobs such as a specialist job or a managerial work if they do not have qualifications. I am not sure that I will be married or not. However if I will be a wife or a mother, I must think I want to work as a specialist in society. If I will be a lawyer, it is possible to continue to work after I am married or have children.

Now many people worry about Japanese society because there is a great amount of problems. However I have a hope for my future and have to do what I have to do for my great future.

On Immigrants ‘Semi-Adapting’: Self-Defense, Not Resentment

by Robert Moorehead

In all social processes, you have to have the word ‘inclusion’. … without that word, I’m not going to change the world, and they’re not going to change me, because they’re going to have that culture of defense [from me]. Not resentment, but defense.

Lately I’ve been working on a paper for a conference, and I’ve been fixated on an interview with an immigrant father. Juan (a pseudonym) is a Peruvian of Japanese descent who migrated from Peru to Japan more than 20 years ago. Juan expresses his frustration over what he sees as the lack of inclusion of Peruvians and other migrants from developing countries in Japan, in contrast to the greater openness to foreigners from the United States or Europe.

I don’t have a voice (in Japan), and I never will have it, because they (the Japanese) will never know what I think. But, in this case, if an American or someone who speaks English and who has been to school … they’d say ‘Ah, he’s American,’ but in our case, Japanese descendants, all we have the surname and the face. That’s all I have in this society.

Sociologist Tanya Golash-Boza (2006) notes that we learn our place in society through social interaction, including whether to expect inclusion or exclusion. Based on his interactions, a married Japanese man in Japan may expect that his voice will be listened to, and that his relationship with his romantic partner will be valued. In contrast, a member of a subordinate group, such a racial, ethnic, or sexual minority, may learn instead to expect to be ignored, denigrated, or otherwise marginalized. In Juan’s case, he’s learned to expect to be excluded from decision-making at work, to be asked when he’s leaving the country, to have weak relations with his Japanese neighbors, and to be treated as if all Peruvians were alike.

Precisely what are we Peruvians missing in Japan? (Respect, I reply.) Exactly. Because we don’t have it. … We all have different amounts of education, and other experiences, but the Japanese don’t see us that way. They see us all the same. …

Thus, even as many Peruvians in Juan’s housing complex diligently follow the local housing rules and keep quiet to avoid bothering the neighbors, they still risk being blamed when problems occur. As Karen Tei Yamashita writes in her brilliant novel Circle K Cycles:

A tour of Homi Danchi [housing complex] … gives you a sense of an oppressive quiet—the sound of sleeping people who work the night shift, the sound of a silent majority who want very badly to be accepted, the sound of people trying very hard to be quiet. Even the children seem to play quietly. This is as quiet as Brazilians can possibly be. This is probably as ruly as it gets.

And yet, loud music blaring from an apartment will bring suspicions that the offending party is Peruvian or Brazilian. If the guilty party is found to be a Japanese teen, the prior suspicions will still be justified, as one time,  years earlier, it really was a foreigner.

For example, what I see in the factory, the highest position you could get is leader. Leader of who? The Japanese? No. Leader of the foreigners, foreigners like Brazilians, Paraguayans, and others. But here I can’t achieve more, I’m never going to achieve more. I’m never going to be a permanent [employee]. So that whole situation, it’s not resentment toward the Japanese, because my father and mother were Japanese, if they weren’t I wouldn’t be here. But it’s not a feeling of resentment, it’s more that the Japanese need to be more open toward foreigners ….

In a situation like this, how do subordinates respond? How can they respond? Openly complaining about poor treatment risks further marginalization, including having your complaints seen as proof that foreigners are incapable of integrating into social life in Japan—a logical fallacy that confuses cause and consequence and blames foreigners for their own marginalization.

Subordinates can, and often do, resist in many ways, as James Scott notes in Weapons of the Weak. Juan describes avoiding integrating further into Japanese society, saying “they’re not going to change me” and that he has only “semi-adapted.”

What we do is, we haven’t gotten used to it, we’ve semi-adapted. Semi. … I am more included, semi-included, in Japanese society than others. Why? Because of my physical features and my last name (which are Japanese).

This pattern of only “semi-adapting” means that Juan is done trying to fit in. It’s less a sign of resistance than of self-protection. If Japan includes him as a member of Japanese society, and not as a ‘foreign guest,’ then he’s happy to participate. But “you have to have the word ‘inclusion.'”

Whether the second generation will follow this pattern is unclear. Juan’s children are fluent Japanese speakers and envision their future lives as adults in Japan. As Juan notes, such an approach is essential for their future employment prospects in Japan. However, they may still face the stigma of their foreign ancestry.

Here in Japan, I’ve always thought that if you’re thinking of living here in Japan, in my children’s case, with semi-liberty practically (laughs). But they’re going to live here, so they’re going to have to study more, to be able to compete in whatever profession as foreigners with Japanese, because they’re fighting against one thing, that they’re not Japanese.

I’m hoping to decipher the contours of this pattern of ‘semi-adapting’ in a journal article. In the meantime, these blog posts will hopefully stimulate the analytical process, keeping things moving. What other examples are there of this approach? How can we better understand the experiences of assimilation/integration/incorporation of first-generation immigrants?


  1. Golash-Boza, Tanya. 2006. “Dropping the Hyphen? Becoming Latino(a)-American through Racialized Assimilation.” Social Forces 85(1):27-55.
  2. Scott, James C. 1985. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  3. Yamashita, Karen Tei. 2001. Circle K Cycles. Minneapolis, MN: Coffee House Press.
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The problems of Asian female migrant care workers in Japan

by Megumi Takase

In recent years, Japan has accepted female migrants from Asian countries to work as care workers. They are expected to support Japan’s aging society. By the way, in “International Sociology” classes, we learned the bad situations of female migrants from the Philippines in Japan. In this paper, I will consider what problems female migrants from Asian countries will have by working as care workers and what the Japanese government should do for them.

First, I will discuss the working conditions. The wages of care workers are low in Japan. The research of Nippon Careservice Craft Union shows that care workers who earn from one hundred and fifty thousand yen to one hundred and seventeen thousand yen account for the most percentage of all care workers. Moreover, if they don’t get nursing certifications, they earn only half of the regular pay. Without serious efforts to save their money, most of their income would go to their cost of living in Japan and they wouldn’t be able to send money to their family in their home countries. In addition, according to Nippon Careservice Craft Union, it tends to be difficult for care workers to take a paid vacation. It will be hard for care workers from Asian countries to go back to their home. It will make both them and their family feel lonely.

Second, there is the problem of language. Most migrants from Asian countries who work as care workers come to Japan for the first time. Thus, they should study Japanese while working, but it will be hard because working as a care worker is also hard. They will have difficulty in getting their nursing certifications in Japan because the test for it is held in Japanese. The Japanese law provides that if care workers from Asian countries can’t pass the test within four years from the day when they came to Japan, they should go back to their home countries even though they have been trained in Japan for more than three years.

Why do female migrants from Asian countries who work as care workers receive such bad treatment? I think it is because of the view that nursing is a part of domestic work of a housewife in Japan, and the indifference of the Japanese government toward human rights of immigrants. In Japan, it is common for housewives to take care of their old parents. Housewives are supposed to do it without being paid because they love their parents. Because nursing is still regarded as “labor of love” which housewives should do, I think that care workers are suffering the bad working conditions.

Furthermore, because of the bad working conditions, more and more Japanese care workers quit the job. Thus, I think that the Japanese government decided to accept Asian people merely because it was fascinated with their cheap wages. It seems to me that the Japanese government takes advantage of immigrants as much as it can. The Japanese government should change its mind toward nursing and improve the working conditions of care workers. In addition, it should respect immigrants’ human rights and make migrants friendly working environments.


“Nikkei Business online,” http://business.nikkeibp.co.jp/article/topics/20100326/213634/?P=1 (viewed: 2013/11/15)

Shimada, M.(2009). Problems Related to Incoming Nurses and Care Workers from Indonesia : Focusing on the Workers. Ryukoku Journal of Economic Studies 49(1), 255-264.

“NHK news commentators bureau,” http://www.nhk.or.jp/kaisetsu-blog/100/115321.html (viewed: 2013/11/15)