Double-talk of the policy: will 200,000 immigrants be superstars for Japanese working women?

by Minako Sanda

In the 1980s, as Hobi neighborhood in Aichi prefecture and Icho neighborhood in Yokohama started to accept factory workers from China and Brazil and other countries, Japan pretty much seems to be getting there – opening up the closed door to the immigrating employees and becoming one of the multicultural nations. Certainly, 30 years after the good observation of such areas of immigrants, Abe is aware of the resistance to immigrants.

“Whether to accept (more) immigrants or not is an issue relevant to the future of our country and the overall life of the people. I understand that (the government) should study it from various angles after undergoing national-level discussions,” (Abe, according to Kawai 2014)

What Japan’s Prime Minister suggested the Lower House Budget Committee has created debates among Japanese citizens to reconsider what Japan is and will be like. Could this be finally a chance for a socially homogenized nation to learn the impact of multicultural immigrants?

Well, if you look at the reality of Japanese society, people can tell that acceptance of immigrants can do very little, if any, to help Japan’s current social issues such as declining birthrate (1.35 this year) and working populations, and a higher welfare burden for the younger generation. I personally believe that merely accepting immigrants who look for any form of employment will end up more expensive than what nation can benefit from the labor work immigrants provide. “Accepting domestic helpers and babysitters” should be discussed after developing solid system to support current working parents.

For example in the area of medical professionals and construction workers, where the declining number of workers is severe, it is not the occupations that are essentially hard, but it is rather there is not enough social welfare to support overworking people covering up for the lack of population. Without a development in social structure, immigrants may end up being thrown into the society without language skill, or no professional occupation after being a factory worker or a babysitter. Even when immigrants get jobs in the name of training, there is currently no support after they are done with the term, no JSL is provided for them. Therefore, this can easily lead them to unlawful employment and illegal stay afterwards. Whether government targets immigrants who are highly-skilled professionals or low-educated factory laborers, what both need is the same welfare, place to live, language lessons and support for their own family. If they want more professionals from abroad to move into Japan, they are inevitably asked to attract them by leveling up the current treatment that separate foreigners from original citizens in terms of employment, education and welfare.

Regarding the acceptance of babysitters and domestic helpers, I think the politicians lack analysis of the Japanese family structure and tendency in putting pressure on women to take care of domestic chores. Having the national policy to internalize the daycare of elderly and house work, and the Japanese nuclear house, all of which are essentially run by women, made women responsible for all family matters and did not allow many wives to go out to work full-time. From this history of family-based nursing and education system, women not only suffer from the physical fatigue, but also the social pressure on them to be the good glue of a well-balanced family. Currently, women who work after getting married and giving birth are increasing, but policies hardly catch up to support them (which is strange, working women is never a new idea before and during WWII, thus society without doubt forced women to stay at home), and now the solution for this is all brought by immigrants nannies and domestic helpers, not a new feminist policy.

Thus, solution to the lack of working population and declining birthrate is not as simple as counting immigrants in. What Japan essentially needs is to face the fact that a better policy to support parent to raise children in Japan, development of better welfare for the area of occupation where there are severe lack of professions, rather than begging immigrants for the quick solution to magically boost the labor population.

References

Kawai, M (2014) 15th May. The skeptical idea: the structure to accept 200,000 immigrants per year. 移民「毎年20万人」受け入れ構想の怪しさ Retrieved on 2014. June 19th from http://seiron-sankei.com/3226

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The Struggle with Minimum Wage

by Yuri Muramatsu

Japan faces a difficult situation because the Japanese social system is about to collapse. I am a student now and I worked in a part-time job. I worked three days a week and I could earn about 30,000 yen per month. I accept monetary assistance from my parents but some people do not have parents or relatives so they have to make a living only on their own. I also accept a scholarship so if my parents cannot assist me, I will be able to manage my living cost by using it.

According to the Japanese Ministry of Health, people who earn under the minimum cost of living can receive welfare. Moreover, Anne Allison mentioned a woman who is haken (temporary worker) and is estranged from her parents. She could not accept any assistance. Her rent is now 35,000 yen per month but she used to live in a place that cost 100,000 yen a month. She tried to cut down her living cost but her working chances became smaller all the time. What is more, she has a disease.

Generally speaking, people who fulfill the following four condition can accept welfare. First, no one assists you, like parents or relatives. Second, you do not have any property. Third, you cannot work because of an illness or injury. If all these conditions are not fulfilled, you cannot get minimum living cost per month.

Considering this situation, if I earn minimum wage and I cannot accept any assistance from parents or relatives with legal age, I will face a lot of struggles. The minimum wage in Kyoto is 773 yen per hour. It means I can get about 154,600 yen per month in case of working 8 hours per day, 25 days per month. At first, I would face residential problems because my rent is now 48,000 per month. If I can only earn minimum wage, I cannot manage my living cost. I pay 88,000 as living costs like charge of water, gas, and electricity costs and administration costs. Although I can manage living cost at least, I cannot pay school expenses and I do not have time to go to university because I have to earn money to live. As a result of this situation, the only way is to quit university to manage my money. This may lead me to become a temporary worker like her. What is more, this may connect to death from overwork.

If I pay my school expenses, I must cut the living costs. One efficient way is moving to cheaper residence but I do not have enough money to move to another house. That is why I will be a net café refugee. Anne Allison shows that it is difficult for young people to receive welfare because they can still work. On the other hand, some think that “being young is not a reason for denying someone welfare” (p.56). I belong to a young generation so I will not receive any welfare. Therefore, I can only rely on my friends. It is important to have connectedness. But if I rely too much on my friends, I will lose them and my credit. Regaining trust is difficult and it takes a long time. When I lose connectedness, I need some support from others. Then an “Independent life support center” is instrumental for me to find independence. Allison says finding independence is hard.

To sum up my opinion, if I am earning minimum wage, I cannot manage my living costs so I try to make a living by cutting down my rent. There are possibilities to be a net café refugee. I would face many struggle in terms of human relations.

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Privatization and jiko sekinin

by Sayaka Maeda

Anne Allison analyzed the movement toward “individual responsibility” (jiko sekinin) in her book Precarious Japan. She said that the Koizumi administration went ahead with the policy: aligning with big business, privatizing more and more of government services under the banner of jko sekinin, and investing too little in social programs, including welfare, and it lead to falling worker’s wages, and increase of homelessness. She argued that Japan is already exposed to poverty.

I agree jiko sekinin has brought those negative points. Privatization causes cost cuts, and the reduced costs are labor costs. Therefore, the number of the unemployed and non-regular employment increases, or the workers may be fired, and some people lose their home, and become homeless and net café refugees. In addition, compared with state-owned companies, private companies need to seek profit. Therefore, I think there are national companies which should not privatize.

However, privatization has merits. First, it increases efficiency and productivity. In addition, the competition among companies occurs, and service and technology improve. Government’s income also increases.

Although privatization causes a lot of problems, and even if a privatized company benefits, the victims (by personnel cuts) should not exist. I think it is important to have limited government where jiko sekinin is needed, but social welfare should be assured for the right that people can live with security.

Now many of state-run companies were privatized, for example, the post office, JR (the former national railway), and some airports. Allison also talked about the Gold plan, which is the policy in which the government has shifted more responsibility to individuals and introduced measures to restructure care away from doctors and hospitals to more home-based care. These days, it is discussed whether a public nursery school should be privatized or not. By the privatization, they can increase the number of nursery schools, and receive more children, however, it becomes difficult to employ nursery school teachers for a long time.

On April 2014, the government increased the consumption tax from 5 % to 8 % to improve social welfare, for example, medical care and pensions, to address the aging population and declining birthrate. I think we have to watch whether the government properly uses our tax. In precarious Japan, I think the government should take measures as soon as possible.

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Jiko Sekinin, a question of responsibility

by Haruka Ichikawa

I disagree with the thinking of jiko sekinin. Of course, there is the thought that we should live by ourselves, but I think the government should protect the nation. And the situation in which there are many poor people (for example, net cafe refugees and homeless people) shows that the government cannot protect both Article 25 of the Constitution and the people. But people should exert the greatest possible effort if they want to be protected by the government. Moreover, if the government doesn’t help people, it is the responsibility of the state. Therefore we should try to live by ourselves and action positively to solve our problems. But if we cannot solve the question, we rely on the government. So I think that we must not depend on the state much.

Anne Allison says that workers’ wage fell by 4 percent, homelessness increased, far too few in the population received welfare, and all the while profit of corporations doubled, stock rose in value by close to three times, and the pay of government officials tripled. I think that the view that it is individual self-responsibility is circulated even if since academic ability is lower than other persons, it will set in the disadvantageous state, and the right to life will be taken by intense academic ability competition and entrance-into-a-school-of-higher-grade competition. However, even after the Great East Japan Earthquake, people who are driven away to a misfortune by a sudden catastrophic disaster, and cannot stand up only by individual power have occurred in large quantities. There is no other way but to help each other. Regular employment is reduced and, probably, it should also be called such a “social disaster” that the post of the stable occupation cannot be taken. Such a “social disaster” cannot be made into the cause of individual capability or efforts, and those who exist difficult cannot be neglected. The Constitution was produced as a joint contract that will guarantee the level of the life. Therefore supporting people who attacked by poverty and unemployment and recovering hope is the responsibility that the state was mandated by people.

Today, the problem of poverty is not lost in the world and at home. What on earth can we do? Our power may be small and it may be rare to be able to do. The present condition will still change nothing, if we not only wait for the government to do passively, but do not act it positively.

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Family, work, and security

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 Natsuki Ota

I hope that I will spend my life with enough money in the city, and I can have a family and a particular job with secure. Although Japan is in a precarious condition now, I would like to live with getting along with people around me. I show my future expectation from three points. First, I talk about having a family. Second, I will get a general enterprise and take a stable salary. Third, I expect relationships with people for my bright life. I desire that I get a regular job and have a connection with people including family.

To begin with, I will marry a man who can earn a stable salary in my late-twenties to thirty because I would like to work in the society, not depend on the income of my husband, and support each other in the family. And I will have up to two children because bringing up a child costs a plenty of money. It is difficult to earn enough money to take care of many children in such a bad economic condition, for example rising taxes, declining salaries. Moreover, I may have no time to take care of my children due to working, because Japan does not have sufficient circumstance that women can manage both of working and childcare. My plan almost refers to Anne Allison’s vision. “The overall social trends are away from marriage and family,” (Anne Allison, 2013, p.33) Therefore, I hope that Japan can become a society in which it is easier for women to do that in the future. If the condition is improved, the overall social trends will change for the better.

Second of all, I desire that I get an enterprise as regular worker which secures my welfare. According to Anne Allison, the wage disparity between regular and irregular employment exists in Japan. Although being hired as a regular worker is good, removing the disparity is the best. My finding a job may be difficult, as Anne Allison wrote, it is harder for youth to get a job because companies tend to hire senior workers. This is a big influence on me because I heard about my acquaintance’s hard job-hunting.

Finally, I make connections with people such as family and neighbors in order to prevent solitary death, and have my family look after me when I age. My ibasho arises in such relationship. In my opinion, ibasho is the space and place which needs me, so workplace and family is my ibasho.

In conclusion, the current Japanese unstable situation has a big impact on our future. In particular, the bad economy leads to various problems such as rising taxes, reducing wages and even family style. So I will work hard to support ny family and I hope that Japan become the place which women can more easily do both job and childcare.

Reference

Anne Allison (2013). Precarious Japan. Duke University Press. (pp. 1-42)

Equality = Abstemiousness + munificence

Happiness

Happiness (Photo credit: Rickydavid)

by Glenn Soenvisen

In the contemporary societies of developed countries, most people agree that every individual should be equal to one another: we should have the same rights and possibilities in life no matter who you are and where you come from. Isn’t it strange, then, that we still struggle with poverty, hunger, racism and gender issues, not only in the world as a whole, but in our own respective countries as well? “In principle it’s easy, but you can’t apply any kind of idealism to the real world,” you might argue, and I would have to agree, because indeed, nothing is perfect; there will always be inequalities.

However, I would argue that we are nowhere near perfection in regards to equality issues, and therefore able to lessen these issues tremendously by doing simply one thing: to turn from greedy materialism to moderate abstemiousness and munificence, not only of food, but of everything that the term “materialism” includes – and money. I would even say this approach will increase our happiness in the long run. This text is especially for those that are better-off in our societies.

Just think about when you were most happy in your life: people, even the relatively young ones, reminisce about their their childhood and teens; for elderly people it’s a trademark to do so. Then, what is it that makes us so incredibly happy in our earlier years? I would say it is forced abstemiousness. Remember that doll your parents didn’t buy for you, but gave you as a present on your birthday later that year? Or the time when you finally bought the video game you couldn’t afford after weeks of saving up money? Oh, how worn that doll is now and oh, how many times you played through that game, and most important of all: oh, how you enjoyed it.

Then you grew up, and finally you could mindlessly indulge in your hobbies and interests. Maybe you’re sitting there with a collection of rarely touched, clean dolls on display, or have a whole shelf lined with unplayed and half-finished games wondering where the happiness you had as a child has gone. In short, money spent on yourself can only go so far in making you happy. You don’t need twelve pair of shoes; you don’t need the newest version of iPhone; you don’t need two two-weeks’ vacations a year in Spain at a luxurious hotel; you don’t need everything you buy.

However, we all know that spending money on other people is a delightful feeling: we all like to make one’s girlfriend/boyfriend happy by taking them to a movie or dinner, for example. Even so, this too has its limits regarding happiness. If you spend too much, you’d be worrying if you are dating a gold-digger only after your money, and unless the other person actually is that, he/she would likely feel guilty for accepting your expenditure on him/her.

So what should you do with the leftover money (that is, if you have any)? If you’ve decided to become abstemious yourself and munificent towards your dearest, surely you could put them in a bank for interest along with your other funds, or maybe invest them into stocks to earn even more. But what’s the point? What we’re talking about is leftover money. Why do you need more? You could spend it on insurances and other measures for social security, but considering you have the leftover money in the first place there’s no particular need for that. In short, money can’t do anything more for you; it can’t increase your happiness.

Then, what should you do? I, for one, would say that you should spend it on social welfare. Not only does it benefit you, but it benefits the society as a whole. Donate money to voluntary organizations, vote for higher taxes, and buy a meal to a poor person.

These small things that all of us are able to do to some degree are certainly not going to change our societies in a flash. Inequalities won’t disappear overnight. However, there are benefits: by buying less, massive international corporations will have less incentive to press prices down and move production to impoverished areas. By spending leftover money on social welfare, you will firstly help to reduce social exclusion, which is an important factor for being able to make social contacts and get a job. Secondly, you will help to increase the social security in a non-radical way. Thirdly, you help making social issues known through the support of organizations who promote them. In short, you help people to be able to acquire the same rights and possibilities as yourself, and you hinder people living in impoverished areas to be trapped by long hours of hard work and low income.

You might not see much to the results of your support, but changes cannot always be radical. They cannot always be “neither/nor,” like many social movements portray solutions to issues, since that would throw a society in complete turmoil. Instead, inequalities will gradually lessen through abstemiousness and munificence, which hopefully will seep into our heads and become the norm. In the end, you’ll get happier and you’ll help both yourself and others to stand on equal footing.

How can we build an “equal” society?

by Yuki Muto

In class, we talked about how much salary baseball players should receive. Someone said they should be paid depending on their ability and achievements. Others said they should be paid basically the same amount. Both ways are “equal ways.” In the professional sports world, a stronger one and winner get much merit. We usually don’t complain when a gold medalist get more money than a silver medalist. So, I think a merit system may be admirable in professional sports word. However, given the social system, we cannot build equal society when we think this way.

There are huge gaps and inequality in our society, and some people suffer from poverty. In class, I learned that poor people are poor not because they are wrong, but because they are socially vulnerable. The social system makes wealth and poverty. In our society, we have different environments and backgrounds by nature. People can’t conquer the problem of low incomes, unemployment, sickness, disability, gender, poor health or old age by their efforts. We need to provide security to people who are suffering from these problems in a social system, and that is why social welfare and education are important in our society.

I worry that the Japanese social system tends to be a merit system. Like a professional sports athletes, people who have power and wealth get more power and money, and poor people can’t overcome the poverty. We say our society is a stratified society. I’m surprised that Japanese level of income inequality is high and more close to the data of the U.S. than other developed countries. When I talked with Nordic students in our class, I always wondered why we can’t do like these countries! “All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living.” That is an article in Japanese constitution. Japanese social welfare system is not enough to secure the all people’s “minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living.”

So, what can we do to improve our social system? I think there are 3 steps. First, people (especially who are socially vulnerable) must recognize they are poor because of social structure and system. Second, these people insist to the society the system should be changed, as shown in the film “Women of Fukushima”. When I watched the movie, I thought, to change the social situation, people in trouble need to think, insist and make an action. Third, we need listen to their assertion and support them. It is impossible to make perfect equal society, but it is possible to advance forward equal society.