Japan: Expatriates concerned about plans to introduce language tests for foreigners

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri Jan 18 13:54:01 UTC 2008

Last Updated 18/01/2008, 14:11:18 Select text size:

Plans to introduce language tests for foreigners wishing to live and
work in Japan has prompted concerns from the expatriate community.
Japan's foreign minister, Masahiko Komura, made the announcement on
Tuesday, and the foreign ministry told Radio Australia the department
should pursue the terms of the new requirement quickly. The plans,
announced just months after the country began photographing and
finger-printing all foreign nationals on entry to Japan, have not been
taken well in many quarters of Japan's expatriate community. Dave
Aldwinckle has been a permanent resident in Japan since 1996, and is
married to a Japanese with two children. The author, columnist and
human rights campaigner, who goes by the Japanese name, Arudou Debito,
told Radio Australia over a million people will be affected by the

"And millions more if you include their families as well that are
Japanese," he said. "To pass them all off as potential terrorists is
worse than callous, in my view, it's unappreciation for the work that
people have done over here already," Mr Aldwinckle said.

'Another arbitrary hurdle

He says while he believes anyone wanting to live in Japan should be
able to read, write and speak Japanese, it will be difficult to test
and enforce.

"It's another potentially arbitrary hurdle to put up in front of
foreigners that, given the past government enforcement of policy, I'm
a little bit concerned about how this is going to be enforced as
well," he said.

Dr Chris Burgess, of Tsuda College in Tokyo, says the proposed
language test for foreigners is going to harm Japan in a multitude of

"The new regulations, supposedly aimed at eradicating illegal
residents, is just going to push them underground more than anything,"
Dr Burgess told Radio Australia.

"I think, in some ways this is a poorly thought out policy and just a
knee-jerk reaction to public attitudes which demand more to be done to
tackle the foreign crime - a myth that you see in newspapers all the
time, that foreigners are criminals; unfounded statistically, but
that's the myth."

The Secretary General of the International Movement Against All Forms
of Discrimination and Racism, Professor Mushakoji Kinhide, has another
theory about the language test.

"It is, more or less, a general position of the Liberal Democratic
Party leadership about the so-called overseas, Japanese-origin, Latin
American migrants," Professor Kinhide said.

The 'Nikkei-jin' factor

The deputy director of the Foreign Nationals Affairs Division in
Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Terasawa Genichi, told Radio
Australia that 'Nikkei-jin' - returning Japanese emigrants and their
descendants living outside of Japan - are indeed a focus in the
proposed language test.

Declining an interview, Mr Terasawa did, however, stipulate that the
test was not targetting any particular ethnic group.

Professor Mushakoji says the group has caused problems before.

"Unfortunately the Japanese-descent, young people who come do not
necessarily speak Japanese and have very genuine cultural habits which
are quite different from the Japanese and so there has been a few
cases of cultural problems - Brazilian-Japanese will tend to sing and
dance and be quite different in their behaviour at night," he said.

In 2006, the then-foreign minister, Taro Aso, described Japan as "one
nation, one civilisation, one language, one culture, and one race".

Professor Mushakoji is therefore concerned about the comments of the
new Foreign Minister, Masahiko Komura.

"If Komura has repeated the statement already made by Aso it is a
manifestation of the Japanese government not to admit that Japan will
gradually have to turn into a multicultural country and insist on
keeping Japan as a homogenous society," Professor Mushakoji said.

Naturalised Japanese citizen, Dave Aldwinckle feels, like many others,
unduly targeted.

"Well, foreigners aren't like Japanese, there's no commonality, the
Japanese are unique, etc," he said.

"If you keep playing that button the Government can keep getting
budgets for anti-terrorism moves which will eventually target
disenfranchised foreigners - hey, foreigners can't vote."


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