Thursday, August 25, 2005

Shall [h/w]e overcome? Someday... 

A friend of mine recently sent me this book review. Some of you out there might find it interesting, so...

>Immigration Battle Diary (Nyukan Senki)
>By Hidenori Sakanaka
>Reviewed by
>Special to www.debito.org
>Released May 24, 2005
>Freely Forwardable
>In March 2001, just weeks before Junichiro Koizumi became Prime Minister
to the squeals of "Jun-chan" from (senile?) middle-aged women enthralled by
his looks, Japan's most notorious middle-aged political matron stopped off
in Osaka to lend her voice to the growing chorus of Koizumi supporters.
>Makiko Tanaka was then the country's most popular politician, at least
among members of the public. But she knew she was hated in Nagata-cho, and
was thus stumping for Junichiro Koizumi in the upcoming LDP election, an
election that would decide who would get the dubious honor of replacing
Prime Minister Mori.
>Ms.Tanaka is loved by reporters for her sharp, barbed quotes and fiery
populist rhetoric. Rarely is she at a loss for words when speaking to
assembled reporters, be they foreign or Japanese. But although I was not
trying, I managed to startle her into relative silence.
>It happened during a quick interview after her speech when, rather than
the usual questions about why she was supporting Koizumi, I asked about
what discussions were taking place in the Diet regarding the future of
Japanese immigration and the integration of foreigners into the workplace.
>Ms.Tanaka had played a large role in helping many Japanese born in China
during the war years to return to Japan. So I figured that, with her
reputation for being one of the more internationally-minded Diet members,
she would be able to respond at length to what I thought was a simple
>Instead, she looked at me with a surprised glance and said, "Nobody in the
Diet is really discussing the issue seriously or in detail. Which is
exactly why we need to start discussions." End of interview.
>In the four years since, the issue of opening up Japan to foreign
immigrants has simmered just under the surface of the mainstream media. But
despite United Nations' reports that Japan may need 30 million foreigners
by 2050 in order to maintain current levels of economic prosperity, serious
discussion of bringing in more foreigners seems taboo.
>Instead of thoughtful, reasoned public debate in the mainstream press, we
get "educated" business leaders (complete with advanced degrees from
America's best universities) arguing in business journals over whether or
not it's best to bring in Brazilians or Asians to do the hard, dirty work
in the factories and service industries, and expressing their fears that
too many Brazilians will result in late-night samba parties that will keep
the neighbors awake, while too many Asians could lead to gang problems.
This is the sad and pathetic state of quasi-official "discussion" of future
immigration needs.
>Until now, that is. In late April, one of bureaucratic officialdom's most
interesting and controversial people, Hidenori Sakanaka, published a work
that will, hopefully, take the issue of increased immigration out of the
hands of moronic and self-interested businessmen and place it squarely
where it belongs --in the realm of public debate.
>Sakanaka, until he retired in March, headed the Tokyo Immigration Bureau.
He is a life-long civil servant and a maverick who has seen the best, and
worst, of Japan's immigration policies over the past 30 years. An outspoken
humanist who basically favors more immigration, Sakanaka details his
experiences and concerns in "Nyukan Senki", and offers a scenario for what
Japan might be like in 2050 with a more open immigration policy.
>While he does not name names, Sakanaka lashes out at the greed, stupidity
and criminal behavior of Japanese politicians, businesses, and his own
immigration bureau for their attitudes towards legal and illegal
immigrants, their refusal to treat Japanese-Koreans as citizens, and their
turning of a blind eye to human trafficking.
>It is clear Sakanaka despises the right-wing fueled paranoia and
xenophobia towards foreigners. It is also clear, however, that he
understands the real concerns of ordinary Japanese that lie behind the
rhetoric, and that he has few illusions about the kinds of problems and
issues Japan would face if it decides to welcome millions of immigrants.
>The foreign community in Japan, rightly, has passionate views of the
immigration debate and those views have many intellectual merits.
Individuals often have their own immigration stories, sometimes with happy
endings, sometimes not. But Sakanaka has been on the front lines, had his
life threatened by yakuza thugs, and been reassigned out of Tokyo by
politicians getting rich off of human trafficking and illegal immigrant
labor when he refused their requests to ignore the problem. He is neither a
well-meaning but inexperienced human rights activist nor a corporate
executive simply looking at the bottom line. He's an insider, a man who
reached the top of the heap, and he has an authority on the issues that is
unmatched anywhere in Japan.
>While Sakanaka's experiences make for interesting reading, especially for
those who have always wondered about foreign crime in Japan, it is the last
few chapters, which offer alternate scenarios for life in Japan by 2050 and
policy advice on how to integrate immigrants into Japanese society by then,
that really make this work stand out.
>Fundamentally, Sakanaka argues, the issue before Japan is what kind of
country it wants to become by the middle of this century: a "big" country
or a "small" country. Becoming a Big Country means accepting, by 2050,
roughly 20 million immigrants in order to maintain current economic levels
of prosperity. The alternative is to become a Small Country, let the
population drop to about 100 million, keep most foreigners out, and use
robots to do some of the work often done by immigrants elsewhere.
>To achieve the goal of becoming a Big Country, Sakanaka advocates the
establishment of an Immigration Ministry, a separate government organ with
full ministerial powers that would be responsible for all aspects of
Japan's immigration policy, as well as the immigrants themselves once they
have arrived and until they have obtained Japanese citizenship. Sakanaka
basically favors Japan becoming a Big Country, not just for economic
reasons but to serve as the "Canada of Asia", a multicultural, multiethnic
salad bowl of a country where people of all races and creeds can feel
>The analysis is not perfect, and even Sakanaka the humanist falls into
some racial stereotyping traps. For example, he assumes that, by 2050,
certain immigrants will remain in certain positions they are often
dominating now. In Sakanaka's Japan of the future, Chinese and Indian
immigrants are taking the lead in information technology businesses while
taxi drivers, busboys, and service industries are dominated by Southeast
Asians. Perhaps this will come to pass, and perhaps he simply wanted to
present a theoretical possibility that he thought readers could easily
identify with. But a slightly wider imagination would have allowed for the
possibility of large professional class of immigrant doctors, lawyers, and
others. And, most damningly, Sakanaka has little to say about the children
of immigrants and what their role in Japanese society might be.
>Still, Sakanaka is an idealist. He is also an engaging writer. No academic
jargon or (for the most part) sentences that sound as if they were written
by Kasumigaseki bureaucrats. His book will serve as a primer to anybody
interested in immigration issues, and how Japan might adopt an enlightened,
progressive, and, above all, humane, immigration policy in the years to
>So, despite the flaws, this book needs to be read by as many people as
possible, and soon, for it's thoughtful analysis and reasonable
suggestions. An English language version would be greatly appreciated, but
appears not to be forthcoming anytime soon. This is sad. For the
immigration debate, in my opinion, is rapidly becoming hijacked by the
corporate world, which, if they get their way, will simply dictate to
politicians and bureaucrats behind closed doors what kind of an immigration
policy serves their narrow interests, rather than the interests of the
>Human rights groups and other experts including, yes, immigration
officials, are being shut out of these back-room debates when they try to
join. But, sadly, many don't even try, seemingly believing that if they
just hold enough symposiums with like-minded souls, the problems, current
and future, will get resolved.
>As Sakanaka shows, they are dreaming, and all responsible residents of
Japan, no matter what their passport says, as well as the international
community would do well to consider the merits of his arguments and

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