Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Breaking Glass

My favourite version of this song. Caught it by pure chance while channel surfing my mother's digital TV service.

Monday, 28 September 2009

What the papers say


A fellow from a very serious newspaper here in Japan called the Nihon Keizai Shinbun (Nikkei), had a meeting with the chief and has just written an article basically calling on the new administration to get serious about bringing in people to support the economy and welfare system, now now. According to this reporter, he doesn't think that the DPJ will put much effort into getting such policy put together during these bad economic times, but expects that after Lower House elections next summer, they'll start making moves. He went on to say that he will be looking to get out an editorial calling for such action from the ruling party.

To the chief this is good news. He believes that the paper has a great deal of influence over the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Indeed, the article conveys a sense of urgency, lambasts the hitherto lack of serious discussion on immigration and immigrants, lays out the cold hard facts of population decline, with no nonsense about robots possibly filling in all of the labour shortages.

The article also touches on some of the barriers current policy puts up for some non-Japanese by describing the challenges facing partcipants of a programme aimed at filling shortages in nursing and care for the fast growing number of elderly people. Since last year Japan has been recruiting nurses and care workers, through agreements of economic cooperation with Indonesia. Under the conditions of their visas participants of the programme who wish to become nurses here must sit, within three years of their arrival, a national exam that is performed once every year. Those who wish to become care workers, must take a one-time test after completing three years of work experience. Should they fail to pass their respective exams within the time allowed, they have to return to their home countries.

The national exam for nurses and care workers is quite difficult for programme participants. It is quite unrealistic to expect Indonesians to be able to gain the level of Japanese necessary to pass these exams with only six months of Japanese study. The main barrier is acquiring Japanese as an academic language, a similar problem for other immigrant groups from countries that do not use a kanji system. So in reality the programme operates as nothing more than a revolving door system. The author seems to look unfavourably on this.

That being said, in my humble opinion, the article is not without its problems. The author interviews the vice minister of education who reacts to the issue of language by saying that they write the exam in Japanese because of concerns that providing seperate exams, written in the students' language would lead to problems in the workplace. The author then goes on the say that such concerns are natural because Brazilians of Japanese descent and participants in the Foreign Trainee programme very often had little chance to learn Japanese language and culture. He then links this trouble with the local populace involving things like rubbish disposal practices. He actually focuses on rubbish disposal as the most salient example.

While I understand that rubbish disposal is very important to some people over here. I can't help but feel that this is a very Japanese-centric statement, which glosses over (and perhaps minimises) the more problematic, structural barriers to social inclusion immigrants can face here. No word of the fact that the programmes, as constructed give little opportunity or incentive for learning Japanese.

In the case of the Foreign Trainee programme, while on the surface it appears to be a programme that transfers skills to people that they can use to benefit their home countries in reality many employers want cheap labour, and many trainees come for the more favourable salaries. Trainees can end up working long hours in awful conditions, but put up with it because of the money they hope to earn, and in many cases because there is little they can do about it.

In other cases, such as the factory work many South Americans of Japanese descent engage in, the belief is often that the stay in Japan will not be very long, and so they work as many hours as they can get. The nurses and care assistants from Indonesia get only six months of formal Japanese language education, and the Japanese govt only implemented programmes to assist some Brazilians and Peruvians of Japanese descent in January. There has been little opportunity here to pick up Japanese. The Japanese Government was never keen on these people actually settling in Japan. Furthermore when one comes to earn money, or when one's job and daily life involves little contact with Japanese people, there is little incentive to learn Japanese. It's just not a priority, and policy did not give any impetus for people to reassess that priority.

Furthermore, Why is the choice presented as writing exams in Japanese, or in a foreign language? Why the false dilemma? And why didn't the author choose to validate this assertion by alluding to the trouble these people with little Japanese ability caused for local people? Again very Japanese-centric. Making policy with the premise of making sure newcomers don't cause trouble for Japanese people is not going to deliver anywhere near the best possible results.

Found the article in question reproduced on this website.

Friday, 25 September 2009


There's been a little something that I've found a little perplexing about the writings I've been working with thus far. Basically I've been a little concerned about the dearth of citations and sourced statistics. This is something quite alien to me, and a little disconcerting in light of the work I had to put in with regards to citations in order to get myself published.

My good mate, who lives here in Tokyo, made a very interesting observation about my impressions. He argued that it's merely indicative of the fact that Japan is a high context culture. The fact that my boss is who he is, a man with a long history in the bureaucratic officialdom, gives him a level of credibility that makes citations unecessary.  His message is viewed in its context. Who is giving the message? What organisation does this person represent? What is this person's academic credentials? He also said that a lot of business and academic practices, coming from this cultural background, fall short of international standards.

I've been mulling this over a bit, first I wonder if this is in fact an accurate analysis of the cause of my observations. Second I've thinking a little bit about what I can bring to the organisation. As far as I know, my name will on the work I've produced. As I need the exposure to make this internship a beneficial investment, it is certainly not in my interests to put something out there that isn't ready for prime-time. More imporantly though, and what I think I'll have to argue is that it isn't in my boss' best interests either. I believe that I am correct in my belief that without sources, the English version of the chief's book I've written will be viewed with some interest, but that it will lack the gravitas that the chief will need if he hopes to influence the appropriate movers and shakers in the English-speaking world.

This has also made me think again about my role in the organisation. Am I wearing my evaluator hat when I make this observation? I just being myself, an enthusiastic employee? It's probably a mix of factors (complicates the idea of being a detached non-participant evaluator). Considering my context (young, less experience, non-Japanese) would my arguments be taken seriously? Can I even be seen as a qualified advisor and evaluator here?


A journalist from the public broadcasting company brought her film crew along to interview the executive director. She's also interested in bringing her crew along to film the exec's upcoming presentation. So my work might just show up on national TV. Pretty chuffed about that. Feeling the pressure a bit too, want it to be received well. Making a decent presentation with powerpoint is harder than it looks. You don't want too much information in the slides, nor do you want too many slides. You'll overload and most likely bore the audience. Who really wants to spend time and/or money just to have someone read slides to them? I've also got a deadline coming up for a literature review, and I need to make time to get that done as well.


I've managed to complete the first draft of the presentation. My aim is simply to provide a basic framework of talking points for the chief to discuss. The ideas are in his book, so my thinking is that he only needs to have some anchors to keep him focused and on track. We'll see what he makes of it.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Knowing my role

What exactly is my role here?  I do not believe that I'm in a position to answer that question fully at this point in time. My brief was to contribute to the work of this organisation, at the same time as I evaluate their activities. Right now I’ve just been more formally recognised as a researcher in the institute. My business cards have been printed, I’m to write a presentation for the executive director, and I’ve been asked to help improve the office lady’s English. My identity here is rather fluid. I am not merely a non-participant observer many times because I’m working both in and on the organisation. I'm asked to complete tasks, directly solicited with questions, or comments about my appearance are made as openings for conversation. The office can be quite chatty, and I am encouraged to join in. Moreover everyone was very supportive during my earlier troubles.

It’s almost as if the fact that I’m here also to evaluate the organisation is on a complete backburner in people’s minds. There doesn’t seem to be any hesitation to tell me things. No announcements of news or tidbits of information intended to give me a favourable impression, or reach the ears of funders etc. Maybe this is a reflection of my status within the organisation. Perhaps their understanding  is that I am not connected to any actors whose approval or disapproval could affect their operations.What could I really do to them if I came away with an unfavourable impression of their work? 

At the same time at least one of my informants reacted to what might have been an incongruence with his perception of my identity. The tone of the conversation certainly felt more formal once he saw me wield my pen to make a note of his comments. Also I can’t help but think I am granted privileges due to my sex and my academic credentials, as the organisational structure I've perceived thus far tends to align with structural inequalities in wider Japanese society. However as I've yet to fathom exactly where I fit in within the organisational structure, I can't be sure that my sense is at all correct. As I am by far the youngest person working in the organisation, a total newcomer, and have no coercive or resource based power over the organisation; I wonder how the final product of my research will be received, and what benefit others, especially the executive director, derive from my presence.


Just about settled into my new place A very cosy ten square meters. As a food lover I am dismayed by the size of the kitchen, but that's just most Japanese apartments for you.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

First Post

About two weeks ago I started an internship at an organisation that has been working not only to change Japan's immigration policies, but the ways that immigration, immigrants, and mulitculturalism are conceptualised. The executive director of this org is one of the most controversial figures in Japan's bureaucratic circles. He has gained a reputation as a Javert of immigration for his strict enforcement of the law, earning himself a law suit for the alleged inhumane treatment of deportees during his tenure as an immigration chief. On the other hand he is considered a maverick for refusing to ignore the problem of human trafficking, and for his outspoken views on the treatment of Japanese ethnic Koreans. Such actions earned him death threats, and de facto demotions from politicians who were benefitting from human trafficking, and illegal immigrant labour.
The main work that I will be carrying out will be to analyse and evaluate his activities using a theory of change based methodology. I will work with all of the org's directors to construct their theories of change, compare and contrast them, compare them to the context to measure their likely effectiveness, and finally use the findings of my report to help them construct a new organisation-wide theory of change, if needs be. Or something like that.
At the moment, my role is "researcher". It's what it says on my business card. However up until now my efforts have been concentrated on completing a first draft translation of a collection of essays written about policies towards non-Japanese, which the executive director hopes will generate new ideas and debate outside of the spheres of the usual suspects -Japan hands, and those with an interest in the country. My current understanding of his thinking is that he wants to reach people who don’t have any particular interest in, or knowledge of the Japanese context, and people who don’t speak or read Japanese. Indeed he writes in the foreword of the updated booklet that the people he most wants to read the book are the future immigrants who will be building a multicultural Japan hand in hand with young native Japanese. He also believes – to my knowledge – that the dissemination of his ideas will lead to the generation of constructive criticism, increased knowledge, and greater support for his proposal, which I imagine he believes will prompt a tangible policy-based response from the powers that be.