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.