Ensuring Unity and Inclusivity for Foreign Workers in Japan: A Student’s Perspective

Ayano Nakamura
September 17, 2019

Ayano Nakamura is a first-year student at Bates College in Maine. She is a Japanese citizen who completed an internship at Sasakawa USA during the summer of 2019.

Ayano Nakamura

One of the challenges that Japan faces today is to ensure inclusivity and a sense of unity in Japanese society as the number of foreigners increases.

In my sophomore year of high school, I went on a yearlong exchange program in Houston, where I saw the 2016 presidential election. As I observed the reactions of my classmates, teachers, and commentators on television to the results of the election, I was shocked to see a huge divide within the United States.

Two years later, I accompanied my father when he was transferred to Washington, D.C. The country still appeared to be completely divided—a Gallup poll conducted in January-March 2019, for example, showed that 89% of all Republicans thought that President Trump was doing a good job while only 5% of the Democrats thought the same.

One of the major issues that demonstrate this big divide is immigration. When I first learned of the controversy over President Trump’s declaration to build a wall between the borders of the United States and Mexico, I did not think this issue applied to Japan. However, I recalled the so-called “Brexit”, i.e. Britain’s decision to leave the European Union in June 2016, partly resulted from conflicting views within Britain about the country’s immigration policies. As I searched for Japan’s immigration statistics, I found out that the foreign population in Japan is quite large and growing rapidly. There are already approximately 2,667,199 foreign residents in Japan. Although the number of foreign residents is 2.09% of the entire Japanese population, the social impact of increasing foreign residents in regions with a huge concentration of foreigners cannot be underestimated in a very homogenous country like Japan. Although this statistic is not comparable to the number of foreign residents in the United States, the increasing number of foreign residents could create a serious division between Japanese who are open to accepting foreigners and Japanese who are not.

Last year, the Japanese government decided to expand the number of foreign workers up to 345,000 workers in the coming five years. As Japan’s population continues to decline at a rapid pace, this policy is essential to maintain the country’s prosperity, but it is important to ensure that foreign workers can smoothly adjust and assimilate into Japanese society.

I believe the key to ensuring smooth integration is to secure good education for the children of those foreign workers and give them a promise of a better future. Without access to good education, foreign workers and their families will likely fall into more economic hardships and have difficulty succeeding, which will make their integration into Japanese society even more difficult.

According to the Japanese Ministry of Education, there is currently an estimated number of 44,000 foreign students in Japan who are in need of Japanese language education. High school enrollment rate for the foreign students is about 60%. The other 30% are enrolled in an online/part-time commuting school. The dropout rate for the foreign students is about seven times more than the national average. I believe that bringing both the high school enrollment rate up and dropout rate down to the national average can ease the discrepancy between the foreign and Japanese students. If high school graduation rates increase, that would open many doors for those foreign students.

To increase high school graduation rates, Japan should consider accepting all foreign students into Japanese public elementary and middle schools, even though the Japanese constitution does not consider foreign students as necessary recipients of compulsory education. If asking school to accept all foreign students is too much of a burden, then one idea is to purposefully establish a school in each district that has abundant resources and capacity to accept foreign students. Ota City in Gunma Prefecture is an example of a district that has pursued this path.

There are also currently only 12 prefectures that have at least one public high school offering  a special entrance exam to accept foreign students. I believe all prefectures should have such high schools. Moreover, for foreign students who may not be able to enter Japanese public high schools, Japan might consider establishing a high school similar to community colleges in the United States so that all foreign students can enroll without taking an exam, and then if they work hard enough, can transfer into a public high school.

Finally, both Japanese middle schools and high schools should implement a “mandatory volunteer credit” that students must earn as a graduation requirement so that they can tutor the foreign students in Japanese language. This not only gives Japanese students work experience, but also bring together the Japanese and the foreign students.

The division/conflict of opinions in the nation could become a burden for growth of the country.  Japan needs to make sure that the foreign workers feel safe working in Japan and accepted by their communities.

Japan has accepted different cultures, techniques, and habits from other countries in Asia and Europe to reflect and integrate into our own culture. Given Japan’s ability to accept different cultures, I believe that Japan can successfully integrate foreign workers into Japanese society without jeopardizing unity by taking necessary measures. Success in doing so will help Japan in the long run.


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