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NHK Airs Program On Foreign Workers

Author:Author unknown, Issue: December 2002, Topic: Immigration

On November 28, NHK aired a 30-minute program at 7:30 pm on the conditions faced by foreign workers in Japan. They chose Ibaraki as the focus of the program, since the greatest increase in such foreign labor in recent years has taken place here. NHK reporters spent several days in the port city of Oarai, just east of Mito, filming the lives of the approximately 800 Indonesians working in seafood processing plants there. This represents 4 % of the population of the town and 25% of the workers in the factories. While some of the workers have some Japanese ancestry and are thus able to get working visas, many are "overstay" people who are working illegally after entering Japan on tourist visas.

While NHK was filming on location on Oct. 29, immigration authorities made a dawn raid on an apartment building and arrested 9 "illegal aliens" who now face deportation to Indonesia. This was after a similar raid in September in which 40 were arrested. The NHK crew rushed to the scene of the raid, showing the 90 or so police and immigration officials banging on the doors of the apartment. The following Sunday (Nov. 1), they filmed a worship service of one of the 4 churches set up by the Indonesian community during the last 3 years. (Almost all of the workers in Oarai come from the Minahasa district of Indonesia, which is mostly Christian.) The Oarai Bethlehem Church meets in an old warehouse converted into a church by its 250 members. The NHK staff expressed to the people there their own dismay at the actions of the immigration authorities, and during the broadcast, the announcer and main reporter editorialized about the importance of Japan revamping its laws to allow such laborers to work legally in Japan. In all their portrayals of the Indonesia community in Oarai, they stressed how decent and hard working these people are, showing several scenes of the church pastor serving his people.

In addition to interviewing the head of immigration (who predictably emphasized that they must enforce the law), NHK interviewed local officials in Oarai as well as others concerned about this issue. They all appealed to the government for a solution to this problem. Many of the Japanese workers in the plants are old and despite concerted efforts to attract young Japanese, very few seek employment in such jobs. Thus, these companies are becoming increasingly dependent on foreign labor, without which many would have to close down. Few Japanese are willing to do the "3-k" jobs (which translates into English as '3-d' - 'dirty', 'difficult' and 'dangerous'), and yet without someone to do those jobs, the Japanese economy will further decline. With the aging of society, Japanese population is expected to start declining in 2006, with the working population decreasing even faster.

The program climaxed with an interview of Hidetoshi Watanabe, a representative of a consortium of 90 non-governmental organizations from around Japan that recently formed to coordinate efforts towards solving this problem. The group has presented appeals to various branches of the national government to draft new legislation that would make it possible for sectors of the economy that desperately need foreign labor to continue to exist and provide products and services vital to the nation. All of the agencies involved said they would discuss the issues to see if something can be done, but in the meantime, the "cat and mouse game" being played by immigration will continue, as they insist they will continue to crack down on workers without proper visas. Given the history of "turf battles" common to Japanese government agencies and the slow pace of reform in general, there is probably little likelihood of a quick solution to this problem. NHK is to be commended, however, for its efforts in bringing this issue to the fore.

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