Sunday 16 December 2018

Japan's New Migration Law: A Visit to the NHK Broadcasting Center

It seems an age since I last put up a new post - my apologies! Rest assured I have not been run over by a truck but was simply ridiculously busy, as are many Japanese during the end of year period (nen-matsu =年末). I do have a stock of new stories lined up - including sweet potatoes, plastic rubbish, and dashi (soup stock). Today though I am going to stick to something topical: the recent passage of the revisions to the immigration law which have raised quite a bit of attention both in Japan and and worldwide (see my interview on BBC World News at the bottom!).

I have written previously here about Japan's lack of an immigration policy and its rather unfriendly and unwelcoming system of control over foreign residents. As I have explained elsewhere, Japan has long followed a de facto ‘no immigration principle’ — an institutionalisation of the ‘homogeneous people’ ideology of the Japanese nation — and this continues to play a key role in structuring national identity. However, faced with acute labour shortages that threaten to undermine the steady economic growth seen under Abenomics the government has taken radical action: for the first time in the post-war period it is to officially allow blue-collar workers (tanjun rōdōsha =単純労働者) into the country by setting up two new visa categories (for a short explanatory article see here).

As I mentioned above, the interest from outside Japan has been intense. A number of journalists have contacted me to ask what it all means, and to find out whether Japan will finally adopt a proper immigration policy (short answer: no). The BBC even asked me to appear for a short 3 minute interview on World News last Monday. Though I could have done it through Skype from my office I was quite interested to see what the BBC studio in Tokyo actually looked like so decided to head to the NHK Broadcasting Centre (hōsō-sentā =放送センター) where the BBC has an office. The Centre itself is located in Shibuya and is actually a huge complex of offices and shops which includes NHK Hall, where classical concerts are held, and NHK Studio Park, a hands-on interactive museum (PDF here).

The BBC "studio" actually turned out to a tiny (and unmanned when I was there) space a little bigger than a broom cupboard on the 7th floor of the Centre! There was little but a desk in front of a Tokyo backdrop and a camera (see picture). The lady who met me in front of the building and let me in popped an earpiece in my ear and sat me down in the hot seat where I waited until Singapore was ready to do the live interview segment. Needless to say, my romantic image of crazily busy international newsrooms with staff rushing about to meet deadlines was somewhat shattered!