Sunday 31 October 2021

The Impact of COVID-19 on Foreign Residents in Japan: Support Measures and Japanese-Style Multiculturalism

I was recently invited to give an online talk on the impact of COVID-19 on foreign residents in Japan as part of the Waseda Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies Seminar Series run by the Institute of Asian Migrations (IAM), a project research institute at Waseda University. The title was quite a mouthful: "The Impact of COVID-19 on Foreign Residents in 'No Immigration' Japan: Structural Inequity, Japanese-Style Multiculturalism, and the Loss of Social Capital." Not wanting to put off my regular readers, in this post I'm going to give a brief summary of the main points. Any masochists wanting the full presentation can actually watch it HERE on YouTube or read the full paper HERE, though probably not recommended for those of a non-academic ilk! 

I started off the talk with a visual (below) showing the key events relating to the spread of COVID-19 in Japan. This shows the five waves of COVID-19 (with a big jump after the Olympics!) as well as the four state of emergencies (green arrows). One point I highlighted was the re-entry ban for foreign residents - including most permanent residents like me - which ran from April to August 2020. This was seen as discriminatory by many at the time, but I learned after the presentation that the reason was, apparently, due to a lack of PCR test kits. Why the government didn't explain this at the time and instead let discontent fester is rather difficult to understand.

I've talked in other posts above Japan's "No Immigration" Principle, an institutionalisation of the ‘homogeneous people’ ideology of Japanese identity that explains Japan's resistance to migrants and a proper migration policy. The Waseda talk used that as the ideological base to explain the experience of foreign residents during the pandemic. The following figure, based on the content of calls to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government helpline for foreign residents, illustrates the financial and mental impact the pandemic has had on the foreign community in Japan.

In terms of support measures, the government response was refreshingly flexible and inclusive, treating foreign residents, for the most part, the same as Japanese. However, as the diagram below shows, equality is not the same as equity: although, in theory, much support was available, in practice it was often difficult for foreign residents to access these resources due to language and other problems. 

The rest of the presentation focussed on Japanese-style multiculturalism (tabunka kyōsei =多文化共生), a non-integrative exclusionary policy that serves as one of the key barriers in providing equitable support to the foreign community. An extension of the 'homogeneous people' ideology, I discussed how it isolates and disempowers foreign residents, failing to foster the skills and abilities they need to access resources equitably and become fully-functioning independent members of society. Indeed, one of the key themes of the presentation was belonging: about the only time I have ever heard the government acknowledge that we foreign residents are members of society (shakai no ichi'in =社会の一員) was when they wanted us to fill out the census forms. I remember seeing the ad below in my newspaper and nearly choking on my morning coffee: apologies for the coffee stain!

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