Brazilian Children Falling off from Japan’s Educational System
Aisin Seiki Co., a supplier of auto parts to Toyota Motor Corp., employs about 1,700 Brazilians among its 6,000 factory workers. A public-housing complex in Toyota City called Homi Estate was built in the 1970s to house workers at Toyota's parts suppliers. Now, 45% of the roughly 9,000 residents are predominantly Brazilian.
According to a national survey conducted in 2005 by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, the number of Brazilians residing in Japan reached 214,049 and ranked third in foreign national population following 466,637 Korean residents and 346,877 Chinese. Approximately 35,000 Brazilians in Japan were aged between 5 and 19.
These roughly 35,000 Brazilian children of school age attend either Brazilian schools, local public schools, or are not enrolled in any educational institutions.
Brazilian children attending local public schools are confronted with language barriers and difficulties adjusting to the Japanese-way. As a result, many end up dropping out. In the late 1990s Brazilian schools were created by Brazilians in Japan to help these children adjust to Japanese society and prepare for enrollment in public schools. Over time, these schools have become the center of educational institute for Brazilians.
However, these schools are not accredited as an educational institute by the Japanese government. In order for Brazilian schools to be accredited, the government requires that these schools teach according to prefecture standards and follow government-set curriculum, forcing them to abandon teaching in Portuguese and depend on Japanese teachers to handle Brazilian students. And because unaccredited schools are not funded by the Japanese government the school must ask parents and guardians for 25,000 yen per month to cover expenses and tuition.
Those unable to pay have no choice but to enroll their children in public schools, where again, many are doomed to drop out.
According to Julietta Yoshimura, president of the Associacao das Escolas Brasileiras no Japao (Association of Brazilian Schools in Japan), there are approximately 9,000 Brazilian students attending Brazilian schools and 10,000 others enrolled in Japanese public schools. The remaining roughly 15,000 Brazilians of school age, according to the Foreign Ministry’s 2004 estimate, are not enrolled in any educational institutions.
The first big wave of foreign workers came in the “bubble era” of the late 1980s when Japan admitted tens of thousands of Iranians to enter with tourist visas. Many of these Iranians stayed in Japan despite expiration of their tourist visas and began to work illegally. When the bubble economy burst, the government required Iranian visitors to meet the tighter entry requirements already required for people from most other developing nations.
The second wave came in 1990 when the government granted descendants of Japanese emigrants, in particular the children and grandchildren of those who left Japan to work as farmers in Brazil during the first half of the 20th century, special status to work freely in Japan for as long as they wished. The thriving of Japan's auto industry in the early 2000s presented labor shortages as many Japanese workers shunned factory jobs. To fill in these shortages, the large Brazilian community around Toyota City, Aichi prefecture became a vital part of the labor force. Many companies find factory work a perfect match for foreign workers who in many cases don’t speak Japanese well because the job involve routine tasks that require little explanation.
Though most Brazilians intended to stay just a few years to make quick money, many are deciding to remain in Japan. As a result, foreign workers have recently expanded to include fruit pickers, scallop packers and garment-factory workers. They support struggling businesses in rural Japan where the population is declining rapidly as young people move to big cities like Tokyo and Osaka.
The government-sponsored trainee system was originally created to allow large companies to train their overseas staffers in Japan. However, over time, the system has gradually expanded to include small companies with labor shortages. In 2006, Japan brought in 68,305 trainees, twice the number in 2001. The trainees initially receive a one-year visa, and they can extend their stay for an additional two years. Most choose to do so. Trainees cannot obtain trainee visas once the initial three years are up.
Foreign workers currently don't present economic threats to Japanese workers because they tend to work in agriculture and construction industries, jobs that many of today’s Japanese workers don’t want. And many are scattered around the country in small, rural communities which are cut off from mainstream society such as Tokyo and Osaka.
Moreover, because of the falling birth rate, Japan's working-age population which peaked in 1995 is now falling. Demographers forecast that the number of working-age Japanese -- ages 15 to 64 -- will drop 15% to 71.9 million by 2025 from 84.6 million in 2005. The drop will be especially steep over the next few years as people born during Japan's 1947-49 baby boom turn 60, the official retirement age at many companies. In a country where the public is strongly aware of such demographic trends, many see foreign workers as inevitable in sustaining Japan’s current economic position in the global market.
The Japanese government has kept a tight grip on foreigners and their activities through stringent visa requirements. However, while officially keeping the door closed, the government has left numerous loopholes open enabling thousands of foreigners to enter and work, on temporary basis, in Japan each year. Some have come to call this the "backdoor policy."
Under the government approved three-year “trainee” program, 140,000 foreigners enter Japan to acquire skills expected to be brought back to their countries. Some trainees are paid just $2.50 an hour, around half the lowest of Japan's minimum wages , which vary by region.
In addition, some 100,000 foreigners with student visas are allowed to work part-time, and most do so at low-wage jobs in convenience stores and fast-food restaurants. And about 300,000 descendants of Japanese who immigrated to South America, mostly to Brazil, more than 50 years ago now live and work in Japan, granted visas as relatives of Japanese citizens.
The Japan Association of Corporate Executives, a powerful business lobby that supports allowing more foreign workers in Japan, projected that by 2050, foreigners would exceed 6.1% of Japan's working-age population -- nearly five times the current level.
Japan, long known for its resistance to mass immigration, is gradually starting to deploy more foreigners to solve its labor shortage. Foreigners, the term often used to refer to non-Japanese nationals living/working in Japan, are taking up jobs in rural areas where industries such as agriculture and textiles are struggling. Large companies are filling their factories with foreigners to assemble auto parts and flat-panel TVs. In cities, foreign workers serve meals at restaurants and stock shelves at grocery stores. Not much different from the use of Mexican labor in the U.S.
The 2005 census revealed that Japan had 770,000 foreign workers, 1.3% of its working population, up from 604,000 and 0.9% a decade earlier. That is still a far cry from the U.S., which has 22 million foreign-born workers, or 15% of the labor force. Nonetheless, it's a big change for Japan.
Resistance to allowing in foreign workers runs strong in this island nation, where virtually everyone speaks Japanese and shares a similar ethnic and cultural background. During 1639 to 1854, known as the sakoku-jidai in Japanese, Japan banned nearly all foreigners from entering the country.
Even today, many Japanese believe that the country's relatively homogenous population and common values contribute to a low crime rate and economic strength. But as the country faces shrinking population and is engulfed into global economic competition, Japanese are beginning to shake off some of their traditional views. In a 2005 government public-opinion survey, 56% of respondents said Japan should accept unskilled foreign workers either unconditionally or if certain conditions are met. 26% said they were opposed to the idea under any circumstance.
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