The Hon. Yoko Kamikawa: A new stage in the creation of Japanese form of cohesive multicultural society

The Hon. Yoko Kamikawa delivers the opening keynote speech at the 2019 Japan Update.

The Era of Global Movement of People

Japan Update 2019 Opening Keynote Speech: The Era of Global Movement of People – A new stage in the creation of Japanese form of cohesive multicultural society The Hon. Yoko Kamikawa, Member of the House of Representatives of Japan


Hello everyone. I am Yoko Kamikawa, a Member of the House of Representatives of Japan. I wish to offer my gratitude for being invited to the ‘Japan Update 2019’. It is indeed an honour for me to be given this opportunity to speak in front of so many of you who have made such extraordinary contributions to the development of the good relationship between Japan and Australia over many years.

Until October of last year, I served for the second time in the position of Minister of Justice. In Japan, the Ministry of Justice is the government body responsible for the administration of immigration, and as the top representative of that body, I proposed legislation for a new status of residence. Hence today, I would like to address you all on the theme of “The Era of Global Movement of People – a new stage in the creation of Japanese form of cohesive multicultural society.”

In order to address the serious lack of human resources among various industries in Japan and to facilitate the acceptance of foreigners who possess valuable knowledge and experience, amendments were made to the law last year which established a new status of residence known as “specified skilled worker”. This new category took effect in April this year.

In drafting this legislation, I paid particular attention to the following three points. First is to develop a system that focuses on various aspects of life of foreign nationals that takes into account their work-life balance, optimize employment and facilitate their integration into local communities. Second, in the new legislation, I made it the responsibility of the national government to take measures for achieving cohesive multicultural society that was until now led by municipal governments. As for the third point, I believed that it was important to develop a framework that would allow all relevant stakeholders to connect and cooperate with one another. Such stakeholders include the national government, regional governments, sponsoring companies, national governments sending foreign workers to Japan.

Embracing the “Era of Global Movement of People”

Before going into the details of these three points, I would like outline the transnational movement of people in the context of Japan by focusing on foreign nationals in Japan who have acquired mid-to long-term resident status. Here, I would like to touch upon the examples of accepting foreigners of Japanese descent and technical intern trainees, and elaborate on the principles behind approving their residency.

At the end of last year (2018), there were approximately 2.7 million foreign nationals residing in Japan on mid- to long-term visas. Around 1.5 million of them engaged in work which is the highest level ever recorded.

Along with the globalization of economic system and the growth of transnational movement of people, Japan is entering new era in which it has to respond to internationalization of its domestic market and take nation-wide commitment based on clear policy towards achieving a cohesive multicultural society.

Thoughts in relation to the acceptance of foreign nationals in Japan: Lessons and various challenges

The general principle regarding the acceptance of foreign nationals into our labor markets was to positively accept foreign nationals with specialized or technical expertise. On the other hand, for foreign nationals that don’t meet such criteria, Japan has taken into account of their influence on its economy and citizen’s lives, and cautiously determined whether such foreigners could be accepted.
Based on such general principle, Japan developed particular systems for accepting foreign workers, including the acceptance of Japanese descent and technical intern trainees. Through such processes, we have faced a number of challenges and have learned many lessons.

Because the main theme of my speech today is creation of Japanese form of cohesive multicultural society, I think it is important to elaborate on the challenges we have faced in the past and how we have struggled.

Example ① : Adaptation of people of Japanese descent

Firstly, using the example of the acceptance of people of Japanese descent, from the 1990s onwards Japan began to accept people, primarily from South American countries such as Brazil, their 2nd or 3rd generations of Japanese descendants. At its peak in 2007, there were more than 300,000 people from Brazil working in Japan.
However, in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, the work environment of these people underwent a dramatic change. At the time, since many of such Japanese descendants were temporary workers, and because of their unstable form of employment and their difficulty in Japanese language, many of these people could not keep their job, and some of them regrettably had to leave Japan and return to their country of origin.

Of course, not all people of Japanese descent chose to leave and there were people who remained in Japan There were certain cities or communities, where many foreigners of Japanese descent maintained their community, especially in such areas where household appliance factories or car manufacturers hired these people. One of such area is my hometown, the City of Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture, which is famous for Mount Fuji.

Municipal governments like Hamamatsu city found that at the time, a range of problems affecting newly arrived people of Japanese descent, such as a lack of Japanese language ability meant that these people were unable to successfully integrate into the community. This then led to problems with children being absent from school, or trouble with their neighbor in garbage disposal arrangements, and various other issues related to education and local communities.

To improve such situation, Hamamatsu City, in cooperation with other municipal governments where they had community of foreign people, founded the “Council for cities concentrated of non-Japanese residents”. Through this council, municipal governments shared information with each other and made requests including various legislative reforms to the national government.

Before I became a politician, and this is going back some 20 years or so, I was a researcher at a think-tank and engaged in research and study of issues concerning multicultural coexistence within Shizuoka Prefecture. And since then, I thought that the problem was the lack of vision at the national government level while putting the responsibility on the municipal government for providing assistance and promoting inclusiveness of foreigners of Japanese descent. Hence following my election to the House of Representatives in 2000 and thereafter, I continued to advocate that the national government must take responsibility for measures aimed at realizing a cohesive multicultural society.

In establishing the new status of residence as the Minister of Justice, I believe that the national government should learn from such municipal governments and develop policy measures that incorporates the experience of the municipal governments that have dealt with the challenges in achieving cohesive multicultural society.

In fact, these municipal governments have nearly thirty years of experience and have developed unique grass-roots mutual support activities where governments cannot provide sufficient level of support. Such grass-roots activities include students and young people getting involved in providing educational support or organizing summer camps for children who have difficulty learning Japanese, or children of Japanese descendants who have become fluent in Japanese supporting their parents in their integration.
As such, I came to believe that there are a lot to learn from public private partnership efforts at the local community level. For Japan, it was a bitter experience that many Japanese descendants left Japan due to the change of economic circumstances, but in order to develop Japan’s cohesive multicultural society in the future, there are valuable lessons to be learned from the experience of local governments that have went through such times of difficulty.

Example ② : The Technical Intern Trainee System

Second example that I would like to touch upon is the technical intern trainee system which was also developed while embracing various challenges. Since its start in 1993, the technical intern trainees have been welcomed by developing countries that have sent trainees, as well as by the Japanese industries. The number of trainees accepted has continued to increase annually, and by 2018 there were more than 320,000 trainees.

On the other hand, examples do exist of some accepting organizations taking advantage of these trainees, putting them to work in inappropriate environments in order to secure cheap labor. There are other cases of human rights violation of trainees, and instances where trainees have gone missing. Against this background, questions have been raised from the point of view of protection of trainees,.

In order to seriously address these problems, and to take a step towards improving the situation, in 2016 Japan created a new law governing the appropriate regulation and protection of foreign trainees. The government is presently engaged in various efforts aimed at appropriate implantation of the trainee system.

Background to the introduction of a new system for acceptance of foreign workers

Based on these experience in implementing the status of residence system of the past, a decision was made to introduce a new status of resident “specified skilled worker”.

In the background to this decision lies the difficult situation facing Japan’s domestic economy. While strenuous efforts have been made to reform the overall employment system in conjunction with economic recovery, Japanese society continues to age and birth rate continues to decline. Year after year the number of citizens of childbearing age continues to fall, and as of January last year, they dropped to only sixty per cent of the overall population. This makes Japan the front-runner among developed countries in dealing with aging society.

Of course, the labor market continues to see greater levels of participation from women and senior citizens and effective use and application of information and communications technology have been explored, and yet certain sectors of the economy continue to struggle with systemic and chronic labor shortage.

Based on this state of affairs, I received a directive from Prime Minister Abe in February 2018, asking me at the time as the Minister of Justice to thoroughly explore a new system for acceptance of foreign workers into Japan.

Overview of the new system

The newly established status of residency known as specified skilled worker allows the acceptance of foreign workers into 14 sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, construction and nursing care sectors that have been particularly affected by lack of labor resources.

The new status system focuses on the acceptance of foreign workers possessing the necessary knowledge and experience and who are ready to be employed within the specified 14 sectors. It established two levels of status, known as specified skilled worker level 1 and specified skilled worker level 2, which have been established according to the necessary level of technical proficiency. It also contains measures that allow for promotion from level 1 to level 2 in accordance with developments in skill level.
For those foreign workers classified under specified skilled worker level 1, in order to ensure that they are able to live in Japan, examinations concerning necessary technical and Japanese language ability are conducted upon their arrival in Japan. They are then granted permission to reside in Japan for a period of up to 5 years.

Expectations are that in the next 5 years, around 350,000 workers will be accepted into the 14 designated sectors, and since April this year, some of these sectors have already begun to accept workers.

Establishment of a system to promote the acceptance of foreign workers: Optimization of labor and support mechanisms

I mentioned in my introduction three key points that I paid particular attention in drafting the legislation for accepting specified skilled workers. Among the three key points, the first point was to focus on the various aspects of life of foreign people. In this connection, efforts were made to establish an acceptance system that would ensure foreign people the same levels of wages and working conditions of Japanese citizens, and also to establish a framework for providing support for foreign people.

In the case of providing support, the accepting organizations needed to create their own support scheme for foreigners entering as the level 1 specified skilled workers, and to provide support for their “working life, everyday life, and social life”.

Such support scheme was not required in the previous system of accepting foreigners and it is based on the lessons learned from the acceptance of workers of Japanese descent as well as technical trainees. Such support scheme is introduced so that the specified skilled workers will be able to become part of their local community and make seamless transition to life in Japan.

The main areas of support are as follows: Support for “work life”, such as complaint resolution services for any trouble that emerges in the workplace. Support for “everyday life”, such as orientation sessions that explain living arrangements including rules for disposing garbage and so forth. Support for “social life”, such as providing information about various administrative processes.

Moreover, it is worth highlighting that in the event that these specified skilled workers have their work contract unilaterally terminated, measures have been put in place to assist their transition to another workplace.

Comprehensive strategic solutions undertaken by the government

Turning to the second key point I highlighted at the beginning, the national government assumes responsibility for taking measures to cohesive multicultural society. In July of last year, the Government of Japan established the “Cabinet Committee for the Acceptance and Inclusion of Foreign Workers”, and at the end of last year this committee compiled its “Comprehensive Solutions for the Acceptance and Inclusion of Foreign Workers”. As Minister of Justice at that time, I served as co-chair of the committee along with the Chief Cabinet Secretary, and compiled a range of policies whereby the national government takes responsibility for ensuring measures to achieve cohesive multicultural society.

The main pillars of these solutions are aimed at creating a society where people can live in multicultural harmony. In particular, they envisage to establish one-stop service counters in approximately 100 municipal government offices to offer advice and make necessary referral arrangements for foreign workers.
As I will explain later, a new organization known as the Immigration Services Agency will provide local governments financial assistance and know-how to operate such service counters, and the local governments will then develop frameworks to provide advice and to make appropriate referrals according to the enquiries made by foreigners.

Moreover, the comprehensive solution is a package of 126 policy measures, for which a budget of 2.1 billion yen has been budgeted for this financial year. In June of this year, new policy measures were added which focus on the most pressing challenges. Such measures include matching assistance for foreign workers and local companies, and establishing of what may provisionally be called Centers for Cohesive Society.

Organization of frameworks for implementation of policies to establish a multicultural society

As for the third key point, developing a platform for all relevant stakeholders to coordinate and cooperate, a new organization, the Immigration Service Agency was established in April of this year along with the implementation of the new status of residency.

Before the establishment of Immigration Service Agency, the “Immigration Bureau” of the Ministry of Justice was primarily in charge of border control issues, such as immigration procedures and deportation. However, given the importance of developing the environment and improving the management of foreigners who are accepted for mid to long term residency, a decision was made to establish a new organization known as “Immigration Services Agency”.
And in order to avoid the inconvenience of bureaucratic sectionalism, the Ministry of Justice and the Immigration Services Agency were designated to take the lead on coordination with other governmental bodies. This clearly sends a message that whole-of-government approach will be taken.

Moreover, it is also necessary to ensure that governments of foreign countries from which specified skilled workers will be sourced from understand their commitments to ensure smooth transition of such workers into Japanese society. To that end, progress has been made regarding the signing of Memorandums of Cooperation with the governments of source countries. To date, the governments of nine countries, such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia have signed such memorandums, and expectations are that further memoranda will be concluded with other potential source countries.
These measures are in fact implementation of the Goal 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals “Achievement of Targets through Public and Private Partnership”.
In order to realize a “cohesive multicultural society”, government alone, or in other words “public assistance” alone is insufficient.
I strongly believe that it is necessary that the government, private sector and local community coordinate and take policy measures that promote “self-help” and “mutual assistance”.To elaborate on this point, it is important to note that, on one hand, the foreign people are encouraged to participate in the local community with sense of ownership and make their self-help effort towards integration, while on the other hand, the local community also actively takes steps to accept and facilitate their integration so that everyone can mutually support each other.

Future challenges: Securing the rights of foreign workers and improving access to justice

The new status of residence only commenced in April of this year and will now move to the “implementation” phase in order to create a cohesive multicultural society. Under this new system, the number of foreign workers accepted will be made public once in every three months. This aids in the management of resident foreigners through an evidence-based approach and ensures sustainability of the new system, as well as earning trust and understanding of the Japanese citizens.

However, during the course of its implementation, it may turn out that not everything will play out as we first envisioned. Just like Australia or other countries, Japan will face challenges in accepting foreign workers, and will have to overcome those challenges. For Japan to move towards a cohesive multicultural society, it will be very important for us to take “step by step” approach to flexibly review our systems and policies as necessary.
I believe that there are a couple of points or perspectives that are critically important when reviewing our system. The first point is “human rights of foreign workers”, and the second point is “access to justice of foreign workers”.

Viewpoint ① : ‘Issues involving the human rights of foreign workers’

I will start with the first point on “human rights of foreign workers”. During the course of developing a “multicultural society” that accepts foreigners of diverse backgrounds, we will inevitably experience “cultural friction”. Of course, hate speech and discrimination against foreign workers must never be tolerated, and in order to realize true multicultural harmony, it is particularly important to support one another by overcoming their differences in culture and religion and support one another.
The level of cultural friction will be the indicator of measuring whether current systems and policies are working or not. And in order to ensure steady and continuous development of a multicultural society, more effort will be required to resolve these challenges.
To that end, it will be necessary to conduct surveys that will allow us to continuously monitor the situation of human rights violation of foreign people, and to further strengthen awareness raising of the general public through coordination with every relevant organizations and stakeholders.

Viewpoint ② : ‘Issues concerning access to justice for foreign workers’

As for the second point, “access to justice for foreign workers”, when considering problems related to labor, employment, and living arrangements, various legal disputes may arise between Japanese citizens and foreign workers and among foreign workers themselves. To ensure sustainability of a cohesive multicultural society, these issues must be resolved in an appropriate manner.

On this point, in Japan the Japan Legal Support Center, known as “Houterasu”, has initiated a “multilingual information service” which offers information on Japanese law and legal systems in multiple languages for foreigners visiting or living in Japan. However, more needs to be done to further strengthen “access to justice” for foreign people, and in this regard, we should further explore use of online information and communications technology.

To address these challenges against achieving cohesive multicultural society, the Liberal Democratic Party Research Commission on the Judiciary System, which I serve as the chairperson, examined the issues and compiled its recommendation in June this year, and made its appeal to the relevant ministers of the cabinet.


To conclude, in order to fully realize a “cohesive multicultural society”, the foreign people themselves are encouraged to contribute to the community and develop their sense of ownership, but it is even more necessary that every citizens of the community understand the importance and take action to achieve this goal. Creating a “cohesive multicultural society” is, in fact, realization of “a society where no one is left behind”. This is the philosophy behind the Sustainable Development Goals which emphasize diversity and inclusiveness and it should be taken as the basis of our joint efforts.

I would like to remind you that Japan is known as one of the world’s safest and most stable countries. To that end, the UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, the Kyoto Congress, will take place in Kyoto in April 2020. As the host country, this will present a fine opportunity for Japan to display its safe and secure society to the world. I believe that the deeply rooted rule of law and a culture of lawfulness are important assets of Japan. Accordingly, Japan will enhance its “judicial affairs diplomacy” to promote the universal value of the rule of law to prevail globally.
I hope that foreigners that come to Japan will experience for themselves a society steeped in a culture of lawfulness, and become part of such society and contribute with sense ownership in achieving “Japanese form of cohesive multicultural society” where people are independent and yet supportive of each other.

As a member of the Japanese House of Representatives, I shall endeavor to the fullest extent to realize “Japanese form of cohesive multicultural society” which has now entered its new stage.

Thank you for your kind attention.


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