Thursday, June 18, 2009

Japanese exports up!

This is a story that has had a moderate amount of international press, but it's worth a re-telling. I don't, of course, refer to an (as yet imaginary) recovery in Japan's balance of trade, which has plummetted recently - you aren't buying enough electronic gizmos and cameras! - but rather the Japanese Govt response to the downturn in the economy.

They are trying to export people instead.

Strictly speaking, they are not Japanese, of course - even though they've lived here for up to 20 years and have Japanese ancestry. Yes, I'm talking about the Nikkei (Japanese-related) immigrants, who were invited back here to fill the shortage of manual labour and are being bribed to go home now that times are tougher. After 20 years of paying taxes, social security and pension contributions (which they will lose) it must be a nice little earner for the Japanese government to dump them on someone else's doorstep rather than provide the sort of assistance that one might expect a developed country to offer to the most vulnerable end of society.

I'll rewind a little to the start of this sorry tale. The Nikkei are mostly the descendants of Japanese who emigrated to South American countries about 100 years ago when Japan had a surfeit of labour. Mostly these immigrants ended up poor and exploited like most unskilled immigrants around the world. Of course one or two of them have risen to the level of dictator and mass murderer at which point they were welcomed back to Japan with open arms, but that's another story :-) Fast forwarding on to about 1990, with Japan increasingly short of workers - especially those prepared to do the "KKK" (DDD in English - dirty, dangerous, difficult) jobs that have to be done in a heavy manufacturing country - and the JGovt hit upon these people as a ready source of labour. Immigration law basically prohibits unskilled immigration, so in a touchingly naive display of racism they invented a new long-term visa for these "Japanesey" people who, it was argued, would readily assimilate back into their native culture .

It hasn't worked quite like that, with the immigrant population substantially horded into ghettos in manufacturing cities, and the children often unschooled (did I mention, foreign children get no automatic right of education in Japan). The Govt fears a bit of social unrest as unemployment grows and the chickens come home to roost. So, best to ship them all home, and make them someone else's problem.

Hence the offer of a bribe for these unwanted masses to piss off home, after they have spent up to 20 years working hard for low salaries in difficult conditions, paying into the tax and social security systems.

Not surprisingly this offer has not gone down too well in the relevant population. Recently, the terms were softened so that those who do return "home" can re-apply to come to Japan in the future (originally this was prohibited). Frankly I'm not sure that isn't even worse, the open admission that this wheeze is nothing more than a transparent attempt from Japan to evade its moral (and indeed legal) responsibilities to provide the same social security safety net as Japanese citizens in equivalent difficulties would benefit from until the economy picks up. Because it will pick up, and Japan's depopulation continues apace, so in another 5 years there will be the same shortage of workers as there was 10 years ago. But hey, why think of a long term approach when you can muddle through a month at a time?

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