Friday, 21 September 2018

Japan would be advised to adopt multiculturalism

The other week on the way to the shopping centre near my home in Sydney to get my hair cut I passed a large group of children and adults in Wentworth Park who were having an "undoukai" (a sports day).

As I walked along the concrete path with green grass stretching away on both sides of it, I heard a public address system being used to count the number of beanbags that had been collected in two laundry baskets I could see from where I was on the path: one for the red team and one for the white team. A man was counting "ni-juu ichi, ni-juu ni, ni-juu san" ("twenty one, twenty two, twenty three") and other men were grabbing beanbags from the baskets and throwing them on the ground in a rhythm to match the counting. Two teams of children compete in this activity, trying to throw beanbags into baskets that are hard to reach, being placed on poles, and the team that ends up with the most beanbags in its basket wins the event.

Sports days like this are held every year in Japan. The children I saw were of primary-school age and they had little caps (red and white) on their heads to show which team they belonged to. On the way back home after eating lunch and the haircut I heard the guy on the PA system declaring the red team the winner in whatever event it was they were running at the time. All the kids with red caps stood up and cheered. This kind of socialisation of children is popular in Japan, and the ability to get along in groups is emphasised from a very early age.

But this event I witnessed was not so much Japanese as Australian. Our former prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, liked to say that Australia is the most successful multicultural nation in the world. This view is predicated partly on the lack of mass terror events here. There have been two attacks on civilians in recent times that could be classified as Islamic terrorism, but not the kinds of events that they have had in Europe where many people have been killed.

But it has taken a long time to get where we are. Australia adopted multiculturalism in 1974 during the years of the Whitlam Labor government, becoming just the second country in the world to do so (after Canada), and the succeeding Fraser Liberal (conservative) government kept the policy in place. Now, over half of the population has at least one parent who was born overseas. The population is growing at a rate of 1.7 percent annually, which is over twice the rate as that which applies in the US. As of July, Australia had the fifth-strongest growing population of all OECD countries. Australia has not had a recession for something like 26 years.

In Japan, things are not looking so promising. The population is shrinking and the country’s sovereign debt is over twice the amount of its annual gross domestic product. But even people who have close associations with foreigners think that immigration is not a good idea. The Japanese are drowning in a morass resulting from their own xenophobia.

The recent US Open tennis competition win of Naomi Osaka, a mixed-race Japanese player throws these debates into high relief. Tokyo-based journalist Jake Adelstein wrote about the issues surrounding Osaka in a recent story. Osaka will probably eventually end up jettisoning her Japanese citizenship because otherwise she’ll have to give up her American citizenship, and she has lived in the US since she was a toddler. She also speaks very basic Japanese but is fluent in English.

The law in Japan that says that you have to choose which citizenship you want to keep is typical of the kind of unfriendly regulations that abound in Japan when it comes to foreigners. It is virtually impossible to get Japanese citizenship and foreign names cannot be used on the household certificate that the prefecture office holds for each family, meaning that fathers from overseas who live in Japan have to go onto their wives’ document as a dependant. If you are a holder of a permanent residency visa and you leave Japan and your passport expires, you cannot move the visa to the new passport unless you are still living in Japan, so effectively you can lose your PR. These kinds of rule will have to change if Japan wants to be able to pay for the care of its ageing baby boomers, but the very people who might make the necessary changes are dead set against them. It’s a Mexican stand-off.

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