Cool Japan? With new resident system for foreigners, 'Cold Japan' fits better
“I am very happy that the immigration system is being revised. Foreign residents struggle with being viewed as ‘others,’ so even doing away with the Alien Registration Cards is a positive step, and is warmly welcomed by us.”—- Cage Morgan
A young Caucasian foreigner, holding up a sketchpad bearing the above words, appears on the front page of Shukan Kinyobi (July 13). The magazine’s cover story, titled “Cold Japan,” appears to be the first article to appear in a vernacular news magazine since the new law affecting foreign residents commenced from July 9.
With the exception of former colonials who hold the status of “special permanent residents,” about 1.7 million non-Japanese will come under the status of a variety of categories, including permanent resident, resident, spouse of Japanese and then the rest, including businessmen, company transferees, students, researchers, technicians, entertainers and so on. These people will eventually be issued a resident’s card containing an IC chip giving such data as name and date of birth, nationality, residence, status of residence and others. The main difference with the special permanent residents is that their cards will contain an indication as to whether or not they are permitted to work.
Assuming that the conditions on the card are subject to strict enforcement with penalties for violators, the law represents a major change. And that, says writer Masumi Sakou, raises concerns by foreigners that their legal position in the country is “extremely unstable.” Moreover, the new situation gives immigration wider-ranging powers among the ministries and agencies, with the problem being that standards for the legal system “non-transparent to the extreme.”
As one example, a foreigner married to a Japanese had normally been given the status of “spouse of a Japanese.” This will not entitle such a person to permanent status automatically, but rather one of four categories with the length of stay ranging from six months to five years—to be determined by immigration. When the date of expiration approaches, the spouse must apply for an extension, but there is no guarantee it will be granted. Little leeway is available when judging cases for couples which, perhaps due to the Japanese partner’s job assignment for example, would necessitate the couple’s temporarily living apart.
Another worrisome development is the penalty for violations by residents, which can be as high as up to one year of imprisonment and a fine of up to 200,000 yen, with the further possibility of deportation. Here lies the real difference in the so-called residence system between Japanese and foreigners. Sakou herself, two years ago, changed her address but failed to report the new one to the city office within 14 days of her moving—as required by Article 23 of the residency law. She showed up to register one week late, and was told by the official at the counter that she might be contacted by the court.
Not long afterward, the local branch of the small-claims court sent her a form, asking why she was remiss in notifying the office of her new address (Violators are subject to a fine of up to 50,000 yen.) Sakou replied that she was aware of the law but had no excuse for her tardiness, but never heard back from the paper-pushers.
But had a foreign resident done the same thing, they would have thrown the book at him. A similar violation by a Japanese is treated by a misdemeanor akin to litterbugging, and barely worthy of a bland grumble sent through the mail.
Paradoxically, it is more difficult to obtain permanent residence in Japan than it is to obtain Japanese citizenship, which in Sakou’s view is an indication that nothing here has really changed: “People with foreign nationalities who want to live in Japan for extended periods are not welcome.”
So, she writes, the revised laws then embody powers that make it simpler “to destroy a foreign person’s life.” But in the end hardly surprising since, by blocking any means of participation by foreigners in the political discourse such a law solely reflects the thinking of Japanese.