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Japan: For the Price of a Plane Ticket…?

Recently, an initiative by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare offering to cover the travel expenses for unemployed nikkei nationals who wish to return to their home countries has been causing a stir. The offered amount is 300,000 JPY ($3,000) plus 200,000 JPY ($2,000) for each dependent; the government will pay for the plane tickets and wire the rest of the money in U.S. dollars once the recipient(s) have returned home. In return, they lose eligibility to reenter Japan on a nikkei status of residence for a ‘certain amount of time’. Officials are unclear on how long a time this will be, just one of the reasons that have left this initiative open to a flood of criticism.

Many Japanese bloggers are using the word ‘severance pay’ when taking up this topic. For example, Kaoru Domoto at Harem Journal read a widely referred to article in the New York Times and said:

実はタイムズの記事を読んでからネットで日本の記事を探し、「帰国支援金」という言葉を見て、さらに驚いた。英文記事には「支援」に相当する言葉はなかったのだ。だってこれ、「支援金」じゃなくて「手切れ金」でしょうが。

I searched for articles in Japanese after reading the Times and was very surprised to come across the phrase ‘aid to return home’. There wasn't anything in the English article that referred to this money as ‘aid’. After all, this isn't ‘aid’ at all but ‘severance pay’.

Debito Arudou goes further and calls it ‘a repatriation bribe‘:

This scheme only applies to nikkei, not to other non-Japanese workers also here at Japan’s invitation. Thus it’s the ultimate failure of a “returnee visa” regime founded upon racist paradigms.

[…]

Don’t treat foreigners like toxic waste, sending them overseas for somebody else to deal with, and don’t detoxify our society under the same race-based paradigms that got us into this situation in the first place. You brought this upon yourselves through a labor policy that ignored immigration and assimilation. Now deal with it here, in Japan, by helping non-Japanese residents of whatever background make Japan their home.

Lenzabile approves of this comment by the Mayor of Hamamatsu City as convincing and practical criticism: “We need to put our heads together and come up with ideas, such as allowing reentry once recipients have repaid their travel expenses”. S/he worries that:

もちろん少子高齢化時代において移民問題は重要ですが、個別案件を安易に「移民を積極的に導入すべきか?」という問いの賛否に結びつけると、目の前の懸案事項をどうするかの問題(日系人の困窮、生活保護の問題、政府の財政、帰国希望者の存在等)が霞んだり、無用の対立を生んでしまう気がしてなりません。

Of course, the immigrant issue is an important one in this age of dwindling birthrates and an aging population. However, making a simplistic connection between individual issues and arguing the pros and cons of ‘Should we actively invite immigrants?’ leads to unnecessary conflicts and hinders solving the problems in front of us, such as relief for nikkeis, their welfare, the financial situation of the government, and taking care of the people who want to go home.

Local municipalities and Hello Work Offices job centers have been holding briefing sessions for the proposal. The blogger at Libertad attended one in Nagoya:

愛知県内では、豊田に400人、豊橋に400人集まって関心の高さをうかがわせましたが、名古屋は何と170人しか参加しなかった。僕自身、そのうちの名古屋の説明会に17日、参加してみました。ふだんはコンサートで使われるセンチュリーホールがお通夜のように重苦しい雰囲気に包まれていました。仕方ないのだけれど、ブラジル人のような普段陽気な人たちの集まりなのに、実に静かで暗いのです。檀上の厚労省の人と通訳が一方的に進める説明会にはあまり反応がなく、ロビーでは、当日の受付係りのブラジル人通訳が何人もいて、手持無沙汰にしている姿が実に印象的でした。

Toyoda City and Toyohashi City each had 400 people attendeding their sessions, but only 170 people went to the one in Nagoya. I myself went to the meeting in Nagoya that was held on the 17th. The atmosphere at Century Hall, a venue normally used for concerts, was bleak and resembled a wake. I know it can't be helped but the Brazilians, who are usually such cheery people, were so quiet and gloomy. There wasn't much reaction to the one-sided explanation by an official from Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare and an interpreter. There were many Brazilian interpreters on hand, manning the front desk in the lobby. The sight of them standing around with nothing to do is burned in my memory.

Ja Fui Gata, from Nagoya, doesn't like the idea of the sound of the proposal, and says the situation is worrying:

Acho esse plano de ajuda um presente de grego. Afinal, o que fica patente e que o governo japones quer se ver livre dos nikkeis, esquecendo que ha 100 anos o Brasil acolheu muitos japoneses num momento de crise neste pais (primeiramente 781 pessoas) . Muitos estao inconformados com a situacao. Apesar de saber que o governo japones tem feito algo para ajudar neste momento de crise, vejo essa oferta com muita desconfianca. O que sera que o brasileiro tem feito de ruim nesta terra para ser tao rechacado?

I think this plan is a trojan horse. After all, what remains clear is that the Japanese government wants to get rid of nikkeis, forgetting that 100 years of Brazil sheltered many Japanese people in a time of crisis in this country (like the first 781 people)*. Many people are desolate with the situation. Despite knowing that the Japanese government has done something to help at this time of crisis, I view this offer with great suspicion. What have the poor Brazilians done wrong on this land to be so rejected?

* Read a previous Global Voices article that covers the history of nikkei Brazilians in Japan that Ja Fui Gata mentions: Japan, Brazil: A centenary of Japanese Immigration to Brazil.

Kurati, who lives in Gifu Prefecture, observes that “Japan will never be again that dekassegui (guest laborers) paradise”. He says returning home is just one option among others:

Quem ta proximo da miseria ,tem mais e que pegar essa ajuda e sair fora. Quem ta aguentando a situacao,continue forte e se adeque a nova realidade do arquipelago.Ja vi muitos brasileiros reclamando da vida na agencia publica,mas a realidade e dura em qualquer lugar do mundo.As empresas escolhem quem quiserem.Onde que no Brasil,uma empresa empregaria um cara que e analfabeto,e por vezes mal conhece o idioma?Pois e aqui tb e assim.Nao era assim antes porque a economia ia de vento em popa,e as empresas contratavam gente ate pra girar manivela.Agora,o Japao esta na merda,mas pelo menos tem dinheiro em caixa,e vai gastar esse dinheiro fazendo remendos no pais..

Those who are close to extreme poverty should accept the help and leave. Those who are holding on should carry on strong and adapt themselves to the archipelago's new reality. I hear many Brazilians complaining about their life in the public agency, but the reality is tough everywhere in the world. Companies choose those they want to employ. Where in Brazil would a company employ an illiterate guy, who often barely knows the language? It is like this in Japan, too. It's not like before when the economy was doing well, companies hired people merely to turn a handle. Now Japan is in disgrace, but at least it has cash on hand and will spend this money patching up the country.
In collaboration with Paula Goes.

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