International Citizenship: Japan's First Steps

By Lamont-Brown, Raymond | Contemporary Review, March 1996 | Go to article overview

International Citizenship: Japan's First Steps


Lamont-Brown, Raymond, Contemporary Review


For decades the Japanese have had a network of organisations in place to help with their slow, but necessary, national move towards 'international citizenship'. The latter is a concept that is growing in attention amongst various sectors of national life. More and more commentators are expressing the view that it is in the area of 'international citizenship' that Japan can solve many of her current ills. This is a direct reflection of the Japanese need to keep pace with the global economy as expressed in Japanese investment in foreign countries.

At a basic level organisations have been long established to protect the rights of gaikokujin (foreign workers) and inform them about their circumstances. These bodies are a part of the gaijin (foreign) section of the NGOs (non-governmental organisations). Well known in the West, NGOs are still in their infancy in Japan (by the late 1970s there were only two dozen or so in Japan). Yet JANIC (Japanese NGO Centre for International Cooperation, established in 1987 logs 186 NGOs for 1995 and the subject of NGOs is a matter of daily comment in Japanese newspapers and journals.

In the case of foreign workers, there are NGOs which include trade union organisations, citizens' groups and Japanese language classes, each with its own ethnic emphasis. Latino and Filipino communities, for instance, tend to organise round the Roman Catholic Church in Japan, while in a centre like Kanagawa City's Union (KCU) there is a nucleus made up mainly of Koreans. The FLU (Foreigners' Labour Union) contains many Iranians. These days just under seventy-five per cent of the NGOs are concerned with financial assistance, technical co-operation and self-help initiatives, as well as education, information gathering and dissemination of relevant governmental material.

Although there are a lot of foreign women working in Japan, they tend not to join the male dominated NGOs. It is the language classes that have the greatest variety of non-Japanese both of legal and illegal entry. Out of the 1.3 million estimated foreign residents in 1995, some 300,000 are believed to be foreign illegals.

It was through Christianity that Japan was to set up one of its first NGOs, in JOCMCS (Japan Overseas Christian medical Co-operative Service) in 1960. This helped spread medical services throughout Asia. Again in 1973 the Christian associated ARI (Asian Rural Institute) was organised to train farmers in Asia and neighbouring countries. The Japanese developed this with OISCAI (Organisation for Industrial, Spiritual and Cultural Advancement International) in 1979 based on 'traditional Japanese values'. It was in the 1970s that the Japanese showed interest in any numbers to join NGOs to assist foreign refugees, for instance those fleeing from the war in Indochina.

It was the Hanshin earthquake of January 17, 1995 which provided a new breath of oxygen for the NGOs and underlined the need for more effort to be put into Japanese 'international citizenship', in this specific case the field of understanding international disaster co-operation. …

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