Newspaper article The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)

Japan's Shrinking Society 5: Foreign Workers Play a Growing but Uncertain Role in Japan

Newspaper article The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)

Japan's Shrinking Society 5: Foreign Workers Play a Growing but Uncertain Role in Japan

Article excerpt

This is the fifth and final installment in a series on Japan's declining population.

Ota, Gunma Prefecture, is an ordinary provincial city with a population of about 220,000. However, any first-time visitor to local shops and other facilities is certain to be amazed by what would otherwise seem so different for such an average town.

Signage in shops provides basic information in Japanese and then Portuguese, such as "Okaikei / Pagamento" (checkout counter) and "Seiniku / Carnes" (meat). Bossanova-style tunes are heard as background music.

Brazilians account for about 10 percent of patients at a local osteopathic clinic, Kasori Sekkotsu-in. Director Masami Kasori speaks to Brazilian patients in Portuguese when he asks about their aches and pains.

About 7,700 non-Japanese nationals live in Ota, including those working at local factories. For example, 20 percent of about 1,000 employees at Shigeru Co., an automobile parts manufacturer, are non-Japanese. In January, a 19-year-old Vietnamese man arrived in Japan to work at the company. Instructions from a company official are interpreted for him by a Vietnamese coworker who was already working at the company. These Vietnamese staff inspect about 5,000 automobile components each day.

"Were it not for these workers, 20 percent of our production facilities would have to be halted," a company official said.

The Olympic factor

In preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, a full stretch of the Metropolitan Loop Highway No. 2 that covers the city's Shimbashi-Toranomon section was recently finished. The completion of the new highway, which had been initially planned as "MacArthur Highway" shortly after World War II, connects the center of Tokyo to its bay area, home to athletic facilities that will be used in the 2020 Olympics. There has been an ongoing boom in the construction of condominiums, commercial buildings and other establishments in the area through which the highway passes.

Corporations benefiting from the boom include T. Yajima Co., a reinforcement work company based in Sumida Ward, Tokyo. On April 12, there was a great deal of metal clanking at the firm's facilities, starting soon after 8 a.m. Though it was Saturday, the company was conducting business. Its employees were working to process iron reinforced bars for condominiums and other buildings.

The workers included Chinese nationals who came to Japan as technical trainees. "Eight 3.6-meter rods next," one Chinese worker said in broken Japanese, with another continuing, "Then two 3.26-meter bars." Their group is supervised by Tsuyoshi Seino, 53, a Chinese-born naturalized Japanese citizen.

"[The number of] orders related to the Olympics will likely peak in around 2016, and I'm thinking about accepting more technical trainees," company President Takao Yajima said.

Even three years after the Great East Japan Earthquake, there seems to be no end to job offers in disaster-affected areas. On April 4, the government decided to extend the term of foreign technical trainees' residence in this country from the current three years to up to six years, effective for a period up to the end of fiscal 2020. …

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