During the 1990s, Japan progressively entered the era of internationalization, kokusaika. In this process, the growing penetration of Japanese society by the outside world caused a range of concerns to be raised about the social implications of internationalization or, more precisely, globalization (gurōbaruka). One of the most important trends in the contemporary era is the extensive flow of populations. Until the 1980s, flows of populations involving Japan were comparatively limited and asymmetrical: they were partly viewed as the unavoidable consequences of kokusaika, but both the inflow and outflow of people for tourist or business purposes were not demographically significant and did not affect the core of Japanese society itself. Social interactions with foreigners living in Japan were geographically limited to urban areas, and contact, if any, was based on a more individual or personal type of relationship than through collective or organized channels. Foreigners as individuals and as groups were not really moulded into Japanese society. Their presence was largely hidden owing to their lack of social and physical visibility in the Japanese people's daily environment.
Nowadays, however, this no longer holds true. In 1998, foreigners in Japan represented 1.20 per cent of the total population of the archipelago. This percentage is certainly low compared with the proportion of foreigners living in Western countries, but it indicates that cultural and geographical distance is no longer an obstacle to migratory flows in East Asia. New issues are emerging which challenge the still-dominant discourse on the homogeneity of Japanese society. One of these crucial issues is the status and condition of more diversified groups of foreigners. Immigration procedures, the situation of foreign workers, the control and management of foreign criminality, the access of aliens to the benefits of Japanese social protection and health systems, the education of foreigners, and so forth, are problems now confronting Japanese society. Many of them have already drawn the attention of scholars, chiefly emphasizing that Japanese culture, because of the prevalence of holistic norms, fosters a weak sense of legitimacy of outsiders' rights and encounters difficulties in providing equal treatment to social and foreign minorities. If the general mood this