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Sunday, April 20, 2008

THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF

Helping newcomers settle in Japan


HANDBOOK FOR NEWCOMERS, MIGRANTS AND IMMIGRANTS TO JAPAN, by Arudou Debito and Higuchi Akira, 2008, 376 pp. ¥2,300 (paper)

In this important and necessary book the authors address migrants and immigrants to Japan in saying that "we believe that your life in Japan should be under as much of your control as legally possible." That it sometimes seems not to be, is the reason for their having written this handbook.

One of the reasons that your life can seem not under your control is ignorance — your own. It is this that the "Handbook" remedies by offering needed information — in English and Japanese — on most of the problems encountered by the newcomer.

There is nothing sinister in the fact that this book is necessary in Japan. Something like it is necessary in most countries. Transparency to newcomers is not a fact of life — natives have been known to disregard their own laws, and bureaucracies thrive on the red tape they can produce.

In Japan the kanji-curtain can cloak the facts and there is, as in all governments everywhere, a tendency toward the status quo and a dependency upon precedence. All of this, however, is vulnerable to informed investigation. This is what the "Handbook" offers — a practical illumination of the relevant laws of Japan and a hands-on approach to enforcing them.

The structure of the book is a paradigm of the newcomer's experiences. The first chapter is about arriving and establishing residency in Japan, the second is about stabilizing employment. From there we go into starting a business, retiring, dying, having a funeral, paying taxes, and end with a chapter on how we can "give something back" to those among whom we live.

Particularly stressed are the needs of the immigration authorities with close attention paid to proper visas and the conditions under which they remain proper, those that allow work and those that don't, and further considerations for the long-staying foreigner.

Recommended is the acquiring of either permanent residence or Japanese nationality. There are detailed tables indicating the nature and needs of both and their relative advantages. For permanent residence you will need 10 years residence plus the paperwork: for citizenship, five years plus paperwork — with marriage offering a shortcut to both. (Ministry of Justice statistics — for 2005 — indicate that 96 percent of applicants for citizenship succeeded.)

Warned against is overstaying and/or getting arrested. "The Japanese criminal justice system, with conviction rates at nearly 100%, overwhelmingly favors the prosecution. Do not get arrested in Japan."

At the same time we are cautioned against the "victim complex" sometimes cultivated locally by foreign residents, longtime or not. We are encouraged to think logically and honestly, as in the differences pointed out by the authors between prejudice on one hand and discrimination on the other.

The former is not an illegal activity because prejudice is thought and you cannot outlaw thought in Japan — freedom of both speech and thought is guaranteed by the Japanese Constitution. Discrimination is, however, illegal, but "you must show that you are being discriminated against not by an individual but by a system or an organization." Discrimination is action based on prejudice but it is not the same thing.

Much else is also explicated in these pages (taxes, health insurance, court cases, etc.) but a proper review of this very fine book would be as long as the book itself.

This is not the first such handbook. Others have included "A Practical Guide to Living in Japan" (Stone Bridge Press), "Living with Japanese Law" (Edikkusu Pubs) and "A Guide to Foreigners' Rights in Japan" (Three A Network). Not the first, but this new handbook is much the fullest and consequently the best.

The wise newcomer, be he or she nascent migrant or not, is hereby counseled to acquire this valuable volume and render life in Japan not only possible but practical and pleasurable as well.



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