I was interested in this topic, but Googling it just led to a bunch of conflicting anecdotes, some from foreigners who couldn’t get credit and others from foreigners who could get lots of credit. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it in Japanese:
To get a credit card, one must first undergo a review by the card issuer. The standards for the review vary by card type and issuer, but essentially, the review is conducted based on the applicant’s “attributes” (occupation, income and credit history).
Generally, because it is mandatory for the applicant or their spouse to have confirmed regular income, it is difficult for unemployed people (excluding students and pensioners) to pass the review. On the other hand, in many cases, a person with real estate, investment, inheritance or gift income who is doing business with a financial institution, even if they are unemployed, can receive a card from an issuer within that insitution’s keiretsu.
In the past, “freeters” and dispatched employees (other than dependents) would not pass the employment and income review of many issuers because they were viewed as having uncertain employment, but due to the changes in working patters in recent years, this is currently less stringent than it was before.
Moreover, in cases of past lateness in credit card payments or periods of nonpayment due to debt restucturing (whether voluntary or through legal restructuring such as bankruptcy), a new credit card cannot generally be issued for the following five or ten years as a penalty, although this varies from case to case. This information is stored at a credit information institution in which the various card issuers participate, so if a person were to apply for a new card from another issuer, in many cases, they would be denied credit during that period. However, because the reviewer is given discretion (there are no laws or regulations on point), there are rare cases where a card is issued. Also, even credit cards which have been regularly paid may be stopped by the card issuer, but the handling of this varies among issuers.
Now, the anecdotes from foreigners in Japan suggest that:
“Dedicated” credit card companies, like American Express and Saison, will issue a card to anyone, while issuers tied to banks, like Sumitomo Mitsui, are much more difficult to deal with (in part because their cards are much sexier).
There are some foreigners who get credit cards on the day they land in Japan; there are others who live in Japan for years and can never pass a single credit review. Oddly enough, when they talk about this on the internet, they never speculate as to why this might be the case. (Maybe it’s because a NOVA salary barely pays the rent?)
Being a permanent resident helps a lot.
Being a lifetime employee (as opposed to working on a fixed-term contract) REALLY helps a lot.
It is completely unnatural for a country to be this stingy about consumer credit. (Especially considering that in the US, a Doberman/newborn baby/ice sculpture can get a credit card in the mail without even applying for it.)
Personally, I’m amused and appalled that reputable American financial institutions have given me something like $10,000 in additional credit lines this year when I’m living off of student loans. But I’d like to know: do any of our loyal readers have experience with the Japanese credit review game?
Although I did end up doing a post yesterday on the Kokaryo case, I’m sure you’ve all noticed that I have been on a vacation from the blog for about a month. To catch up a little bit, here are a few headlines of interest to my themes on this blog that have been kicking around my desktop for the past couple of days. I normally don’t like to do the “here’s a bunch of links” format, but putting them here is as much for my own future reference as for everyone else’s enjoyment.
The Japan Times has a FAQ about the new National Assessment of Academic Ability exam, given to all sixth year elementary and third year junior high school students in Japan. Of special relevance to some recent discussions on this blog over Japan’s adaptation to foreigners is this sentence. “Foreign students who take classes with Japanese nationals at Japanese schools are also required to take the test, but are allowed to receive support from interpreters.
In September of 2005 I posted about Osaka’s Kongo Gumi (金剛組) construction firm, which was then probably the world’s oldest continually operated company, having remained a family firm ever since its founding in A.D. 578, over 1410 years ago. Sadly, Kongo Gumi is now no more. Read the tale of how a decline in construction by their traditional Buddhist temple clients and excessive borrowing during the bubble period in an ill-advised attempt to expand into other areas of construction led to the bankruptcy of the world’s oldest company. They technically still operate as a subsidiary of Takamatsu Construction, but it’s just not the same without the 40th head of the Kongo family as CEO. According to Wikipedia’s list of the world’s oldest companies, this now leaves formerly second place Hoshi Ryokan, formerly just the world’s oldest hotel, as the world’s oldest independently operated company. Founded in 717, they are nearly 140 years younger than the former Kongo Gumi.
Historian and journalist David Halberstam has died in a car crash, at the age of 73. I mention it because several months ago I read his excellent book The Reckoning, on the history of the American and Japanese automobile industries from the very beginning to the mid 1980s when it was published, focusing largely on the stories of individual personalities in Ford and Nissan-the number two car companies of respectively the US and Japan, as well as some key bureaucrats in the case of Japan. This is recommended reading for people who are interested in learning generally how Japanese industry developed, thrived on technology transferred from abroad, to specifically why Japanese car companies and Toyota in particular are now leading the market. I strongly believe it should be on the short list for people interested in these topics, along with such better known books as Charlmers Johnson’s MITI and the Japanese Miracle, particularly for the chapters in which Halberstam explains precisely how Nissan management created a company union, crushed the independent labor movement within their company, and created the harmonious management/union structure we see throughout Japan, which the misinformed believe to be a symptom of Japan’se traditionally harmonious culture.
Sylvanian Families is a line of Japanese-made toys featuring doll houses and anthropomorphic animal pals, “a quintessential part of the 1990’s boom in craze (or fad) toys” says Wikipedia. This little guy was greeting shoppers outside a Sylvanian specialty shop at Central World, a Bangkok mall with kind of a nonsense name:
After this photo was taken Mrs. Adamu and I helped ourselves to copious free samples at the mall’s upscale supermarket (hummus and pita anyone?) and watched the movie Sunshine (the new one by 28 Days Later/Trainspotting director Danny Boyle that’s not released in the US yet) for the equivalent of US$12 for two, with popcorn. Hm, I may have the dates mixed up on that (it might have been Deja Vu that I saw instead) but basically that was a good spot for myself and Mrs. Adamu.
Since my initial report the case, which 40 years after filing was apparently the longest running lawsuit in Japan, has ended-at least in its current form. While the outcome of the case was exactly what the PRC wanted for diplomatic reasons, it was still not technically a complete success in terms of the primary substance of the lawsuit.
Note that Yomiuri Shimbun’s March 28 headline, “Top court rules China, not Taiwan, owns dorm” is factually incorrect. In fact, the court ruled that because the lawsuit was originally filed by “China” and that recognition of “China” has shifted from the Republic of China (Taiwan) government to the People’s Republic of China (Mainland China), not Taiwan but the PRC is now the plaintiff. The original lawsuit was filed by “China” as represented by the ROC (Taiwanese) authorities against the Chinese (mainlander) dorm residents, whom the ROC wanted to evict due to their support of the PRC. While the defendant was technically the individual students, they were supported by the PRC government, and the case essentially became ROC vs. PRC vying for control of the dorm, even though the original motion that started the trial was calling for an eviction order of the mainland Chinese students from the dorm. Because the original lawsuit was filed by “China,” the court’s judgment that “China” was now represented by the PRC and not the ROC meant that in essence the People’s Republic of China was now playing both sides of the field, and as the plaintiff they had the right to decide not to continue prosecuting the case. In fact, it seems that the court never ruled on the primary issue of property rights one way or the other, and technically their decision allowed the plaintiff to continue to pursue the case by having it returned to the Kyoto district court, which they naturally did not do.
As PRC Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a January 26 news article, “The Guanghualiao [note: “Guanghualiao” is the Chinese pronunciation of “Kokaryo”] case is not merely a property case, but a political case concerning China’s legitimate rights.” While China has always insisted that this is a political case and has publicly demanded satisfaction from the Japanese government, Japan has always pleaded separation of powers, and insisted that it was both illegal and impossible to intervene in the court system for diplomatic and political reasons. However, some observers find both the timing and verdict of the case suspicious. Coming on the heels of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s highly publicized and politically significant official visit to Japan, cynics might suspect that the Japanese government did in fact “encourage” the court to resume the long-stalled case, and adjudicate it in China’s favor as a subtle diplomatic gift to counterbalance moves by the Japanese administration over the last few years to strengthen diplomatic and military ties with Japan.
Despite the high court’s decision that the PRC was in fact the plaintiff in this case, which has effectively nullified all of the previous judgment’s in Taiwan’s favor, there is still a chance for Taiwan to prevail in their property rights claim. The April 4 Taipei Times reported that Taiwanese authorities were looking into how to continue the case, despite having lost the standing to pursue the lawsuit as originally filed on behalf of the Republic of China. “We will continue our fight, considering the possibility of a fresh civil lawsuit or other legal means,” said their attorney Noriyasu Kaneko. According to an April 21 Kyoto Shimbun article (apparently not available online), Taiwan is in fact planning to file a new motion in the Kyoto court asserting their property rights as a “body” and attempting to sidestep the entire hornet’s nest of “one China” and diplomatic recognition. While this case has been a victory for China and a potential danger for Taiwan’s property rights abroad, it is also worth noting that the original premise of the case, that the ROC is the proper representative of “China” is a decades old doctrine that is effectively disavowed by the current Taiwanese administration anyway. Although I doubt that there has been anyone in Taiwan celebrating this verdict, it can also be looked at as the collapse of yet another piece of the “One China” diplomatic fiction. Now that Taiwan no longer has to pursue this Chiang Kai-shek era lawsuit based on the obsolete premise that they are the “One China,” there is at least some sliver of hope that they can turn around and use the new lawsuit to reassert their rights as a body separate from China.
Quiz time! What percentage of Tokyo is non-Japanese?
Answer: 2.93% – that’s the percentage of registered foreigners in Tokyo as of January 1, 2007 (an increase of 1.8% over last year), says Shukan Toyo Keizai. That means that 3 out of every 100 people you see in Tokyo are foreign (one of whom could be a white dude staring at the Daily Yomiuri [picture courtesy STK]). There are 371,000 registered foreigners among Tokyo’s overall population of 12.69 million. The information comes from a “population movement survey” conducted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Chinese – 126,000
Korean – 109,000
Filipino – 31,000
Most foreign districts:
Shinjuku-ku (where Tokyo’s Koreatown is located): 30,000
Edogawa-ku (home to Indiatown in Nishikasai): 21,000
Tokyo’s foreign population has surged 2.5-fold over the past 20 years, going from a mere 150,000 in 1987 to the present 371,000 (18.5% of the estimated 2 million registered foreigners, or about 1.5% of the total population).
These numbers may just be the tip of the iceberg. The ‘registered’ foreigners are merely the people in the country legally for purposes other than tourism, some of whom are temporary visitors who have no intention of making a life here. But many do plan to (there were 349,804 permanent residents that are not zainichi Koreans/Chinese as of 2005). According to Immigration Bureau statistics, there were approximately 190,000 people illegally residing in Japan (presumably concentrated mainly around Tokyo) as of 2006. Though the number of illegal immigrants has decreased as controls have gotten stricter over the years, Japanese manufacturers have no intention of turning back from their use of cheap, often illegal, foreign labor to stay competitive as the numbers of Japanese workers decrease and fewer people are willing to take such jobs. On top of that, other industries, including the medical, restaurant, and agricultural industry are eager to expand their use of foreign labor.
While many of the legal immigrants were educated at least partly in Japan (and in the cases of Chinese and Koreans, their families may have been in the country for 3 generations or more) and lead normal, middle class lives, the conditions for illegal workers in Japan can be downright dreary. A recent government-produced documentary depicting the daily activities of immigration officials features a scene in which the “Immigration G-Men” break up a textile operation in a small Tokyo apartment that was making handbags for local consumption. The workers are Korean, speak poor Japanese, and look like they rarely leave their work stations. Even among legal residents of Japan, many are “trainees” at manufacturing companies whose “training” consists of full time work on an assembly line for low pay.
The regular publication of statistics like these, and the regular, adversarial reporting of developments in this issue, should remind the public as well as the authorities that real “internationalization” based on economic interests, rather than the abstract concept of peace, cooperation, and English study that is usually associated with that term, has already arrived in parts of Japan, making it necessary to adjust and respond. Recently publicized cases of some issues facing foreign laborers, such as abuse in the “trainee” system the difficulty that children of foreign residents face in getting an education, have resulted in increased attention by the authorties, and even some incremental reform. Justice Minister Nagase is heading efforts at the ministry to provide a legal framework to tap unskilled workers, a move that would give legal credibility to the current practice but at the same time would give the foreign workers rights and proper status. The Ministry of Education has begun requiring children of permanent residents to attend school.
These are necessary steps forward, but I feel like the current developments facing foreign residents in Japan have yet to receive the top spot on the agenda that they deserve. Back in 1990, Japan began a program to accept Brazilians of Japanese descent as temporary guest workers. I wasn’t around at the time, but it’s clear that the issue received very wide coverage that I think helped prepare people mentally for the small-scale but significant change in policy. Today, with the foreign population exploding (by Japanese standards), where are the public opinion polls, dramas featuring foreign laborers, rants by unqualified political commentators, etc etc?
Corporate-led Social Revolution
Generally, Japan’s immigration policies are much more liberal than the US – in the rare case that you speak Japanese fluently and have connections within the country. For the rest of the world, Japan’s immigration policies focus on attracting skilled foreign workers in areas such as computer programming where Japanese skills aren’t enough to meet demand. Some industries, meanwhile, are calling for an addition to that policy of allowing more low-skilled workers in to either fill shortages or drive wages down. The most recent victories for advocates of such policies were the “free trade agreements” signed with the Philippines and Thailand, which will allow foreign nurses and chefs, respectively, to work in Japan. However, the Japanese side insisted on language requirements that guarantee virtually no significant numbers will be let in.
This is a radical change for Japan, which has traditionally coddled its low-skilled workers with decent wages and living standards and kept out large numbers of non-Japanese foreigners. Like the US, Japan has a valuable currency and lots of industry, making it an attractive destination for low-skilled workers. Bringing in lots of foreign unskilled labor would make Japan’s immigration structure more like the US, which imports millions of unskilled laborers with poorly enforced immigration laws while making highly skilled jobs very difficult through unofficial barriers such as difficult licensing requirements and tight visa quotas. From the perspective of an average citizen who wants to see the best people in the right jobs, I would advocate opening up the books for all levels of jobs. The US situation is a nightmare for both the illegal immigrants from Mexico who have no prospects back home but must leave their families and live as an outlaw to support their families in the US, and the Americans who have seen low-skilled jobs with decent pay evaporate as a result of the immigration and outsourced manufacturing.
Japan, meanwhile, has relied almost exclusively on what the Japanese government coyly calls “international division of labor” and less on importing labor. Large Japanese corporations are major investors around the world, particularly in China and SE Asia, and employ hundreds of thousands if not millions throughout the region. This decision by the Japanese companies no doubt increases the supply of labor for the companies and allows them to save on wages. But Japan managed to avoid the US situation by maintaining stable employment in domestic industries such as service and construction, sometimes at the expense of efficiency or economic rationality.
But the business community has changed its tone over the years, and now the two top business lobbies, the Keidanren (made up of manufacturers) and Keizai Doyukai (a more brazenly neo-liberal group of top executives), are calling for massive importation of labor to avoid a drop in GDP due to the shrinking native work force that will accompany Japan’s population drop to 100 million by 2050.
No more – Economic analysts have been pointing out for years that Japanese consumer consumption is low relative to other developed countries, and that poor consumption is holding back Japan’s GDP growth. The low consumption is blamed on two factors – deflation that makes people delay large purchases, and stagnant wage growth – the latter of which Morgan Stanley economist Stephen Roach argues stems from the “powerful global labor arbitrage that continues to put unrelenting pressure on the labor-income generating capacity of high-wage industrial economies.” In other words, Japanese labor is in competition from foreigners, a prospect that means money for the global corporations but hardship for the domestic workers.
Japan’s media has been sensitive to this issue, if a bit reluctant to blame it on globalization. Economic disparity between the rich and poor (known succinctly as “kakusa” in Japanese) has been a persistent buzzword over the past 2 years. A host of phenomena – growing income disparity, the collapse of stable employment and the rise of fluid ‘temporary’ employment, a jump in the welfare rolls, the rise in prominence of a new wealthy class, the bankrupt finances of local governments, the near-collapge of the social insurance system, low economic growth for more than a decade, a shrinking/aging population, and on and on – have given average Japanese people the sense that the future looks rather dim.
Now the manufacturing interests, among others, are calling for more foreign labor to come to Japan, and as we’ve seen above it is on its way, putting perhaps more pressure on the average worker. But in my opinion this is only a problem if only labor is allowed to be fluid while corporations with stable management and shareholders reap the profits. Highly skilled laborers such as lawyers, doctors, professors, journalists, and especially corporate managers/investors should be allowed into Japan. Allowing a full spectrum of business opportunities into Japan, which with a highly educated population, peaceful society, and hyper-developed infrastructure, would allow for a wealth of more business and labor opportunities.
But of course that’s a silly proposition. The stewards of Japanese society will continue to hoard the top positions and continue making hypocritical appeals to racial harmony out of one side of their mouths when it comes to reform of corporate boardrooms while pushing for internationalization of cheap labor from the other side. Like it or not, the choice average citizens have is how to deal with the situation that’s been thrust upon us.
Where East and West meet
It’s easy to see a disconnect between, say, the interests of English teachers, IT workers, and businessmen that make up the bulk of Japan’s semi-permanent Western population, and those of the “low-skilled” world of immigrants from Asia.
But that would be wrong. Apart from entry requirements and visa stipulations, Japanese law treats all foreigners basically the same. And while perceptions of foreigners is different based on skin color and culture, the rights of foreigners and the level of their acceptance in Japan will depend on the experiences of other populations. There are already many examples of this connection. The question of whether zainichi Koreans will be accepted as a distinct “Japanese-Korean” identity or whether they will end up mostly assimilated and forgotten will decide how future populations will be dealt with. And if human rights activist Arudo Debito is successful in his campaign to get a national law passed banning racial discrimination, that legal framework will be enforceable for the entire foreign population.
At the same time, the bad deeds of a small group of people can ruin things for everyone else, fairly or not. Crimes committed by foreign nationals are often highly publicized thanks to a xenophobic police force that I suspect is in search of a scapegoat to help market security equipment and grab bigger budgets. Whatever the case, the anti-foreign crime campaign has resulted in bothersome ID checks and humiliating signs warning citizens to watch out for suspicious foreigners. And as limited as its impact was (thanks mainly to successful protests that cut its shelf life to mere months), the “Foreign Crime File” book, a despicable, short-lived multimedia diatribe against the foreign population in Japan, did not distinguish between Asians, Africans, or Westerners in its cheap attempts to cast foreigners in a negative light.
My biggest worry is that without proactive efforts to make this immigration smooth and easy, Japan will start to experience something like the US illegal immigration problem, with all the poverty, crime, and mistrust that goes with it. Occasional statements from high-level politicians, like Education Minister Bunmei Ibuki’s statement that Japan is a “homogeneous nation,” should remind people that race consciousness and nativism are not dead and work as appeals to a conservative voter base. The time to lay the groundwork is now to prevent a backlash against foreigners that would prove a major headache for the entire foreign population, and a loss of the culture of tranquil co-existence with neighbors that has defined Japanese society.
I’ve finally arrived in Japan to live after spending almost 4 years away, save for some brief visits. My blogging up to now has been a way for me to keep up on Japanese current events from the outside. But now that I’m here and have easy access to TV, ads, products, marketing campaigns, convenience stores, books, etc, I’m going to have to make it about something else. I’m still kind of thinking about that.
But first, some good things about coming to Japan:
Cleanliness: I swear, I would be more comfortable sleeping on the Tokyo sidewalks than on the floor of my college dorm room. That’s how clean this place is. Perhaps I’m just surprised at the relative difference with unabashedly filthy and smelly Thailand (a trait which, btw, takes nothing away from its charm).
Awesome food: Thai food is amazing, and I miss it to death (and all the real American food that’s available in Bangkok) dearly. Still, Japanese food is fresh, delicious, and healthy. I haven’t felt this clear-headed and energized in months.
Speaking the language: My spoken Japanese is very rusty (and was never all that great to begin with), but it is still good enough to do whatever I need to in life, unlike Thailand where I had to wildly gesticulate and scream a mix of English and the few Thai phrases I knew to get anything done at all. That’s another major source of stress lifted.
Fast Internet: In Thailand I was suffering with a crappy DSL connection that was slow, required quirky proprietary software. On top of that, the authorities banned YouTube out of the blue 2 weeks ago because of a video defaming the king. The connection I’m using now is a smoooooth hikari fiber line that lets me get the new Sopranos in less than 2 hours.
Japanese bookstores: I love Japan’s weekly magazines and manga, and Japan is, obviously, Japanese literature heaven. When I get some time I need to head over to my local library.
Lame things about being in Japan:
Bad TV: Even though I couldn’t understand it, I knew I hated Thai TV, in particular the comedy shows, that constantly feature slide-whistle punchlines, wah-wah-wah sappy jokes, and Munsters-style fast forward action. Ick. Japan’s TV shows have a bit fewer of the vaudeville trappings, but watching crap like Kazuko Hosoki still leaves me feeling like my IQ is being sucked into the TV. The TV news analysis shows are usually really lame too.
Expensive! I need to move closer to Tokyo fast because now just going there costs about 2000 yen. Going out to lunch is easily 3000. How does anyone manage to save money?
Cold! It’s been like winter since I came here, which has jarred me after coming from Thailand. It’s going from one extreme to the other: In Thailand I had only spotty A/C in the middle of intense, constant heat, and here there is no central heating when it’s cold.
Japanese culture: For some reason I feel forced into things a lot of the time. I realize I can’t come to this country and act exactly as I did in Thailand or Japan, but this isn’t North Korea and I’m not Private Jenkins.
All in all, I’m excited to be here and start my married life (filed the papers on Monday) and get back in the game with my career after almost a year of translating at home in a situation my wife calls “house arrest.” I’m not sure what I’ll be blogging about from now on, but expect more translations and my occasional thoughts and pictures.
The First Exhibit to Offer an Expansive Look at Thailand’s Modern Art History
From April 18-May 20, the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo will hold Show Me Thai, an exhibit jointly produced by the Kingdom of Thailand’s Office of Contemporary Arts and Culture, to commemorate the 120th anniversary of Thai-Japanese friendship.
This is the first attempt to take an expansive look at Thailand’s contemporary art history. The exhibit will take visitors from the country’s early contacts with Japanese culture, which started before World War II and progressed through Japan’s era of high economic growth (1955-1975), to the time of high GDP growth in Thailand (1986-1996), when the Buddhist kingdom absorbed massive amounts of Japanese pop culture, including manga, music, and fashion, all the way to the present day.
A diverse array of pieces, including paintings, sculptures, mixed media, video, installations, cinema, animation, and music will be displayed throughout the museums’s exhibition space. And that’s not all – the artists themselves will be there to participate in performances and panel discussions.
Among the 60 artists and groups participating (Links lead to samples, mostly, or at least a picture of the artist):
The museum is open from 10AM-6PM, and will be closed on all Mondays save for April 30. The museum is easily accessible by Tokyo Metro, Kiyosumi-Shirakawa (清澄白河） Station on the Hanzaemon and Oedo Lines.
Disclaimer/self-promotion – I learned of this event because a translation I did about Thai-Japanese contemporary art exchange will be featured in the exhibit’s ‘art catalogue,’ with full ‘translator’ credit! This doesn’t exactly mean a whole lot, but I’m pretty excited to go see this, not least because this is my first time being published but also because I just might get to take in more Thai culture in Tokyo than I did when I lived in Bangkok.
I’ve quit my deadly-dull office job in the Kyoto area and will be heading back to the US on May 27 where I will either just do freelance translation work at home or find some sort of job in Manhattan, while I try and find a graduate school that will take me.
On Wednesday (April 11) I will be heading over to Tokyo for a week and a bit, so if anyone reading this has any absolutely must-see places in Tokyo, or wants to meet up, please let me know.
By which I’m referring to the new Suica/Narita Express deal. For 3,500 yen, you get a Suica card which provides (1) a one-way trip to anywhere in Tokyo via Narita Express and (2) 2,000 yen in Suica credit which you can spend on just about anything.
Considering that the Narita Express alone usually costs 3,000 yen just to get you to Tokyo Station, this is an incredible deal. The only catch is that you need a foreign passport to get it. (Discrimination!)