This section will now attempt to trace labor protectionism in Japan’s recent history so as to understand its present stances on “unskilled” migrant workers.
Contemporary labor protectionism in the context of international migration presupposes a threat by unskilled foreign workers for jobs reserved for a preferred sector of local workers. In Japan, this labor threat was not always from external workers and not always for internal jobs.
Reverse Protectionism for Japanese Emigrant Workers.
Although by 1941 Japanese nationals overseas reached roughly over one million and were found in almost all major continents doing jobs – which today would be referred to as blue-collar – ranging from agricultural (rice, sugar, coffee) labor to fishing to mining and in places as exotic as Siberia and Northern Borneo (Moriyama 1985: xvii), not all of them left the country primarily for work. Imperial Japan had, by this time, overseas territories which necessarily housed long-term Japanese expatriates in the business of colonization. Needless to say, total control under imperialism made labor protectionist policies irrelevant. However, early precursors to Japan’s contemporary protectionist trend may be seen in the period before Japan’s surge of Empire though in the reverse sense: not local laborers but Japanese migrant workers had to be protected not from foreign workers in Japan but from abuse and misrepresentation by fellow Japanese compatriots running the immigration companies that brought them overseas.
Indeed, what I argue to be Japan’s experience of reverse protectionism is unlike the experiences of foreign workers in Japan today – often dealing with sovereign Japan from a position of weakness, finding themselves on the receiving end of protectionist practices. The Japan during the early imperial years struggled to protect its migrant workers from new groups of foreign workers making inroads into industries that were already mostly dominated by Japanese workers. In this sense, forging its reverse protectionist policies from a position of strength showed Japan, first-hand, the conditions which, in turn, it is trying to preserve for its nationals in the homeland today – but with little success.
Emerging from the seclusion years of the Edo period, a handful of Japanese – who would come to be known as the Gannenmono (first-year people) – were brought to Hawaii as plantation workers in 1868 (Sugimoto 1978: 8; Van Sant 2000: 102-106), thus beginning Japan’s own brief interlude as a state-sanctioned, contract labor exporter. This initial emigration spurt, however, didn’t immediately progress into a steady flow of Japanese migrant workers. A seventeen-year re-ban on labor emigration ensued after the Gannenmono, the reasons for which I shall explore further in succeeding sections of this paper. But by 1895 when Taiwan became a Japanese colony labor emigration was not only government-sponsored, private companies specializing on emigration further increased the outflow of workers so much so that just two years before the annexation of Korea in 1910 the 148 Gannenmono now totaled over 150,000 Keiyakuimin (contract immigrants) who had departed for Hawaii (Moriyama 1985, Ichioka 1988).
Hawaii was not the only destination country for Japanese contract workers, though it remained the largest and perhaps the most attractive, as it served as a stepping stone to the US mainland. By the 1920s, over 60,000 Japanese contract workers had been sent to Mexico, Peru and Brazil (Moriyama 1985: 155). Contract workers were also among the roughly 4,000 Japanese emigrants arriving in British Columbia between the years of 1905-1907 (Sugimoto 1978: 25).
To clarify, I use the concept of "position of strength" from the perspective of the Japanese worker, and with specific reference to Japanese migrant workers during the emigration era (1885-1924) to Hawaii. I argue that this position of strength came from two contexts.
First, Japanese workers were sought after, as seen by requests for its nationals from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, the U.K. and the U.S. as early as 1876 (Moriyama1985: 8). The fact of the existence of these requests, however, didn't preclude the possibility that the same requesters were making the same representations with other countries, then taking in workers from those countries which responded first. Moriyama (1985) also didn't indicate if the requests were accompanied by corresponding guarantees of exclusivity or of any sort of advantage for the Japanese workers. The requests coming from Hawaii, however, were the clear manifestation of the position of strength of Japanese workers, at least to that destination country. In the labor convention of 1886 between Japan and Hawaii, on top of Hawaii guaranteeing wage levels and a slew of benefits and perks including free transportation, housing, medical coverage, interpreters (Moriyama1985: 11-13), perhaps the most telling indication of the employees' market was that in the 3-year work contracts it was still the Japanese workers guaranteeing the number of hours they would work, a situation unimaginable in today's employers market where the tables are turned and it is the workers who seek guaranteed work duration.
Second, the Japanese workers in Hawaii constituted the heavy majority of plantation workers, as seen by the fact that by 1894 two out of every three plantation workers in Hawaii were Japanese (Patterson 1984, Moriyama 1985).
The forwardness of Japanese emigration policy and official actions showed that Japan was not oblivious to this key advantage, leveraging this position of strength to further grow this emigration regime yet only upon its approved specifications. In order to manage more efficiently the increasing flows of workers to Hawaii, the government embarked on what essentially amounted to a privatization of the migration process, but one still under total regulation by the government. Private companies, called imingaisha, were authorized under the Emigrant Protection Law of 1896 to take charge of the finding, processing, sending and subequent monitoring of Japanese workers for Hawaii (Moriyama1985). In the first years of the 1900s, when the majority status of Japanese workers in Hawaii were threatened by newly-arriving Korean workers, Japan succeeded in blocking the arrival of more Korean workers through an intricate web of diplomatic and non-diplomatic moves designed to maintain what Patterson (1984, 1988, 2011) argued was still Japan's cooperative mode in its foreign policy, coming a few years before its ultimate annexation of Korea in 1910.
The point I would like to make at this point is that Japan's early protectionist tactics -- specifically as seen in the Hawaii case, and only during the years before its full imperial status (which I mark at the annexation of Korea in 1910) -- were applied in a reverse mode, that is, protection of its workers overseas. These reverse protectionist tactics were implemented and experienced from a position of strength and were largely successful during the period 1885-1907.
The Origins of Local Protectionism
While it may be argued that the history of Japan's immigration policy on foreign workers begins with the restriction of their residence and activities to be only within the confines of the foreigner settlements found in the major ports of entry after 1859 (Yamawaki 2000: 39), the more explicit evidence of local labor protectionism begins with Imperial Ordinance 352 of 1899.
Scholars agree that Imperial Ordinance 352 banned foreigners from jobs in farming, fishing, mining, construction, building, manufacturing, transport, hauling, longshore work (Totsuka 1974 cited in Weiner 1994, Yu-Jose 2002, Morris-Suzuki 2010) yet diverge on its purpose. Totsuka declares the preservation of peace and order by reining over the potential of Chinese workers to cause trouble as the primary objective of the Ordinance. Yu-Jose is silent on the degree of law-abidance of Chinese workers but indicates the value attributed to their manpower, citing the abatement of cheap Chinese labor as the Ordinance's aim. Yamawaki (2000: 40) confirms both the fear of Chinese morals, highlighted by Totsuka, and their threat to industrial peace, cited by Yu-Jose, but goes on to locate the Ordinance within the larger debate on mixed-residence, or naichi-zakkyo, that raged in the years immediately preceding Ordinance 352, arguing that its main aim was to re-constrict the Chinese back to the previous foreigner settlement areas. Morris-Suzuki does not attribute the Ordinance as targeting any specific nationality though she goes beyond a plain enumeration of the job types and into an assessment of their location on the skill continuum, identifying the banned jobs as "low-skilled" and further declaring which jobs were specifically allowed as doable by foreigners: cloth merchants, tailors, cooks, household servants and knife grinders.
My take on the varying interpretations by scholars of the aims of Ordinance 352 is that it mirrored the highly-charged environment of change enveloping the country at the turn of the 19th century. It will be recalled that Japan had, just a few decades earlier, "re-opened" its doors to the world starting in 1859 with the establishment of trading ports in Yokohama and Kobe. The First Sino-Japanese war had just been won in 1895, Japan then getting its first colony in Taiwan. Rural poverty continued to impinge upon urban areas - a persisting consequence of all-encompassing agrarian and tax reforms instituted by the Meiji restoration government (Duus 1976, Yamamura 1986, Yamawaki 2000) -- and jobs were hard to come by. Emigration of Japanese workers was in full-swing. It didn't help that Chinese workers were so visible, making up nearly half of the population of all foreigners combined, becoming the majority nationality group for the next two decades up to 1915 (Weiner 1989: 53; Yamawaki 2000:39).
Indeed, that the kind of labor protectionism spawned was marked by multi-faceted, even conflicted objectives can be understood as an almost logical outcome of that particular junction in time. On the one hand, aiming for peace and order based on specific concerns on a single nationality but acting through blanket job prohibitions across all nationalities risked aggravating labor shortages in selected industries. On the other hand, the effect of the converse -- having no restrictions on foreign labor in areas where they were needed -- may have been viewed as less desirable by the government.
Imperialist Protectionism, 1910-pre-World War II
Ordinance 352 and the jobs it attempted to cordon-off for Japanese nationals were soon overtaken by Japan's annexation of Korea in 1910. The Korea case is significant because annexation turned Koreans from external job seekers that local protectionism sought to exclude into the national workers that the government was mandated to protect. How could labor protectionism now protect Japanese workers from previously-Korean-now-turned-Japanese workers? Put simply, what form did labor protectionism take in an imperial Japan?
World War I rendered immaterial the job prohibitions set out in Ordinance 352. The sudden spike in economic activity due to war-related production had wiped out all job shortages, in fact creating labor shortages across multiple industries. The rapid increase in the number of mid-sized factories resulted in the near doubling of their workers from 850,000 in 1914 to 1.5million by 1919 (Duus 1989: 49-52; Lin & Rajapakse 1984: 264). By the end of WWI, Japan had become a creditor nation with a 2billion yen surplus, a far cry from being in nation in debt by 1.1billion yen on the eve of the war (Nakamura 1998: 47, Smith 2001: 45). By the end of WWI in 1919, and well into the Taisho period, Koreans were to be found toiling away as farm workers, dyeing workers, navvies, stevedores, coal miners, timber/leather/printing workers, textile workers, cotton spinners, glass workers -- exactly the industries previously banned to foreigners by Ordinance 352 (Weiner 1989: 64-69).
For once in history, consummated through imperialism and borne out of a war economy, a confluence of factors conspired to create an employees market within a migration regime, if only briefly. Weiner (1989) argues that sharp labor shortages felt during the war-induced economic boom could also be explained by the Japanese's own albeit tepid commitment to industrial labor (Taira 1962 cited in Weiner 1989: 50). It was typical of rural folk to supplement farm income with a host of other side activities such as cash cropping, sericulture and wage work and since the resulting aggregate income was comparatively higher, this served as a disincentive to just readily embracing industrial factory work (Saito 1986: 419, Smith 1988: 71-100). The implication of this argument was to clarify that labor shortages during 1914-1919 may have been artificial. A dormant labor supply of nationals in rural areas could have been present but hesitated to grab new, wartime-created jobs in the urban areas. These were instead filled quickly with newly-subjugated and docile Korean workers - willing to work longer hours for 33% lesser pay (Weiner 1989: 82).
This employees' market of 1914-1918, it would seem, had earlier roots. Taira (1970: 2-4) describes a pervasive, self-employment ethic as early as the 1870s, evidenced by the low labor market participation rate of only 8.6%, that spawned a pre-war Japan filled with micro-entrepreneurs even at the household level. What is significant here is not only that this situation logically resulted in an employees' market but that it may have been the earliest manifestation of the concept of the relative value -- first seen as a dichotomy and eventually as a continuum -- of skill level depending on the available supply of workers. Taira explains that businesses with more strategic foresight, or which were more determined to succeed, were more than willing to pay a steep premium in salaries just to secure workers with the needed skills among the few available for hire or unwiling to be hired as they themselves were also looking to hire the same types of skilled workers. The converse of this situation was that those businesses unable or unwilling to bear that premium cost for quality labor had to contend with the low- or non-quality, low- or non- or un-skilled labor.
As we saw, the flip side of the early lesson that few willing workers increases wages didn't register as it should have. When the WWI boom increased greatly the demand for labor and the annexation of Korea a few years earlier provided a steady supply of workers to offset the lackluster embrace by the surplus Japanese agricultural workforce of the plentiful industrial jobs, wages for Korean workers did not in fact increase relative to those of the Japanese. Imperialism then cooperated with protectionism, instilling the lesson in the Japanese policymaker's mind that foreign labor force units located in the Japanese labor market are not necessarily governed by the same market rules that impose themselves on national workers.
Returning to the original question, we can see thus that imperialism then turned protectionism from a strategic into a tactical response. Whereas in 1899 Ordinance 352 aimed to preserve limited jobs in selected industries for a burgeoning labor surplus of Japanese workers by banning competing foreign workers, the annexation of Korea opened the floodgates, so to speak, for Korean workers into Japan and the primary issue now became one of short-term facilitation: how best to bring the most Koreans to fill plentiful, war-induced jobs. Problems arose not during the boom war years when the sheer power of market forces impelled wanting Korean workers into waiting Japanese jobs, causing the Korean population in Japan to shoot up nearly ten-fold -- from roughly 4,000 in 1913 to 33,000 by 1920, not even counting yet the additional 21,000 Koreans who after working in Japan chose to return to Korea. (Weiner 1989: 53,63),
Instead, with the end of WWI in 1919, the problem suddenly became one of stopping or restricting Korean entry, so as not to revert back to the undersirable labor suplus situation given the war's end when war jobs vanished even faster than they had appeared.
But now, having effectively extended national territory through the act of annexation, Japan could implement a resurgent labor protectionism on two fronts: at Pusan, the primary point of exit of Korean workers and at Japan's entry ports. First at the tail end of 1918 and then thru 1919, the Japanese Colonial administration thru its Government-General implemented various procedural and documentary requirements for departing Korean workers that had the intended effect of putting the break on previously unabated entry of Korean workers (Weiner 1989: 52).
In 1925, a heightened restriction drive against Korean workers was again set in motion in Pusan but since the US Immigration Act of 1924 - which effectively banned Japanese from entering the US - had just been passed the previous year, Japan found itself, on the one hand, having to implement protectionist policy against Korean workers to quell rising local tensions but without looking guilty of the same unilateral, exclusionist actions which the U.S. applied against the Japanese (Weiner 1994: 120).
In summary, imperial Japan saw labor protectionism morph into several forms. First, from a proactive strategy of labor management, it was relegated to a reactive, administrative role of shepherding needed manpower from the newly-opened, annexed territory of Korea. Second, the expanded territory in the colonies functioned as an added layer from where protectionist policies could be applied. Third, this added location for policy application also functioned as a smokescreen for conflicting policies, allowing Japan to project consistency in their objection to the discriminatory policies its own nationals suffered under overseas.
In the end, labor protectionism even in an imperial Japan seemed to have failed miserably - at least in terms of the Korean influx - as their numbers continued to rise, reaching almost 900,000 by 1938 (Weiner 1994: 122).
Labor protectionism is thought to exist only during economic downturns when jobs become scarce. As we saw in the discussion above, protectionism took any form it was given by policy makers, switching from a protector role to being a competitive advantage depending on the exigencies of the times. In this sub-section I thus explore how a number of overriding themes punctuated labor protectionism in relation to foreign workers in Japan after World War II. Various scholars, depending on the topic they are investigating, discuss the period after 1945 in a number of ways, highlighting several streams of interpretations which may be a good starting point for our purpose of now looking through this same period but with an interest in labor protectionism.
In exploring the journey of Japanese identity thru the lens of globalization, Morris-Suzuki (1998: 161-184) sees three phases: Japan as a colonial state (1890-1945), Post-WWII Japan (1945-1990) and Age of Signs (1990s). In essence, Morris-Suzuki argues as follows: when globalization was defined as a subsuming of peripheral states into the mother states of the colonial powers, a colonial Japan saw itself as "super Asian" with a regional role to fulfill; in a globalization experienced through Japan's re-entry into the world system as an economic powerhouse after the post-WWII rebuilding phase, nihonjinron was about a gradual coalescing of the individual or traditional Japaneseness with global or western norms; in a globalization now seen as an incorporation into the world system of knowledge, Japaneseness came under various multi-national influences, locally through the influx of foreigners, and externally through its national exports of both hard power and soft power.
Morris-Suzuki's thoughts are helpful in our own reflections on labor protectionism as they emphasize that deeper motivations or expressions of identity may lie underneath policy.
Indeed, when policy involves putting into law matters which may be viewed by others as "obvious" it may be interpreted as institutionalizing differences, thereby making visible a boundary which heretofore had remained at a symbolic, or non-concrete, level. Morris-Suzuki's thoughts on Japanese identity then becomes a starting point to see labor protectionism as a visible boundary or "the element which embodies/allows the discrimination/the capacity to see the similarities and differences” (Cohen 1985).
Moreover, labor protectionist policies of post-war Japan weren't formulated in a vaccum. They took place vis-a-vis other policy areas relating to the same migrant groups, assuming a lesser or greater level of importance or urgency depending on the socio-political events occurring at those uniquely-challenged times.
Indeed, I would venture to say that Japan's immigration journey thus far is still at a training, adolescent period. Its six-decade history since the maiden version of its immigration law in 1951 is virtually just an introductory yawn when compared to the centuries-old immigration traditions of other major destination countries. The US, for example, from the 1790s onwards was already refusing entry to those with criminal records and by 1890s had already legislated deportation as an immigration penalty (Stumpf 2012: 45-47).
Still, it may be argued that Japan's migration learning curve actually started even before 1951, going back almost a century earlier. The Tokugawa shogunate issued the earliest passports in 1866 (Moriyama 1985) and the basis of the inclusion or exclusion rules of the current immigration regime was set as early as 1899 with the first Nationality Act (Morris-Suzuki 2010: 42). Not unlike the cycles of forced-open-restricted migration around the globe that dotted the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Hatton & Williamson 1994), Japan had sufficient competence even prior to 1951 in the deft calibration of entry and exit through its borders via policy and legal methods (some of which I discussed above), that is, to summarize:
1. open entry for foreigners but restricted residence areas from 1859 to 1899
2. a total ban on emigration of Japanese workers between 1868-1885 (Moriyama
1985; Van Sant 2000);
3. the Emigrant Protection Law of 1894;
4. Ordinance 352 of 1899;
5. Open entry of Korean workers between 1914-1918;
6. by January 1918 passports are required for entering foreigners (Morris-Suzuki
2010: 44; Yu-Jose 2002: 7);
7. in December 1918 thru early 1919 entry restrictions enforced at Korean exit
point (Weiner 1989)
8. by 1924 visas are now a requirement for entry for foreigners (with some
country exceptions) (Yu-Jose 2002: 8);
9. in 1925 entry restrictions intensified at Korean exit point (Weiner 1994);
Nevertheless, I suggest here that this accumulated migration expertise of Japan was negated -- or reset to zero, if you will -- with the advent of the 1951 Immigration Control Ordinance. Influenced in no small way by the Occupation forces in a defeated nation, Morris-Suzuki (2010: 108-115) argues that the resulting 1951 migration law reversed the decentralized migration management tradition in pre-WWII Japan and ultimately mirrored the cold-war concerns on subversion and infiltration.
But beyond these external impositions -- which, for now, I concede to the Occupation forces to have been done in good faith - the 1951 migration law represented a critical discontinuity in the migration endemic learning processes of Japan. This discontinuity manifested itself in what can be interpreted as "learning mistakes" or "dichotomies," at best, and incongruities or paradoxes, at worst, as seen in the migration policies in the six decades since 1951.
To be sure, it was precisely the ultimate trajectory of what I postulate to have been Japan's "migration endemic learning processes" -- packaged as the Greater East-Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere -- which the Occupation forces intended to completely obliterate. It is not the purpose of this paper to debate the merits or demerits of the objectives of the Occupation forces. But I find that this learning discontinuity is key in fully contextualizing post-WWII labor protectionism, and thereby reaching a more critical understanding of the paradigm of the unskilled in Japan.