Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Cultural Conditioning of Migrant "Illegality" in Japan

This section will now extract another layer of reflections from the just concluded historical survey on the concept of the “unskilled,” now focusing on how these conceptual variation conditioned the conceptions of migrant “Illegality.”

Archer (1995) explains “constraining contradictions,” or compromise, as one type of cultural conditioning where various iterations of ideational inputs interact with structural conditioning inputs, ultimately bearing down or constraining agency.

As we discussed above, the ideational iterations of the concept of the “unskilled” – which I tackled under the wider subject of labor protectionism – has come full circle starting from restrictions on residence areas for foreigners in 1859 to the 2012 program aiming to attract highly skilled professionals to come to Japan.   This I summarized in Figure 17 (Japan Labor Protectionism Matrix).

Constraining Contradictions can be seen in the following three instances:

First, throughout what I will name the pre-colonial/pre-imperial period (1859-1905) the initial hardline stance as seen in the total ban on emigration of Japanese workers was eventually re-evaluated given the consistently strong request for Japanese workers by overseas employers.  The Emigrant Protection Law of 1894 embodied this compromise or “Constraining Contradiction” since the law essentially recognized that government regulation is better than unbridled activity.

 “Illegality” shifted from being solely attributed to emigrants (who violated the ban thru their individual efforts to emigrate) to now being ultimately rooted in companies (imingaisha) who failed to strictly comply with the law now protecting emigrants.

 Second, in the imperialist period (1910-1945) the compromise in Constraining Contradictions can be more accurately described as extremely utilitarian, at best.   From first unabated entry into Japan by now-Japanese Korean workers during the 1914-18 wartime boom, to the re-tightening/restrictions on entry of Koreans implemented in the period between WWI and WWII, to finally the aggressive conscription of Korean workers for the WWII-induced production markets.   “Illegality” in this period was mostly applied to errant, gaichi Japanese (a.k.a Koreans, Chinese) living in Japan as laborers or non-compliant, gaichi Japanese banned from entry, or non-patriotic, gaichi Japanese who defied forceful conscription for wartime service.

Third, in the post war period (1945-1981), the compromise in Constraining Contraditions manifest mainly in what has been argued as discrimination (Chung 2010; Hwaji 2010).  Historical circumstance during the pre-colonial and imperial periods created deeply embedded ethnic groups that Japan tried to quickly and haphazardly “resolve.”  The first was through the mandatory repatriation in the immediate aftermath of WWII.  The second was through what I argue is tantamount to “constructive dismissal” – where security of legal status was withheld for nearly three decades in a campaign of attrition.  Failing to “resolve” the Korean/Taiwanese question and unwilling or unable to fully integrate them into Japanese society, the Constraining Contradition inevitably reflected in employment restrictions, social security qualifications and other forms of exclusion that were implemented in that realm between fully legal and social norm/current practice.  The compromise in this post war period can be best described as calculated tiptoeing around an extremely sensitive situation.

Compellingly, then, as I argued above, conceptions of “Illegality” were conditioned in this period not as “Illegality” per se, for this concept at that time had not ripened to the extent that it warranted tracking by official statistics.  Instead “unwantedness” – the father of “Illegality” in the sense in it exclusion is complete and total – could be argued as the prevailing sense towards Koreans and Taiwanese.  “Illegality” is the child of “unwantedness” in that it is more clinical, more precise:  a migrant worker in present-day Japan is acknowledged as needed and “Illegality” is the teeth of the SRS which desires to control the migrant’s productivity (authorized activities) and duration (residence status).  An analogy that may crystallize more effectively how the “Illegality” of today is different from the “unwantedness” of the post-war period is to think of the former as the empty shells of mollusks after the coveted pearl (labor power) has been harvested while the latter can be thought of as jellyfish the averseness to which is due to its entirety.  Perhaps this easily overlooked iterations of conceptions of exclusion in Japan – first “unwantedness” then “lllegality” then “racialized hierarchy” (Shipper 2012 – to be discussed further below – was plainly evident just by the choice of terms.  Morris-Suzuki (2010: p180) cites a term common in the 1970s called Senzai Kyojuusha – or “people living hidden lives” – acknowledging that “Illegality” was largely outside of the purview of the official radar.  Today’s common monicker is simply “overstayer” which highlights just the violation of the duration aspect of immigration control.

To summarize, we saw that the cultural conditioning through Constraining Contradictions, as culled from our analysis of the “unskilled,” had essentially one overriding conceptual theme in Japan: “Illegality” is conceived as exhaustive in breadth (covered groups) and depth (level of exclusion).  
“Illegality” is applied to errant outsiders currently inside (newcomers) to keep them as outsiders; but also to insiders (embedded ethnic groups) to get them out.  “Illegality” is both trivial (only a violation of duration limits) and essential (unwantedness).

Such an exhaustive concepction of “Illegality” inevitably results in a highly-charged, highly-discriminative radar for offenders – the application of which can be extreme in both ends of the pole.  Are the overstaying migrants helped by Zainichi?  Are overstaying Filipinas (newcomers) entitled to more consideration and leniency than overstaying Koreans and Chinese since the latter group has already been integrated in Japanese society and as such must have imbibed its values and discouraged family members from overstaying?  In a recent road accident involving a tour bus, media and reader attention revolved the bus driver who turned out to be a Chinese-born, naturalized Japanese, focusing on his inadequate language skills, the downward pressure on bus driver wages created by similar drivers accepting cheap rates.

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