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Ten years ago, when I lived in the countryside of Japan, I seldom met foreigners. Even in Tokyo, I am a tall white American who sometimes makes the local people look different.

十年前,我居住在日本鄉下時,很少遇見外國人。即便在東京,我這個人高馬大的美國白人有時也會使當地人投來異樣的目光。

But when I came here again last month, I was amazed at the enormity of the change. Every hotel, shopping mall and cafe has at least one foreign worker. At the service desk and the game hall, some young workers are not labeled with Japanese names on their work plates.

但上個月我再次來到這里,變化之大令我感到驚訝。每家酒店、購物中心、咖啡館至少有一名外國打工者。在服務臺和游戲廳,一些年輕工作人員的工牌上標注的并不是日本姓名。



On Saturday, Japan’s parliament accepted that proposal in a contentious and unprecedented move to let in more immigrant workers than ever before – 300,000 throughout the next five years, starting in April. The new bill comes at a time of historic change in Japan. And how everything shakes out could shape the country for generations.

周六,日本國會通過了讓更多移民勞動力進入日本的法案,這是一個存在爭議的、史無前例的舉動——從4月開始,在未來5年達到30萬人。隨著新的法案出臺,日本正在經歷歷史性變化。此事何去何從,可能會影響這個國家的幾代人。

Spike in seniors, spike in foreigners

老齡人口激增,外國移民激增

Bhupal Shrestha is a university lecturer living in Tokyo’s Suginami ward, a residential area known for its narrow alleys lined with second-hand clothing and antique shops. He’s lived in Japan for 15 years, but the road to a “permanent resident” visa hasn’t always been a smooth one.

什雷斯塔(Bhupal Shrestha)是一名大學講師,住在東京的杉并區,這個居住區以狹窄的小巷以及兩旁的二手服裝店和古董店聞名。他在日本生活了15年,但獲得“永久居民”簽證的道路并不一帆風順。

He says he’s experienced “discrimination on basic things, such as searching for rooms for residences or businesses, opening bank accounts, applying for credit cards”. He also says it’s hard for immigrants themselves to have much say in the government policy that affects them.

他說,他經歷過“在基本生活層面的各種歧視,像找房居住或者銀行開戶、申請信用卡”。他還說,移民群體在對他們有影響的政府決策中沒有發言權。



But the big problem is this: the number of native Japanese is going down.

但一個大麻煩是:土生土長的日本人數量正在下降。

The population contracted by nearly a million people between 2010 and 2015 alone. Last year, it fell by another 227,000. In parallel, the number of residents over 65 hit a record 27% – a number that will rise to 40% in 2050.

僅2010年至2015年,日本的人口就減少了近100萬。去年,人口又下降了22.7萬。與此同時,65歲以上的居民數量達到了創紀錄的27%,到2050年,這個數字將上升到40%。

In May, the job availability ratio hit the highest it’s been in 44 years: 160 jobs for every 100 workers. That means there are now lots of available jobs that older Japanese can’t do and that younger Japanese don’t want to do.

今年5月,空缺崗位率(job availability ratio)達到了44年來的最高水平:每100名工人面對160個職位空缺。這也就意味著,現在很多工作是日本老年人不能做,年輕人不愿意做的。

“Very dire” is how Shihoko Goto, senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a US think-tank, describes the situation. But she says in the past immigration “has really not been seen as part of a broader solution to some of the issues Japan is facing”.

“非常可怕,”美國智庫伍德羅·威爾遜中心(Woodrow Wilson Center)的高級副研究員后藤志保子(Shihoko Goto)這樣描述當前形勢。但她表示,對于“日本所面臨的一些問題”,過去并沒有把移民“納入更廣泛的解決方案”。



To date, Japan has got around the issue of importing foreign workers by using a temporary “technical intern training programme”. This allows young labourers or students to work in low-wage roles for three to five years before going home.

迄今為止,日本通過臨時性的“技能實習制度”來解決外國勞工的輸入問題。年輕勞動者或學生在回國之前,可以通過這個方案在低工資崗位上工作三到五年。

But the programme has been criticised for exploiting workers in areas ranging from meagre pay to bad working conditions. Last year, it emerged that a 24-year-old Vietnamese man on the programme ended up handling radioactive nuclear waste as part of the Fukushima clean-up. It’s been criticised in the press for years, with some outlets dubbing it “servitude in disguise”.

但這個方案也因低工資和工作條件惡劣等原因,被批評為剝削工人。去年,一名24歲的越南男子被安排去做福島核事故清理工作,處理放射性核廢料,引發關注。多年來,這個方案一直飽受媒體的批評,一些媒體稱之為“變相奴役”。

Now, Abe wants to allow low-skilled workers to stay for five years, and introduce a renewable visa for skilled workers, who would be allowed to bring their families. He wants the new visa schemes to launch in April.

現在,安倍希望允許低技能工人在日本停留五年,并為技術工人推出一種可續簽的簽證,允許他們帶家人來日本。安倍希望這個新的簽證方案能在4月啟動。

Abe resists calling these workers “immigrants” though, and critics of his plan fear it could provide an easier path to permanent residency. There’s also concern that foreign workers would crowd cities and not live in rural areas where they are needed the most. Rights advocates, meanwhile, fear that Japan still has not learned how to adequately protect foreign workers from exploitation.

不過,安倍拒絕稱這些工人為“移民”,而且批評該計劃的人擔心,它可能提供了一條獲得永久居留權的方便途徑。還有人擔心,外國工人會涌入城市,而不是生活在最需要他們的鄉村地區。與此同時,權益倡導人士也擔心,日本仍未學會如何充分保護外國工人免受盤剝。

Takatoshi Ito, professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, says he believes that Japanese society “is waking up to globalisation”. “So far, most [foreign workers] are helping economic growth, taking jobs the Japanese are not willing to take.”

哥倫比亞大學(Columbia University)國際與公共事務教授伊藤隆敏(Takatoshi Ito)表示,他認為日本社會“正在認識到全球化的重要性”。“到目前為止,大多數(外國工人)都在幫助經濟增長,接下的是日本人不愿干的工作。”

But Nakai, the immigration lawyer, says securing a visa is just the beginning and that assimilating into Japanese culture can be difficult. He points to gaps in language and cultural knowledge as key challenges migrant workers face.

但移民律師中井正人表示,獲得簽證只是一個開始,難的可能是融入日本文化。他指出,語言和文化上的差異,是移民工人面臨的主要挑戰。

“If taxpayers agree, the government at least should provide free or cheap Japanese language courses over the archipelago as a first step,” Nakai says. Others think there isn’t much outreach in general.

“如果納稅人同意,作為第一步,政府至少應該在日本列島向他們提供免費或廉價的日語課程,”中井正人說。另一些人則認為,配套服務在總體上是欠缺的。

“I think there are very few exchange events organised. There isn’t even communication between residents of the same apartment [block],” says Bhupal Shrestha. “When there is no understanding between neighbours, a multicultural society can’t be made.”

“我認為有組織的交流活動非常少,住在同一公寓樓里的甚至都沒有交流,”什雷斯塔說。“鄰里之間沒有了解,就不可能形成多元文化社會。”

Culture clash

文化沖突

Chikako Usui, a sociologist at the University of Missouri in St Louis, says a variety of factors, from Japan’s isolationist history to its self-perceived homogeneity, give immigrants a rough go.

密蘇里大學圣路易斯分校(University of Missouri in St Louis)的社會學家臼井近子(Chikako Usui)說,從日本的孤立主義歷史到其自我認知上的同質性,種種因素都給移民帶來困難。



Those moving to Japan need to know what they’re getting into, says Shrestha. He enjoys living in Japan, but says it is a place where “hard work is worshipped and rules are followed”. “It is better to come with some knowledge of Japanese culture and rules of daily life,” he says.

什雷斯塔說,那些搬到日本的人需要提前了解自己將會面對什么。他喜歡在日本的生活,但又表示,這是一個“崇尚努力工作、遵守規則”的地方。“最好對日本文化和日常生活規則有所了解。”

Meanwhile, the government will likely spend much of 2019 wrestling with an acceptable foreign worker solution. Until it can do that, the labour problem isn’t going anywhere.

與此同時,政府可能會在2019年的大部分時間里,找到一個各方可以接受的外籍勞工方案。在此之前,勞動力短缺的問題緩解無望。