The Integration of Foreign Residents into the Japanese Society: A Case Study on the Filipino Residents in Nagoya City


Erica Paula Sioson

PhD defended at: 

University of Tokyo


Defining integration and explaining the methodology
Japan has often been seen as “new” to the immigration of foreign people. However, people have moved in and out of Japan even before the economic boom in the 1980s. The continuous increase in the number of long-term and permanent residents in Japan suggests that contrary to existing beliefs, migrants are coming and are staying longer than they are expected to. A pressing issue has therefore come to light: integration of foreign residents. The Japanese government has applied certain measures in trying to address this, however amidst the celebration of a more accepting Japan, one question becomes pertinent: How integrated are foreign residents?

This is what I aim to answer. I situate this question in the context of the Filipino residents in Nagoya City. Filipino residents constitute one of the biggest foreign resident population in Japan. By considering the context whereby migrants migrate and integrate, this study aims to provide a more wholistic understanding of the process and extent of integration as well as provide a better understanding of how the specific circumstances of the migrants can impact their integration. This becomes doubly important when thinking of integration as an important policy focus.

However one big challenge in assessing the extent of integration of migrants into their host country is defining integration itself. While many consider the concept fairly new, the question as to how migrants incorporate themselves into the host society is not. Reviewing the literature shows that it finds its roots in earlier studies on assimilation. Used to explain the “melting pot”, assimilation has largely fallen out of favor among researchers studying migrant integration because of being racially-charged and unable to explain newer types of migration that go beyond the migration boom in 1960s America. In response to the increasing volume of migration, the concept of multiculturalism has taken root. Multiculturalism has argued an ideal wherein members can maintain their distinct ethnic collective identities and practices. However, multiculturalism has faced many philosophical criticisms. But its major challenge was a massive political retreat, even a backlash in the context of the increasing tensions among diverse groups currently unfolding in many countries in Australia and in Western Europe. This supposed failure has led many to rethink what they know of the integration process. Current understanding of integration as the process of becoming an accepted part of society explains it as an overarching concept that treats assimilation and multiculturalism as but two of the possible patterns of integration that can come about because of a confluence of structural and agential factors. Integration addresses the two biggest criticism to both assimilation and multiculturalism: first the focus on migrant outcomes, which largely ignored the impact structural factors can have on integration; and second, the failure to properly acknowledge the multidimensionality of the integration experiences of migrants.

Therefore I began investigating integration as not just reflected in the migrants’ outcomes, but as also being affected by different structural factors such as the home country conditions, the host country’s immigration policies, as well as the relation between the host country and the home country. I set out to understand this by employing a mixed-methods methodology. I utilized both qualitative and quantitative methods to be able to improve the accuracy of the data, to produce a more complete picture, to compensate specific strengths and weaknesses associated with different methods, and to develop the analysis and build upon initial findings. While aiming to tailor the methodology to a particular group, I also aimed to construct a methodology that can be replicated and utilized to fit other contexts. The methodology was conducted in three stages: the first stage involved collecting baseline information by conducting interviews among key informants including migrant group leaders, local government personnel and Filipino residents. The second stage involved constructing a survey instrument and conducting pre-tests to test its relevance and validity. And the third stage involved implementing the survey instrument among Filipino residents. A total of 459 Filipino residents were included.

Putting Filipino migration to Japan in context
Immigration in the context of Japan is complicated. While not entirely “new” to the concept of immigration, Japan has the reputation of being “inexperienced”. The lack of an overall immigrant incorporation policy has often been raised in the literature as the evidence of this inexperience. However looking at the history of the development of Japan’s immigration and assimilation policies leads us to the understanding that this inexperience is mostly a matter of “ambivalence”. Immigration and assimilation have been used before the supposed beginning of the acceptance of foreign workers in the 1980s. The development of policies pertaining to immigration control and integration can be divided into three periods. The first period characterized by “douwa” or assimilation governed most of the period from the Second World War to the beginning of the economic booms. The second period, characterized by “kokusaika” or internalization, covered the period from the economic boom of the 1980s to the 1990s. The third period, which has often been the focus of much of Western scholars studying immigration in Japan saw the emergence of the concept of “tabunka kyousei” or multicultural co-existence.

On the other hand, zooming in on the Filipinos, we see that the Filipino population in Japan has grown enough for them to rank as one of the biggest groups of foreigners in Japan, after Chinese and Koreans. The movement of the Filipinos to Japan can be said as a timely meet-up of the supply and demand factors of migration. On the one hand, the Philippines’ economic difficulties and the institutionalization of the migration industry through the labor export policy in response to these difficulties created a supply of a ready and mobile labor force. And on the other hand, the economic booms Japan experienced in the 1980s left many jobs in sectors considered as 3D (dirty, dangerous and demeaning) open to foreign workers as many Japanese experiencing economic prosperity began leaving jobs to work in other sectors. Many Filipinos started migrating to Japan to work in construction, manufacturing and entertainment industries and in the years from 1970s to 1990s, among the Philippines’ largest labor export to Japan are Filipino entertainers. Japayuki, though literally meaning “Japan-bound”, took on a negative meaning as critics of the Japanese government’s immigration policies argue that the “entertainer” visa is one of the side doors through where unskilled labor can enter into the country. Such criticisms gave many Filipinos working as entertainers, regardless of whether they engage in prostitution work or not, a negative image. While the number of entertainers dwindled after Japan’s tightening regulations in 2005, the number of long-term, spouse and permanent-resident visa holders increased. Currently, most Filipino residents are in the Kanto, Chubu and Kansai regions which are heavily populated by Japanese and other foreign residents reflecting the presence of corporate firms, manufacturing companies and other employment offices.

Contexts, outcomes and patterns: Towards a more wholistic understanding of integration
The increasing number of foreigners and issues related to foreigners have seen the passing on of the responsibility from the national to the local government. Many municipalities have started implementing multicultural policies in an effort to address the different needs of the foreign residents while at the same time utilizing tabunka kyousei as a tool to revitalize the locality. The City government of Nagoya is no exception. The city implements policies on integration based on three policy directions that can facilitate different dimensions of integration include structural, cultural, interactive, and identificational. Summing it up what we see is that while structural integration policies are comprehensive, policies aimed to facilitate the other more subjective and social dimensions of integration are lacking. A couple of things have to be mentioned: first, the focus of majority of the policies has been on structural integration that can economically improve the situation of the residents while at the same time also contribute to the revitalization of the locality which is in the interest of both the national and local governments. Second, while encouraging active participation in the labor market, the lack of programs that promotes accessibility of language and skill acquisition and that encourage interactions with host society traps foreign residents in certain industries, as having lower language proficiency and less interaction with the host society can limit their opportunities. Third, lesser visibility in the society can also limit opportunities for representation and negotiation and being trapped in jobs considered unsavory such as those in the 3D sector which is particular among the Filipino residents being heavily involved in the entertainment industry, can also strengthen negative stereotypes.

What the discussions on the Filipino residents’ integration outcomes tell us is that there is no simple measure of assessing whether a migrant is integrated or not. What we saw is a conflation of factors that influence the way they integrate in terms of different dimensions. Further, as there is no one integration outcome, the findings also showed that there is no one path to integration. Conducting the survey among 459 respondents showed that in the context of the Filipino residents, using cluster analysis, the respondents based on their outcomes fall into four distinct patterns of integration that I labelled as straight-line, parallel, economically inactive and non-integrated. The respondents who were categorized as having a straight-line integration pattern show high outcomes in all four dimensions of integration. The parallel integration group is characterized by high structural integration scores coupled with average cultural, interactive and identificational scores. The economically inactive pattern is characterized by high levels of integration outcomes for cultural, interactive and identificational dimensions but we see that members of this group are economically inactive. And finally, members falling in the non-integrated pattern are characterized by low integration scores overall. Members of this group are economically inactive, have low self-rated language proficiency and do not have high interaction levels with the host society in personal, organizational and civic terms. Earlier discussions on the contextual factors that can affect migrant integration find themselves reflected in the outcomes and patterns of integration

Understanding the contextual and individual factors and the integration outcomes that arose as a result of these factors I have come to a conclusion that the patterns of integration are diverse and are affected by both individual and contextual factors. Contextual factors can impact the outcomes as we have seen and individual factors, based on multiple logistic regressions, such as length of stay, reasons for migrating, work experience from home country, co-ethnic social ties and remittance sending practices can impact how the foreign residents integrate.

This research is an endeavor that attempts to go beyond traditional integration outcome measures to assess and understand migrant integration outcomes and patterns given the contextual factors that surround the process of their migration. Understanding integration without understanding the context by which migrants migrate and integrate can lead to some problematic interpretations and misleading policy implications. As the findings suggest for instance, seeing a high rate of employment among the Filipino residents does not immediately suggest economic integration, nor does it automatically mean that there are policies encouraging labor market penetration. In general, findings suggest that to understand integration, a more wholistic approach is necessary that takes into account the host society’s policies on immigration and integration, the outcomes of migrants and the complex relationship between the host and home countries that gave rise to factors that drove the migration in the first place. This is particularly important in the case of the Filipinos in Japan.