Starting today, ‘gaijin’ formally known as prints

Today sees the introduction of a law requiring the majority of foreigners entering Japan to be fingerprinted and photographed. This change has been met with howls of protest from foreign residents and the foreign media, who have pointed to the fact that the only terrorist attacks on Japanese soil have been carried out by Japanese.

Matters were not helped by recent comments from Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama, who attempted to justify the law by saying a “friend of a friend” of his was an al-Qaida operative who had entered Japan a number of times, using a different fake passport on each occasion.

In an effort to get an inside perspective on the new law, I wrote to a high-ranking Ministry of Injustice official closely involved in the planning and implementation of the measure. My source, who wishes to remain anonymous, sent the following statement by e-mail:

“Firstly, let me explain exactly what Mr. Hatoyama meant by his comments at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. What he was trying to emphasize was the relative ease with which foreigners bent on causing harm can enter Japan. Rather than giving dry statistics or resorting to vague and empty scare tactics, Mr. Hatoyama thought it would be better to give a concrete example of why this law is necessary. He also hoped to show that, despite his position as justice minister and scion of one of Japan’s most famous political families, he is comfortable moving in any social circle. In hindsight, his choice of words was perhaps inappropriate, but the truth in what he said is undeniable. The simple fact is that this law will make Japan a safer country by tightening its borders and preventing would-be terrorists from entering.

“The main beneficiaries of this law will not be the Japanese or even foreigners living here, but foreigners who haven’t even been here, and the international community as a whole.

“Take the bankruptcy of Nova Corp. Thousands of foreign teachers have been left jobless and facing eviction in a country where many of them cannot speak the language. Had this new law been enacted years ago this unfortunate situation could have been avoided.

“Consider why these people came to Japan ? to teach foreign languages, mainly English, to Japanese people. Why do Japanese people want to learn? Partly to help foreign visitors who come to Japan for pleasure or business. The unique history and culture of Japan attract millions of visitors to these islands each year. However, the new law will significantly reduce this number so the need for foreign language teachers will decline sharply, and it is highly unlikely there will be a repeat of the Nova fiasco.

“In addition to protecting people from taking risky teaching jobs in Japan, this law will also help reduce the effect of brain drain on a number of countries. Huge numbers of Asians currently take advantage of Japan’s generous immigration laws to come here and work. Although they often send money home, the fact that they have had to move overseas has a serious effect on the quality of the workforce in their home country. Again, the new law will reduce the number of foreigners in Japan, and the benefits of this will be felt throughout Asia as countries’ brightest brains choose to stay and work in the land of their birth.

“The new immigration controls will also impact on globalization and its benefits for developing countries. The new law will probably cause some companies to close their offices in Japan and relocate to countries with less stringent border controls: developing nations in Asia, for example. As it has done in the past, the generosity of the Japanese government will allow other countries to develop economically and socially. Japan is a rich nation, but not a greedy one, and is glad to spread the benefits of globalization and free markets as widely as possible. This new law will indirectly allow us to do so.

“Of course, there will be benefits for the Japanese: Fewer foreign workers will mean more jobs for Japanese and this may go some way toward combating the growing income gap in Japan. Also, the pressure to learn English will be reduced, and this will allow Japanese people to spend more time studying their own country’s history, traditions and culture. English will become an optional language for those who really want to study it, and there will still be enough foreigners here to meet the reduced demand. But, as I outlined above, the main benefits will be felt internationally, as Japan steps back slightly on the world stage and graciously allows some other countries the chance to shine.”