On September 13, the Asahi Shimbun published an online article titled "Multicultural Coexistence: Insights from Toshiaki Murayama, Mayor of Oizumi Town, Gunma Prefecture." In this article, Mayor Murayama emphasized that "the future of Japan is reflected in the image of this town."
Oizumi Town currently has a foreign population of 20%. According to Mayor Murayama, the town places a strong emphasis on human rights and diversity. The local government has enacted human rights protection ordinances. It provides administrative services in seven languages, actively reaching out to foreign residents.
However, recognizing the limitations of multilingual support, the town has a future policy to make English its common language. With the foreign population aging and an increase in welfare recipients and those requiring care, the town is committed to providing information and support to foreign residents.
Depriving the Japanese of their Own Language
While the Asahi Shimbun commends Oizumi Town's present stance, portraying it as a source of inspiration for multicultural coexistence, there are critical issues that demand attention.
First, adopting English as Japan's common language to accommodate the growing foreign population raises concerns about potential disadvantages Japanese individuals face. Many Japanese are solely proficient in the Japanese language.
This shift could result in English gradually displacing Japanese in various aspects of society and education. If Japan were to lose its Japanese language, it would no longer be Japan.
Elderly Foreigners Benefit Without Contribution
Second, should the regular provision of welfare support to elderly foreigners who haven't contributed to the pension system become a norm, it could strain the nation's finances due to the increasing foreign population. Furthermore, it could result in neglecting the welfare of Japanese citizens and pose functional challenges.
The Sankei Shimbun explored the welfare support issue in Oizumi Town in a 2018 web article. It was titled "Walking in Oizumi Town, Gunma, with Many Foreign Welfare Recipients - The Language Barrier and the Inability to Reemploy."
The article illuminates the town's circumstances. About 18% of residents and 23% of welfare recipients are foreigners. It also underscores that "the expansion of welfare support expenses doesn't strain the town's finances but increases the burden on the national and prefectural levels."
Problem of Lack of Language Skills
The article further delves into the town's history. It points out that Oizumi Town welcomed a substantial number of foreign workers during the labor shortage of the bubble period.
However, a prevailing issue lies in the lack of language skills of many of these foreign workers. Many lost their jobs due to economic downturns. Now they face challenges in securing new employment due to their limited Japanese language skills.
It might seem reasonable for Oizumi Town alone to provide welfare assistance to unemployed foreigners. However, the town doesn't take responsibility for the costs of this assistance. Rather, it believes: "The financial responsibility lies with the nation and prefecture and we can just continue our focus on building a community that prioritizes human rights and diversity."
The Bill Goes to Taxpayers Nationwide
The adoption of a similar approach by numerous municipalities across Japan could ultimately jeopardize the country's national finances.
This kind of self-centered, blame-shifting, and hypocritical administrative approach should not be the vision for Japan's future.
We must not be deceived by politicians or the media that present a vision of society that is comfortable for foreigners but challenging for Japanese people. That is not an ideal future for Japan.
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(Read the column in Japanese.)
Author: Dr Akari Iiyama
Dr Akari Iiyama is an Islamic Thought researcher and Visiting Professor at Reitaku University.