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Promoting Diversity in Japan

The most diverse campus in Japan is Ritsumeikan’s Asia-Pacific University (APU) in Beppu, Japan, which boasts a 1:1 ratio of Japanese to international students. This unique university, which is tied to Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, is seeking to increase its foreign enrollment. Even though APU has taken active measures to recruit international students, including a recent campaign to attract Filipino students, this does not indicate a long-term shift towards campus diversity in Japan. The same can be said of immigration in general in Japan. Japan should prioritize helping current immigrants stay in Japan longer and increase their role in society before promoting broader immigration. The simplest policy change to make is allowing dual citizenship.

If APU wants more Filipino students, they don’t have to have a recruiting seminar in the Philippines. There are many Filipinos living in Japan already. Consider how Japanese law works for the child of a Filipino immigrant and a Japanese spouse. Since both Japan and the Phillipines determine citizenship by bloodline, the child is both a Japanese and Filipino citizen until the age of 20 to 21, when they must choose to either keep or forfeit their Japanese citizenship.

This is a common issue with many ethnic groups living in Japan. In essence, someone can be born and raised in Japan but must choose to be only a permanent resident of Japan their entire life. Having dual-citizenship does afford some benefits such as granting rights to voting in elections, the ability to be the legal head of a household, and being able to obtain a Japanese passport, which means exemption from the system of deportation and re-entry. 

Dual-citizenship also has a more important symbolic message: Being Japanese does not mean you must be only “Japanese." While being a permanent resident offers many of the same benefits of being a citizen, it’s a constant, official reminder of difference. If dual-citizenship was made available, a difficult choice between maintaining part of one’s identity and second-class citizenship disappears. 

Many other permanent residents who are born outside of Japan refuse to drop the citizenship of their birth country. This is typical for immigrants and minorities living in a grey zone while in Japan, and hinders integration by reinforcing exclusion rather than inclusion, making long-term residency in Japan unnecessarily difficult.

While it is beneficial to increase diversity by having international students and workers, most of these students and workers will find opportunities to stay beyond their one to five-year student or work visas difficult. Instead, foreigners will simply fill a temporary position at a company or university and then return home because they are offered very little incentive  to stay. A variety of incentives for foreigners to remain in Japan are available, but official acceptance through dual-citizenship is a good first step.

Some major international companies in Japan know the value of diversity and are promoting it in their corporations. Through giving people who add to that diversity incentive to stay, an atmosphere of diversity also remains.

Instead of cycling foreigners through Japan, Japan should promote a policy to give people who want to stay and be productive in Japan more options. The first step is making their choice to stay easier by allowing dual citizenship. Dual-citizenship is a real and symbolic step in the right direction for current immigrants and permanent residents in Japan.

Simply bringing foreigners to a satellite school or cycling them through the Japanese workforce is not enough. To reap the benefits of diversity, the people who bring diversity should be encouraged to stay.

Photo Credit: Gustavo Veríssimo

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