Japan is among the very first Asian countries that opened its borders to Filipino migrant workers, particularly women entertainment workers. It is also the Asian country with the highest concentration of Filipino marriage migrants.
As of 2004, Filipinos constitute the fourth largest ethnic group in the country, with 199,394. About 47,497 are permanent visa holders, 43,817 spouse visa holders, 23,756 Filipinos of Chinese descent and 82,741 entertainment workers. Despite such huge number, many Filipinos are not quite at home mainly because of their legal status and experience of discrimination, owing to society’s common construction of them as entertainers and pub workers. Moreover, national and local formal initiatives designed to help migrants adapt with the ways of their host country are still insignificant.
It is for this reason that support groups such as Kasugai Aichi Samahang Pilipino (KASAPI) in Kasugai City have become a space for refuge and empowerment for both marriage migrants and migrant workers, regardless of their legal status. As Mary Angeline Da-anoy, a Filipina married to Japanese national described, “KASAPI gave a face for Filipino marriage migrants, assisting Filipinos in the communities especially women who have experienced domestic violence.”
KASAPI has been among the civil society organizations that helped pursue cases of violence against Filipino women all the way to the Japanese Supreme Court. Albeit the organisation has been coordinating with Japanese authorities, KASAPI usually spends more resources in monitoring the situation of Filipino women at high risk. This, as the police refuse to meddle on otherwise private issues among couples, even when there is an occurrence of physical and sexual abuse.
The presence of KASAPI and similar groups has made Kasugai City, particularly its local government more open for dialogues with its migrant communities. A sense of multiculturalism is being promoted in the Aichi Prefecture, which is a larger political jurisdiction, where more than 20,000 Filipinos live along with nationals from India, China, Korea, Peru and Nepal.
In one of the Prefecture’s so-called “opinion exchange meetings,” most migrants called for state support for the education of their children; language courses and translation services; medical and health care benefits; and counseling support, among others.
“Multiculturalism is an [said to be an] accommodation of a various of people. But this may be overstated. By my observation in Kasugai is that multiculturalism is more of an attempt by non-government organizations along with local government agencies, to accommodate and gather together in solidarity a ‘variety’ of people from different countries to encourage civic action. However, concrete programmes and policies are lacking, that need to be formulated if the local government is serious about establishing a multicultural society,” Da-anoy observed.
Citizenship, particularly its implementation likewise remains a contested notion for Da-anoy especially in light of the Japanese’ treatment of undocumented migrant workers who have contributed to the country and have lived there for several years, but despite these they still face threats of deportation.
As she further put it, “If we define citizenship as ‘a form of membership where people transcend their differences for a common good of all its members’ then, it is perhaps appropriate to suggest that long-term undocumented migrants who made concrete contribution to the local society are considerably substantive local citizens. They are a lot of them in thousands, whose narratives are worthy of in-depth documentation.”