Japan


When Chinese textile worker Wang Mingzhi heard he could more than triple his income with a three-year stint working in Japan as an apprentice, he eagerly paid a broker $7,300 in fees and deposit money.

460x

 

In this May 17, 2013 photo, Wang Zhigan, a 31-year-old Chinese laborer, picks up a dried food as he prepares a lunch at his dormitory in Hokota, Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo. Caught between Japan’s shrinking workforce and tight restrictions on immigration, employers such as small companies, farms and fisheries are relying on foreign interns from China, Vietnam and other countries under a program set up to transfer technical expertise to developing countries, but which critics say is abused by some employers seeking a source of cheap labor. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

From afar, Japan seemed a model of prosperity and order. Japanese government backing of the training program he would enter the country under helped ease worries about going abroad. But when he joined the ranks of 150,000 other interns from poor Asian countries working in Japan, Wang was in for a series of shocks.

Promised a clothing factory job, the 25-year-old wound up at a huge warehouse surrounded by rice paddies where he was told to fill boxes with clothing, toys and other goods. Wang and other new arrivals weren’t given contracts by their Japanese boss and monthly wages were withheld, except for overtime.

Anyone who didn’t like the conditions could return to China, their boss told them. But then Wang would have lost most of his deposit. And how could he face his family, who were counting on sharing in the $40,000 he hoped he would earn for three years work.

460x (1)

 

In this May 17, 2013 photo, Chinese laborers Li Jin, 23, left, and Wang Xile, 22, sit in a room of their dormitory in Hokota, Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo. Caught between Japan’s shrinking workforce and tight restrictions on immigration, employers such as small companies, farms and fisheries are relying on foreign interns from China, Vietnam and other countries under a program set up to transfer technical expertise to developing countries, but which critics say is abused by some employers seeking a source of cheap labor. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

“We didn’t have any choice but to stay,” Wang said from his bunk in a cramped house he shared with a dozen others in Kaizu, a small city in central Gifu prefecture.

Wang’s story is not unusual. Faced with a shrinking workforce and tight restrictions on immigration, Japanese employers such as small companies, farms and fisheries are plugging labor shortages by relying on interns from China, Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia. The training program is intended to help developing countries by upgrading the technical expertise of their workers but critics say it is abused by some employers who see it as a source of cheap labor.

460x (2)

 

In this June 9, 2013 photo, Chinese textile worker Wang Ming Zhi, right, with his colleague Cao Li Mei listens to an official from the Gifu General Labor Union at his room in Kaizu, Gifu prefecture, central Japan. When Wang heard he could more than triple his income with a three-year stint working in Japan as an apprentice, he eagerly paid a broker $7,300 in fees and deposit money. Wang and other new arrivals weren’t given contracts by their Japanese boss. They say they were told the company would withhold wages until the end of their three years in Japan, and only give them overtime pay until then. (AP Photo/Malcolm Foster)

Employers committing violations such as failing to pay wages numbered 197 last year, down more than half from 452 in 2008, according to Japanese officials. Lawyers and labor activists say the true number is many times higher and interns fear being sent home if they speak up despite government attempts to prevent abuses.

In interviews with The Associated Press, eight current and former interns described being cheated of wages, forced to work overtime, having contracts withheld or being charged exorbitant rents for cramped, poorly insulated housing. Some said they were prohibited from owning cellphones. The internship system has been criticized by the U.N. and the U.S. State Department, which in its annual “Trafficking in Persons Report” said Japan is failing to stop cases of forced labor.

“The program is portrayed as way to transfer technology, and that Japan is doing a wonderful thing, but in reality many are working like slaves,” said Shoichi Ibusuki, a lawyer who has represented several interns in court cases.

Some say the plight of the interns highlights the need for Japan to rethink its deep-seated resistance to immigration, out of sheer economic necessity. A government institute projects Japan’s workforce will plummet by nearly half to 44 million over the next 50 years as the population ages and birthrates remain low. At that rate, many companies will run out of workers. Foreign workers and first generation immigrants make up less than 2 percent of Japan’s workforce. In the United States, the percentage is 14.2 percent, and in Germany it is 11.7 percent, according to U.N. figures.

Unions and others have called for the training program, established in 1993, to be abolished and replaced with a formal system for employment of foreign workers. That will better meet the demand for low-skilled laborers as young Japanese flock to the cities and shun work that is dirty, dangerous or difficult, they say.

“We need to stop the deception,” said Ippei Torii, vice president of ZWU All United Workers Union, which has battled on behalf of interns. “If we need to bring in foreign workers, then we should call them workers and treat them so.”

Hidenori Sakanaka, former chief of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau who has become a champion for immigration, said Japan needs 10 million immigrants over the next 50 years or its economy will collapse.

“That’s really our only salvation,” said Sakanaka, now head of a think tank. “We should allow them to enter the country on the assumption that they could become residents of Japan.”

The chances of that happening are low. Immigration is perceived as a threat to Japan’s prized social harmony, and opponents paint scenarios of rising crime and other problems.

460x (3)

 

In this May 17, 2013 photo, Chinese laborers Li Jin, 23, left, stands with his colleagues in front of their dormitory in Hokota, Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo.Caught between Japan’s shrinking workforce and tight restrictions on immigration, employers such as small companies, farms and fisheries are relying on foreign interns from China, Vietnam and other countries under a program set up to transfer technical expertise to developing countries, but which critics say is abused by some employers seeking a source of cheap labor. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

About 20 years ago, Japan granted special visas to Latin Americans of Japanese descent but many had difficult fitting in. After the 2008 global financial crisis they were offered money to return home.

The training program got public attention earlier this year after a Chinese intern stabbed to death his boss and another Japanese employee at a fishery in Hiroshima but its ongoing problems have not been front page news.

The government strengthened laws covering the program in 2010, including prohibiting trainees from paying deposits to labor brokers. Japanese employers are expected to pay the third-party agencies. A panel of experts and officials is reviewing the program again to see if it needs further changes.

“There are some who go against the objectives of this program and use it as a source of cheap labor,” said Jun Nakamura, an immigration bureau official. “We have tried to strengthen the legal framework.”

After not receiving their regular wages for 16 months, Wang and about a dozen others at the distribution company in Gifu confronted their boss, Akiyoshi Shibata, demanding their back pay. They said he gave them a choice: return to China or drop their complaints, apologize and stay on.

Wang and three others chose to go home. A few days later they were taken to the airport, where Shibata paid them each 750,000 yen ($7,500), barely enough to cover the broker fee, according to Zhen Kai, an official with the Gifu Ippan Labor Union who helped in negotiations between the two sides.

In a phone interview, Shibata said he withheld 50,000 yen (about $500) every month from each trainee’s wages for the first year as a security deposit due to problems in the past, including cases where trainees ran away. He said he paid the remaining regular wages on time and in the end paid them all they had earned.

After “all this trouble,” Shibata said he has decided against using foreign interns any more.

“I think it may be better to scrap the program since there’s a risk both sides will just be unhappy.”

 

By Malcolm Foster,KAIZU, Japan (AP) —Nov.22, 2013

Nearly 50 years after an assassin killed President John F. Kennedy, his daughter was triumphantly received as America’s ambassador to Japan in the country that made her dad a hero. Caroline Kennedy arrived at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday in an ornate, horse-drawn carriage — befitting the Princess of Camelot’s role as American royalty — to present her credentials to Emperor Akihito.

Caroline Kennedy

 

Meanwhile, back at home, images of her standing stoically at her father’s funeral were being replayed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death this week.

Kennedy

Kennedy, 55, is the first female US envoy to Japan, America’s fourth-largest trading partner.

Dallas Arrival

Though it was a Japanese destroyer that sank John Kennedy’s PT-109 boat during World War II, JFK as president wanted to heal the rift between the two countries and “be the first sitting president to make a state visit to Japan,” Caroline Kennedy had told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

45th Anniversary of JFK Assassination

“That symbolizes so much more than just a normal diplomatic relationship,” Secretary of State John Kerry said last week at a state dinner in honor of the new ambassador.

5

“This is a symbol of reconciliation, a symbol of possibilities, a symbol of people who know how to put the past behind them and look to the future and build a future together.”

6

Caroline Kennedy was appointed ambassador after helping President Obama’s re-election campaign.

“Honored to present my credentials to His Majesty the Emperor of Japan. What a memorable day!” Kennedy tweeted later, sharing a photo of her alighting from the carriage at the palace’s Pine Hall.

In a meeting with reporters, Kennedy described the ceremony as “wonderful.”

“I am honored to serve my country,” she said.

JAPAN-US-DIPLOMACY

The appointment was a soft landing after her failed attempt to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Senate after Clinton became Obama’s secretary of state.

Despite critics who said Kennedy doesn’t have the gravitas to follow in the footsteps of other former US ambassadors to Japan, including Walter Mondale and Tom Foley, she has said she is well aware of the responsibilities.

“This appointment has a special significance as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of my father’s presidency,” she told a Senate committee in September before being confirmed for the post.

“I am conscious of my responsibility to uphold the ideals he represented — a deep commitment to public service, a more just America and a more peaceful world.”

Kennedy was one of several new world diplomats to meet with the emperor, but the only one whose arrival was broadcast on national TV.

Kennedy handed the emperor a letter from Obama with her credentials, along with a letter of resignation from her predecessor, John Roos, according to the Imperial Household Agency.

The emperor usually receives about 40 new ambassadors each year.

JAPAN-US-DIPLOMACY

Thousands of Japanese lined the streets of Tokyo to catch a glimpse of the new ambassador as she waved from the century-old carriage.

Japan is also home to the Navy’s 7th Fleet and 50,000 American troops.

Kennedy is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later this week.

 

Text by Leonard Greene and Post Wires, November 20, 2013

JAPAN is still reeling from the earthquakeand tsunami that struck its north-east coast on March 11th, with the government struggling to contain a nuclear disaster and around 10,000 people still unaccounted for.


Provisional  estimates released today by the World Bank put the economic damage resulting from the disaster at as much as $235 billion, around 4% of GDP. That figure would make this disaster the costliest since comparable records began in 1965.

The Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, which caused some 250,000 deaths, does not feature on this chart. Economic losses there amounted to only $14 billion in today’s prices, partly because of low property and land values in the affected areas.

 

By The Economist online, March 21, 2011

As we watch in the images rolling in from Japan we are yet again reminded of the sudden destructive potential of mother Earth. The number of fatalities is currently in the hundreds; the number displaced from their homes is in the tens of thousands.


The tsunami generated by this magnitude 8.9 earthquake sent a wall of water sweeping across Japan, and across the Pacific. It was more than 30 feet high in places and reached six miles inland carrying cars, homes and everything else with it. Although the earthquake was 230 miles northeast of Tokyo, this was the worst shaking that people have felt in a city used to earthquakes. Explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station have leaked radioactive material into the surrounding area, and we will undoubtedly hear of other catastrophic impacts over the next few days.

But it could have been much worse. The 2010 Haiti earthquake was magnitude 7; Japan’s earthquake released almost 1000 times more energy than the Haiti event. Yet it is estimated that more than 200,000 people were killed in Haiti compared to the current estimate of hundreds in Japan. The reason for this difference is that Japan is one of the most earthquake-ready countries on Earth, Haiti was not.

For decades Japan has steadily pushed the limits of earthquake preparedness. It invests in research and development to understand the earthquake process and create infrastructure that is better able to withstand future effects. Their state of the art buildings shake but do not collapse. Classes about earthquakes in their schools make earthquake preparedness part of everyone’s lifestyle, and regular public earthquake drills reinforce this for a lifetime. Their seismic networks, the best in the world, provide a tsunami warning system, and more recently an earthquake warning system that provided tens of seconds warning in this earthquake.

This long-term investment that Japan has made to reduce the impact of earthquakes seems like a very good deal today. It has undoubtedly saved many thousands of lives, and will also reduce the long-term impact of the earthquake on the economy as Japan rapidly bounces back. The investment will pay for itself many times over for this earthquake, and the next.

In the U.S. we also have an earthquake problem. Our west-coast cities are built atop active fault zones that give us occasional jolts reminding us of their presence from time to time. The 1989 magnitude 7.0 Loma Prieta earthquake was one such reminder, as was the 1994 magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake. Both events were moderate in size and the strongest shaking was in unpopulated mountainous areas. We have not seen the true power of west-coast earthquakes since 1906 when a magnitude 8 earthquake destroyed San Francisco. Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, or Seattle could be next.

Today, we should not have any illusions about the ability of an earthquake to bring wide-spread destruction a modern city. We most recently experienced the might of mother Earth in the U.S. when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. In addition to the immediate destruction of the widespread flooding, New Orleans also stands as a testament to the long-term effects of these events on our cities. The recent census count shows that the New Orleans population is still down almost one third since the previous pre-Katrina count.

So what is our fate on the west coast? Do we follow Japan’s lead, or do we fall back in the direction of Haiti? We must use this terrible event in Japan as a reminder to redouble our efforts to build an earthquake resilient society. We need to invest in the research and the development that brings about better earthquake safety. We must push the limits of our technologies to deliver new earthquake mitigation strategies.

Modern buildings are built to standards that make them unlikely to collapse, but we need to focus on improving older buildings to bring them up to modern standards. We need more education about earthquake preparedness in our schools, and large-scale drills such as the California Shake-Out. And we need a warning system, like the one that delivered a warning in Japan. A prototype is operational in California. With only a moderate investment, public warnings could be available state-wide. Perhaps this warning from Japan can spur the investment now. We will be very glad we did when the next earthquake strikes.


By Richard Allen ,Mar 12, 2011

Richard M. Allen is the Associate Director of the University of California, Berkeley, Seismological Laboratory and an associate professor in the university’s Department of Earth & Planetary Science