Survey of foreigners leaves Tokyo officials amazed

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government unveiled May 23 the results of its first comprehensive poll on living conditions for foreign residents in Tokyo, which it says is one of the largest ever conducted on foreigners in Japan.

The poll, which fielded responses in 10 languages — the most used in any poll of its kind in Japan — revealed the numerous aspects of foreigners’ lives, government officials said.

About half of the 892 respondents detailed how they have been discriminated against, which somewhat “shocked” the officials in charge of the poll. For example, a Chinese woman in her 20s said that she has been rejected many times when applying for part-time jobs or better housing, simply because of her nationality.

The poll did not offer multiple-choice answers and instead provided blank spaces for the respondents to write in details, according to Ryozo Yonehara, director for the Planning and Coordination Section at the International Affairs Division at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Yonehara said the respondents went to great lengths in their responses to that particular question.

The poll was conducted in October and November in English, Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, Thai, Persian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese. Some 6,300 copies of the questionnaire were distributed at foreign resident registration counters at local governments; 892 foreigners picked up the surveys, filled them in and mailed them to the government.

The questionnaire was wide-ranging, covering areas such as the number of languages understood by foreigners, housing, health, how information necessary for everyday life is obtained, employment, child-raising, and relations with Japanese neighbors. For example, asked what they find most inconvenient about living in Tokyo, 53.8 percent pointed to high prices, followed by bad living environments at 12.0 percent, few chances to socialize at 6.3 percent, and difficulty in finding work, at 5.0 percent.

The poll showed that 91 percent of the 892 respondents said they understand either Japanese or English, a percentage much higher than expected by metropolitan government officials. “I didn’t expect such a large number of people to understand either Japanese or English,” said a senior official at the metropolitan government’s international department.

On the other hand, Tokyo officials said the survey found that for residents from Central and South America, more people understand Japanese than English, which was also unexpected: 60.9 percent understand Japanese while only 30.4 percent understand English, according to the poll. By cross-referencing the nationalities with the languages they understand, the government can find the most effective languages to use in its publications for each nationality, the officials said. “For the first time, we’ve got basic material to find what language should be used (for a foreign national),” Yonehara said, adding that the most-effective combination of languages seems to be English and Japanese with furigana.

Asked what the main advantage of living in Tokyo is, convenience for shopping topped the list at 21.0 percent, followed by safety, at 20.2 percent, good access to information, at 18.4 percent, and opportunities for business, at 14.6 percent.

Most of the foreign residents who responded to the questionnaire are “newcomers,” or those who have arrived Japan recently, because copies were distributed at a foreign registration counter where permanent residents, particularly north and south Koreans, rarely visit, the officials said.