MANILA – The granting of Japanese citizenship, residency visas or working visas to Filipinos descended from Japanese who migrated to the Philippines in the early 20th century may usher in better lives for them and their families, but not necessarily without hardships and problems.
Filipinos of Japanese descent who have petitioned family courts in Japan for official recognition of their Japanese roots do not deny being primarily motivated by potential economic benefits, Japan being a developed country and the Philippines wanting in job and livelihood opportunities.
But working in Japan and integrating into Japanese society pose new problems for the Philippine “nikkei-jin” (Japanese descendants) and their families, primarily because of language and cultural differences, experts say.
“Some Japanese citizens who may be aware that nikkei-jin usually do not know the Japanese language, do not look like Japanese, and use the Japanese nationality only as means of working in Japan ask, ‘What is it to grant the nationality to such de facto foreigners?’ ” said Michiyo Yoneno-Reyes, a professor of Asian studies at the University of the Philippines.
Ron Vilog, a Filipino graduate student at Nagoya University, wrote in a recently published paper on the ethnic consciousness of Philippine nikkei-jin workers in Japan that they do not easily develop a Japanese identity “partly because of the xenophobic social attitude of the host society.”
In Japan, he said, “the fictive notion of cultural homogeneity is still widely believed in spite of the efforts of the national government to redesign a society that can be called multicultural.”
“My nikkei-jin interviewees believe that the society views them as ‘gaijin’ (foreigners) regardless of the degree of their relation to their Japanese ancestors. In fact, even their Japanese relatives do not constantly communicate with them,” said Vilog, who interviewed Philippine nikkei-jin in Aichi Prefecture for his paper published in the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science.
Philippine nikkei-jin or their children who have been recognized by Japan, courtesy of its amended immigration law in 1990, typically work in Japanese factories, on farms or as caregivers.
“Mostly, the second-generation nikkei-jin do not have intention to immigrate to Japan. They file a petition to complete their identity. Another reason is for their children or grandchildren, that they may be able to work in Japan,” explained Yuka Kanamaru of the nonprofit organization Philippine Nikkei-jin Legal Support Center.
Kanamaru said her group is also actively making the Philippine nikkei-jin issue known in Japan so as to draw understanding and support from its people.
“Some people misunderstand this use (of nikkei-jin workers) and take a dim view,” she said.
Nikkei-jin employment is generally seen as an advantage both for Japan, which lacks a sufficient workforce, and Filipino-Japanese, who enjoy salaries higher than they would get in the Philippines even though their income is actually often lower than what is normally offered to native Japanese or nikkei-jin workers from South America.
They use the extra income to renovate their houses in the Philippines, acquire land and other properties, start up businesses and send members of their family to school.
Reyes said inadequate language skills limit opportunities for most Philippine nikkei-jin to land office jobs or those that are less physical and pay better, and many of them do not have enough time or money to spend on learning Japanese.
At work, some experience maltreatment from their superiors, while others get frustrated because they were used to doing professional jobs in the Philippines.
Internal conflicts among them are also common because of regional biases they have toward each other, Vilog’s paper said.
“Because of cultural and communication gaps between both parties, resignations without advance notice, job abandonment and job-hopping have become common practices” among nikkei-jin workers in Japan, Shun Ohno wrote in a 2008 issue of Asian Studies, a journal produced by the Asian Center of the University of the Philippines.
Ohno said “their sense of insecurity in Japan” reflects on their sense of “belongingness,” leading them to identify themselves more as Filipinos and less as Japanese.
“Their unstable employment and daily encounters with native Japanese who tend to regard them as foreigners make their full assimilation with Japanese society difficult even after their long-term settlement in Japan,” he said.
Meanwhile, Reyes said children of Philippine nikkei-jin also face challenges in school, having to catch up with lessons that use technical terms and abstract concepts in Japanese.
“Today, many children of nikkei-jin shuttle between Japan and the Philippines, meaning they change school from one to another. So they fail to establish a mother tongue and are therefore weak in academic subjects,” she said.
But not all Philippine nikkei-jin in Japan are struggling.
Reyes said there are some who, after many years, have “happily” settled in Japan “enjoying privileged status compared to illegal ones or stateless children” and mastering the Japanese language.
Philippine nikkei-jin, the descendents of prewar Japanese immigrants to the Philippines, are generally differentiated from “New Philippine nikkei-jin,” namely the children of Japanese-Filipino intermarriages whose numbers have rapidly increased since the 1980s when many Filipina entertainers began entering Japan for work.
The Philippines became a destination for Japanese migrants starting in 1903, at which time the islands were under American rule, when Japanese laborers were contracted for a major road project in the northern part of Luzon Island.
After their contracts expired, many of them remained, and their numbers grew during the plantation boom in the Davao area of Mindanao Island before World War II.
Citing a 2005 survey of the Federation of Nikkei-jin Kai Philippines, Ohno said the number of second-generation Philippine nikkei-jin at that time was 2,972, while the third generation numbered 10,288, and the fourth generation 31,904.
As of 2008, Ohno said the Philippine nikkei-jin constituted the second-biggest Asian nikkei-jin community in Japan, next to Chinese nikkei-jin.
Noting the multiethnic identity of Philippine nikkei-jin, he said, “Japan’s entrenched ‘jus sanguinis’ (right of blood) principle based on Japanese bloodline will appear out-of-date in this age of post-nation state and transnational citizenship” if its government fails to integrate them into Japanese society.