OSAKA — While Osaka’s foreign residents are divided on the need to provide information for medical services in foreign languages, they are in general agreement that schools should teach more about the history, language and culture of other countries.
At the same time, a majority of Japanese say foreign residents commit a lot of crimes, and nearly 25 percent are uncomfortable about approaching foreign residents.
These are just some of the results of a recent survey of foreign and Japanese residents in the city. The poll, prepared by the city in cooperation with the Osaka chapter of the Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan), a pro-Seoul group, was conducted from October to December 2001 and released late last year.
“The purpose was to learn what foreign residents needed and were most concerned about, so that the city and the foreign community of Osaka could work together to address some of the issues of concern to both foreigners and their Japanese neighbors,” said Kim Hyun Soo, director of Mindan Osaka’s international division and one of those who helped draw up the survey.
As of the end of March 2001, there were 118,926 foreigners registered as Osaka residents. Of these, 95,988, or 80.7 percent, were Korean, while 13,995, or 11.8 percent, were Chinese. Of the 9,000 from other parts of the world, most were from Central and South America or from other parts of Asia.
Of the 1,190 foreign residents who responded to the survey, 997 were Korean, 149 were Chinese and the remaining 44 were classified as being of “other nationalities,” which the city said consisted largely of Latin Americans and Southeast Asians.
The survey consisted of questions regarding city medical facilities, education, marriage to Japanese citizens, employment at Japanese firms and searching for housing in Osaka.
For years, many foreigners, especially Westerners, have complained that information about medical services was hard to find, and that was the first item on the questionnaire. But only 4 percent of Korean respondents agreed with that complaint, as opposed to 25 percent of Chinese respondents and 31.2 percent of people of other nationalities.
Likewise, only 3.6 of the Koreans said medical information in other languages is scarce, while 20 percent of the Chinese residents and 43 percent of those of other nationalities complained about the lack of non-Japanese information.
“The lower figures for the Korean community are simply due to the fact that the vast majority of them are fluent in Japanese,” Kim said.
Where all groups of foreigners surveyed were in closer agreement was the question of what should be taught in public schools.
Thirty percent of Korean and Chinese respondents, and 40 percent of those of other nationalities, said they want public schools to teach Japanese children about different cultures.
“Chinese parents with children in Osaka’s schools have long complained that the schools do next to nothing in the way of teaching Chinese culture,” said Taiwan-born Midori Ito, founder of the volunteer group Kansai Lifeline, which provides advice and assistance to Chinese living in the region.
“While individual teachers try to do so, the system discourages the learning of foreign cultures, especially Asian cultures.” Mindan’s Kim said, “For Korean residents, the issue of international education begins with the use of Korean names in public schools. Japanese children need to be taught that there are people who call Japan home that do not have Japanese names.”
In addition to foreign residents, the survey asked some 1,300 Japanese in Osaka how they feet about foreigners.
Fifty-four percent said it is their impression that foreign residents commit a large number of crimes, while 27 percent said they find that approaching foreign residents is somewhat or extremely uncomfortable.
“These worries over crime are due to biased Japanese media coverage,” Ito argued. “Some newspapers and magazines just publish without question whatever the police say. Yes, crimes by foreigners are going up. But they are still a very small percentage of total crimes, which are mainly committed by Japanese.”
According to the most recent statistics provided by the Osaka Prefectural Police, about 2,500 crimes were committed by foreigners in 1998. The total number of criminal offenses in the prefecture that year was about 200,000.
Kim said the feelings of the Japanese who replied to the survey did not surprise him.
“On the whole, given Japan’s education system, the way the media reports, or doesn’t report, foreign crime, and Japan’s ambivalent relationship with foreigners, the response of the Japanese who were surveyed was not unexpected,” he said.
City officials said they plan to use the survey results to offer better services to the foreign community, and to increase international understanding between the foreign and Japanese communities.
But while Kim noted that cooperation between city officials and Mindan has grown in recent years, Ito said City Hall has not really reached out to the Chinese community in the same way.
“Chinese citizens’ groups are not consulted about what the Chinese community of Osaka really needs,” she said. “The city can take its cue from some local ward offices, which, in consultation with Chinese residents, have taken the lead in hiring interpreters and providing other services.”
Kim said he understands the Chinese complaints, as it took a very long time for the city to agree to work with the Korean community.
“The fact that the city of Osaka and Mindan cooperated on this survey is a step in the right direction,” Kim said. “We need to continue to work together to educate Osaka residents on the fact that there are many different foreign communities living here, communities that want to preserve their culture, and want the Japanese to respect their efforts to preserve their culture by educating themselves and their children about that culture.”
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