The new residency program introduced last year to give fourth-generation descendants of Japanese overseas opportunities to live and work in Japan has raised hopes the government will ease the conditions to let family members come along — a privilege afforded to third-generation descendants.
To qualify for the program, which started on July 1, fourth-generation descendants must be between 18 and 30 years old and have a certain level of Japanese ability, among other conditions. Applicants who satisfy the requirements can stay for up to five years.
Previously, fourth-generation descendants were allowed to stay in Japan if they were single, under 20 and living with their third-generation parents. Second- and third-generation descendants are granted long-stay visas and can work freely.
Cristiane Oji, 20, resides in Sao Paulo, which has the largest Japanese community outside of Japan. Her great-grandparents were Japanese nationals.
She is a big fan of Japan and its culture, having spent her childhood years from 6 to 12 living in Higashiomi, Shiga Prefecture, with her mother, who worked away from home.
While Oji is interested in taking advantage of the new program, she is hesitant to apply because she is pregnant and prohibited from bringing her child here.
“I want my child to get an education just like the one I had in Japan,” she said. “I hope the restriction on bringing family members will be relaxed.”
“For Brazilians, it is very important to live with their family members,” said Cori Passos, 43, who works for an agency providing visa application services in Sao Paulo.
In June 2016, several organizations representing Japanese descendants in Sao Paulo submitted a petition to the Japanese Embassy in Brasilia demanding a residential status for fourth-generation offspring that grants both work permits and long-term visas.
They had in mind descendants who had grown up in Japan but now wanted to return after returning to Brazil with their parents. This group typically has a hard time readjusting to the customs and culture of the homeland because they struggle to comprehend Portuguese, according to the organizations.
Their predicament prompted the Japanese government to launch the new residence program for young people of Japanese ancestry.
In February, after the contents of a draft program was revealed, the organizations submitted an opinion to the Justice Ministry in which they sought residential status for fourth-generation descendants on the same terms as the third generation, and due consideration for the fifth generation onward.
The organizations have also requested the elimination of the age restriction as there are believed to be up to 150,000 fourth-generation descendants over 30 years old. Applicants are required to show basic understanding of Japanese, or the equivalent of level-four competence on the five-level Japanese-Language Proficiency Test as a condition for employment.
“It was good that the program was created, but the requirements, such as having to understand Japanese language “at a relatively high level, are strict,” said Harumi Goya, president of the Brazilian Society of Japanese Culture and Social Services, one of the organizations that petitioned the Japanese government.
“I believe it is difficult for fourth-generation Japanese to take part in the program,” Goya said.
To support the smooth integration of the fourth-generation descendants into Japanese society, the program also requires that a supporter be present who can provide guidance and assistance with learning Japanese language and culture, as well as daily living, during their stay.
Supporters are obliged to contact their charges at least once a month to see how their studies are coming along and to confirm their job status.
Mikio Shimoji, a House of Representatives member of the Japan Innovation Party who has been promoting the acceptance of fourth-generation Japanese, thinks the new program with employment support will help to acclimate them.
Japan is expected to welcome about 4,000 people a year from countries such as Brazil and Peru, where large numbers of Japanese emigrated in the 19th and 20th centuries.
“I don’t think 4,000 people is a large number, but it is significant that the system seemed to crack open in its treatment of fourth-generation Japanese descendants, putting them on equal footing as third-generation Japanese descendants,” Shimoji said. He also believes the condition preventing family members from accompanying them and the age restriction will not last forever.
“If a framework such as education, residence and income is arranged to welcome families once in Japan, I think this will possibly lead to reforms in the future,” he said.
Participants in the program are expected to serve as a bridge between Japan and Japanese communities in their home countries after returning home.