National | CABINET INTERVIEW 2018

‘Management and coexistence’: Japan’s justice minister calls for balance in dealing with foreign nationals

by Sarah Suk

Staff Writer

Ten days into his new job, Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita said one of his major goals is to strike a balance between management and coexistence when it comes to foreign nationals in Japan.

“As we accept foreigners to Japan, I believe the government must carry out proper residency management including getting an accurate account of foreign residents’ status to avoid problems such as illegal employment,” Yamashita said in a group interview with media organizations on Thursday.

“On the other hand, it is important for the country to have some responsibility to provide support to foreigners,” he said, adding that the Justice Ministry is working on compiling comprehensive measures related to living alongside foreign nationals by the end of this year. “We must balance management and coexistence.”

The interview took place as the ministry is preparing to submit a bill to the upcoming extraordinary Diet session that would revise relevant laws to allow blue-collar foreign nationals with specific skills to obtain new types of visas to work in Japan from next April.

“This new system will allow us to accept foreign human resources who are industry-ready, against the backdrop of the situation in our country where there is a serious shortage of labor (in some areas) and have them work and play an active role in Japan,” said the 53-year-old lawmaker, who is serving his third term in the Lower House.

“Japan already has 2.6 million foreign residents, and 1.3 million of them are working. We also had 28 million inbound visitors (last year). With Japan making great strides toward internationalization, we are moving toward accepting foreign human resources with certain expertise and skills who can immediately contribute to the workforce,” Yamashita said.

The Okayama native said he expects Japan to further expand its acceptance of foreign workers down the line and emphasized the importance of creating a welcoming environment that would allow them to work hard and live in communities along with Japanese nationals.

On the topic of capital punishment, Yamashita said it is important for him to heed court decisions.

“The death penalty is a truly serious punishment that ends one’s life, and execution should be handled very cautiously,” said Yamashita, a graduate of the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Law who has experience working as both a prosecutor and defense lawyer. “But the death penalty is something that courts hand down after exhausting careful examinations on someone who has committed an extremely atrocious and grave crime. A justice minister must respect the decisions of the courts.”

Under his predecessor, Yoko Kamikawa, all 13 Aum Shinrikyo cult members on death row were executed in July.

In relation to a case in April in which a prisoner escaped from an open prison in Ehime Prefecture and was on the run for three weeks before being recaptured, Yamashita said that despite the incident, it is important to have such correctional facilities designed to help convicts rehabilitate.

“There is a big difference in the treatment (of inmates) at open facilities compared with that at ordinary prisons, and I believe these facilities play a very large role in having convicts make a change for the better, rehabilitate and make a smooth return to society,” said the minister, who was serving as parliamentary vice minister of justice when the escape occurred.

He said the four open-type prisons in the country each offer unique correctional programs, with the cooperation of local residents, to encourage inmates to gain confidence in reintegrating into society.

Yamashita, whose experience includes working as a diplomat at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, said he hopes to publicize the ministry’s policies and activities in simple language.

“People in the legal profession tend to explain difficult things in a difficult manner and even simple things in difficult ways,” he said. “I think it’s important to talk about simple things simply of course but also to explain difficult things about legal administration — something that is close to people’s lives — in easy-to-understand words that would reach people’s heart and make them feel that it is something familiar.”