National / Media | BIG IN JAPAN

Friction growing in Osaka over rising foreign population

by Mark Schreiber

Contributing Writer

The guests from the gala Group of 20 conference may be gone, but Osaka continues to garner attention in the media.

Nishinari Ward, an arguably sordid section of the city perhaps best known for its large population of day laborers, is on the verge of becoming cosmopolitan. Shukan Gendai (June 22-29) reports that plans are in the works to create a Chinatown.

The gradual influx of restaurants or other businesses owned or operated by ethnic Chinese — whose numbers have overtaken Koreans in recent years as Japan’s largest foreign minority — convinced investors to develop the district into a snazzy enclave that would boast not only restaurants but bakeries, souvenir shops, fortune-telling stands and so on. If the plan goes through, Osaka would join the domestic cities of Yokohama, Kobe and Nagasaki in hosting a Chinatown.

While some acknowledge that such a development would doubtless contribute to the neighborhood’s economic vitality, others have expressed a few reservations, with some arguing it could create “problems.”

According to a report on foreign residents and their percentage compiled by the city of Osaka, as of the end of 2018, foreign nationals accounted for 22 percent of the population in Osaka’s Ikuno Ward and 13 percent in Naniwa Ward.

If the total number of foreign residents in Tokyo’s central 23 wards are not counted as a single figure (with the wards treated as separate cities), then Osaka ranks No. 1 in foreign population, with more than 130,000. (Yokohama is second with about 100,000.)

A researcher at Mizuho Bank told Shukan Gendai that Osaka’s Minami district, with its easy access to Kansai International Airport, has been the recipient of growing numbers of Asians, particularly Chinese. As one result of this trend, the magazine predicts, an increasingly greater number of foreign nationals will come to Osaka, and, by 2040, according to one projection, the city will be home to 7.2 million people, of whom 1.5 million — roughly 1 in 5 — will be non-Japanese.

Prior to Osaka’s hosting of the G20 confab, Spa (June 25) noticed the influx of new foreign arrivals was resulting in various types of friction.

For instance, the city was moved to organize a team to eradicate illegal minpaku (residences offering overnight lodgings).

“It’s been difficult for them to get a grasp of cases in which underground minpaku deal directly with clientele in Chinese or Korean languages,” says a local news reporter. “Investigators told me ‘Even in the case of suspicious buildings, we might question a person who would claim the place belongs to their friend, and they let the person stay there for free. So our hands are tied.'”

The source relates one case of a building in Nipponbashi, a commercial district known for its sales of home appliances and electronic goods.

“The third, fourth and fifth floors were being used as a Chinese ‘esthetic’ massage parlor, but after 9 p.m. we’d see as many as 10 people carrying luggage entering together as a group,” the source says. “It seems the upper two floors were being used as an underground minpaku. They spend the night on the massage tables. And there were no doors on the massage cubicles, just curtains, so it sort of resembles a capsule hotel.”

Tourists from Western countries, particularly budget travelers, have reportedly gone on the rampage when drinking. The operator of one club says they are known to turn violent when they fail to comprehend the charging system at night spots.

“They become inebriated and start buying rounds of drinks for other patrons, but get so plastered they completely forget having done so,” a proprietor relates. “Then, believing they’re being overcharged, they summon the police. So now when they try to come in, we prevent them entering the premises — even if the joint is completely empty. We’ll tell them the place has been reserved in advance.”

Spa also visited the ethnic Korean enclave of Tsuruhashi in Osaka’s Ikuno Ward, where it appears some residents have been bringing in relatives from South Korea, many of whom open restaurants of questionable legality.

Meanwhile, Sunday Mainichi (July 14) reported that the Osaka branch of the Immigration Service Agency engaged in what it describes as “inexplicable” actions. This came to light on June 3, after the Hyogo Prefectural Police announced the arrests of the president and another staff member at a dispatch company. The two, both Chinese nationals, were charged with dispatching several Vietnamese lacking legal entry status to work at an electronics manufacturing company.

The incident became known to the media when the attorney for the company president argued that such arrests were “unreasonable.”

Last year, the president had sent copies of the residence cards of 10 Vietnamese nationals to the agency’s Osaka office to verify their immigration status. The cards were determined to have been forged, but a staff member of the agency informed him they would not take immediate action. On Sept. 11 last year, when the Vietnamese were en route to work at a factory, the authorities, having been informed of their route in advance, set a trap, halting their vehicle at a roadblock and hauling in 31 suspects.

The police who arrested the president of the dispatch firm had apparently not been informed that he’d been cooperating from the get-go.

A reporter covering the police desk told Sunday Mainichi that the confusion might have stemmed from rival police factions, between those who are tolerant of opening up Japan’s labor market to unskilled foreign workers and those determined to exercise strict controls.

The root of the problem, the reporter believes, is the result of the Ministry of Justice being entrusted with matters related to employment, which should rightfully be undertaken by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

“After next year’s Tokyo Olympics, we may see a replay of what happened in the 1980s, when former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone’s plan to attract 100,000 foreign students resulted in large numbers of illegal sojourners who became involved in organized crime,” the reporter says.

Drastic measures are needed to deal with the issue of foreign blue-collar workers, the article concludes.

Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5