National

JICA and Kumamoto team up to better cope with prefecture's burgeoning non-Japanese population

by Mariko Tamura

Kyodo

The Japan International Cooperation Agency and Kumamoto Prefecture will launch a project next year to train young Japanese to help the prefecture handle its ever-growing population of foreign workers.

The project will enlist those who volunteered for the state-backed aid program in the past to provide technical assistance in developing countries, and organizers hope they will contribute to revitalizing Kumamoto’s economy and creating better conditions for building a more diverse society, JICA officials said in a recent interview.

It will be the first time for the official aid agency to team up with a government that plans to train people to spur its economy and improve conditions for foreign workers.

The officials expressed hope its former volunteers will use their skills and experience to support communities that are becoming increasingly dependent on immigration as Kumamoto’s population shrinks.

Kumamoto’s foreign population totaled 13,411 in 2018, up 52.7 percent from 2013, as demand for labor grew in the agriculture sector and for reconstruction work from two earthquakes that rocked the prefecture in 2016, according to prefectural data.

The rate of increase was 16.64 percent in 2017, the highest among the 47 prefectures, the data showed.

In the same period foreign workers in the prefecture grew 2.7 times to 10,155, with nearly 60 percent engaged in agriculture, forestry and manufacturing.

Under the project, JICA hopes more Kumamoto residents will take part in its main program, which sends volunteers abroad, and that the prefectural government will help its former volunteers find jobs and continue their studies in the prefecture when they return.

The Prefectural University of Kumamoto, for example, will host a number of returnees in its graduate programs, while municipal governments and companies in the prefecture will offer them internships.

Four companies have agreed to offer internships and others have indicated interest, said Shinichi Tanaka, senior director at JICA’s Operations Strategy Department. Tanaka said JICA hopes more of its volunteers, maybe around 50, will decide to attend school there in the next 10 years.

“Having even one person with overseas experience in an organization or community would create a positive ripple effect leading to better interactions with foreign counterparts,” he said.

Haruko Kase, deputy director at JICA’s Office of Media and Public Relations, expressed a similar view.

“Former and current volunteers have a better understanding of the type of considerations necessary toward foreign workers to allow them to play an active role (in the community) and not feel isolated,” Kase said.

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