You’ve just graduated university; you have a degree but lots of debt; you have bounds of energy but no experience. You’re idly perusing online job sites one day when you spot an advert to teach English in Japan…no experience or specific qualifications necessary, just a university degree and a flexible attitude…Why not, you think? Fast forward two months of applying, approving, planning and packing and you find yourself walking through the Arrivals at Narita Airport, having sailed through Customs and Immigration, where the only questions asked were “Where will you live?” and “Who is your employer?” …both of which you have the luxury of being able to answer in detail…Fast further forward one more week of country and cultural orientation, and you find yourself with an aspiring social life, a burgeoning bank account and, in the current economic climate, a contract that is no doubt, a little bit coveted. With such a foundation, it’s no wonder that, for me, those first twelve months turned into twenty four, which transpired into ten years. Granted, I’ve upgraded that university degree, updated the experience and further refined that flexible attitude, but in a country so infamously indisposed to immigration, why have I strayed from the norm and stayed the distance?
Perhaps it’s because I can see correlations at the core of British and Japanese thinking, both superficial and serious. Perhaps its because my feelings of familiarity between this Far East and that Far West are because Japan and the UK “both occupy islands situated on the edge of a continental landmass with which relations are sometimes awkward. Both are constitutional monarchies with parliamentary systems. Both peoples, they say, set great store by traditions, good manners, well-kept gardens, and tea." Yet, far less humorous however are the parallels between British and Japanese immigration policy.
Within both cultures, perceptions of the past influence the policies of the present, because both the UK and Japan, to varying degrees, share a mistaken, misinformed sense of homogeneity. When discussing this with friends, I see an idealism in the Japanese “long-cherished sense" of a singular cultural heritage, and sense some incredulity at the fact that British communities are actually “without exception, ethnically hybrid - the product of conquests, absorptions of one people by another." This misleading myth of homogeneity, developed and disseminated by a myriad of media vehicles, continues to misshape public perception, misinform dialogue and mute legitimate debate surrounding the immigration issue.
So what keeps me curious and coming back for more? Perhaps because, as an outsider (that for a long time, has been) looking in - I have a bird’s-eye view of the “pass the buck” immigration ball game that these two countries continue to play, where I can see a slow but steady, undesired (perhaps) but undeniable development in attitudes toward being more pro-immigration. A development that is ignited (perhaps) by the need to deal with the demands of domestic needs such as aging and declining populations and growing labour shortages. Really though, what keeps me curious and coming back for more, is that I am beginning to sense the evolution of economic exigencies that are forcing attitudinal trends to turn. I am beginning to see a change in the direction of a discourse that may, one day, view immigration as a prospect rather than a problem, and a heterogeneous society something to be desired, rather than denied.