The Political Construction of Foreign Workers in Japan

Author: Apichai W. Shipper

Abstract:

Japan organizes its labor markets for foreign workers hierarchically according to "race" or "nationality." Zainichi foreigners and nikkeijin are at the high end of the racial hierarchy with better jobs, higher pay, and better working conditions than other foreign workers. At the bottom end are South Asians with casual jobs, poor pay, and dangerous working environments. This racialized hierarchy, which produces differentiated wages and other privileges across different groups of foreign workers, is a political construction of Japanese government officials, who form policies that both establish the legal superiority of certain races over others and constrain the operation of each tier of foreign workers. Japanese employers perpetuate this labor market arrangement by cooperating with government bureaus and yakuza in maintaining labor disciplines tailored to each racial group. These actions create and sustain a racialized economy in Japan that is characterized by inferior jobs, little security, and few benefits for certain sectors of the labor market.
Regions: East Asia
Countries: Japan

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© Arthur Jones, PhD