01 August 2007

Immigration

Long political post follows, read it for all the juicy details. The synopsis?
Japanese robots = no Filipina nurses

Right around August of every year, I get sort of down on Japan. This has something to do with having to go to the immigration office as I have been unable to secure a three year visa since I first came to Japan. Going to the immigration office sucks in every country, I suppose, and the Japanese one isn't really that bad. But it accomplishes something very Japanese: reminding you quietly that you don't belong in this country while treating you kindly and politely.

I am now on a spousal visa and every year, I have to go back to immigration and provide a litany of papers, the exact same papers I presented the year before, proving that I have paid my taxes, that my wife and I are still married, and that I make enough money to support my family. This whole dog and pony show ends up costing me about $100 and results in another year of life in this great country.

Japan is facing a very serious problem in that it is getting older and people aren't having babies. This is not a big problem now, but it is a growing problem that will only get worse. There are a couple of solutions to this problem. First, have more children. Second, bring in more people to fill the gap. Getting people to have kids is hard, but the government has seemingly chosen this solution rather than the second. What's the problem with the second? Well, those people (those people being anyone who isn't Japanese) are not Japanese and somewhere in the Japanese psyche, although they have been made to reject the cult of Shinto which claimed they descended directly from the gods, there is still a sense of someone being 'purely' Japanese.

You can see this understanding of purity when people talk about my daughter, as the choice word for referring to a bi-racial child is 'ハフ' or Hafu. This is Japanization of the word 'half'. The point is that she is not Japanese, entirely.

Of course, the idea of 'pure' Japanese blood is pretty silly anyway as the truth is that the Japanese and everyone else in Asia comes from Mongolia, by way of China, by way of Korea.

But the Japanese politicians (who are largely male and over the age of 60), although they seem to understand the blood thing intellectually, do not seemingly understand it emotionally. They do not see immigration a solution, but as something to be tolerated and avoided when possible. They seemed tied to the idea that grew up after the war, that by working hard, the Japanese can accomplish anything. Unfortunately, I'm not sure the young people share this sentiment and, at least from what I experience at work, don't care about the political state of the country so much as their individual security in the future.

Maybe this is the problem (as I suppose it is in America at the moment): the leadership doesn't see the future. They are trying to return to the past and convince people that if they just went back to the bubble economy, everything would be okay. Rather than bring in nurses from Southeast Asia to care for the aging population, they would rather build robots to do it. Think about that the next time you read about great Japanese health-care technology for the elderly.

America, for all it's problems, is not built on blood. It's built on an idea, and the people who subscribe to that idea (namely that every human has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) are Americans. It's not about English. It's not about being white. It's about that idea. The President is always telling us how we are uniquely American because we stand up to terrorists. This is bullshit. We are uniquely American because our founding document told us that we have a right to pursue our own happiness.

And although our politicians are largely crusty, old white men too, we have at least some possibility to elect people who see the future and are ready to confront it with a new paradigm. This is leadership: saying we can't look at new problems with old solutions. And we can't look at danger and be afraid. The Republicans will lose next year because they are looking for Ronald Reagan. But the country doesn't need Ronald Reagan. We need something different.

So. I should get my stamp in my passport in the next couple of weeks and be less pissed off at the Japanese, at least until next year. And next year I will likely be trying to secure another visa in another country. But for now, remember: Japanese robots = no Filipina nurses.
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