Yusy Widarahesty (Graduate School of International Relations – 2nd year PhD candidate)
With the number of people neither born nor raised in Japan coming to live and work in the country, questions concerning the experience and feelings of those directly involved, the voice of the migrant workers themselves - what worries them about fitting in to Japanese society – and the concerns of communities welcoming them, take on special significance as they both seek to learn to live and work together.
Migrant Workers and Japanese Society: Bringing the issues to light
In recent years Japan has become the working destination for an increasing number of people neither born nor raised in the country. Though it is true to say many migrant workers settle well and find the transition to life in Japan relatively smooth, for others starting a new life in a county with such a rich and complex culture is more of a struggle - a situation often mirrored in the local communities they join.
Between migrant workers and the job market, when problems do occur, they are various and include lack of access to Japanese language education and fraud on the part of facilitating institutions in their home country. Moreover, a recent increase in numbers, the direct result of changes to immigration and employment laws geared towards recruiting a greater number of workers from beyond Japan’s borders, seems to have exacerbated the situation too.
Yet, though these changes have made it easier to come to Japan to work, adequate policies and provisions to help new workers settle still lag somewhat behind, impacting both workers and the local communities they enter alike.
These are the circumstances as illustrated by Yusy Widarahesty, a second year PhD candidate in the Graduate School of International Relations determined to make a difference.
Going above and beyond requirements: Bringing experts together and mutual understanding
Already a lecturer in her native Indonesia, Widarahesty specializes in Civil Society and Indonesian Migrant Labor in Japan with a current research emphasis on ‘The issues migrant workers face, particularly in the context of the The Technical Intern Training Program’ and ‘Migrant workers as seen from the perspective of Indonesia and Japan’.
It is important to consider the issues not just from the perspective of big government she says:
‘Part of the problem is many migrant workers do not know how to solve problems by themselves, and though government policies designed to help them become more self-sufficient would certainly improve matters, the real lasting solution lies in a greater depth of mutual understanding on the part of both migrant workers and Japanese society.’
It was this eagerness to better promote mutual understanding that led to her going above and beyond the ordinary call of duty for a PhD student. In order to pursue practical solutions to the issues sooner rather than later, and with a little encouragement from her advisor, Professor Honna, Widarahesty set about bringing experts in the field of South-East Asian labor migration to Japan together. The special workshop that emerged was a work of devotion put together with the generous help and advice of Ritsumeikan University’s Institute of International Relations and Area Studies, IIRAS.
A Workshop: ‘Contemporary Labor Migration to Japan: Recruitment, Policy and Settlement Issues’
Planning the event entirely from scratch, Widarahesty not only took on the challenge of contacting potential speakers, conducting web meetings, and coordinating schedules to set a viable date herself, but also shouldered the responsibility of promotion work and creating the event’s running schedule – in addition to her own contribution as a speaker too.
Held on November 23, 2019, Kinugasa Campus, Ritsumeikan University, the workshop was a runaway success.
Split into two sections, the morning session was an open session to which graduate students were specially invited, with question and answer sessions following each of the five presentations, and a panel question and answer session at the end with all five presenters; while the afternoon session was set aside for invited researchers to provide more personal and in-depth feedback to each other.
The first four presentations addressed labor migration from various perspectives including that of Vietnamese, Chinese and Pilipino migrant labor, taking into account the blue and white collar experiences of Indonesian migrant workers too; before the final presentation of the day, ‘Migrant Caregivers in Japan: Policy Rhetoric and Media Coverage’ (Asami Kawata) gave balance to proceedings by providing the local government perspective. In this way the workshop served as an effective platform for the exchange of ideas; yet, as Widarahesty explains, it went even further:
'I wanted it to bring to life the actual lived experience of migrant workers themselves, to consider questions such as: how workers settle; what the nature of communication is between them and the local population; and how they find general daily life. The concluding question and answer session at the end of the morning was particularly informative since it focused on students’ own perspectives – how they feel Japanese people see migrant workers, and whether they themselves intend to pursue employment in Japan after graduation.'
Connecting researchers, improving the quality of research and the future
From the perspective of researchers in the field, she continues, this translated into ‘invaluable feedback from both students and other scholars, with suggestions and ideas leading directly to the emergence of hitherto unconsidered areas of research, which, though challenging, promise to have real, positive, practical benefits. It has also created a network of specialist researchers in the area, who can be easily mobilized for participation in future conferences and events.’
Put simply, it was not only immediately inspiring and exceptionally productive for all concerned, but it set the stage for better all round future research outcomes.
Working towards a better society for through practical engagement
In the long term, ‘By enabling Japanese society to better understand the “other” and vice versa, I hope to open up new possibilities, and introduce a new perspective to Japanese society,’ says Widarahesty.
And in terms of her plans post-graduation?
‘Post-graduation I will return to continue my career as a lecturer, perhaps becoming a professor, but all the time ensuring practical work on the ground - engagement with the people who are the focus of my research - is part of what I do. In so doing, I hope to make for a better, more comfortable society to live in, for all.’