Washington International Law Journal


Claire J. Hur


In response to Japan's increasing labor shortage, the Japanese government in 1990 enacted an extensive set of amendments to its restrictive Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to allow for a controlled but broader method of regulating legal entry of foreign workers into Japan. Significant among those amendments are the provisions granting long-term resident status to persons of Japanese descent entering from abroad and the provisions offering additional rights to foreign-born spouses and children of Japanese nationals. These provisions are mainly targeted at descendants of Japanese who emigrated to South America ("Nikkeijin"). While most of the existing literature about minority rights in Japan focuses on (1) historic national minorities, (2) Korean and Chinese permanent residents, and (3) legal and illegal workers from Asia who are "newcomers," this Comment discusses a fourth distinct group: the returnees or Nikkeijin from South America. This Comment examines and analyzes the way ethnic difference is accommodated within the Japanese legal system at the constitutional level, and focuses on the administrative and social accommodation of returnees as contrasted with the discourse of legal rights that is associated with other legal residents of Japan-for example, the Korean and Ainu populations. This Comment argues that the treatment of the returnees serves as a forum where Japanese policymakers can discuss a framework for multiculturalism that is not found in constitutional rights discourse, and concludes that although the returnees are small in number, they are legally and socially significant because provisions for their integration into Japanese society have become a catalyst for a de facto policy of legal multiculturalism in Japan.

First Page