Culture, Heritage and Diversity


Intercultural cities in Japan


Having been invited by the Japan Foundation, a delegation of Intercultural City representatives travelled to Japan in November 2009. It went to visit cities which have a relatively high proportion of foreign inhabitants, including Kani, Minokamo, Kobe and Tokyo. Here foreign residents represent up to 10% of total inhabitants, compared to an average 1.7% in the rest of the country. The objective of the visit was to evaluate Japanese local integration experiences and compare them to the Intercultural City initiative’s recommendations.


The Japanese approach to managing foreign residents has so far followed the guest-work model. This assumes that foreign residents are only temporary members of the local workforce and one day will return to their country of origin. For further details on this and other models, please refer to the the Intercultural city concept paper.


The model mentioned above poses two key challenges for Japanese cities. Firstly, they are not able to provide foreign residents with access to consistent and adequate social rights provisions. Examples of this shortcoming fall in the areas of pension, healthcare and education. For instance, school attendance for non-Japanese children is not compulsory. Secondly, Japanese cities do not allow minority groups sufficient levels of participation in public life.


In 2006 the Ministry of Internal affairs and Communication launched "The Multicultural Community Promotion Plan". The objective of this initiative was to tackle four principle areas: provide communication support; improve living standards; develop multicultural community planning and bring about better multicultural community support systems. ‘Multicultural symbiosis” was the concept developed to resolve some of the key challenges faced by Japanese cities. This notion and the proposed action plan have many similarities with the intercultural integration approach.


Minokamo city (around 55 000 inhabitants, around 11 % foreign residents or 36 nationalities) is an example of the strong efforts some local authorities in Japan are making to turn the "Multicultural symbiosis" concept into reality.


A survey conducted by the city found a relatively high level of ethnic segregation. For instance an overwhelming 45% of local residents have not spoken to foreign residents. Furthermore, 50% feel anxious about the increased presence of foreign residents. Lastly, serious social problems have arisen with migrant families. This situation has only been made worse by the current financial crisis. The lack of social cohesion can be attributed to a large extent to language barriers. More specifically the lack of Japanese language training, as well as the short term nature of the foreign residents’ employment contracts greatly reduce any incentives to learn Japanese.


Minokamo city has implemented a Multicultural Community Promotion plan to begin addressing these problems. One of its key strengths is the shared responsibility between city authorities, civil society and businesses.