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
In 2006 the Ministry of Internal affairs and
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
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
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.