Many people have an image of Japan as being very genetically uniform. Very few people not of Japanese descent ever become citizens of Japan; however, that is not to say there are no foreigners living in Japan. My prefecture actually has a high number of resident aliens. Many workers come here to support factories and also the fishing industry; both of which are substantial here.
Today our city newsletter on human rights circulated to my desk. One chart shows a breakdown of mother tongues of foreign students in our elementary and junior high schools.
- 53% Portuguese
- 15% Spanish
- 14% Tagalog
- 6% Chinese
- 2% Pashto
- 2% Visayan
- 8% Other
Languages falling in the ‘other’ category include:
There are more than 300 students speaking each of these 15 languages as their mother tongue. Our city provides staff at these schools to support these children and their families. At the school facilities students are given extra instruction in Japanese, a bit of counseling and international exchange activities. Most of the students, having young flexible minds, come up to speed within a year or two and the amount of support required declines rapidly. Translation of communications between schools and families; however, becomes an ongoing concern. Parents are much less likely to achieve language proficiency for various reasons, but need to be informed of many logistical issues in order to work smoothly with the schools.
Note that more than half of our foreign students are speakers of Portuguese. Japan has a long history with Brazil and many Japanese people have emigrated to Brazil over a long period. In many cases it is very easy for Brazilians to gain residency because they have Japanese grandparents (or other ancestors). At our international exchange events there is no shortage of South American influence.
So, while Japan does not have the mixed background of America, there are many countries represented here.