Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

A Controversial Repatriation: Osaka 2010

In July, 2010 an extended family of 56 Chinese obtained residence permits in Japan because they claimed to be descended from a Japanese woman from Fukuoka Prefecture who had gone to Fuqing in 1926 with her Chinese husband. The couple had given birth to ten children. The family had suffered various hardships over the decades, including abuse as Japanese and as traitors; the husband died from beatings he received during the Cultural Revolution. But the mother had managed to return to Japan in 1997, and she died there the following year. In 2010, her two daughters, in their seventies, made the entry and residence applications on behalf of their relatives, and submitted to DNA testing that proved their Japanese parentage. Within a week of their arrival in Osaka, however, 48 of the family members applied for public assistance, prompting a review of their cases by immigration officials and drawing harsh criticism from anti-Chinese groups who questioned their motives as well as the authenticity of their claims. The family members withdrew their welfare applications, and explained that the jobs they had been promised in Japan did not materialize.

Attention quickly focused on the fact that the two Fujianese men who had acted as guarantors for the family were actually in no position to provide substantial guarantees, and that the employers who had been listed in the guarantee documents had in fact never been consulted regarding jobs for the immigrants. Subsequent investigation revealed that one of the younger family members was an adopted daughter, though she had been declared as a blood descendant; officials voiced concerns that some of the group had obtained fraudulent documentation of their family status. Later that year, Osaka officials found that another family of thirteen, relatives of a Japanese man from Fuqing (a son of a Japanese woman or the adopted son of a Fuqing Chinese family), had also received welfare and that they had entered Japan using the same guarantors as the other extended family. These guarantors were later found to have been illegally brokering the immigrants as workers in local food processing plants. To neonationalists and Sinophobes, these reports fit into narratives about Chinese exploiting Japanese public assistance and Japanese taxpayers, and thus turning Japan, as Bandō Tadanobu puts it (Bandō 2011), into “a Chinese autonomous region.”

Moreover, the fact that no one knows the history of the women and children in Fuqing makes their claims seem particularly dubious. During a “special investigative report” on SakuraSo TV, a neonationalist Youtube channel, the presenters voiced suspicions, saying, “One has never heard about left-behind Japanese in Fujian.” That video is no longer available online, but as of December 31, 2016, the first segment had been viewed nearly 127,000 times, which suggests that its contents were informationalized and transmitted through word of mouth or internet comments to a far larger public.

This story unfolded precisely at the time that the Japanese government and an inflamed Japanese public were dealing with a crisis provoked when authorities arrested the crew of a Chinese trawler that had sailed into the disputed waters around the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands (Hara, Liao, and Wiegand 2016). In April 2011, Osaka immigration officials decided to strip the permanent residence eligibility of 53 of the two sisters’ family members and reclassify them as people engaged in “specific activities” (tokutei katsudō) who could remain in Japan but would be ineligible for public assistance. Those who refused such reclassification would be subject to deportation. All family members would also be subjected to DNA testing to verify their relationship to the two sisters. (Officials based their decision on the fact that the immigrants had made false claims regarding their employment at the time of their arrival in Japan.) Meanwhile, the Osaka prefectural government took steps to demand the reimbursement of 6.44 million yen in public assistance that had been provided to family members before they withdrew their applications.

See this 2012 report for a discussion of the situation of Chinese residents in Osaka.

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