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A Controversial Repatriation: Osaka 2010
The case of an extended family of 56 "returnees" from Fuqing and their application for public assistance in Osaka, 2010.
David R. Ambaras
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, 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.” As of December 31, 2016, the first segment of that program has been viewed nearly 127,000 times, which suggests that its contents have been 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. 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.
Sino-Japanese relations since the 1990s
Binational dynamics affecting the discourse on and experiences of migrants or returnees to Japan.
David R. Ambaras
At a time when the two countries' economies have become increasingly intertwined, the Sinophobic vision of people like Bandō Tadanobu vision taps into a longer, deeper fear of China as the regional imperialist power. The shifts in the relative economic and global positions of Japan and China starting in the early 1990s have of course fueled Japanese anxieties – in 2010, China’s economy surpassed Japan’s to become the world’s second largest – as have the escalating tensions over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.
This discourse of invasion, needless to say, has its counterpart in China. Anti-Japanism draws not only on memories of Japanese invasion and wartime atrocities, but also on Japan’s refusal since the nineteenth century (if not for centuries) to accept its position as “younger brother” within a Sinocentric regional order, as well as on contemporary geopolitics and the social ferment of life under CCP rule. Since the 1980s, protests have repeatedly arisen in response to Japanese prime ministers' provocative visits to Yasukuni Shrine as well as over revisionism in Japanese history textbooks. The 1990s saw the first eruption of the conflict over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, which intensified in the new millenium. These and other developments, including Japan's efforts to obtain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, set the stage for a particularly powerful wave of urban anti-Japanese protests in April 2005, and again in 2012.
Since the 1989 Tiananmen Square (June Fourth) Incident, the CCP has also been actively “inculcat[ing] a view of Japanese as the paradigmatic ‘devils’” in “patriotic education” campaigns to combat what officials described as “hostile international forces [that] have further intensified ideological and cultural infiltration among our nation’s younger generations.” As William A. Callahan has noted, regardless of Japan’s post-1945 history as a nation under a “Peace Constitution,” “the image of a barbaric militarized Japan continues to be circulated in Chinese texts as a way of securitizing China against Japan” – of effecting “a productive cultural governance that further institutionalizes the borders between the self and the Other, between patriotic citizens and foreign enemies.” Writing in 2007, Callahan observed that “this state-driven security narrative has been internalized by the Chinese public – who themselves now police public discourse about Japan with a vengeance.”
The gendered character of this securitization project is most striking in the official historiography and public memory of the Nanjing massacre or “Rape of Nanking,” the six-week spree of murder, rape, looting, and other acts of terror that accompanied the Japanese army’s entry into the Republican capital in December 1937. By depicting China as a feminine victim of sexual violence or emasculated male victim of beheading, these accounts produce an opposite image of China as militarized, masculine agent of victory and national redemption. “[F]eminine victim and masculine hero are not exclusive opposites,” notes Callahan; “each is necessary to constitute the other in the production of the symbolic coherence of (Chinese) identity.” Indeed, as this module has shown from the Japanese side, the gender politics of feminine victim and patriarchal masculine hero, as well as the ambivalences that such polarized constructions incite, are crucial to any understanding of the history of Sino-Japanese relations in the modern era.
However, Surveys also show that a growing number of Chinese are gaining new views of Japan due to their decreasing reliance on television and increasing use of mobile technologies as a source of information, and to their own experiences of traveling there. In Japan as well, efforts have been made to combat Sinophobia. Still, despite increasing economic ties and travel between the two countries, the Japanese right, led by Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, has pushed a hard line on territorial issues and, in historian Matthew Penney’s words, “tied it to a generalized discourse of ‘national crisis’” that has adversely affected media treatments of the Sino-Japanese relationship. Japan’s conservative leadership depends on such rhetoric to sustain its support among crucial domestic constituencies. The Chinese government, similarly attentive to popular sentiment as it negotiates its own relationship to a society experiencing massive socioeconomic dislocations, has not slackened on its denunciations of Japan’s positions.