FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by Marcus L'EstrangeNews Weekly
Japan faces up to defence, immigration and overwork
, April 8, 2000
The five year special agreement on Japan's huge financial support for the United States Forces based in Japan is up for renewal and the various agencies in Japan are bracing themselves for a heated Japan-US debate. The "sympathy budget" - or special host nation financial support - came into effect in 1978, when the United States was plagued by a huge fiscal deficit.
Now the boot is on the other foot. The US is producing a gigantic budget surplus but the Japanese Government, wracked by a huge budget deficit, wants to reduce the subsidies. The US Government wants the agreement renewed.
Shunji Taoka, writing in the Asahi Evening News (March 3, 2000) notes that "there are few instances in the world, past or present, where a nation has given foreign military forces not only the right to be stationed on its soil but an enormous amount of subsidies".
He notes that the total subsidy cost for this fiscal year is 662 billion yen or 16.5 million yen for each of the 40,000 servicemen stationed in the country. For most European allies of the United States such spending is zero or near to zero. South Korea has complained about Japan's overly generous support because South Korea must follow suit.
Shunji Taoka notes that the Japan-US guidelines for defence cooperation stipulate that the Japanese Self Defence Forces has primary responsibility for the defence of Japan and that the USFJ forces are here, not to defend Japan directly but to conduct missions in all of the West Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
Sometimes forces here have been deployed as far away as Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
He concludes that the United States has a great diplomatic advantage by keeping Japan as an ally - a nation that has 1,300 trillion yen in personal savings, or more than half of the global total and is the largest donor of foreign aid.
In 1758 the British Government issued a variety of decrees (The Quartering Act, The Tea Act) to have local people pay expenses of garrisoning British troops in North America. This eventually led to the American War of Independence. "Perhaps, the Americans will not repeat the folly of the British that lost America because of the tea tax," he said.
Japan is planning a major shift in its stringent immigration policy that would accept foreign workers in substantially wider areas, including agriculture and nursing care.
The move, if realised, would be a substantial departure from Japan's post-war immigration policy of strictly controlling the entry of foreigners. It also reflects a coming reality in which Japan, amongst others, will have no choice but to depend on foreign workers, as its society rapidly ages.
It is estimated that Japan would need to accept 17 million immigrants over the next 50 years, simply to keep its population constant (currently 125 million).
On the other hand the number of suicides resulting from overwork is believed to have increased along with the growing phenomenon of karoshi, or death from overwork.
According to a report in The Daily Yomiuri (March 23, 2000) the International Labour Organisation in 1970 revised an international convention requiring employers to grant three weeks paid annual holidays of which two must be taken in a row. Japan has yet to ratify the convention.
Japanese workers in 1997 took an average of 9.4 paid holidays, the French 25 and Germans 31.2 according to the Labour Ministry. Additionally Japanese workers work 2617 hours a year, the French 1677 and the Germans 1517 hours. Japanese workers also work many more unpaid overtime hours than their French or German counterparts.
Lawyer Hiroshi Kawahito, secretary general of the National Defence Council for Victims of Karoshi believes that up to 50,000 workers die each year from overwork. Additionally, many people suffer strokes and other illnesses due to overwork, leaving them unable to work.
Kawahito added that he thought economic rationalism had contributed greatly to the problem. Many people currently work during the day when the Japanese economy is active but continue to work well into the next day, because of time differences, in order to compete with other economies, namely Europe and the US.
He continued by saying that economic globalisation is not the only factor behind Karoshi. The combination of excessive competition among Japanese companies and globalisation further aggravates health conditions.
"To draw a comparison, boxing is one of the most physically demanding sports. Two people wearing little protection hit each other until one of them falls.
"Some boxers suffer injuries and others die. However, even in boxing there are safety precautions in place, like the ropes around the rings and the bell to signal the end of the rounds, to put limitations of time and space on the sport. Economic globalisation has overcome geographic limitations, forcing 'corporate warriors' to compete at the global level. Japanese 'corporate warriors' continue to fight to the death without any ropes or bells".
He concluded that in Japanese culture, "there are no internal factors that restrict us from working. There are no religious custom that prevents us from working on certain days. Our whole society is controlled by a single value. Our society believes that greater efficiency, superior services and more competition are better and, therefore, continues to seek them. There is no final goal in raising productivity."