The concept of integration was first mentioned as a political aim of migration policy in a Japanese government document in 2006. This document represented an outline plan for individual prefectures and municipalities, which were required to implement the integration of immigrants through the concept of tabunkakyōsei.
What lies behind this term is an appeal for multiculturalism and a lively debate on whether the concept should be understood as multi-cultural coexistence, which is the literal translation, or as multi-cultural community building, which is what is called for by Keizo Yamawaki, a political scientist at Meiji University in Tokyo and one of the initiators of the program. The two interpretations differ in the degree of engagement and the will to change that ought to be demanded of Japanese society.
The political scientist Takashi Kibe of the International Christian University in Tokyo, however, argues that from the immigrants’ point of view neither of these two approaches goes far enough. According to Kibe, rather than this ‘culture-oriented move’ what is needed is a ‘workforce-oriented move’. Efforts at integration should not be about simply gaining an understanding of foreign cultures but ought to shape the everyday conditions of life and work in a new way, based on equality of rights. Critics of this concept – one that is understood by the Japanese government as central to the successful integration of the immigrant population – also point to the restrictions hindering its implementation at a local level. The municipalities that are supposed to implement the tabunkakyōsei receive neither additional funding nor administrative support. True, some active municipalities do have detailed plans of action, but the bulk of municipalities, say the critics, remain as firmly attached as ever to the three Fs – fashion, festivals, food – with integration nothing but window dressing.