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Why Are Americans Treated Differently in Japan?

Raw Deal! Why Are Americans Treated Differently by Japanese Immigration and the Media?

"U.S. citizens planning to work in Japan should never enter Japan using a tourist visa or the visa waiver, even if they have been advised to do so. Such actions are illegal and can lead to arrest, incarceration and/or deportation."

--from a pamphlet at the Japanese consulate in Seattle

"The Catch 22 is: if Americans don't enter Japan on a tourist visa, however, they often cannot work in Japan, as it takes just too long to secure a working visa. Companies would rather hire someone who already has the appropriate visa, someone who can get the visa quickly, or someone who is willing to break the law, by entering Japan on a tourist visa with the plan to work in Japan by changing it to a working visa. Illegal? Yes. Necessary though? Definitely! Sometimes laws don't coincide well with reality, and sometimes laws downright discriminate against certain peoples."

-- an English school chain owner in Japan

The citizens of the following countries can secure a working holiday visa to come to Japan:
New Zealand
Republic of Korea
the United Kingdom

You will notice that America, supposedly Japan's friend and ally is not on the list. According to the Japanese consulate in Vancouver, you can secure a working holiday visa in as little as three days! A treaty was negotiated between these countries and Japan that allowed for the creation of this visa. Americans upset that they cannot get such a visa should complain to their government. Americans are hamstrung by this. It really is an impediment to working in Japan.

This visa allows Australians, Kiwis and Canadians, to name but three, to work in Japan for 12 months and it can be renewed in some cases or switched to another visa after it expires in many cases. Often this kind of visa is secured for work as an English teacher, or for other work such as working in a hotel or a restaurant to name but a few.

Americans who have the yen to come to Japan to work, can only come with a tourist visa or a working visa. Switching from a tourist visa to a working visa happens all the time. Though you won't catch a Japanese Immigration authority talking about it much. It is one of those open secrets so common to Japan. Certainly, most Americans simply don't tell immigration that their goal is to come to work in Japan. They say they are sightseeing.

Getting a working visa can take up to four months. So on the one hand, an Australian can get her visa in a matter of days, but an American has to wait months. Why the difference? Why are Americans given such a raw deal?

Perhaps the American government simply doesn't want such an agreement. To this author's knowledge they don't have a working holiday agreement with any nation.

It is interesting to note that Japan first chose Australia for the working holiday program, then New Zealand, followed by Canada. The impression it creates was Australia was most desirable to Japanese eyes. Is there a desire to make it more difficult for businesses in Japan to hire Americans? Verily, that is the result. What this leads to is fewer Americans in Japan.

Why would Japan want to create impediments for Americans hoping to live and work here? Could it be that America does the same to Japanese?

Perhaps it is simply more difficult for Japanese to get a visa to work in America than it is in New Zealand for example. So to retaliate Americans don't get as good a a Kiwi for example.

Perhaps it is because there are already many Americans here. There are American military bases throughout Japan and their personnel number well over 40,000 people. Japan has to deal with all the problems foreign soldiers cause when they mix with the civilians of Japan. There are also many American business people, and of course American English teachers.

In spite of the barriers against them, many Americans still manage to come to Japan and work. However, without this bureaucratic obstruction, there would be more Americans in Japan.

I assert that (having more Americans in Japan) has traditionally been an idea incongruous with the feelings of many Japanese politicians. Keep the Americans out as much as possible seems to be their goal. But don't make it so obvious that there is a backlash from the American government.

"The Working Holiday Scheme is intended to promote a greater mutual understanding between our respective countries, and to broaden the international outlook of our young people. The Working Holiday Scheme makes it possible for citizens of one country to enter the other country for an extended holiday while encouraging in temporary employment in order to supplement their travel funds."--Japan Association of Working Holiday Makers

Maybe the Japanese authorities simply want more diversification in who comes to Japan. They want to encourage people from other countries to come. This could simply be the case: restrictions on Americans for diversification of the foreign population here. It would give Japanese a broader exposure to many different nationalities here in Japan, and therefore, a broader view of the world (perhaps it is hoped).

A Japanese business manager suggested that "...because of the high crime rate in America, as compared to other countries like New Zealand for example, the Japanese authorities feel that Americans are more likely to try to bring guns or drugs into Japan. Or they don't want any more American influence in Japan and want to limit it as much as possible."

The view in Japan by some Japanese, seems to be that America is dangerous: and by association, Americans are more dangerous than people of other nationalities. "Bowling for Columbine," was well attended on this side of the Pacific and its' influence has been felt. If this is true, it is prejudice, pure and simple!

It is interesting that some Japanese feel that Americans are undesirable. They give their opinion that Americans are more likely to break importation laws or be a negative influence in Japan, because of a society, that is seen by Japanese to be violent, and law breaking--ie) drug taking. the gun related deaths in America and the unfortunate incidents in Okinawa of the rapes of Japanese women by American military personnel. The latter, one that foments large scale Anti=American protests in Japan's sunniest prefecture.

The Japanese media too seems to be a member of this anti-American illuminati. If an American serviceman rapes a Japanese woman, it is national news for days or weeks. So again, American men at least, are portrayed as a dangerous element in Japan.

Yet if a female American JET teacher is raped, sexually harassed, or sexually assaulted, (a few incidents of which happen every, year according to a JET official who wishes to remain anonymous), there is not a newspaper in the land of Fuji that will touch such an unpalatable story.

JET is an official Japanese program, and its' image cannot be tarnished. To publish such a story would cause a Japanese loss of face, an international embarrassment. It is okay to embarrass the Americans with stories of their rapes of Japanese women, (no matter how rare they are.) But a journalist who dares to try to get an embarrassing incident about the JET program by the editor would probably be fired.

To read those unpalatable stores about the JET program you must go to some of the unofficial JET websites, that talk about the problems associated with the JET program. These sites are written by teachers who actually work in the program and former teachers.

For whatever reason, the Japanese authorities are doing an excellent job of discouraging businesses from hiring Americans, and opting instead for an Aussie, Kiwi or Canuck. In these days of terrorism and war,securing the proper working visa for an American can take up to four months.

Head hunting companies in Tokyo are also reporting that securing working visas is taking much longer than before, though this seems to be across the board and for all nationalities. If you can get a working holiday visa in three days, you greatly increase your marketability.

Sometimes Japanese laws are unrealistic. The law may state one thing, but the reality of the matter is another.

English schools need teachers. Often they need them quickly. Teachers sometimes don't give any notice and just quit. The English school must hire someone quickly.

If the working visa for an American takes so long, schools will naturally try to hire someone they can sponsor for the proper visa more quickly. Indeed, English schools are encouraged by Japanese immigration to discriminate against hiring Americans, by the bureaucratic system they have set up.

Plus Americans themselves, being law abiding citizens on the whole, don't want to break Japanese laws either. If an English school says, "Come on a tourist visa, we need you now, then we will switch the visa over to a working visa, don't tell Japanese immigration." Naturally the prospective American teacher is suspicious of the school. The school is essentially telling them to break the law. The school realizes though that the law is forcing them into an untenable situation: They need teachers now! Not in four months!

One good thing about Japan is that the law often bends. The fact is many Americans if not most, come to Japan on tourist visas then switch to working visas. This is simply a fact of working life in Japan, as few teachers quitting their positions in Japan give more than one months notice. You do the math. It doesn't give schools enough time to secure the working visas for Americans. So they either have to hire a citizen of the Commonwealth, or tell a US citizen to come on a tourist visa and switch it over.

If I were American, I would complain. Why are you given such a raw deal in Japan?

I would come on a tourist visa, and tell the Japanese authorities, how I am so looking forward to sightseeing in Kyoto!

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