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FOCUS December 2011 Volume Vol. 66

Zainichi Firipin-jin: Status and Hardships

Adrian Ablao Bonifacio

With the latest amendments to the Japanese immigration law1 taking effect in July 2012, debates within migrant communities in Japan have once again amplified. In a July 2011 forum largely attended by Filipinos living in Kyoto, several questions were raised: How will these amendments affect the entry of new migrants? Will graduate degree enrollment drop? How might this lead to an increase in domestic violence? What will happen to the employment rate of overstays? Official records put the number of Filipinos in Japan at more than 200,000,2 constituting the fourth largest foreign demographic in the country.
Who are these Filipinos living in Japan and what difficulties do they face? They are often referred to as zainichi Firipin-jin (resident Filipinos), covering those who stay in Japan for more than three months.

Filipinos in Japan

Filipinos have been visiting and working in Japan since the late 19th century. A significant number of Filipinos worked in Japan as musicians in the 1920s and 1930s.3 Most Filipinos in Japan during the post-war period till the 1970s, when they came in several thousands, were male musicians.4 It was also in the 1970s when Filipino women started to come as entertainers. This new migration flow in the 1970s is attributed to the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation Between Japan and the Republic of the Philippines. The treaty was signed in 1960 but was ratified by the Philippines only in 1973. Though the treaty does not have a provision on migration of Filipinos to Japan, it “facilitated personal and business encounters between Filipinos and the Japanese...” and in “time Japanese-led demand and Japanese Immigration allowed for the entry of ... Filipino women [initially] as tourists and later on as entertainers to work in Japan in the 70s.”5
The Philippines’ Labor Export Policy (LEP) instituted by former President Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s officially opened the Filipino migratory valve. In 2010, the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency recorded 1,470,826 Filipinos having been hired and rehired for work abroad. 5,938 were hired and rehired for work in Japan in the same year.6
Most zainichi Firipin-jin fall under the following categories: 1) permanent residents; 2) spouses or children of Japanese nationals; 3) spouses or children of permanent residents; and 4) long-term residents.7 Many of these residents are Filipino women married to Japanese men, and to a lesser extent Filipino men married to Japanese women. These marriages led to a significant number of Japanese-Filipino children (JFCs).8
Other zainichi Firipin-jin would cover: 1) researchers, teachers, religious workers, business people, diplomats and other government officials, specialists in humanities, intra-company transferees, entertainers, technical interns; 2) students; 3) trainees.9 Under the entertainment visa, many Filipinas were trafficked to work in bars or even the sex industry.10 The Japanese government curbed the issuance of this visa in 2005,11 contributing to a significant drop in the number of Filipinos entering Japan with entertainment visa from over 82,000 in 2004.12
Those who stayed beyond permitted period of stay (so- called undocumented people) in Japan numbered more than 9,329 as of 2011 according to the Japanese Immigration Bureau.13 Data from the Philippine Commission on Overseas Filipinos in 2010, however, put the number of Filipino overstayers (those with “irregular” status) in Japan at 12,840.14 They are known as bilog, and are not technically eligible to work but many are still hired as day laborers, usually for construction work.15

Hardships Faced by Zainichi Firipin-jin

Many zainichi Firipin-jin who come to Japan as trainees and even those with other residence visas may end up working in industries that are shunned by Japanese workers because they offer kitanai, kiken, and kitsui (dirty, dangerous, and difficult) or 3K jobs. The 3K jobs include work in the construction industry (work on buildings and other structures).
For women on entertainment visas, hardships often times began even before arrival in the form of debt. From travel costs to living accommodations, many entertainers’ (or talentos’) initial paychecks are used to pay off debt. Those trafficked into the sex industry work under a thicker veil of secrecy. Aside from being trafficking victims, they may suffer the stigma of being sex workers.
Problems regarding Filipino- Japanese couples have various forms. They range from conflicting cultural practices, to problems with in-laws, and financial issues. Some zainichi Firipin-jin wives suffer domestic violence, forcing a number of them (with their children) to seek protection in shelters for domestic violence victims. In cases of divorce, zainichi Firipin-jin mothers who have to take care of their children suffer financial problems despite having jobs, similar to Japanese single mothers and divorcees.
JFCs themselves face a slew of problems. Some suffer bullying and racism especially in schools. Regarded by some peers as not wholly Japanese, many JFCs deliberately choose to suppress their Filipino identities in order to fit in, which often times leads to conflict with their Filipino parent. JFCs born or raised in the Philippines who have moved to Japan also tend to struggle with the change in environment, especially in terms of language. The sum of these difficulties may lead to internal ethnic clashes and a strong sense of self- consciousness about what others think.16
The hardships outlined above provide only a glimpse into the lives of zainichi Firipin-jin. While not every Filipino migrant entering Japan face these challenges, they affect a considerable number of zainichi Firipin-jin. It should not be conceived, either, that zainichi Firipin-jin are solely embroiled in struggle. For example, some, such as Filipino students pursuing higher education in Japan, have succeeded in mastering the language and attaining a higher degree of economic mobility due to their education. Many other non- Japanese are likely facing similar challenges. Socioeconomic hardship is very much a reality among many non-Japanese, and even among the Japanese at present. Understanding this situation is necessary to bring about change.
It is worth noting that the existence of social networks or communities of zainichi Firipin- jin, along with Japanese non- governmental organizations, provide help to some extent to those suffering from the problems discussed.

Case Study: Remittance Behavior of Zainichi Firipin-jin Wives17

As the fifth largest source of overseas remittances,18 zainichi Firipin-jin play an important role in keeping the Philippine economy and their families afloat. It is no wonder, then, that migrants fiercely try to overcome any obstacles that block their ability to remit. Such hurdles are prevalent in the lives of zainichi Firipin-jin wives married to Japanese nationals. Different factors affect two aspects of their remittance behavior: their ability to remit and the amount they are able to remit.
Many zainichi Firipin-jin wives entered Japan on entertainment visa, and the excessive debt accrued prevented any money from being used towards remitting. Once married, some Japanese husbands cannot understand why their zainichi Firipin-jin wives find it necessary to help family that is not only geographically distant, but also distant on the family tree. One respondent, Mary, explained that her husband argued there was “no need to help your family because we have family here.” Even more severe was the financial abuse encountered by another zainichi Firipin-jin, Veronica, who had to request money from her parents to survive because her husband gave no allowance to her or their children. One more factor affecting the ability of zainichi Firipin-jin wives to remit is their difficulty entering the workforce, perhaps due to racial discrimination, an act that remains a non-punishable crime. Nancy recalls facing discrimination in her search for a job as an English teacher, explaining, “it is because we are Filipinos” that she was not considered as capable as native speakers for the position, even in cases where the native speakers “don’t have any experience” and “don’t know how to teach.” Without work, zainichi Firipin-jin lose the capacity to remit money regardless of their desire to.
Zainichi Firipin-jin
wives encounter other difficulties affecting the amount they are able to remit. Racial discrimination within the workplace may lower wages that could be put towards remitting, as was the case for both Veronica and Bernadette. While Veronica was explicitly paid a hundred yen less than her Japanese co-workers, and was also removed from her scheduled hours without notice, Bernadette was lied to by her boss, who tried to convince her that a certain “tax” had to be deducted from her salary. If zainichi Firipin-jin wives have children, the cost of tuition for private schools, which are in vogue for higher levels of education, greatly reduce the amount they are able to remit. Paying for her child’s education forced Teresa to stop remitting as frequently and as much as she had in the past. Whereas before she remitted every month, she can now only remit twice a year during Christmas and New Year. As children grow, zainichi Firipin-jin’s responsibilities toward them grow as well, with financial support toward family in the Philippines weakening as a result.
The factors affecting remittance- sending behavior outlined above may also help to inform the current situation of human rights protection in Japan. Having ratified several international conventions regarding the human rights of migrants,19 Japan asserts that she “has taken every conceivable measure to fight against racial discrimination.”20 However, the engagement with de facto human trafficking in the entertainment industry and the prevalence of racial and wage discrimination (not to mention its non-status as a punishable crime) contradict this statement. And to be sure, fault lies with the Philippines as well, which has ratified many of the same United Nations’ conventions and protocols that Japan has. There exists a gap between the content in these ratified conventions and its implementation and enforcement, a gap that zainichi Firipin-jin and other foreign populations are continuously falling through.


Zainichi Firipin-jin inhabit a wide variety of niches in Japan, and all are likely to encounter difficulties at some point in their stay. From temporary workers to permanent residents, zainichi Firipin-jin not only struggle with a huge language barrier, but also unique problems confronting them based on their status. The specific case study of Filipino wives in Japan and their troubles remitting helps show how deep-rooted these problems can be, and how their existence can highlight human rights enforcement gaps. Both the Philippines and Japan must work together to ensure not only a healthy economic partnership, but also healthy conditions for migrants that settle in either country.

Adrian Ablao Bonifacio was an intern in HURIGHTS OSAKA during the summer of 2011 under the Stanford Kyoto SCTI (Stanford Center for Technology and Innovation) Internship Program.

 For further information, please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.


 1. The recent amendments to the “Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act and the Special Act on the Immigration Control of, Inter Alia, Those who have Lost Japanese Nationality Pursuant to the Treaty of Peace with Japan” were passed in 2009.
2. Ministry of Justice, 2011 Immigration Control – Immigration Control in Recent Years, page 25, in www.moj.go.jp/nyuukokukanri/kouhou/nyuukokukanri06_00018.html, and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, “Overseas Employment Statistics 2010,” in www.poea.gov.ph/stats/2010_Stats.pdf.
3. See Lydia Yu-Jose, “Why are Most Filipino Workers in Japan Entertainers?: Perspectives from History and Law,” KASARINLAN: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies, 2007 22 (1): 61-84.
4. Nobue Suzuki, “Filipino Migration to Japan: From Surrogate Americans to Feminized Workers,” in Yamashita, et al., editors, Transnational Migration in East Asia, Senri Ethnological Reports 77 (2008), page 69.
5. Mario Rosario Piquero Ballescas, “Filipino Caregivers in Japan: The State, Agents, and Emerging Issues,” 九州大学アジア総合政策センター 3, pages 128-129, accessed July 21, 2011, https://qir.kyushu-u.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/2324/14081/1/p127.pdf.
6. Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, www.poea.gov.ph/stats/2010_Stats.pdf
7. These categories are taken from Appended Table I of the amended immigration law, www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/newimmiact/newimmiact_english.html.
8. Absent statistical data, there is an estimate of 100,000 to 200,000 Japanese-Filipino children having been born since 1980 and living in the Philippines. Many suffer from lack of legal recognition from their Japanese fathers. See JFC Multisectoral Networking Project, www.jfcmultisectoralnetworkingproject.org/index.php/en/who-are-the-jfcs.
9. See Appended Table I, supra note 7.

10. See Nobuki Fujimoto, “Trafficking in Persons and the Filipino Entertainers in Japan,” FOCUS Asia-Pacific, issue 43, March 2006, in www.hurights.or.jp/archives/focus/section2/2006/03/trafficking-in-persons-and-the-filipino-entertainers-in-japan.html.
11. The Japanese government changed the criteria for applicants of entertainer visa, resulting in disqualification of many Filipina applicants in 2005. See Amendment to the Criteria for the Landing Permission for the Status of Resident "Entertainer," in www.immi-moj.go.jp/keiziban/happyou/pdf/e_kougyou.pdf.
12. Ministry of Justice, Basic Plan for Immigration Control - Salient Points Concerning Foreign Nationals' Entry and Stay, in www.moj.go.jp/ENGLISH/information/bpic3rd-02.html.
13. See statistics from the Ministry of Justice dated 1 January 2011, in www.moj.go.jp/content/000072624.pdf. For a comparison of data on overstayers from other Asian countries visit: Kumusta ka na Bilog? in www.irregularmigration.info/2010/11/filipinos-in-japan-2010.html.
14. Commission on Filipinos Overseas, Stock Estimate of Overseas Filipinos, December, 2010, http://cfo.gov.ph/pdf/statistics/Stock%202010.pdf.
15. Rey Ventura, Into the Country of Standing Men (Manila, Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2007).
16. Almonte-Acosta, Sherlyne A., “Ethnic Identity: The Case of Filipino-Japanese Children in Japan,” Asia-Pacific Social Science Review 8, n. 2 (2008) 17-33.
17. The following qualitative analysis was based mostly on personal interviews with Filipinos living in Osaka and Kyoto (seven in total), supplemented by further research based on their responses.
18. “Overseas Filipinos’ Remittances,” Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, accessed July 15, 2011, http://www.bsp.gov.ph/statistics/keystat/ofw.htm. The remittances mentioned here cover both “landbased” and “seabased” overseas Filipinos. In the 2010 figures for remittance of “land- based” overseas Filipinos, Japan ranks sixth largest source of remittance.
19. These include the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD); International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); and the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (CSTE).
20. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Combined Periodic Report on the Implementation of the International Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination Japan,” August 2008, page 1, in www.mofa.go.jp/policy/human/race_rep3.pdf.

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