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FOCUS December 2012 Volume Vol. 70

Chinese Residents in Osaka: Facing a Dilemma

Xinyi Li

In 2007, the Chinese residents in Japan became the biggest group of foreign residents in the country, replacing the resident Koreans. By 2010, there were 687,1561 Chinese residing in Japan.
The Chinese community has the most diverse types of residence status among the major foreign migrant communities in Japan, evenly composed of students, workers (engineers/ professionals/ skilled laborers), trainees/ technical interns, and permanent residents, as well as undocumented immigrants. Table A illustrates this diversity among the Chinese residents in Osaka.2

Table A: Chinese in Osaka by resident status3

Classification 2006
Engineers 711 1,183
Professors 177 132
Investors/ Business Managers 139 339
Specialists in Humanities/ International Services 2,199 3,713
Trainees 1,274 83
Technical Interns -- 3,011
Students 9,093 11,095
Spouses of Japanese nationals 4,068 4,112
Dependents 2,364 3,423
Long term residents 4,992 4,366
Permanent residents 11,962 17,38

They also come from different parts of China as shown in Graph 1.

Graph 1: Places of origin in China of the Chinese residents4


Most of the Chinese newcomers in Osaka are young and female. Information from the Ministry of Justice of Japan show that young people (20 to 39 years old) constitute almost sixty-one percent of the whole Chinese group in Osaka.5 And the spouses of Japanese nationals are predominantly women.

Chinese Life in Osaka: Integration or Dis-association?

Though an increasing number of Chinese come to Japan for college education and obtain employment in Japanese companies after graduation, they hardly feel having middle-class life in Japanese society. The following cases illustrate this point.

 The Wang Family

Ms. Wang worked as a lecturer in a university in Shanghai after graduating from university in 1994. With a shortage of college teachers, she fortunately got appointed as a fulltime Japanese language teacher. At that time, a university job was considered an ideal employment for women. She did not have to worry about anything, and just had to wait for higher officials to make the proper arrangements after several years of work.
Due to her excellent performance, she was given the chance to participate in a professor exchange program between her university and a university in Kobe. She decided to stay in Japan after finishing the program, and thought that “even though I had to live on my own without anyone’s help, I loved this wonderful place and the social distance in Japan.”
Unfortunately, despite a reasonable pay and a regular job in a language training school in Osaka for the past twelve years, she is still not satisfied with her situation:

I teach Chinese language through the internet to Japanese people who are almost always company men who are interested in the language. And because it is a Chinese language class we have to speak only in Chinese language even though I majored in Japanese language and worked as a Japanese language teacher before. And it is this job that I had to choose instead of another one, for example as company staff.

However, one of her college classmates and former colleague in her former university in Shanghai earns twice or even more than she could, which makes her regret her decision to stay in Japan and depresses her whenever she thinks of her living condition in Osaka.
On the other hand, her Chinese husband who has majored in Chinese literature is currently a Ph.D student in Kyoto without any scholarship or income. She has to support her family all by herself. “I bought a used and small house at the central area of Osaka because of the great importance of ensuring that my five year-old child attends a better school, though it cost almost all of my savings.”
What annoys her most is her child’s reluctance to learn the Chinese culture or even speak Chinese though he can understand it to a certain degree. To him, there is no need to speak Chinese since he lives in Osaka. “We try to send him to a bi-lingual school in order to improve his Chinese language, but almost all the nearest Chinese schools are in Kobe and the teachers are always from Taiwan. I would not allow my child to learn such weird alphabet and pronunciation.”
She recently expressed her wish to return to China after her husband obtained his doctorate degree, despite her fondness for the social distance in Japan and her strong intimate feelings for Osaka.

 Descendants of Returnees

Japan’s “Twenty-Year, One Hundred Million-Family Plan to Send Agricultural Migrants to Manchuria” in the 1930s brought many Japanese migrants to China. Toward the end of the second World War, many of these migrants suffered from famine and disease as they sought refuge from the fighting, were separated from their families, and forced to remain in China. Many of the Japanese children left behind were eventually raised by Chinese families. These Japanese, called “war-displaced spouses” or “war-displaced orphans” (collectively called “war-displaced persons”), could not return to Japan without official contact between Japan and China. The official discussions began only in 1981.6 Almost all descendants of the returnees grew up in China as Chinese nationals and with Chinese language as mother tongue. Growing up in China helped them endure the hard life in Japan where they subsequently resettled with their families.
Ms. Zhao Renshu, who teaches the Chinese language at Yao Kita Secondary School, said that she and her husband came to Japan in 1994 with her Japanese mother after her Korean father passed away a year before. She narrated her story:

My father was a Korean who was recruited as a soldier of the Japanese military during the war. Considering the near absence of chance to survive the war as a soldier, he ran away from the Japanese military camp to Heilongjiang Province where he married a Japanese woman. I was born there and obtained a Chinese nationality. My father was eager to return to Korea, which was not possible at that time until the restoration of diplomatic relations between Japan and China. Because it was easier to get a Korean visa in Japan than in China, and my father’s thousand attempts at persuading her, my mother finally agreed to bring her family to Japan. However, my father became paralyzed that delayed our plan to go to Japan for over seven years until he died in Heilongjiang.

Ms. Renshu used to be a secondary school teacher in China. In Japan, she changed her job several times from temporary staff of a factory to primary school teacher, and finally her ideal job at Yao Kita Secondary School.
Yao Kita Secondary School, located in the southeast part of Osaka Prefecture, has a big population of Chinese students. Some of them are descendants of the returnees from China. Ms. Renshu says that, “We have a special name for our office,Oasis. In order to help the international students save money, I come to Oasis everyday around 7:20 in the morning to make iced wheat tea for them, which may save them the daily cost (usually one hundred fifty Japanese Yen or almost two US dollars per bottle) of buying bottled water.”
In 2012, the school had more than twenty Chinese students ranging from those who came to Japan seven years ago and good at Japanese language to those who arrived a year ago and did not yet have many Japanese friends. Another Chinese teacher, Ms. Yi, who came to Japan at three years old with her parents and Japanese grandmother, said that, “Because I am not proficient in Japanese and I am a Chinese, I sometimes got bullied by my Japanese classmates when I was younger.” She added, though that the situation improved after she went into secondary school with better Japanese language capability.
An understanding of both Chinese and English languages gives the Chinese students diverse approaches in preparing for the university in Japan, although passing university entrance examinations is still a highly competitive process for them compared to their Japanese peers. The parents of these students at Yao Kita Secondary School seem to be mostly working at factories with minimum but insufficient salary, making it difficult for them to make ends meet. Fortunately, those who worked for several years can afford a second-hand house at suburban areas of Osaka.
There are currently five secondary schools in Osaka that have quota available for the descendants of returnees from China, namely, Nagayoshi Secondary School, Fuse Kita Secondary School, Seibi Secondary School , Kadomanamihaya Secondary
School, and Yao Kita Secondary School. However, due to the difference in education systems, poor knowledge of Japanese language, and their special identity, some of them are more willing to find part-time job or even stay at home rather than be enrolled as students. Some of them even quit school after a short period of study. “If these youngsters could not enter into secondary school or university, it may hard for them to integrate into the Japanese society and they may become a potential problem for Japanese society, even if they have Japanese blood,” a teacher said.

Other “Middle Class” Chinese Residents

A 2012 mini-survey administered by this author provides a glimpse of the situation of middle-class Chinese residents in Osaka. Eighty Chinese residents consisting of graduate students, company workers, spouses of Japanese nationals, and those with permanent residence status received survey questionnaires. Although the validly completed questionnaires comprised only half of those sent out, some general conclusions can be derived from them.
Among all the respondents, women constitute eighty percent while men comprise twenty percent, with ages ranging from 21 to 35 years old, and coming from nine provinces in China: Sichuan, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Yunnan, Anhui, Henan, Beijing, Zhejiang, and Hubei. Although three-fourths of the respondents have studied the Japanese language and have at least a bachelor degree or relevant certificate from China, they still have difficulty overcoming the communication barrier with the Japanese.
However, when asked about bringing children to Japan, all respondents answered yes for two main reasons: 1. Relatively advanced education system and standard in Japan than in China; 2. Opportunity to experience using different languages in dealing with different problems that would make them more competitive in the Japanese society, and the great importance of acquiring an international perspective.
Average monthly earnings varies, forty percent of the respondents (graduate students, kenkyusei [research students] and language school students who have part-time jobs) earn 40,000 (450 US dollars) to 80,000 Yen (900 US dollars) per month, while thirty percent earn 160,000 Yen (1,800 US dollars) on the average. Another thirty percent, with managerial or similar position in companies, earn twice or more than the second group.
While seventy-six percent of the respondents appreciate their work experience, most respondents do not appear satisfied with their current jobs and think that they might have better prospects in China. This stance arises from two reasons:

1. Lack of trust – with the deeply-rooted sense of exclusiveness (pai wai) in Japanese society, foreigners especially Chinese have a hard time getting the trust of Japanese managers, despite several years of work and numerous contributions to the company;

2. Lack of flexibility - Chinese staff inevitably work based on their Chinese way of thinking that helps them do the work more flexibly. But this kind of work is not acceptable to their Japanese colleagues. They sometimes think that their Japanese colleagues are stiff and doctrinaire.

The respondents who are sarariman (salary men) in Osaka consider their working condition as severe. A deep and invisible gap between Chinese and Japanese workers causes discomfort among the former. Also, news about economic growth in China that contrasts with the economic decline in Japan keep reminding them about a promising future in China. But going home may mean difficulty in their reintegration into Chinese society with their identity as permanent or long-term residents in Japan. Descendants of returnees from China living in Osaka, on the other hand, face severe problems like discrimination and pressure to assimilate.
More than eighty-three percent of the respondents consider the first six months to three years as a very difficult period. Around sixty percent among them cite high cost of living, fast-pace work style, and communication barrier as reasons. In order to tackle such problems, sixty- seven percent regularly contact their families and friends in China through the internet while others prefer to participate in the activities of local Chinese or Japanese communities. Moreover, although seventy- eight percent of the respondents who are sarariman own a house in Osaka, they own another house or are preparing to buy another one in their hometown in case they come back to China. The main reasons consist of the feeling of living under someone’s roof (ji ren li xia) and the lack of sense of belonging to the society they live in.
Some parents worry about their children. A mother wrote on the questionnaire, “My eight-year- old kid is not proficient in Japanese language leading to his getting bullied by Japanese classmates, and feels lonely at school. Both me and my husband are considering going back to China and providing him with a better environment as he grows up.”
In order to make a better environment for their children, most of them try their best to settle down in Osaka. However, they find serious and unexpected problems, such as children’s reluctance to learn Chinese language and culture, their children’s embarrassing experiences in school, and the increasing gap between them and their children. All these reinforce a rethinking of their plan for the future, and now consider returning to their hometown in China after a long period of stay in Osaka.


The Chinese policy on reform and opening up to the outside world helped increase the number of Chinese newcomers in Japan. However, as shown in this limited study of Chinese residents in Osaka, they might find the mainstream Japanese society exclusive and would thus need to maintain contact with friends and family in China and even consider returning home instead of continuing to live under another’s roof.
Living in Osaka, on the other hand, enhances their linguistic ability and develops their multicultural perspective. In the context of cultural interaction and trade between Japan and China, middle-class Chinese newcomers in Japan can play a more significant role in the long- term. Such a special group will gradually contribute wisdom and capabilities to help Japan become a more open-minded and multicultural society.

Xinyi LI is a LL.M student of Wuhan University and special research student at Kyoto University during the 2011-2012 period. He was an intern in HURIGHTS OSAKA in the summer of 2012.

For further information, please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.


1. This figure includes those from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao. See table of Registered Foreigners by Nationality, Chapter 2 Population and Households, Japan Statistical Yearbook 2013, available at www.stat.go.jp/english/data/nenkan/1431-02.htm.
2. See Yichao Jiang, ‘Tansuo rensheng [Exporing life],” in Duan Yaozhong, editor, Fuji Dongying Xie Chunqiu (Writing History in Japan) (Shanghai: Shanghai Education Press, 1998), pages 121-122.
3. Data derived from “Status of residence (purpose of residence) per prefecture (another foreign residents) (China),” table numbers: 11-99-04-01 (www.e-stat.go.jp/SG1/estat/List.do?lid=000001089591);06-99-04-2 (www.e-stat.go.jp/SG1/estat/List.do?lid=000001029028), Ministry of Justice, Japan.
4. See “Foreign residents per prefecture – permanent residents (China),” table numbers: 11-99-07 (www.e-stat.go.jp/SG1/estat/List.do?lid=000001089591) ; 10-99-07-1 (www.e-stat.go.jp/SG1/estat/List.do?lid=000001074828) : 09-99-07-1 (www.e-stat.go.jp/SG1/estat/List.do?lid=000001065021) ;
08-99-07-1 www.e-stat.go.jp/SG1/estat/List.do? lid=000001057947; 07-99-07-1 (www.e-stat.go.jp/SG1/estat/List.do?lid=000001031723) ; 06-99-07-2 (www.e-stat.go.jp/SG1/estat/List.do?lid=000001029028).
5. Data derived from “Foreign residents per prefecture according to age and sex,” table number: 11-99-05-1 (www.e-stat.go.jp/SG1/estat/List.do?lid=000001089591).
6. See Chapter 7: Returnees from China, Alternative Report to the Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Combined Periodic Report of Japan on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, July, 2009, Japan Federation of Bar Associations. Document available at www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cerd/docs/ngos/JFBA_Japan_76.doc

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