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FOCUS March 2013 Volume Vol. 71

Support for Non-Japanese Residents in Japan

Jefferson R. Plantilla 1

The tragedy that struck the northeast region (Tohoku) of Japan in March 2011 led to the establishment of a hotline service that initially extended help to the Japanese who were displaced by the earthquake- tsunami-nuclear-meltdown tragedy. It soon covered the non-Japanese residents as well. And with financial support from the national government, the service extended nationwide and covered many other issues.
In light of the nationwide coverage of the service and the inclusion of service for non-Japanese residents, a meeting was organized to consult both institutions that provide service to non-Japanese residents and the communities of non-Japanese residents. The non-Japanese and Japanese participants discussed the situation and challenges in extending service to the needs of the non-Japanese residents, and the need for a nationwide network of migrant communities in Japan.

Hotline Service2

After the “Great East Japan Earthquake,” a 24-hour, 365-day telephone consultation service was established to serve people affected by the tragedy. The service was known as “Yorisoi Hotline,” the word “yorisoi” means being close together. Yorisoi Hotline evolved into the “One-Stop Consultation Support Project for Social Inclusion” with the establishment of the Social Inclusion Support Center (SISC) in October 2011 under the initiative of several Mayors and former Mayors in Tohoku. SISC initially provided consultation service under Yorisoi Hotline using a single telephone line serving three prefectures of Tohoku. With financial support from the national government, Yorisoi Hotline became a nationwide hotline in March 2012 and acquired more telephone lines for its expanded service. It also extended the service to many other people who suffer from social exclusion.
SISC, established with the support from the civil society organizations in different parts of Japan, aims to contribute to the realization of a society where anyone can experience 'belonging' and 'having a role'. It provides multidimensional support services to people in Tohoku who have difficulty getting help, and to people anywhere in the country who suffer social exclusion (they are likely the poor people, the elderly, foreign migrants, sexual minorities, domestic violence (DV) and sexual assault survivors, people with disabilities, homeless people, people with multiple debts, single parent families, etc.).
The services consist of the telephone consultation and direct personal support in emergency cases.
The telephone service covers:

1) Consultation regarding problems relating to general life situations (coordinated with local consultation centers)
2) Consultation regarding problems of non-Japanese residents (in cooperation with the migrant support organizations network and provided in different languages. Non-Japanese residents who speak Japanese can also use the other consultation services in Japanese language.)
3) Consultation regarding sexual assault and DV (coordinated with the women’s support organizations network)
4) Consultation regarding sexual minorities (coordinated with the sexual minority support organizations network)
5) Consultation on suicide prevention (coordinated with the suicide prevention organizations network).

The Yorisoi website (http:// 279338.jp/yorisoi/) also offers information on the following services:

1) Introduction of available public social or legal services
2) Referral of cases to civil society organizations that provide relevant services
3) Direct personal support in emergency cases (for instance, coordination with food banks for people in desperate financial situation).

The telephone number 0120-279-338 allows callers to push the number for the kind of service they need. Number 2 refers to multilingual service. Once the number for desired service is pushed, the call is connected to the appropriate center.
While not less than 30,000 calls (around hundred calls per day) are received every month, the people supporting SISC think that Yorisoi Hotline is still not yet well-known enough.

Beyond Yorisoi Hotline and the Non-Japanese Residents3

SISC operates with the support of networks of organizations providing services to specific groups of people. Its telephone consultation service for non-Japanese residents seems to be the first service of its kind that gets support from the national government. Similar services operating in local areas get support only from local governments.
Considering the serious situation of non-Japanese residents in the disaster areas, while aiming to further improve its services at the same time, SISC’s work on the three prefectures (Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi) focused on

a. Clarifying the situations and needs of non-Japanese residents
b. Preparing a list of resources necessary to support them, and
c. Developing support manuals for them.

However, SISC and the Asian Center for Welfare in Society (Japan College of Social Work) see the need to go beyond telephone hotline in order to support the non-Japanese residents on a nationwide basis. And since the financial support from the national government for Yorisoi Hotline has many limitations and restrictions (including its nature as relief budget), the need for other forms of support has become apparent.
The good work done by net works of support organizations on issues with insufficient legal support (such as the DV victims and sexual minorities issues) shows the necessity for a network of organizations supporting non-Japanese residents. In addition, the experiences of these net works of support organizations reveal the fact that the people being supported are actually the specialists on their own issues.
SISC, in cooperation with the Asian Center for Welfare in Society, organized the Fukushima Roundtable for Migrant Support on 28-29 December 2012 in Fukushima city to seek support for Yorisoi Hotline and also to discuss the creation of a network of organizations for non-Japanese residents.

Roundtable Meeting

Approximately two hundred representatives of Brazilian, Chinese, Filipino, Islamic, Korean, Spanish-speaking, and Thai communities from various parts of Japan along with Japanese participants attended the roundtable meeting on migrant support. Tomoko Endo, Secretary-General of SISC, updated them on the experience of Yorisoi Hotline.
The Yorisoi Hotline experience4 during the July-September 2012 period reveals the problems faced by callers (majority of whom belonged to the 30s to 50s age brackets) such as livelihood difficulties (inadequate food and other needs, ceasing of welfare support, housing problems, debt, financial difficulty), mental problems (due to isolation), disaster-related problems (for people who live in evacuation centers or near the nuclear power plant), suicidal tendency, human relations (family relations), lack of job, health problems (anxiety about health and health-service related problems), and violence against women.
During the same period, many calls came from the three prefectures in the Tohoku that were hit by the disaster. They consisted of the following: 79 percent for general guidance, 11 percent for suicide guidance, 6 percent for DV and sexual assault guidance, and 4 percent for sexual minority guidance. No caller selected the multilingual guidance service during this period. This does not mean lack of non-Japanese callers, however, because of the possibility of non-Japanese callers choosing Japanese- language services.
As of December 2012, Yorisoi Hotline had more than one thousand two hundred consultants in thirty seven local centers, more than forty coordinators located mainly in the two national call centers, more the forty referral organizations, specialists available on 24-hour basis (and more than three hundred stand-by specialists), thirty telephone lines available during the day and ten lines at night, and special lines for people with suicidal tendency and those belonging to social minorities (women, migrants and sexual minorities).


Discussion among Non-Japanese Participants

The non-Japanese participants discussed in their own languages and affiliations (Islamic, issue-based) the situation in their respective communities. The reports of the representatives of the different non-Japanese communities focus on a number of key issues, including:5

a. Information – most communities raised the problem of having little information available for them regarding services that they could avail of. The problem of lack of information takes the form of language (some information are available only in English, and not in many other languages), content (the translated information are not providing the complete information available), and access (even when information is available, the non-Japanese would not know where to get them).
b. Education – the education of children of international marriages poses a difficult challenge to the non-Japanese parents who could not keep up with the fast learning of the Japanese language by their children. Education in Japanese language is also a challenge for adult non-Japanese who have lesser capacity to quickly learn a new language and to understand new ideas and gain new skills using the Japanese language. This affects their opportunity to get appropriate jobs.

Proposals on Support for Non-Japanese Residents

Professor Yukio Yamaguchi of Japan College of Social Work gave a presentation on principles that should guide programs for non-Japanese residents in Japan.
Some of the proposed ideas are the following:

a. “Nothing About Us Without Us” – this concept has long been asserted since late 1990s as the basic principle of the movement of persons with disabilities to counter paternalistic attitudes about them. It has consequently become the principle fought for by other movements of disadvantaged people. In relation to the non-Japanese residents, this should translate into immigrant-centered support where needs are decided by the non-Japanese residents, and where there is partnership between them and the Japanese.
On the part of the non-Japanese residents, this means that they know their strengths, needs, and capabilities. They know their own resources as organizations, and they can express what they want to the Japanese public and to the government.
b. Multicultural symbiotic societies – while this has already been proposed, the question remains on whether or not this actually meant that themajority has decided on what was good for everyone – what they need, what they should do.
c. Welfare service - this should mean support that enables people to live their daily life, enables them to exercise their human rights and uphold their dignity. While welfare services for people with disabilities, the elderly, children, mothers and children are already existing, welfare service for the non-Japanese residents has not been established so far. Welfare services should be fair, able to uphold human rights, protect both the vulnerable individuals and the groups, and delivered with no stigma and discrimination.

Professor Yamaguchi has questions regarding disaster situations:6 Why should we put higher priority on giving support to minorities during the time of disasters? Are we sure help will come when disaster strikes?
In the case of the Great East Japan Earthquake, he notes that public assistance arrived in many places on the third or fourth day after the earthquake. Prior to this help, local communities had already started their “mutual help” measures, though the most significant help was “self-help” by the disaster victims themselves. He thinks that in a situation where people have to rely on self-help, non-Japanese residents face higher risk of isolation.
He explains that many people in Japan think that all disaster victims should receive equal welfare services. He, however, cites the IASC [Inter-Agency Standing Committee] Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Situations of Natural Disasters7  that give higher priority to helping people considered to be at high risk. Using the IASC Guidelines, the people at high risk should include children, the elderly, women, people with disabilities, people suffering with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or tuberculosis who are particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases and the cold, ethnic minorities, and immigrants. The IASC Guidelines provide that support for those people should be provided in a manner that would not make them feel any stigma (i.e., feeling of disapproval or discontent by other people or the society).

Final Note

The non-Japanese communities in Japan have varying degrees of involvement in serving the needs of their members. In many cases, they work directly with government agencies and Japanese non-governmental organizations. There is much room for improvement however. A significant area for improvement is the application of the “nothing about us without us” principle in their government and non-governmental programs for the non-Japanese residents particularly in terms of the mindset of people implementing them. Paternalistic attitude is certainly not supportive of the idea of making non-Japanese residents partners in making a society that respects human rights.


Jefferson R. Plantilla is the Chief Researcher of HURIGHTS OSAKA.

For further information, please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.


1. The author appreciates the sup- port provided by Mr. Viktor Virag, PhD candidate, Graduate School of Social Welfare, Japan College of Social Work, in verifying the information about Yorisoi Hotline and the roundtable meeting.
2. Texts based on meeting materials of the Fukushima Roundtable for Migrant Support.
3. Ibid.
4. The discussion on the Yorisoi Hotline experience is based in the powerpoint presentation entitled “Practice at the ‘Yorisoi Hotline,’” presented during the meeting.
5. This is based on the notes of the author who attended the meeting.
6. E-mail message of Professor Yukio Yamaguchi to author on 1 April 2013.
7. Inter-agency Standing Committee.  2011.  IASC Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Situations of Natural Disasters.  Washington, DC: Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement. Document available at

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