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Belonging in Translation: Solidarity and Migrant Activism in Japan

Table of contents :
Front cover
Title Page
Copyright Page
Global Migration and Social Change
Table of Contents
Series Preface
Conventions and Abbreviations
1. Language as a Contested Site of Belonging
2. Solidarity Activism? Rethinking Citizenship Through Inaudibility
3. Silence and the Image of Helplessness: The Challenge of Tozen Union
4. Rewriting the Meaning of Silence: Latin American Migrant Workers from Kanagawa City Union
5. The Hidden Space of Mediation: Migrant Volunteers, Immigration Lawyers, and Interpreters
6. Untranslatable Community: Toward a Gothic Way of Speaking
Back cover

Citation preview

BELONGING IN TRANSLATION Solidarity and Migrant Activism in Japan Reiko Shindo

First published in Great Britain in 2019 by Bristol University Press North America office: University of Bristol Policy Press 1-9 Old Park Hill c/o The University of Chicago Press Bristol 1427 East 60th Street BS2 8BB Chicago, IL 60637, USA UK t: +1 773 702 7700 t: +44 (0)117 954 5940 f: +1 773-702-9756 [email protected] © Bristol University Press 2019 British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN 978-1-5292-0187-1 hardcover ISBN 978-1-5292-0189-5 ePub ISBN 978-1-5292-0188-8 ePdf The right of Reiko Shindo to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved: no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior permission of Bristol University Press. The statements and opinions contained within this publication are solely those of the author and not of the University of Bristol or Bristol University Press. The University of Bristol and Bristol University Press disclaim responsibility for any injury to persons or property resulting from any material published in this publication. Bristol University Press works to counter discrimination on grounds of gender, race, disability, age and sexuality. Cover design by Andrew Corbett Front cover image: istock / Shutterstock Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY Bristol University Press uses environmentally responsible print partners

GLOBAL MIGRATION AND SOCIAL CHANGE This series showcases original research that looks at the nexus between migration, citizenship and social change. It advances new scholarship in migration and refugee studies and fosters cross- and inter-disciplinary dialogue in this field. The series includes research-based monographs and edited collections, informed by a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods.

Series editors: Nando Sigona, University of Birmingham, UK [email protected] Alan Gamlen, Monash University, Australia [email protected]

Forthcoming: Negotiating Migration in the Context of Climate Change Sarah Nash, Oct 2019

Out now in the series:

Contents Acknowledgements vi Series Preface vii ix Conventions and Abbreviations Introduction xi 1 2 3 4 5 6

Language as a Contested Site of Belonging Solidarity Activism? Rethinking Citizenship Through Inaudibility Silence and the Image of Helplessness: The Challenge of Tozen Union Rewriting the Meaning of Silence: Latin American Migrant Workers from Kanagawa City Union The Hidden Space of Mediation: Migrant Volunteers, Immigration Lawyers, and Interpreters Untranslatable Community: Toward a Gothic Way of Speaking

1 29 53 79 105 127

Conclusion 151 References 161 Index 181


Acknowledgements This book is developed from a doctoral research project I conducted at Aberystwyth University. The question of language, which is central to this book, troubled me from the beginning. I struggled longer than I would care to admit though, to find a language of my own to speak about the muddled, failed, and yet dynamic interactions of people I had worked with in migrant activism in Japan. During the course of this journey, colleagues and friends have encouraged me to pursue my interest in language and citizenship, and helped me to get my thinking to where it is now. I am deeply grateful for their intellectual generosity and unwavering support. Thanks in particular to Angharad Closs Stephens, Martin Coward, Jenny Edkins, Mitsugi Endo, Patrick Finney, Jeroen Gunning, Yukio Maeda, Anne McNevin, Carolina Moulin, Aoileann Ní Mhurchú, Peter Nyers, Felix Rösch, Kimiyo Shiga, Vicki Squire, Hidemi Suganami, Hiroyuki Tosa, and Rob Walker. I am also truly indebted to the participants of migrant activism in Japan who shared their views and thoughts with me. Without their willingness to do so, this book would not have been possible. The book went through various stages of writing while I was working at the Human Security programme at the University of Tokyo, the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick, and the School of Humanities at Coventry University. I have been blessed with supportive colleagues at these institutions. I also thank Aberystwyth University and its Department of International Politics for their financial assistance to start the project and complete the substantial part of the fieldwork. Three anonymous reviewers engaged with a draft of this book with care and dedication. Their thoughtful comments and instructive suggestions gave me a critical final push to complete the book. Small portions of Chapter  6 appeared in my article, ‘Home, sweet home? Community and the dilemma of belonging’, Geopolitics (2019, online first). Finally, I would like to thank my parents for continuing to be my staunchest supporters, and my spouse for being a dedicated reader of my work for many years.


Series Preface Belonging in Translation: Solidarity and Migrant Activism in Japan is a welcome addition to the Global Migration and Social Change series published by Bristol University Press. The aim of the series is to offer a platform for new scholarship in refugee and migration studies that is open to different disciplinary perspectives, theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches. Reiko Shindo’s book does it, proposing an original take on citizenship, community and migrant activism from the perspective of language and translation in Japan. Based on ethnographic case studies of Japan, this book investigates how political claims for citizenship are made in multilingual migrant activism. Noncitizen political participation in Japan takes place in a multilingual setting where participants do not share a common tongue. This is a unique feature which has never previously been addressed by scholars in citizenship and migration studies. The existing research on migrant activism has predominantly used examples from countries such as Canada, USA, UK and France where noncitizens often have the ability to speak the same language as citizens, such as English and French, because of their colonial ties to the host states. Meanwhile, migrants in Japan more often have a limited ability to speak Japanese. Through an interdisciplinary approach that employs politics, political philosophy, sociology and linguistics, this book highlights how language plays an indispensable role in reimagining community, and reveals various ways in which miscommunication shapes interactions between citizens and noncitizens and how such miscommunication challenges the existing contours of community. By looking at interactions between people who are supposedly united to fight for the same cause but nevertheless disunited because of language barriers, this book has identified multiple locations of citizenship struggles. Moving beyond scholarship on activism and visibility, Shindo makes an important contribution to the literature by theorising the significance of audibility to the constitution of political subjectivity. Not just in the more tradition sense, of migrants being heard and understood, Shindo argues,



but also through its opposite, that is, being inaudible, speaking a language that the listener cannot understand, or even by sewing one’s own lips. Nando Sigona Birmingham, UK, May 2019


Conventions and Abbreviations All translations of citations in the Japanese language sources are my own throughout the book, unless otherwise stated. The Japanese titles of books and articles are also my own translations, unless the English translation is provided by authors. The common symbols – Pound (£) and Yen (¥) – are used for currencies. All names of interviewees in this book are pseudonyms. CJVO

China Japan Volunteer Organization [Chū Nichi Volunteer Kyoukai] FWBZ Foreign Workers Branch of Zentouitsu JITCO Japan International Training Cooperation Organization KCU Kanagawa City Union MOJ Ministry of Justice Nambu National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu Nambu FWC Nambu Foreign Workers Caucus SMJ Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan TITP Technical Intern Training Programme (TITP) [gaikokujin ginou jisshū seido] Tozen Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union Zentouitsu Zentouitsu Workers Union


Introduction This book approaches the burgeoning academic literature on migration and citizenship through the perspective of migrant activism. In migration and citizenship studies, the past 10 years or so have witnessed a surge of research on activism led by migrants themselves, including refugees, asylum seekers, and the undocumented, as well as their supporters (see, for example, Isin, 2002, 2005; Isin and Nielsen, 2008; McNevin, 2011; Nyers and Rygiel, 2012; Tyler and Marciniak, 2013; Johnson, 2014). Regardless of different empirical examples and methodological orientations, what unites these studies is their interest in the idea of citizenship: what new forms of citizenship identities have been generated through migrant activism? The fundamental premise of these studies is that citizenship is what people enact: it is no longer regarded as rights given by the state, but as something that people claim from the state through their activism. Citizenship is an embodiment of acts conducted by people who define, in their own terms, what it means to belong to the political community of the state. From this perspective, migrant activism can ultimately be regarded as a contested site of community making. The existing studies aim to offer an insight into how the boundary of community is challenged, reproduced, or redrawn anew, through different claims about who should be included in the community and in what ways. While the objective of this book lies in the same direction as the existing studies, it takes a distinctively different approach to investigating the community-making process. I suggest that translation practices – or their absence – are a compelling place to examine activism in which migrant claims are communicated between people who use different languages. Based on ethnographic case studies of migrant activism in Japan, this book investigates how political claims for citizenship are made in a multilingual setting. To the best of my knowledge, this is a unique feature that has yet to be addressed in migration and citizenship studies. The existing research on migrant activism has predominantly used examples from countries such as Canada, France, the UK, and the US, where noncitizens and citizens usually have the ability to speak the same language, such as English and French, because of colonial ties or simply the global spread of the English



language. Meanwhile, migrants in Japan come from various countries and speak different languages, including Brazil (Portuguese), China (Chinese), Korea (Korean), Peru (Spanish), the Philippines (Tagalog), and Vietnam (Vietnamese), and usually have only limited ability in either Japanese or English. Additionally, few Japanese activists feel comfortable with foreign languages such as English to communicate with migrants. Looking at multilingual migrant activism, this book aims to push the existing scholarship in a direction that takes into account the role of language in examining the process of making and remaking citizenship. Whereas research based on monolingual migrant activism has assumed few problems in terms of communication between migrant protesters and local activists, this book argues that miscommunication lies at the heart of the enactment of citizenship. Utilising an interdisciplinary approach that encompasses critical international relations, political philosophy, and political geography, this book highlights how language plays an indispensable role in reimagining community. It demonstrates various ways in which miscommunication shapes interactions between citizens and noncitizens, and how such failure of communication challenges, or reaffirms, the existing contour of community. This book shows an important connection between language and the materiality of migration. As such, the focus on language practices in migrant activism will set this book in dialogue with the current ‘new materialist turn’ (or return of materialism) in social science. Despite its popularity in the 1960s, materialism was gradually replaced by the ‘turn’ to language that flourished under the umbrella of the ‘cultural turn’ since the 1970s. Under the spell of the linguistic turn, a series of language-based analyses – such as discourse analysis and speech-act theory – were actively incorporated into various disciplines of social science including international relations (see, for example, Shapiro, 1981, 1997). Importantly, one of the differences between the previous materialist turn and the current return to materialism is that the latter regards the material realm and the cultural realm as not separate but inextricable. As Coole and Frost (2010) point out, for new materialists, or what they call ‘critical materialists’, the challenge is ‘to give materiality its due while recognizing its plural dimensions and its complex, contingent modes of appearing’ (Coole and Frost, 2010: 27). This book’s focus on translation practices allows us to investigate modes where the materiality of migration is intimately linked to language. As some scholars argue, materiality – be that as objects, photographs, visual images, or even emotions – fundamentally depends on language. Language interprets and communicates what materials represent and, in this way, gives meanings to them in a wider social context. John Tagg



(1988) calls language’s embeddedness in non-linguistic forms of expression – in his case, photographs – ‘the burdens of representations’. Each photographic image carries baggage – such as ‘languages, presentations, psychological structures and practices’ (Tagg, 1988: 4) – through which an image is interpreted and given meanings. In her analysis of trauma and emotion, Emily Hutchison (2016) similarly argues that traumatic experience makes sense only when it is presented as a story communicable to others. Regardless of the types of community evoked by the experience of trauma, what is crucial is ‘translating an essentially incomprehensible experience into comprehensible meaningful stories. Such stories ground trauma in language or forms of expression that are common to a particular community’ (Hutchison, 2016: 71). It is through language – and ‘other forms of expression’ (Hutchison, 2016: 122) – that emotions are communicated to others and the incomprehensible and individual experience of trauma is transformed into ‘comprehensible, meaningful stories’ to other people (2016: 71). The inseparable link between language and materiality suggests that language is ‘not merely a medium of communication but a social property that is the prior condition for individual thought as well as meaningful interaction with others’ (Fierke, 2004: 480). Non-linguistic forms of expression are made intelligible to others only through language and wider discursive practices. The following chapters (see Chapters 3, 4, and 5 in particular) will demonstrate, in concrete ways, how language functions as a key mechanism in communicating migrants’ material realities. Migrant activism is organised around issues such as the lack of social welfare, poor working conditions, and workplace harassment. To communicate the materiality of living in such conditions, migrants depend on language. Language is a vital tool for migrants to demonstrate disappointment at being treated as ‘foreigners’, to express anger and frustration to employers and the host community, and to build solidarity with the local actors who work with them. Furthermore, the focus on language also invites us to re-examine the anthropocentric view embedded in the concept of citizenship and community. The current materialist turn poses a broader question of how to conduct a more ‘humane’ politics (Bennett, 2010). One way to probe this question is to rethink the human–animal relationship. As I discuss in this book (see Chapter 2 in particular), there is a remarkable parallel between the citizen–foreigner relationship and the human–animal one. The focus on language practices in migrant activism helps us to investigate how this parallel can be constructed and deconstructed in the linguistic realm. It also allows us to examine how foreigners challenge the status of animality attached to them despite their inability to speak the language of the host country.



In other words, from the perspective of language, this book examines the moment of community (re)making and asks: who is able to take part in the process of reimagining community? Whose story is made audible, and in what way? How do people develop their sense of belonging despite, or even because of, their linguistic limitations? When different experiences of living in a community are made perceptible, the community faces the limit of its own imaginary as a unified unchangeable entity (Edkins, 2003). Migrant activism gives rise to such an instance. By organising and participating in activism, people challenge accepted and normalised understandings of what it means to be part of the community. Thus the focus on language invites us to pay close attention to translation practices, acts of bridging different languages, when people enact citizenship. What this book ultimately aims to explore is different ways in which people communicate their visions of community, over and beyond linguistic barriers. Recently a number of works have used the concept of translation to illuminate non-linguistic interactions such as those between different political theories (Tully, 2016), disciplines (Barry, 2013), between epistemology and ontology (Blaney and Tickner, 2017), and concepts and practices (Stritzel, 2015; Bartelson, 2016). My interest in translation differs from these studies in that I understand translation primarily as interactions between different languages. In this regard, this book echoes the interest of earlier studies on translation that particularly thrived in postcolonial studies. Important work has been done in this area to examine power relationships embedded in the process of translating, literally, one language into another (see, for example, Spivak, 1993; Chakrabarty, 2000). By looking at the tension between migrants’ languages and local activists’ languages – in this case, Japanese – this book investigates the dynamics of power struggles between citizens and noncitizens in the context of migrant activism. Among different forms of translation, this book’s analysis of translation primarily lies in the domain of speech.1 Needless to say, migrant protesters declare their demands and share their views in emails, brochures, and handouts. Although this book consults these written materials, its analysis is primarily developed based on my observations of spoken interactions. In this regard, this book is different from the studies on translation that associate language with writings and texts. In text-based translation, interpretation of words appears somewhat static and solid – that is, we can grapple with texts as long as we wish and as carefully as we desire. Meanwhile, speech-based translation develops a precarious relationship with words. In the domain of speech, we have to make an instant judgement in terms of which word to use, how to translate foreign



concepts and practices, and how best to communicate the nuance of uttered words. For speakers as well as listeners, speech-based translation allows neither sufficient time to contemplate nor revise what is already said and translated. By looking at translation mainly as verbal interactions, my hope is to understand the community-making process as ephemeral and transitory. Citizenship is claimed and enacted not only in ordered and calculated moments, but also in chaotic, disordered, fleeting, and escaping moments. When migrants present demands and communicate their material reality to others, there is neither time nor texts that interlocutors can consult, contemplate, and scrutinise in finalising their choice of words. What are left are mostly words they remember, impressions they receive, and nuance they intuitively get. Hence, miscommunication – deliberate or unintentional – is bound to occur at the critical moment of enacting citizenship. My interest in language was provoked by two different experiences. First, my participation in three different migrant organisations in Japan since 2004, where I was occasionally asked to translate documents from English to Japanese or vice versa, and to act as an interpreter between these languages in collective bargaining and at meetings between migrant workers and government representatives as well as between migrant activists and Japanese activists. It was only then that I began to realise not only the sheer diversity of languages spoken by migrants in Japan but also, perhaps more crucially, the futility of English in soliciting communication between participants in migrant activism. English, which I assumed to be a global lingua franca, held little power in the context where I worked and observed. Both local activists and migrant protesters were often unable to, or preferred not to, communicate in English. This dispelled my pre‑conceived assumption that participants were able to communicate on their own, more or less satisfactorily, using English. Increasingly, I was drawn to observing mishaps in communication and failures of translation. Second, my interest in language, in particular the speech aspect of translation, has been animated by my own experience of living in an environment where English is used as the main medium of communication. At work and outside work I interact with colleagues, students, friends, and family members who do not share the same first language as I (Japanese), and hence interact in English. Some of them speak English as their first language while others do not. Since I do not speak English as my first language, my interaction with them is mediated through English that continues to be foreign to my tongue. Because of my own relationship with English, I intuitively feel suspicious about the possibilities of ‘understanding’ whenever I use English for communication.



I always wonder if I truly understand what others are saying, or intend to say, just as I wonder if others understand what I have said. In verbal interaction in particular, communication takes place in a fleeting moment. Unlike writing, it is too late once a word is uttered and a subtle nuance is communicated, mistakenly, unintentionally, or unknowingly. To capture that fleeting moment in a foreign language can be a liberating experience because it gives us a certain level of control over how we are, and can be, understood in the community where a language foreign to ourselves is spoken. And yet, it is also a tricky experience because our emotional distance to our surroundings is constantly shifting, depending on the ‘success’ of communication, if indeed such ‘success’ ever exists. It is through an accumulation of these fleeting moments of interactions that one develops, changes, or confirms an impression of the ‘other’. Especially in the current political climate in wealthy Western countries where competing images of the ‘other’ determine the perception of foreignness and the vision of community, I feel, more than ever, the need to examine seriously the possibilities of communication and its failure.

The book in brief This book explores the issues at stake in both a conceptual and empirical way. The aim of Chapter  1 is twofold. First, it explains how the research on language in the context of migrant activism can advance our understanding of belonging, of what it means to be a legitimate member of a community. To do so, I broadly sketch the relationship between language and community and discuss how the focus on linguistic interactions between citizens and noncitizens offers a productive yet unexplored site of investigation in migration studies. Second, the chapter provides the specific context in which migrant activism takes place in Japan, and explains in what way the Japanese case study is helpful for examining citizenship and belonging in relation to language. Chapter 2 lays the theoretical groundwork for the book. By looking at the acts of citizenship literature in more detail, I show that not only the visible but also the audible presence of noncitizens is constitutive of struggles for citizenship. Attention to audibility is particularly necessary to analyse multilingual migrant activism where migrant protesters become physically visible but remain inaudible on account of their language. To develop an understanding of citizenship that is attentive to the link between audibility and inaudibility, I consult the works of Jacques Rancière and Gloria Anzaldúa. They both regard inaudibility as an inseparable aspect of the making of political subjects. From the



vantage point of the gap between visibility and audibility, the supposed relationship of solidarity between migrants and their local supporters reveals its complexity. Chapter 2 further discusses how the limitations of linguistic proficiency, embodied as noncitizens’ inaudibility, facilitate or limit the possibilities of solidarity in migrant activism. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 look at concrete instances of migrant activism to expatiate on different ways in which people engage with the mismatch between visibility and audibility. In Chapter 3, I focus on the Nambu Foreign Workers Caucus (FWC), the migrant workers’ branch of the trade union, National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu (hereafter referred to as Nambu), and largely led by English-speaking migrants. I follow the events where the FWC split from Nambu, a trade union largely composed of Japanese-speaking members, to form a new union called Tozen. At the heart of the split was the question of silence. Many Nambu FWC members were troubled not only because they had been silenced by Japanese union members for their inability to speak Japanese, but also because their silence was linked to a sign of powerlessness. They were regarded as helpless victims, unable to act and speak on their own. By looking at Tozen’s activities, I also investigate how the union, driven by the need to make noncitizens audible, handles linguistic diversity among its members. In Chapter 4, I look at how migrant workers of Kanagawa City Union (KCU), who are largely from Latin American countries, participated in the annual negotiation meeting with government representatives and the union’s well-known activity called ‘Day Long Action’ (ichinichi koudou). Japanese is predominantly used in these events, with little effort to translate for non-Japanese-speaking participants. While Chapter 3 looks at an instance where migrant protesters challenge the gap between their visibility and audibility, Chapter 4 shows that they strategically use such a gap for their own benefit. I argue that, for some migrants, being unable to understand Japanese is not a hindrance but a convenient pretext to follow what they are ordered to do. In this regard, silence gives them an opportunity to perform their loyalty to the trade unions they belong to. Demonstration of such loyalty is a key strategy for KCU migrant members because it is Japanese unionists who ultimately handle migrants’ labour disputes. Chapter 5 looks at instances where the voice of migrant protesters is made simultaneously both audible and inaudible through people who act as their agents. In particular, I look at three different groups who assume such roles: migrant volunteers at the China Japan Volunteer Organization (CJVO), immigration lawyers, and interpreters. With their professional expertise on legal matters, familiarity with Japanese culture and language



as well as those of migrant workers, these agents play an important role in migrant activism. They facilitate negotiations between migrant workers and their employers, represent them at court, and help migrant workers to communicate with their Japanese counterparts. Crucially, they act not only as the spokespersons of migrant protesters, but also as mediators. They interfere with the interaction between migrants and their employers, quietly and sometimes without the knowledge of migrants, to achieve what they see as the best course of action for the migrant protesters. In this way, they play an indispensable role in creating the ‘voice’ of migrants. While migrant protesters become visible and audible thanks to those who assume the role of their spokespersons, they do so, however, at the cost of losing control of their own voices. A far messier picture of migrant activism appears when it is analysed from the perspective of translation practices. As Chapters 3, 4, and 5 show, people engage with linguistic differences through various ways of misinterpretation and miscommunication over languages. Local activists and migrant protesters interpret and misinterpret speech and silence of the other differently to develop their own understanding of what it means to belong to a community. Chapter 6 examines how these various ways of dealing with the mismatch between visibility and audibility help us to imagine a social space centred on the failure of communication, or untranslatability. To do so, I engage with the writings of Jean-Luc Nancy, Bonnie Honig, and Slavoj Žižek. Nancy theorises community in relation to failed communication, whereas Honig and Žižek focus on uncertainty as a key affective device to discuss the link between community and unintelligibility. Built on their works, I develop an understanding of belonging centred on a gothic mode of relationality where people relate to one another based on ‘not knowing’ others let alone ourselves. Unlike a traditional form of belonging to a community where people search commonality through intelligible communication between the self and the other, the gothic mode of belonging is realised in our own inability to translate our voice, in the failure to achieve intelligibility. It is not my intention to make a general claim that failed communication is a permanent fixture of all migrant activism. Nor do I intend to argue that the interaction between those who command citizens’ languages and those who do not necessarily yield the kinds of miscommunication discussed in this book. Not all migrant activism has such features. I aim merely to ask what sort of community is imagined in such instances where the limits of translation do exist. How do people enact citizenship in a situation where they are unable to communicate with one another? What are the ways in which languages are used strategically by participants to realise their demands? Depending on one’s linguistic ability, some protesters become



less visible than others at the crucial moment of political participation. How do linguistic barriers limit the ways in which claims for citizenship are presented and negotiated among protesters? Or do they limit to begin with? What strategies are selected to be heard and taken seriously by those whose voices remain ‘foreign’ because of linguistic differences? And how does the gap between visibility and audibility reconfigure the way citizenship and its community-making process is understood? Paying attention to the intimate relationship between language and citizenship invites us to raise and investigate these questions. Two clarifications are necessary before we go further. First, this book is based on fieldwork conducted mainly in Tokyo between 2008 and 2016. A total of 42 in-depth interviews were conducted, between March 2010 and June 2010, with individuals participating in migrant activism in Japan. They included trade union organisers, trade union members, staff of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and non-profit organisations (NPOs) working with migrants, immigration lawyers and their clients, and local government officials working on migration. From January 2008 to August 2008, and from March 2010 to June 2010, I regularly attended various events, demonstrations, meetings, and negotiations organised by migrant groups as a volunteer, a protester, and an interpreter. The initial observations made in these periods are used for the empirical investigation of this book. Between April 2010 and December 2018, I was also a member of Tozen, a migrant workers’ union based in Tokyo, and observed its activities by attending meetings (both physically and virtually) and following discussions and information shared in the members’ electronic mailing list. Second, the activities observed and people interviewed in this book are concentrated in Tokyo and its vicinity. This does not mean that migrant activism in Japan is centred only in these areas. Some migrants are highly concentrated in places away from Tokyo, for example, Aichi, where the auto giant Toyota is located. However, this book focuses on one critical feature of migrant activism taking place in Tokyo and its neighbouring areas – that is, people with various ethnic backgrounds and different legal statuses participating in activism. As Vertovec (2007) argues, the analysis of migration especially in urban areas is no longer adequate if it only focuses on particular ethnic groups or migrant groups with specific statuses. Their experiences are not simply shaped by their ethnic origin or their status, but also a mixture of various factors. These include relationships between different ethnic groups, interactions among people with different statuses, the mismatch between legal statuses and their entitlements, and the gap between what legal status promises and what the actual experience of migration is (see, for example, Blommaert, 2013; Meissner, 2015). It is



in this context of ‘superdiversity’ (Vertovec, 2007) that the book examines interactions between migrant protesters and their local supporters in the urban area of Tokyo. My ultimate aim in this book is to demonstrate the various ways in which communication fails and unintelligibility shapes interactions among participants in migrant activism. It explores how such miscommunication challenges the existing contour of community embodied in the citizen– noncitizen relationship. Deliberately or inadvertently, voice and silence are misunderstood and misrepresented, and interactions between migrants and their local supporters fall into the realm of untranslatability. This book explores such ‘chasms and gulfs of untranslatability’ (Apter, 2006: 85) that so vividly colour multilingual migrant activism in Japan. Note 1

Following Schäffner (2004), I understand that ‘translation’ and ‘interpretation’ have shared features, and use them interchangeably in this book.



Language as a Contested Site of Belonging

Two contradictory relations between language and community This book examines how language is incorporated into the process of challenging and redrawing a community’s boundary. As Anderson (1991) once described so evocatively, language is intimately tied to the notion of community and continues to capture our imagination when we talk about what community is and who belongs to a community: What the eye is to the lover – that particular, ordinary eye he or she is born with – language – whatever language history has made his or her mother-tongue – is to the patriot. Through that language, encountered at mother’s knee and parted with only at the grave, pasts are restored, fellowships are imagined, and futures dreamed. (1991: 154) Many studies have demonstrated this intimate link in different contexts (see, for example, Shaw, 2008; Patel, 2013). As such, the observation that language plays a cardinal role in imagining community comes almost with banal undertones. This banality, however, somewhat intuitively suggests the captivating power language persistently holds in our conceptualisation of community: language is embedded so deeply in our political imagination that it is taken completely for granted as an authentic sign of belonging.



As many wealthy nations are struggling to cope with the current challenges of migration, language is almost unquestionably used as a tool to delineate the limits of the community’s edge. For instance, since the race riots in 2001, the UK government has begun to regard English proficiency as evidence of integration in policy areas ranging from community cohesion to naturalisation (Fortier, 2013, 2017). In 2016, in response to a number of UK citizens joining Islamic State (also known as Daesh), the government decided to set up a £20  million language fund to improve Muslim women’s English abilities. Its stated objective was to help these women to better integrate into ‘British’ society. David Cameron, the then British Prime Minister, said: ‘If you’re not able to speak English, not able to integrate, … you have challenges understanding what your identity is and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message coming from Daesh’ (quoted in The Guardian, 2016). In the US, where the status of children with undocumented parents remains an unresolved political issue, thenPresident Barack Obama argued that if these children were to ‘earn’ an American citizenship, English should be part of citizenship requirements (The New York Times, 2013). Interestingly, the relationship between language and community is characterised by a peculiar tension. On the one hand, some research considers language to be a marker of a community – language delimits the boundaries of the community, identifying who belongs to the community and who does not. The classic work in this regard arguably comes from Benedict Anderson, specifically in his examination of the parallel between an expansion of linguistic standardisation through print media and people’s growing sense of belonging to a linguistically unified community. For Anderson, the creation of a linguistically homogeneous space lies at the heart of the success in creating a political community. James Scott (1998) sees a similar parallel between language and political community in the state’s obsession with legibility. According to Scott, the state is obsessed with making people, and the space they inhabit, readable for itself so that it can function effectively. Alongside statistics, codes, regulations, and categories, language is used as a means to create ‘a kind of national transparency’ (Scott, 1998: 78) to delineate the boundaries of community. The state’s attempt to erase heterogeneity and ambiguity mirrors its desire to separate the inside of the community from what Thomas Hobbes calls ‘the state of nature’ (Hobbes, 1651 [1981]). Hobbes explains that, contrary to the inside where ‘humans’ inhabit, the outside is the space inhabited by ‘Lyons, Bears and Wolves’ (Hobbes, 1651 [1981]: 100), a space where chaos and violence loom large. The inside is reserved for ‘humans’ where ‘human’ language exists, while the outside is for


Language as a Contested Site of Belonging

‘animals’ where the sound remains unintelligible to ‘human’ ears. The parallel analogy between humans–animals and citizens–foreigners also seeps out from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s image of community: ‘Speech differentiates man from the other animals: language differentiates one nation from another; where a man is from is known only once he has spoken’ (Rousseau, 1997: 248). Even though language may function to divide one community from another, and citizens from foreigners, it can also turn community into a place of ambiguity. Many contemporary writers, such as Toni Morrison (1999) and Kei Iwaki (2018), write about the linguistic experience, if you like, of being caught between different worlds and having ambivalent feelings about their place of belonging. Language is, in this conception, understood as a means to challenge the homogeneity of community that allows no space for uncertainty, be that ethnological or racial. The image of community developed in this line of inquiry is one of impermanence rather than finality. Homi Bhabha (1994) sees such shifting image of community in the tension between the pedagogical and the performative. Bhabha argues that the nation is narrated in the sense that it does not simply produce the people to make sense of the narrative of the nation, as ‘the historical “objects” of a nationalist pedagogy’ (1994: 145). The nation is also performed by the people who, by themselves, make sense of the national narratives and their roles within them. For Bhabha, the nation is written in the split between the pedagogical and the performative, and it is through this spilt that the nation is imagined as an ungraspable entity, constantly written anew. Thus the relationship between language and community has a dual nature. Language solidifies the boundary of community, and separates citizens inside the community from foreigners outside. And yet, it can also obscure the line between the two, exposing fluidity of belonging, and in doing so, imagining community as a dissolving entity. The main distinctive feature of this book is that it explicitly addresses the disjuncture between the two different understandings of the language– community relationship. My inquiry investigates how seemingly intact boundaries of community, drawn by language, can simultaneously be disappearing. How can we make sense of community, which is imagined, on the one hand, as a place of legibility and transparency, and on the other, of unintelligibility and ambiguity? What image of community is communicated through the two paradoxical relationships language develops with community? To examine these questions, this book turns to migrant activism where migrant protesters and their local supporters organise and participate in social movements to improve the working and living conditions of migrants.



Multiple voices within migrant activism To be sure, migrant activism is not the only location to study the conflicting relationships between language and community. However, for two reasons, I believe it offers a productive site of investigation, the tiny scope from which a bigger picture might emerge. First, migrant activism is a key instance where the boundary of community is breaking down. An increasing number of scholars have argued that the line between citizens and foreigners is contested in the arena of noncitizen political participation. Explicitly or implicitly, these scholars build their work around the idea of ‘acts of citizenship’ (Isin and Nielsen, 2008), a conceptual breakthrough in studies on migration and citizenship. Regardless of status, or despite the lack of status, people organise various actions including street demonstrations and sit-in protests to present their own answers to questions such as: who should be allowed to belong to the community? Who has the right to decide membership in the community? How should we be identified and treated in the community in which we live – as ‘citizens’, ‘foreigners’, or something else? Migrant activism is an important instance where the meaning of being a citizen, a legitimate member of a community, is contested, negotiated, and redefined. Second, migrant activism highlights the crucial role language plays at the moment when the existing boundary of community is called into question. The example of migrant activism in Japan is particularly illuminating in this regard because one of its salient features is multilingualism: participants of migrant activism speak different languages and share no common language. This linguistic diversity unsettles the equality of speech among participants. Unlike monolingual migrant activism where migrant protesters and local activists share, or are assumed to share, the same working language, such as English and French, multilingual activism suggests that not all protesters are given an equal opportunity to speak and to be heard. Crucially, what language is used in activism and how it is used determine the ways in which people interact with one another. At the key moment of contesting the citizen–noncitizen boundary, some voices, articulated in the citizens’ language, become audible and legible while others are rendered inaudible and remain ‘foreign’. Therefore, migrant activism is a fruitful point for examining the paradoxical relationships between language and community. It provides a pathway through which contestation of community takes place in a concrete context of linguistic interactions. To focus on how language shapes the process of challenging the boundary of community paves the way for a critical investigation of the role of language in (re)making community.


Language as a Contested Site of Belonging

The primary contribution of this book emerges from the observation that language is an important but underappreciated subject in migration and citizenship studies. This is not to say that linguistic issues have been neglected. Instead, they have been predominantly discussed in relation to integration. Existing studies tend to pursue the question of what is the ‘right’ balance between the acquisition of the host community’s language and the preservation of the migrants’ native tongue to facilitate a better form of integration (see, for example, Shikawa, 2008; Gottlieb, 2012a). The question that animates this book is: in what way is language implicated in the process of drawing the boundary between the inside and outside of the community? Thus, the book challenges the very assumption of integration where migrants are expected to fit into the existing mode of belonging to a community. Rather, it investigates various ways in which people strategically employ their linguistic skills to imagine community differently from the inside–outside spatial construct. To be clear, migrant activism is not entirely unrelated to the question of integration. Some might argue that migrant activism suggests a certain level of integration because, despite their limited political rights in the host community, migrants manage to make their voices heard through demonstrations and other forms of protests. Others might argue the opposite. Because migrants are not integrated well, they resort to activism to express their frustration and dissatisfaction with the host community. My central interest in language and migration lies elsewhere, however. In this book, I am interested not so much in how language is, and can be, used to promote a specific form of integration, but in how language is integral to the construction and deconstruction of the existing political community. In other words, I understand that language is not only a gauge of integration but also an essential tool to determine the authentic way of belonging to a community. This may seem an obvious proposition because each political community is represented by a particular language(s). To be able to speak a language is a way to prove one’s ‘rightful’ belonging to the community where the language is spoken. If migrant activism is one tangible locality where the authenticity guaranteed to citizens is questioned, as this book supposes, then the process of contestation is not conducted in a linguistic vacuum. Language is unavoidably implicated in strategies of identification to envision community in a specific way. Despite such an evidently important role for language in exploring an alternative way of belonging to a community, it has been overlooked thus far in the analysis of migrant activism. Scholars implicitly assume that there is a working common language, such as English and French, spoken by migrant protesters and local activists. The focus on multilingual



migrant activism allows us to interrogate this assumption since it puts the question of language at the forefront of citizenship struggles.

Questioning the meaning of solidarity Significant here is that by questioning linguistic equality between migrant protesters and their local supporters, this book reveals the existence of multiple sites of community making. It questions the assumption that participants of migrant activism are one collective entity fighting against the state apparatus, often embodied as specific groups of people such as government officials and immigration officers, or particular regulatory practices such as detention and deportation. The literature widely recognises that participants as a whole challenge a taken-forgranted authenticity attached to the category of the citizen to redraw the community’s boundary anew. This line of theorisation emerges from the understanding that migrant activists and local activists are equal speaking partners bonded with a sense of solidarity. In this book, the linguistic inequality between migrant protesters and their local supporters remains at the foreground of solidarity. In the multilingual context, migrant activists are not necessarily given an equal opportunity to speak and to be heard. As my empirical case studies will show, because of the lack of a common language and different Japanese proficiency levels, interactions among participants are not only patchy and partial, but also unequal. Without the ability to speak Japanese, noncitizen protesters join activism differently from their local supporters. While voices uttered in Japanese become audible and legible, others are rendered inaudible and remain unintelligible at the crucial moment when the citizen–noncitizen boundary is contested. Multilingual migrant activism therefore begs attention to an important site of community making, that is, between people who have a command of the citizens’ language and those who do not. The existing studies on noncitizens’ political participation are based on two different understandings of the relationship between migrants and local actors who both partake in migrant activism (see Johnson, 2012). On the one hand, the traditional studies on political activism, embodied as the idea of civic participation, uncritically assume authority of citizens over noncitizens. As the legitimate members of a community, citizens take actions to voice against unfair and unjust treatment of noncitizens. In this line of thinking, local activists are regarded as acting on behalf of migrant protesters who lack the political capacity to speak and act. On the other hand, the act-based approach to noncitizens’ political participation is based


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on the understanding that the relationship between the two is solidary. Looking at citizenship as being enacted by people regardless of their status, this line of scholarship discusses migrant activism as an important moment in the building of solidarity between people with different statuses, whether citizens, temporary workers, permanent residents, or people without status. The relationship forged between citizen-participants and noncitizen-participants is regarded as not hierarchical but as equal. As joint participants in activism, migrants and their local supporters are understood to be as equal partners in challenging the existing boundary of community. By looking at multilingual migrant activism, this book is interested in the ambiguous arena where these two distinctively different readings of the relationship between citizens and noncitizens overlap. The lines of demarcation between the two types of relationships might be possible in some cases, but not perfectly clear in others. In the context of multilingual migrant activism, it becomes difficult to draw a clear line between the traditional type of civic participation and solidarity-inspired activism. What language is used in activism and how it is used determine the ways in which migrant demonstrators and local activists interact with one another. In some cases, migrants may well be relegated to a helpless position because of their lack of linguistic skills, even when they want to establish an equal partnership with their local supporters. In other cases, local activists may inadvertently reproduce the hierarchical relationship between noncitizens and themselves because local activists alone have the ability to command the language used in activism. Furthermore, migrant activism is an organic phenomenon, constantly shaped by the linguistic dynamism of its participants. In this regard, the separation between the hierarchical and solidary relationships between local activists and migrant activists is not static but constantly shifting, one way or the other. To put it differently, to view migrant activism through a multilingual lens is to obscure the line between visibility and audibility. As the existing studies on migrant activism shows (see, for example, Isin and Nielsen, 2008), to claim one’s legitimate belonging to a community, the ability to present one’s demands is crucial. For this purpose, being visible and audible is constitutive to the enactment of citizenship. However, in multilingual migrant activism, where citizens’ language is used as the main tool of communication, becoming visible does not necessarily mean becoming audible. Some migrants might be physically present at protests, but vocally absent because of their limited linguistic skills. To be sure, people assert their visible presence by organising street demonstrations, sitting at negotiation tables with government officials, and conducting strikes at workplaces. And yet, such visibility does not necessarily correspond with migrants’ audibility. Although they are physically there, their voices may not be there at all.



In some cases, demonstrations are held in languages foreign to some protesters, which effectively turn them to mere tokens. In other cases, migrant protesters loudly chant phrases in Japanese, the language foreign to them, without knowing the actual meanings of the words and phrases. Due to linguistic differences, migrant protesters are sometimes unable to negotiate with their counterparts, let alone communicate with local activists, without the help of interpreters who can speak the other’s language and act on their behalf. Thus, the visible presence of migrants is not synonymous with their vocal presence. They may be there physically, but some remain inaudible because they are unable to understand what is going on in the meetings and demonstrations they attend. This book is interested in this mismatch between visibility and audibility that characterises multilingual migrant activism. My inquiry into migrant activism is located at an intersection between different bodies of literature that are usually not in dialogue with each other. My interest in language and migration chimes with the idea of what sociolinguists call ‘language contact situations’ (Milroy 1980; Scollon and Scollon 2003), or ‘linguistic landscapes’ (Backhaus, 2007), where multiple language speakers interact with one another to reconfigure the urban experience of living with strangers. My feet are, however, firmly grounded in the critical citizenship literature, which, unlike sociolinguists, situates the process of subject formation at the core of citizenship. That is, I am interested in how interactions between different languages play a part in producing, and dissolving, the categories of the citizen and the foreigner rather than assuming that these categories are a given. To offer empirical case studies from Japan also brings into conversation between Japanese migration scholarship and the acts of citizenship scholarship. The case of Japan highlights the importance of translation practice. In Japan, English does not work as a primary working language for activism, and Japanese is not spoken equally among participants in activism. That migrant protesters and local activists do not have a common working language is a marked difference from European and North American contexts, which have formed the empirical backbone for the academic literature on the subject. As such, my inquiry responds to a growing awareness among ‘acts of citizenship’ scholars of the need for different empirical examples to deepen our understanding of citizenship (Isin and Nyers, 2014). At the same time, the acts of citizenship scholarship pushes Japanese migration scholarship to the critical edge in two respects. First, in Japanese scholarship, citizenship is largely associated with either rights that are granted by state agencies or a status that somehow organically emerges as a result of migrants living in Japan for a long period of time (see,


Language as a Contested Site of Belonging

for example, Kondo, 2001; NIRA Citizenship Research Group, 2001). Meanwhile, the acts of citizenship scholarship highlights ‘acts’ as being integral to citizenship: citizenship is what people demand and take from others rather than what people are given without contestation. The focus on ‘acts’ allows us to examine this confrontational process of claiming citizenship. Second, considering that language is a mere linguistic tool, Japanese migration scholars tend to view migrant inaudibility as a sign of their inability to participate, in a meaningful way, in activism where Japanese is predominantly used (Shipper, 2008: 101, 138; Chung, 2010: 51–2; Sharpe, 2014: 164). In contrast, the acts of citizenship scholarship paves the way for appreciating an important role language plays in enacting citizenship: language is not simply a communication tool but more importantly, a device to draw the line between citizens and foreigners. From this perspective, language barriers do not simply indicate communication problems between migrants and local activists, but are a key site of citizenship struggles, of determining who can belong to a community and in what way. Thus, the acts of citizenship scholarship lends us the view that how migrant protesters negotiate with their silenced position in activism is indicative of the way they devise their own ways of belonging to community. The rest of this introductory chapter maps out my journey in the specific context of Japanese multilingual migrant activism. By doing so, I aim to identify the intersections between migrant activism in Japan and elsewhere, and clarify how my empirical examples can help to advance the debate concerning language and community at large. I first discuss the significance of noncitizen political participation in Japan. This will highlight a rich and fascinating history of, and some heated public debates about, migration in Japan. I then look at the multilingual reality of migrants, a unique aspect of migrant activism in Japan.

Migrant activism in Japan Post-war migration in Japan The image of Japan as a homogeneous community has been under scrutiny for a long time and on many different fronts (Miller, 1982; Maher and Macdonald, 1995; Loveday, 1996; Weiner, 1997; MorrisSuzuki, 1998; Oguma, 1998; Befu, 2001). A number of scholars have painstakingly examined the socially constructed process of such imaginary and recorded a rich tapestry of social movements



organised by people who were, and are still, marginalised in Japan, such as the Ainu, Okinawans, zainichi Koreans, and Hisabetsu Buraku (discriminated villages) community. To discuss migrant activism in Japan is to participate in this wider discursive practice that re-examines the political community called Japan from the angle of multiplicity rather than homogeneity. In 2017, about 2.5 million people (2,561,848) were registered as foreign residents (zairyū gaikokujin) in Japan, which amounts to 2.02% of the total Japanese population (about 127 million).1 Against the background of a steady increase of registered foreigners (Ministry of Justice, 2018a: 21), migrant activism has become one of the key features of the contemporary political scene in Japan. To be clear, migrant-led political activism itself is not a recent phenomenon. The 1970s and 1980s saw a series of political activities led by zainichi Koreans, or so-called ‘oldcomer’ Koreans, and their descendants. They initially came to Japan from the Korean peninsula during the World Wars often as forced labourers, and who remained in Japan afterwards (Chung, 2010).2 Although many of their descendants were born and brought up in Japan, the Japanese government does not recognise them as Japanese citizens, instead giving them special permanent resident (SPR) status. A number of zainichi Korean-led movements were organised to challenge various discriminatory measures introduced on the pretext that zainichi Koreans were ‘foreigners’: these include the mandatory submission of fingerprints, eligibility criteria for civil service positions such as nurses and fire-fighters, and employment discrimination at private corporations. Contrary to a rich body of research on activism led by oldcomer migrants (Wender, 2005; Chung, 2010; Seo, 2012), little attention has been paid to the political participation of newcomers, migrants who have come to Japan since the 1980s onwards. This book therefore focuses on the latter group of migrant activism, especially organised around labour-related issues. The lack of research on newcomer-led activism in general misses a key political development in contemporary Japan, where newcomers now outnumber oldcomers. Until the mid-1950s, the majority of registered foreigners were oldcomer Koreans and Chinese: about 90% of registered foreigners in Japan held SPR status (Ministry of Justice, 2003: 34). This trend, however, has changed over the years. Since 2007, the number of ordinary permanent residents has become the largest group among registered foreigners, surpassing that of SPR status holders (Ministry of Justice, 2018a: 24).3 The widening gap between the zainichi and newcomers ‘clearly shows the changes in the situation of foreign residents in Japan’ (Ministry of Justice, 2018a: 24).


Language as a Contested Site of Belonging

In 2017, the number of SPR status holders was 329,822, accounting for 12.8% of the total number of registered foreigners (2,561,848) (Ministry of Justice, 2018a: 23). Among the zainichi, 98.8% (326,069) were from Korea: 295,826 from South Korea and 30,243 from North Korea (e-Stat, 2017a). Meanwhile newcomer migrants come from various countries, including China (730,890, 28.5%), South Korea (450,663, 17.5%), Vietnam (262,405, 10.2%), the Philippines (260,553, 10.1%), Brazil (191,362, 7.4%), Nepal (80,038, 3.1%), Taiwan (56,724, 2.2%), the US (55,713, 2.1%), Thailand (50,179, 1.9%), Indonesia (49,982, 1.9%), and Peru (47,972, 1.8%) (Ministry of Justice, 2018a; e-Stat, 2017b).4 Migrant workers’ participation in social movements in Japan needs to be understood in a context where the Japanese economy continues to depend on migrant workers. Sellek (2001) identifies both regional and national reasons for Japan’s emergence as a major destination for migrants in Asia from the 1980s. Since the 1970s the Asian region as a whole had experienced rapid economic growth, creating labour shortages in some countries and a concomitant rise in the numbers of migrant workers. This was coupled with a variable speed of industrialisation across different Asian countries as well as demographic imbalances in the region (Sellek, 2001: 39–54). These factors worked as the push and pull factors in facilitating region-wide population movement. Furthermore, once migratory routes were established, a ‘migration industry’ was developed to further sustain the flow of migrants (see also Boyd, 1989). Sellek (2001) also points out migration-inducing factors specific to Japan. By 1980, coupled with the strength of the Japanese yen, Japan had already been enjoying a high income level compared to other Asian countries. With an increasing presence of Japanese actors across Asia through direct investment and official development aid, Japan, for many, had become an attractive place to work. Japan’s growing reputation as the Asian hub of global business also attracted people, both from within and outside Asia, working in sectors such as banking, investment, education, and engineering (Sellek, 2001: 27). Especially during the period of Japan’s ‘bubble economy’, from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, shortage of labour became particularly acute, which led to Japan’s ‘transformation of the country from a country not reliant on a foreign migrant workforce to a country dependent upon foreign workers’ (Sellek, 2001: 7). The arrival of migrants from particular Asian countries was also facilitated by several bilateral work visa exemption agreements with other Asian countries, including Pakistan (until 1989), Bangladesh (until 1989), Iran (from 1974 to 1992), and Malaysia (from 1993) (Sellek, 2001: 48). From the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, newcomers in Japan were mainly women from the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand who



worked predominantly in the sex industry. This was widely talked about in Japanese media as the phenomenon of ‘Japayuki-san’, evoking the image of ‘Karayuki-san’, Japanese female émigrés who worked in the sex industry in East Asia and Southeast Asia in the late 19th century. As Ito (1992) points out, these female migrants were never identified as labourers. Rather, it was only in the late 1980s when the number of male migrants exceeded that of female migrants that the presence of migrants began to be recognised as a labour force (Ito, 1992). As the presence of male migrants became visible, heated debates took place between those in favour of kaikoku (opening the nation) and those in favour of sakoku (closing the nation). The kaikoku side on the whole argued for securing a cheap and disposable labour force. Meanwhile, some policy makers from the sakoku side referred to the situation in Western Europe at that time, where countries were struggling to integrate foreigners who had initially come as unskilled labourers but who had remained as residents, even without jobs (Kajita, 1994). Kajita (1994, 2002) sees the government’s failure to reach a consensus at that time as shaping the current restrictive immigration policy in Japan. He argues that, as a compromise, the government developed policies that enabled Japan to secure de facto unskilled labourers while maintaining the official stance of only accepting a small number of skilled workers. The 1990 revision of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act exemplifies this strange mixture of official and unofficial stances, or what Cornelius (1994) calls ‘back-door’ and ‘side-door’ mechanisms (see also Kajita, 1994). The side-door policies refer to those that accept foreigners with a non-work visa status while using them as de facto labourers. Backdoor policies refer, somewhat sarcastically, to non-policies on situations where people without legal status are tacitly kept employed as labourers. Tessa Morris-Suzuki (2010) differs from Kajita in this regard. According to her, the root of the present immigration policy in Japan goes back to the period between 1945 and the late 1970s. She argues that, although ‘existing accounts are right in suggesting that immigration did not have a noticeable impact on Japanese economic growth in the “miracle” decades of the 1950s and 1960s’ (2010: 16), it was Japan’s international and regional position and the types of immigrants Japan had during the Cold War that has laid the basis for Japanese immigration policies since the 1980s.

Newcomer-involved social movements The question of the origin of current immigration policy aside, scholars agree that the Japanese economy is dependent on migrant workers. The


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extent to which the Japanese economy depends on foreign labourers is evident in the uninterrupted arrival of migrants during Japan’s decadeslong economic recession starting from the mid-1990s. Drawing on the example of nikkeijin, Japanese émigrés and their second- and thirdgeneration descendants mainly from Brazil and Peru, Tanno (2002) identifies several ways in which migrant workers are embedded in the structure of the Japanese economy. These include large corporations’ increasing tendency to outsource work to small and middle-sized companies to reduce costs; small and middle-sized companies’ dependency on migrant workers as cheap labour; and their poor working conditions as disincentives in attracting Japanese workers in general (Tanno, 2002: 46–8, 54–5). Sellek (2001: 104–6) points out the tendency for migrant workers to remain in Japan despite the economic recession. Among different reasons, she argues that this is largely because migrants fill in labour shortages primarily in the ‘3K’ jobs (or ‘3D’ jobs in English) – kitsui (demanding), kitanai (dirty), and kiken (dangerous) – which are ‘not popular among young Japanese who tend to prefer more prestigious work’ (Sellek, 2001: 106). Since the 2000s, as Japan has entered a phase of a steady decline in its population and a rapidly ageing society, immigration debates have been rekindled (Asato, 2011; Menju, 2011). For instance, proponents, such as the Japan Business Federation (so-called Keidanren) and Sakanaka Hidenori, former head of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau, highlight the need for migrant workers to revitalise the Japanese economy (see, for example, Sakanaka, 2013). Considering how dependent the Japanese economy is on migrant workers, it is probably not so surprising to see an increasingly visible presence of both regular and irregular migrants in social movements in Japan. Hunger strikes frequently take place in immigration detention centres across Japan.5 Some migrants, who are detained due to lack of status, call for the end of detention while others demand the improvement of treatment in the centres.6 Since 1999, the Asian People’s Friendship Society (APFS) has occasionally organised actions where non-status migrants who are also long-term residents collectively turn themselves in to the Ministry of Justice to demand legal status in Japan (Watado and Suzuki, 2007). Among these newcomer-led social movements, especially from the 1990s, there has been a lively scene of activism organised around issues related to work. As early as 1972, some English language instructors joined the Nambu trade union, a community workers’ union, and set up the first migrant workers branch called Sony Language Labs. This was later developed into a larger group called the Nambu Foreign Workers Caucus (Nambu FWC) which mainly consisted of language instructors



from English-speaking countries such as Canada and the US. In 2010, the FWC further evolved into the Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union (hereafter referred to as Tozen), consisting of American, British, Canadian, Filipino, French, and Japanese workers. In 1990, six Filipinos working in Atlas Japan, a temporary staff agency and a translation company, created what is believed to be the first union branch organised by newcomer Asians in Japan (Watanabe, 1990a, b). According to Sharpe, ‘overstay workers in Kanagawa Prefecture with 90% of its members as illegal … workers’ also set up ‘the SNP Pilipino [sic] union’ (2014: 163). In 1991, Kanagawa City Union (KCU) began labour consultation with migrant workers. The majority of KCU members were initially Korean migrant workers without status. By the 2000s, the majority were migrants, both with and without status, mainly from Latin America including Peru and Brazil. A group of Peruvian members of the KCU further created a sub-group within the union, Form Condor Union, in 2006 (Urano and Stewart, 2007: 117–19). In 1991, the General Union (GU) was established in Osaka; it welcomes both Japanese and nonJapanese workers living in the western part of Japan. In the mid-2000s, migrant workers constituted 80% of GU members with the majority from Europe, including the UK, and others from Latin American countries such as Brazil. As of 2010, three out of five GU union organisers were migrant workers (interview with Charles, GU member, 21 June 2010). In 1992, the Zentouitsu Workers Union (hereafter referred to as Zentouitsu) set up a branch called the Foreign Workers Branch of Zentouitsu (FWBZ) joined by migrants from East and Southeast Asian countries, such as Chinese, Bangladeshi and Pakistani migrants. Some FWBZ members have no status while others have trainee and intern status (Torii, 2010: 48). In 2002, Tin Win Akbar, a Burmese refugee, established the Federation of Workers’ Union of the Burmese Citizens in Japan (FWUBC) which includes both ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ Burmese people in Japan (Ishizaki and Yorimitsu, 2004). The FWUBC aims not only to solve labour disputes but also occasionally issues statements on the political situation in Burma (Myanmar) (interview with a member of FWUBC, 19 June 2010). Wu Xiao Liang, a Chinese migrant, set up a trade union called Kakoukai (Chinese Trade Union) in 2003 for Chinese migrant workers, many of whom are registered as trainees and interns in Japan (interview with a member of Kakoukai, 19 April 2010). Since there are no statistics on the unionisation rate of migrant workers in Japan, it is difficult to obtain a comprehensive picture of whether the number of migrant workers joining unions is on the rise. Nevertheless, compared to Japanese workers, participation in trade unions has different implications for migrant workers. Unlike Japanese workers, migrant


Language as a Contested Site of Belonging

workers have limited resources to improve their working conditions due to their status. Joining a trade union provides them with one of the few legitimate channels to express their demands to their employers and wider society. Meanwhile, Japanese workers have a range of political and social rights by virtue of their citizenship status. For them, taking part in trade unionism may not necessarily be an effective, or even desirable, way to promote their rights. Although the immediate aftermath of the post-war period (1947–49) saw about 50% of Japanese workers joining unions, the number has been in constant decline since 1950 in proportion to the overall number of employees, with an exception of a small increase in 2009 (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, 2008: 180–1). In 2018 the unionisation rate of Japanese workers was at its lowest point of 17% (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, 2013: 3; 2018: 3). According to Tachibanaki and Noda, one reason for this decline is that ‘many [Japanese] union members have lost their feeling of satisfaction with union activities’ (2000: 4): they no longer regard trade unions as an effective tool to improve their working conditions. The ‘acute and intense union movements’ in the 1950s also contributed to the negative image associated with trade unions in Japan (Tachibanaki and Noda, 2000: 15). As I discuss in detail in Chapter  2, there has been an important conceptual development in migration and citizenship studies where migrant activism is analysed as a contested site of community making. Instead of looking at citizenship as a bundle of legal rights, a growing number of scholars perceive citizenship as being enacted by people who demand their legitimate place in a community (Isin and Nielsen, 2008; Rygiel, 2010; McNevin, 2011; Closs Stephens and Squire, 2012a; Nyers and Rygiel, 2012). This approach highlights a critical implication of migrant activism to the idea of community. That is, migrant activism exemplifies the moment when people assert their rightful belonging to a community, regardless of status of residence, such as ‘workers’ or ‘permanent residents’, or categories such as ‘citizens’, ‘foreigners’, or ‘the illegals’. Instead, they act as if they possess the authentic status to make claims to a community. In other words, what is contested in migrant activism is not nationality and the question of legal citizenship, but one’s legitimacy to belong to a political community. McNevin describes the latter as ‘political belonging’ (2006, 2011). The idea of ‘political belonging’ highlights the connections between political community, political identity, and the claim-making act: It encompasses the physical and conceptual shape of polities, the status attached to members of a political community



relative to non-members, and the means through which political claims are asserted and legitimized. Political belonging frames how one is positioned with respect to others and the agency one enjoys in that context. (McNevin, 2006: 135) Belonging to community, as McNevin contends, must be understood in the dynamic process of challenging and redefining the existing categories and statuses ascribed to individuals. The way we assert our legitimate presence in a community is articulated relationally, in contestation with different claims about community. It is through such contestation that an insider–outsider position is being constructed in new ways. Therefore, what is at stake in migrant activism is not simply the creation of a diverse society. Rather, migrant activism undertakes a much more challenging role of shifting the notion of community itself, compelling us to reconsider what it actually means to belong to a community.

Lack of attention to the role of newcomers in activism Recent studies on migration in Japan have gone a considerable way to addressing the dynamic configuration of citizenship beyond strictly legal definitions. Scholars often note that being a ‘citizen’ in Japan is no longer exclusively tied to Japanese nationality (understood as kokumin in Japanese) but equivalent to being ‘residents’ (or denizens) (jūmin or shimin) (Kondo, 1996, 2001; Miyajima and Kajita, 1996; NIRA Citizenship Research Group, 2001; Miyajima, 2003). In the latter, migrants are identified not simply as workers (roudousha), but as ‘people whose long-term residence in a particular community gives them a right to share in the social and political life of that community, whatever their official nationality’ (Morris-Suzuki, 1998: 191–2). For example, Tsuda (2006) proposes the idea of ‘local citizenship’ to highlight how migrants in Japan are treated as ‘members entitled to rights – that is, as local citizens’ (2006: 11). Although migrants are treated as ‘non-citizen outsiders’ (Tsuda, 2006: 11) at a national level, local governments and institutions demonstrate their ‘willingness to take independent actions’ (Tsuda, 2006: 21) to treat immigrants as residents of local communities (2006: 25). As Tsuda observes, this is ‘quite remarkable’ because these local governments are, in essence, ‘pursuing a policy objective that conflicts with that of the national government’ (2006: 21). Working closely with local governments, NGOs also play an important role as ‘activist organizations that defend and fight for these residents’ rights’ (Tsuda, 2006: 25). In Tsuda’s conceptualisation, citizenship ‘has an


Language as a Contested Site of Belonging

active, performative dimension in which its boundaries are contested and challenged by marginalized, excluded groups …’ (2006: 25). Chiba and Yamamoto (2015: 221–2) suggest that migration is increasingly understood through the lens of residency, even at the national level, although to a limited extent. They argue that this can be seen in the government agencies’ use of the term seikatsusha – roughly translated as ‘makers of a living’ or ‘ordinary citizens’ (2015: 280) – to describe migrants. This term groups people together as legitimate members of a local community, regardless of nationality, ethnic origin, or residency status. In this way, migrants are increasingly identified with terms such as jūmin, shimin, or seikatsusha, which signal their authentic belonging to community. Although the presence of newcomers has been increasingly discussed in relation to a changing conceptualisation of citizenship, how newcomers themselves facilitate such change remains largely unexplored. There are few studies that analyse what newcomer migrants do as active agents of change and examine the implications of this for the idea of citizenship. This is in part linked to certain assumptions in existing studies on migrant activism in Japan. They tend to take it for granted that the legal or illegal status of newcomers is a defining feature of the activism. For instance, Chung argues that, since zainichi Koreans are not required to renew their status, they are able ‘to represent their interests or to protect them from either persecution by the Japanese state or deportation’ (Chung, 2010: 51). Such legal stability makes zainichi Korean activism flourish. Unlike zainichi Koreans, newcomers have an unstable legal status and limited resources at their disposal including linguistic abilities, local knowledge about Japanese politics, and connections with local communities (Chung, 2010: 51–2). According to Chung, this has led to a situation where ‘the vast majority of non-Korean foreigners do not participate directly in the public sphere’ and ‘their rights are defended by Japanese NGOs, Japanese human rights lawyers, Korean umbrella organizations, and, in some cases, local governments’ (2010: 50). Similarly, Shipper argues that the lack of permanent legal status limits political participation of newcomer migrants, or what he calls ‘temporary foreigner groups’ (2008: 59). Without permanent legal status, many migrants ‘are unable to form their own support groups for fear of arrest and deportation’ (Shipper, 2008: 60). Hence the support is provided ‘largely from Japanese activists’ (Shipper, 2008: 88). Douglass and Roberts’ study echoes Shipper’s: Despite their ability to unite over perceived injustices, foreign workers are unlikely to form their own fully foreign-staffed branch union in the near future.… Only workers with legitimate visa status could safely take on the role, which



restricts the field to foreigners married to Japanese citizens. (Douglass and Roberts, 2000: 283) Meanwhile, others argue the opposite by pointing out that, compared to legal migrants, the lack of status creates a stronger incentive for nonstatus migrants to fight for their cause. For instance, comparing Peruvian migrants with Japanese origin (nikkei Peruvians) to those from Brazil (nikkei Brazilians), Tanno (2002: 58; see also Tanno, 2001: 103–4) argues that the latter are less motivated to join trade unions because their legal status makes it easier for them to find jobs elsewhere in Japan. According to Tanno, migrants weigh up the time required to fight against their employers and eventual financial compensation. Based on their own calculation, nikkei Brazilians are more likely to look for other jobs than resort to labour disputes. Compared to nikkei Brazilians, many nikkei Peruvians tend to be without status, because their legal documents proving emigration status and their ties to Japan were either lost or deliberately destroyed to hide their origin during the Second World War (Tanno, 2002: 50–1). This made it difficult for them to find other jobs. Japanese employers are hesitant to hire nikkei Peruvians due to this image of illegality attached to them (Tanno, 2002: 51). Consequently, nikkei Peruvians tend to fight against their employers over issues such as wrongful dismissal and unpaid wages.

Ambiguous line between legality and illegality These two contradictory understandings of legality and illegality fail to highlight a more complex picture of migrant activism. Migrant worker unions such as the FWBZ and KCU consist of both migrants with status and those without. For example, FWBZ members include both ‘legal’ migrants with trainee and intern status and ‘illegal’ migrants who do not have any status. The KCU has both nikkei Peruvians and nikkei Brazilians, some of whom have statuses and others who do not. Although Shipper (2008) does examine these migrant trade unions, his assumption that the participants are mainly ‘illegal’ has led him to focus solely on the role of Japanese activists and be oblivious to the role migrants play in activism. Furthermore, migrant worker trade unions work together, although in a limited way, regardless of the legal status of their members. For example, Nambu FWC was composed of people with legal status. This, however, did not stop them from organising events and demonstrations together with other unions, such as the FWBZ and KCU, which consisted of both migrants with and without statuses.


Language as a Contested Site of Belonging

The mixture of ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ migrant participants suggests the need to understand migrants’ living and working conditions through the lens of precarity rather than their status. As some scholars argue, due to the lack of full citizenship, or recognition similar to full citizenship such as permanent status, noncitizens are subjected to precarity regardless of their ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’ status (see, for example, Coutin, 2002; De Genova, 2002; Goldring and Landolt, 2013). Goldring and her colleagues (2009) argue that in Canada precarity is characterised as: the absence of any of the following elements normally associated with permanent residence (and citizenship)... (1) work authorization, (2) the right to remain permanently in the country (resident permit), (3) not depending on a third party for one’s right to be in Canada (such as a sponsoring spouse or employer), and (4) social citizenship rights available to permanent residents (e.g. public education and public health coverage). (Goldring et al, 2009: 240–1) The perspective of precarity highlights the way in which the life of noncitizens is constantly marked by uncertainty. Their life is always conditional in the sense that not only do migrants have to fulfil ‘the formal and practical conditions that must be met in order to retain some form of legal status and/or remain present in a jurisdiction’ (Goldring and Landolt, 2013: 3), but also their access to resources and goods is uncertain because of administrative changes and case-by-case decision-making (Goldring and Landolt, 2013: 4). Migrant precarity can also be observed in activism discussed in this book. For example, as the case of Nambu FWC shows in Chapter 3, holding legal status does not necessarily promise migrants a stable life in Japan. Their legality is conditional because their status needs to be renewed regularly, usually every six months or every year (Terasawa, 2000: 221–2). As Terasawa points out (2000: 222), in order to renew their visas, migrant workers rely on their employers because justifying their visa renewal is tied to contract renewal. Thus, ‘foreign workers who wish to continue to stay and work in Japan need their employers’ help (by way of contract renewal) to extend their visas’ (Terasawa, 2000: 224; emphasis added). For example, some employers involved the police to harass and threaten unionised migrant workers with legal status by reminding them that their visas might not be renewed and that they could be deported (email correspondence with Amy, English teacher from the US and former Nambu FWC member, 2 September 2008).



Importantly, migrant precarity is produced institutionally, through government policies, which further makes the separation of legality from illegality obsolete. Using the case of Canada, some scholars show that government immigration and refugee policies are designed so that the status of migrants shifts between legality and illegality (Goldring et al, 2009; Villegas, 2014). Consequently migrants constantly face varying degrees of uncertainty in their lives. Such policies include the family sponsorship programme, temporary foreign worker programme, seasonal agricultural worker programme, and live-in caregiver programme. In Japan, the institutionalised production of precarity can be seen in socalled ‘side-door’ and ‘back-door’ policies that officially deny migrants the status of workers but in practice allow Japanese employers to use them as cheap labour. The technical intern training programme (TITP) is perhaps the most obvious example of this. As I discuss in detail in Chapter 5, migrants coming to Japan through the TITP are used as an inexpensive labour force to fill a labour shortage in industries that cannot afford to hire, or fail to attract, Japanese workers. Since the official status of these migrants is either as trainees or interns, they are denied their rights as workers, let alone decent salaries, and are often exposed to abuse and harassment at work. As a result some migrants escape their employers to look for better, and safer, employment opportunities. This instantly makes the migrant workers ‘illegal’ despite their ‘legal’ entry to Japan as trainees and interns. In 2017, the number of trainees and interns who disappeared before completing their ‘training’ period amounted to the highest number on record, 7,089, three times more than in 2012 (Ministry of Justice, 2018b); 67.2% of those who were later ‘apprehended’ explained low wages as their reason for disappearing (Nihon Keizai Shimbun, 2018a). Long-term resident (teijūsha) status is another example of how precarity is produced through government policy. This status, which was created in the 1990 reform of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, singles out nikkeijin by exclusively giving them the right to work without work restrictions. As discussed in detail in Chapter 4, long-term resident status enables the government to maintain the official stance of keeping foreign manual workers out of Japan while using nikkeijin as a de facto source of manual labourers. In this way, the legality of nikkei workers remains precarious because it is tied to Japan’s economic situation. As long as the government sees the need to secure cheap labour, nikkei migrant workers are welcomed with open arms. For example, when the global financial crisis reached Japan in late 2008, the government quickly turned against the nikkeijin. In April 2009, the government started an emergency programme called nikkeijin rishoku-sha ni taisuru kikoku shien jigyo (repatriation assistance for unemployed nikkeijin) to encourage


Language as a Contested Site of Belonging

jobless nikkei migrant workers to leave Japan. According to the 2009 scheme, nikkeijin from Brazil and other Latin American countries were given a sum of money and their airfare on the condition that they would leave Japan and, together with their children, never return.7 In 2013, when the worst part of the recession was over, the government changed its tune to ‘allow’ those nikkei migrant workers who left Japan through the 2009 scheme to come back to Japan ‘because of the recent economic and employment situation’.8 Through the perspective of precarity, being ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’ is understood not as a status as such but as an institutionalised process where people are perpetually exposed to uncertainty and can be made ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’. Therefore, as Goldring and Landolt put it: … non-citizenship and “illegality” must be investigated through a conceptual lens that connects citizenship with the institutional production of precarious and conditional legalities as well as illegality. (Goldring and Landolt, 2013: 10) In other words, if we were to investigate a changing conceptualisation of citizenship, as this book aims to do, political agency needs to be defined not by one’s status, or lack thereof, but what one does – acts, in this case, exemplified by one’s participation in activism. The conceptual approach developed through the acts of citizenship literature is that there are no a priori subjects, where particular categories of status predetermine political capacity of migrants. That is, being ‘illegal’ does not mean that one is politically passive. By the same token, being ‘legal’ does not guarantee one’s political agency. The status of some migrants also changes from the domain of legality to illegality, or vice versa. The crucial dimension of migrant activism is that, regardless of their status, people assume their rightful places in community to demand that their voices are taken seriously. Participants are united by migrant precarity to improve their living and working conditions. In this sense, as Nyers puts it, they are ‘emerging political subjects’ (2008: 132) because their political capacity is defined through ‘being acting and reacting with others’ (Isin and Nielsen, 2008: 39). It is the acts that call into question the existing relationship determined based on status and categories.

Racialised status To be clear, to discuss migrant activism without differentiating its participants based on their legal and illegal status is not to say that migrant



precarity is a uniform experience. Since Japanese immigration policies are based on the belief that ‘certain races/nationalities are better qualified to engage in certain jobs’ (Shipper, 2008: 26), migrants face different kinds of precarity unique to their own racialised status. For example, many Latin American migrants who come to Japan as nikkeijin are ranked ‘higher than other Asians based on racial descent criteria’ and receive more favourable attention from the government in areas such as housing care, language assistance, and educational support for their children (Shipper, 2008: 26). Meanwhile, ‘[a]t the bottom are South Asians (from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India), with low-skilled jobs, poor pay, and dangerous working environment’ (Shipper, 2008: 26). People from Western countries such as France, the UK, and the US are often regarded as racially ‘superior’ to Japanese and other Asians. For example, one language instructor from the US somewhat sarcastically observed that his Japanese students perceived English teachers as being ‘exotic’ and holding a ‘celebrity’ status (interview with Mark, former Nambu FWC member, 24  June 2010). Tsuda (2003), a Japanese descendant from the US, similarly reflects that, because of his connection with the US, he was differentiated from nikkei Brazilians, who are Japanese descendants from Brazil: ‘I was told [by nikkei Brazilians that]: “your life in Japan must be easier than ours because you are an American [i.e., more respected than Brazilians in Japan]…”’ (Tsuda, 2003: 14). Since residency status is directly related to what jobs migrants are allowed to do in Japan, perceptions of particular jobs reflect the racialised status. For example, as I discuss in Chapter 3, English language teaching is regarded as more ‘respected’ and ‘skilled’ than, for instance, working in nursing homes or car manufacturing – jobs primarily performed by Asian and Latin American migrants – even though the latter might require more specialised skills than the former. While I acknowledge these different treatments of migrant workers based on their statuses which are racially hierarchised, this book underlines a different research context where trade unions are not necessarily organised by people with the same racialised position. For example, one language teacher from Canada joined the FWC, the language teachers’ union discussed in Chapter  3, when he was replaced in a company photo shoot by another ‘white’ language teacher because of his Asian background. His Japanese employers told him that they needed to have someone ‘white’ in the photo (interview with Thomas, former FWC member, 17 June 2010). Susan, a Filipino of Japanese descent who works as a language teacher, recounts that in the past some Filipinos who worked as assistant language teachers received lower salaries than ‘white people’ who performed the same tasks (interview with Susan, Tozen member,


Language as a Contested Site of Belonging

28 June 2010). Although the salary gap was later corrected, she still joined the union because she felt that foreign teachers, wherever they were from, were treated like ‘trash’ in Japan (interview with Susan, 28 June 2010). Therefore, this book avoids assuming who is qualified to join activism based on the migrant’s status or lack of status. It also avoids limiting its analysis to a particular racialised status. I believe doing so will help us to fully appreciate the political capacities of various people, and understand the different ways in which people make citizenship meaningful and realise alternative configurations of belonging.

Multilingual migrant activism Communication challenges in multilingual setting One of the most distinctive characteristics of newcomer-led migrant activism in Japan is the range of languages spoken by participants. These include Chinese, English, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. For instance, the trade union Tozen, which I discuss in Chapter 3, consists of English-, French-, Japanese-, and Tagalog-speaking members. Members of the trade union KCU, the subject of Chapter 4, include Brazilians (Portuguese), Bolivians (Spanish), Japanese (Japanese), and Peruvians (Spanish). The variety of languages used in activism mirrors the persistent feature of migration in Japan where newcomers hail from a range of countries. The sources of immigration to Japan have remained more or less unchanged for several decades. For example, as I discussed earlier, in 2017, the two largest groups of migrant were from China (28.5%) and South Korea (17.5%).9 These were followed by Vietnam (10.2%), the Philippines (10.1%), Brazil (7.4%), Nepal (3.1%), Taiwan (2.2%), the US (2.1%), Thailand (1.9%), Indonesia (1.9%), and Peru (1.8%) (e-Stat, 2017b; Ministry of Justice, 2018a). For several decades, most immigrants come from these countries (Ministry of Justice, 2006: 29, Table 11).10 The different linguistic background of migrants poses a formidable challenge to migrant activism in Japan. Since the main target audience is mostly the Japanese public, Japanese is predominantly used in activism. Street demonstrations are primarily held in Japanese. Meetings with government officials are conducted in Japanese. Japanese is also used for negotiations with employers as well as interactions with police and immigration officials. Although Japanese is adopted as the working language of the activism, most migrant protesters are unable to use Japanese. Some might have a



basic level of Japanese, such as being able to greet in Japanese and pick up some words and meanings in conversations made in Japanese. Some might even be able to participate in simple conversations in Japanese. Nevertheless, most migrants largely depend on translators when they participate in discussions held in Japanese. As I will show in my empirical chapters (see Chapters 3, 4, and 5), it is one thing that migrants have basic linguistic skills in Japanese and quite another that they are able to converse about labour-related issues in Japanese and discuss these in Japanese with native Japanese speakers. There is no nation-wide survey to examine newcomers and their Japanese language skills. Although some prefectures conduct such surveys, they ask different sets of questions, which makes it hard to get an overview (see, for example, Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan, 2015). No standardised survey has been conducted even within the same prefectures such as Tokyo and Osaka, which accommodate the largest and second largest numbers of foreign residents in Japan (in 2015, 20.6% and 9.5% respectively). For these reasons alone, it is difficult to have a general picture of the relationship between newcomers and the Japanese language. Despite these limitations, I would like to discuss three key features that point to varying levels of Japanese competency among newcomer migrants. Needless to say, these highlight a small fraction of the complex relationship between migrants and their Japanese competency. The advantage of looking at these specific features is that, however briefly, it helps us to see a broader context in which migrants acquire, or fail to acquire, Japanese language skills. Each characteristic is instructive to understand why migrants’ linguistic skills need to be taken seriously in the analysis of migrant activism. First, linguistic proficiency does not necessarily match the length of stay in Japan (Ando, 2010: 162–4). For instance, Shinjuku ward, which has the largest population of foreign residents in Tokyo, conducted a survey in 2015. According to this survey, more than half of the people (60.9%) living in Japan for between 5 and 10 years, and 45% of those living in Japan for between 10 and 20 years still encounter situations they find difficult to handle because of their Japanese language level (Shinjuku City, 2015: 89). A similar result can be found in a survey conducted by Yokoyama municipal government (City of Yokohama, 2014: 3–6), the prefectural capital of Kanagawa that has fourth largest population of foreign residents in Japan (e-Stat, 2017c). The lack of correlation between linguistic competency and length of stay can also be observed with regards to some migrant groups discussed in this book. For instance, many English language instructors stay in Japan for more than 10 years; some of them are even married to Japanese citizens and have children. However, their


Language as a Contested Site of Belonging

ability to speak Japanese tends to be elementary, because they work in an environment where speaking Japanese is not essential to carry out their jobs. Furthermore, their daily communication with family members is conducted in English (interview with Thomas, former FWC member, 17 June 2010). Consequently, some of these migrants require interpreters if union activities are conducted in Japanese. Second, the level of Japanese language proficiency is diverse among migrants of the same ethnic origin. For instance, according to a survey conducted by Minato City in Tokyo (2013: 11, 15, 19), with the exception of zainichi Koreans, each ethnic group is divided roughly into two: those who assess their Japanese language proficiency level as ‘good’ and ‘satisfactory’ (between 30–50%) and those who are not so good and possess no Japanese language ability (between 30–50%).11 The same dynamics can be observed among newcomer migrants discussed in this book. For instance, while some trainees and interns from China require interpreters for communication, Chinese students and researchers living in Japan are able to use Japanese to the extent that they can act as interpreters between other Chinese newcomers and Japanese people (see Chapter 5). Third, linguistic competency is developed in a highly individualised context (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, 2010). It is probably commonsensical to appreciate that migrants learn Japanese depending on their motivation, occupational circumstances, and social relationships. For instance, some migrants working as manual labourers acquire a range of vocabulary and phrases used at factories, such as ‘caution’, ‘danger’, ‘warning’, ‘pull’, and ‘stop’ (interview with Jasmine and Rosa, trainees from the Philippines, 23  May 2010). Similarly, participating in trade unions also requires mastery of specific labour-related terms, many of which are ‘foreign’ even to most native Japanese speakers. Ikegami (2002: 156–8, 160) makes a similar observation with regards to nikkei Brazilians working in Japan and their Japanese language competence level. Some might have a basic level of Japanese, but this does not mean that they are able to use Japanese as the language of communication in daily activities. In light of the context-specific linguistic acquisition process, some suggest different curriculums for non-Japanese residents to help them to develop linguistic fluency in particular situations (see, for example, Aoki, 2008; Nishiguchi, 2008).

Futility of English as a global lingua franca In situations where migrants and local actors share no common language, English, the global lingua franca, might appear as an obvious candidate



for a medium of communication. This, however, is not the case in the activism in which I participated. Japanese is used not simply when the Japanese public is the target of appeal, but also discussions are held among participants. For example, interpreters are used for meetings where Japanese trade union members communicate with migrant union members who are mostly native English speakers. This might strike one as slightly odd, considering that almost all Japanese activists I met were university graduates and no doubt studied English at school. One reason for this might be the type of English taught in Japanese schools and universities. As Yamada (2015: 20) argues, English education in Japan focuses heavily on reading and writing, with less emphasis on speaking. Consequently, knowledge of English may not necessarily translate into competency in English. As Jakobovits puts it: ‘second language learning as a classroom subject is one thing, and being a bilingual person another and they often have little to do with each other’ (Jakobovits, quoted in Loveday, 1996: 19; see also Yamada, 2015: 26). Even after a governmentled initiative to shift the focus to conversational English, there has been a continuing belief that there is only one ‘authentic’ way of speaking English (Yamada, 2015: 120–7). This creates an additional psychological hurdle for Japanese speakers using English in everyday situations. English also does not serve as a medium of communication for other non-native English speakers. For example, as one trade unionist pointed out, many nikkei Brazilian members remain silent at internal meetings held in English because they can barely understand what is being discussed in English to begin with (interview with Charles, GU member, 21  June 2010). This is similarly addressed by Yamada, who observes that knowledge of English loses its currency when it comes to newcomers: The recent rise of newcomers from non-English-speaking countries, such as Asia and South America, has created ethnic and linguistic diversity in many areas of Japan … the emphasis of English language education only promotes monocultural and monolingual conditions but also contradicts the multiethnic and multilingual realities of Japan in which individuals do not necessarily speak either English or Japanese. (Yamada, 2015: 5) The focus on linguistic diversity in the context of migrant activism in Japan sits in a broader field of study on multilingualism. Together with the emerging discourse on Japan’s multiculturalism (see, for example, Douglass and Roberts, 2000; Willis and Murphy-Shigematsu, 2008), researchers


Language as a Contested Site of Belonging

have begun to look at how multiculturalism is manifested in the linguistic landscape of Japan. Some studies show the need to develop policies such as language education, as Japan has become ethnically diverse and a number of newcomers and their children are staying in Japan as residents (Gottlieb, 2012a, b). Others highlight the long history of linguistic diversity to debunk the myth of Japan as a monolingual society (Maher, 1995; Maher and Yashiro, 1995). This book speaks to this body of literature by turning to migrant activism, a language contact situation not previously discussed by others. Situating my interest in language and migration in the studies of citizenship, however, my aim is not to investigate how well local activists and migrant protesters can, and should, communicate in which language. Instead, I am interested in understanding how linguistic communication shapes the relationship between citizens and noncitizens, and what it tells us about the role of language, as both a demarcator and dissolver of community, in redefining the mode of belonging. Notes Although the definition of ‘registered foreigners’ (zairyū gaikokujin) was slightly changed in 2012 (Ministry of Justice, 2013a: 17–18), ‘foreign residents’ generally refers to people including those who live in Japan for a mid- to long-term period as well as those with an SPR permit (Ministry of Justice, 2013b: 53; e-Stat, 2018). This book also follows this understanding. 2 The term zainichi can be translated as ‘Japan-born’ in English (Shipper, 2008: 25). 3 People who hold ordinary permanent resident permits include the spouses of Japanese nationals and those previously registered as refugees. 4 Among registered South Koreans, nearly 65.6% are SPR status holders, many of whom were born in Japan and speak Japanese as their ‘first’ language. 5 For example, see the website of Ushiku Nyūkan Shūyou-jo Mondai wo Kangaeru Kai (aka Ushiku-no Kai) ( Ushiku-no Kai is a volunteer group based in Ushiku, Ibaraki. It regularly reports hunger strikes organised by people detained in the Higashi-Nihon (Eastern-Japan) Immigration Centre in Ibaraki prefecture. 6 Interview with a member of WITH, 26 May 2010. For its activities, see www.; and For organisations similar to WITH, see the SYI (Immigration Detainees Friends), an organisation working for detainees in Japan ( 7 See the announcement made by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, 31 March 2009 ( 8 See the announcement made by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, 27 September 2013 ( 9 Until 2011, Ministry of Justice statistics on immigration did not separate either Taiwan from China or South Korea from North Korea (Ministry of Justice, 2018a: 22). 10 Since 2006, the Ministry of Justice has stopped providing a table, similar to Table 11 in the 2006 Immigration Control, which shows the changes in the number of 1



registered foreign nationals by nationality (place of origin). Therefore, for the period between 2006 and 2019, compare each year at: s?page=1&toukei=00250012&kikan=00250&tstat=000001018034&second2=1 11 Minato City accommodates the second largest number of non-Japanese residents in Tokyo (8%) (Bureau of Citizens and Cultural Affairs, Tokyo Metropolitan Government, 2016: 10).



Solidarity Activism? Rethinking Citizenship Through Inaudibility In November 2005, a group of Somali refugees organised a sit-in demonstration in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Yemen. Their demands included the increase of Somali-speaking UNHCR staff, provision of assistance such as additional healthcare, distribution of ID cards, and finding resettlement countries (UNHCR, 2005). In May 2006, more than a million immigrants, including undocumented migrants, organised a protest called a ‘Day Without Immigrants’ across the US. The purpose was to oppose tougher measures for illegal immigrants and stricter control of border security proposed at Congress (BBC News, 2006). In May 2007, some refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo stormed into the UNHCR office in Rabat, Morocco, and staged a sit-in protest in front of the office, demanding financial assistance to ‘live in dignified conditions’ (UNHCR, 2007). In January 2009, a massive demonstration of about 600 migrants and refugees broke out in Lampedusa, Italy. They were detained in an immigration facility, but broke down the front gate and burst into the town, shouting ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ (The Guardian, 2009). Similar noncitizen-led protests have taken place in other parts of the world as well, such as France (Cissé, 1997), Canada (Nyers, 2003, 2008), India (Chatterjee, 2004), Australia (Nyers, 2006), Egypt (Moulin and Nyers, 2007), and Japan (Shindo, 2009). Noncitizen political participation is not necessarily a recent political phenomenon. For example, Mark Miller’s study (1981) shows various types of protests, ranging from street demonstrations to sit-ins and wildcat strikes, organised by documented and undocumented migrants in France, Germany, and Switzerland in the 1960s and 1970s. His study hinted at a sphere of politics that was different from the formal political arena. Perhaps for the lack of better words, Miller called migrant activism



‘extra‑parliamentary opposition’ to describe an action organised by people who ‘cannot participate in and get representation through normal democratic channels’ (1981: 83). However, recent studies on noncitizen political participation contain a distinctive approach to citizenship in order to fully explore the transformational effects of migrant activism. A premise underlying this scholarship is that citizenship is enacted ‘from below’ (Nyers and Rygiel, 2012: 9), by people who (re)claim their belonging despite being formally, or informally, excluded from state citizenship. This approach to citizenship markedly differs from a form of citizenship theorised ‘from above’, within the confines of state-centred politics where rights and status condition the possibilities of political subjectivity. As migrant activism has become a distinctive political phenomenon in recent decades, an increasing number of scholars agree that state citizenship is no longer the only authentic form of political identity in modern politics. These scholars theorise that political capacity is not defined by a legal status, or lack of it, but by acts through which a claim about community is made. They have turned to migrant activism to investigate a variety of strategies about claim making and to explore new ways of belonging to a community. The political insights provided by migrant activism are invaluable for analysing the struggle for citizenship where noncitizen migrants present themselves as rightful members of a community and demand their belonging to be recognised as legitimate. The aim of this chapter is to investigate the role of language in migrant activism. While more scholars argue that claim making is central to noncitizen political participation, they tend to skirt over the question of language and do not factor linguistic issues into their theoretical claims. If the heart of citizenship lies in the act of making heard the voice of those who have been previously neglected, I believe it is vital to examine how exactly language shapes the process of enacting citizenship. This chapter is divided into three parts. The first part discusses the way in which audibility is central to understanding citizenship. I begin with Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, which presents an important parallel between humans/citizens and animals/foreigners. Shelley’s novel is instructive in understanding how audibility – the ability to command a language – is constitutive of becoming human/citizen. I then turn to the act-based approach to citizenship that moves away from human subjectivity centred on an exclusive ownership of language. Scholars who take this approach theorise citizenship as an act through which migrants disrupt the linguistic sphere monopolised by citizens. As such, the act of citizenship scholarship offers a framework for appreciating the connection between language and political subjectivity.


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In the second part of the chapter, I turn to the relationship between audibility and inaudibility. To incorporate audibility into the analysis of political subjectivity is not simply to acknowledge the importance of making noncitizens’ voices heard, but to probe the possibility of inaudibility– how their voices may fail to be communicated – in theorising citizenship. As the case of multilingual migrant activism shows, even when noncitizens participate in activism, their voices are not necessarily made intelligible because of the lack of a common language among the participants. Here I draw on Jacques Rancière’s and Gloria Anzaldúa’s writings on politics and language to develop an understanding of political subjects where unintelligibility constitutes an integral part of the subject-making process. As I argue in the third part of the chapter, to include the failure of communication in the analysis of citizenship enables us to appreciate linguistic interactions as an important site of citizenship struggles. The focus on the tension between audibility and inaudibility opens up a more dynamic analysis of solidarity forged between citizens – as local activists – and migrant protesters. Throughout this chapter, what repeatedly, although implicitly, comes out in my reading of Shelley’s, Rancière’s, and Anzaldúa’s work is the gothic mode of belonging to community where uncertainty works a key affective mechanism. In the case of Frankenstein, the shifting line between humans/citizens and animals/foreigners suggests that the status of humanity – and the community of ‘humans’ – can never be quite guaranteed. The line that separates the inside of the community from the outside is an unsettled one and can be challenged at any moment, as Rancière’s concept of politics suggests. Anzaldúa grapples with this unsettled aspect of the making of community in her reflection on the Chicano language. As I elaborate in Chapter 6, it is through this sense of unsureness that community is imagined gothically, beyond the spatial construct of the inside and the outside.

Language as central to understanding citizenship Shifting boundary between humans and animals To introduce the intimate link between language and citizenship, there can be no better place to start than with Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein. Written in the midst of the intellectual movement of Enlightenment in Europe, Shelley’s novel presents a powerful critique of a fervent belief that was widely held at that time in man’s ambition to discover and control nature in the name of science (Hindle, 2003: xxiii–xxiv, xxix–xxx).



Shelley deftly weaves her critique into the story in various ways, one of which is constructed around the question of what it means to be human. The novel involves a nameless monster, a non-human creature created by Dr Victor Frankenstein, and its continuous attempt to seek compassion and companionship from human beings. Born out of Frankenstein’s desire to push the limits of human biology, the monster is haunted by its own man-made genesis. To overcome its ordeal, the creature clings to a belief that language will transform it into a human. The monster naively hopes that a command of the human language will enable it to explain to humans that it is a harmless being and merely wishes to be welcomed to the human community. To acquire the skills to command the human language, the monster hides in a barn where it diligently observes and studies one family – a son, a daughter, and a father. The monster patiently awaits the time when it will be able to master the human language and present itself to the family: … although I eagerly longed to discover myself to the cottagers, I ought not to make the attempt until I had first become master of their language; which knowledge might enable me to make them overlook the deformity of my figure. (Shelley, 1818/2003: 116) While describing the creature’s desperate desire to acquire the human language, Shelley skilfully blurs the line that separates humanity from animality. She introduces the figure of the foreigner to the story, which plays a pivotal part in the creature’s language-acquisition process. First, the family the monster observes shares the same outcast status with the monster: they are rejected by their native country (France) and in exile in a foreign land (Germany). The family is being punished for assisting an immigrant from Turkey, who is unjustly prosecuted in France because of his religion and wealth (Shelley, 1818/2003: 125). Felix, the son of the family, decides to arrange an escape for the jailed Turk. This then leads to the French government’s decision to deprive Felix and his family of their wealth, and ‘condemned them to a perpetual exile from their native country’ (Shelley, 1818/2003: 128). Indeed, the ‘human’ language the monster is eager to learn is French, a foreign language in Germany where the family presently resides. After months of studying the ‘human’ language, the monster listens to a conversation between local Germans. Somewhat tragicomically, it discovers: ‘… but I did not understand what they said, as they spoke the language of the country, which differed from that of my protectors [Felix and his family]’ (Shelley, 1818/2003: 139). Second, the monster’s learning process is guided by another foreign figure, Safie. Safie is the daughter of the prosecuted Turk whom Felix


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saves. Parallel to the creature’s effort to acquire the human language is Safie’s attempt to master the language spoken by Felix, her lover and future husband. Originally from Turkey, Safie cannot speak French. As the creature observes: ‘I soon perceived, that although the stranger [Safie] uttered articulate sounds, and appeared to have a language of her own, she was neither understood by, nor herself understood, the cottagers’ (Shelley, 1818/2003: 120). The monster’s desire to take part in the human community echoes Safie’s determination to find her own home with Felix. She escapes from her father who refuses her marriage to a Christian man (Felix) and demands that she goes back to her native country (Shelley, 1818/2003: 127–9). Similar to Frankenstein’s monster, Safie has no place to return to. Learning French is, in this respect, critical for her. The creature regards her as its own rival, compares its learning progress to hers, and boasts that it masters language faster and better than she does: … I may boast that I improved more rapidly than the Arabian [Safie], who understood very little and conversed in broken accents, while I comprehended and could imitate almost every word that was spoken. (Shelley, 1818/2003: 121) Thus, Shelley introduces the figure of the foreigner as a guide who, albeit unknowingly, teaches the monster how to speak. The parallel between the monster and the foreign figure suggests a tenuous relationship between humans and language. The monster is born without a language of its own (Shelley, 1818/2003: 106). And yet, it learns to transform a mere sound (animal cry) into an intelligible one (human language), and acquires the very skill that separates humanity from animality. As the monster and the foreigners (Felix and his family) share the same language to communicate, the line between humans and animals slowly disappears. Safie’s status as a human does not guarantee her linguistic superiority. Eventually the monster masters the human language so well that even Frankenstein is tempted to treat the monster as a fellow human being (Shelley, 1818/2003: 148, 149). That the monster manages to masquerade as a human disturbs human subjectivity centred on the exclusive ownership of language.

Critique of anthropocentrism and acts of citizenship Considering that Frankenstein was written as Shelley’s critique of humans’ aspiration to control nature, it may not be so surprising to see a fading line between humanity and animality in the linguistic realm. As such, Shelley’s novel powerfully resonates with the recent critique of anthropocentrism.



One of the key statements of anthropocentrism is the language objection that humans alone possess language. As one of the central signifiers of being human, language draws a spatial boundary between the human sphere and its outside. In contrast to the space of animality that lacks language, a human community is organised around language to form an orderly and governable space. A trace of anthropocentrism is detectable in the Hobbesian-inspired approach to community. While the inside of the community is imagined as a rational, ordered space governed through intelligible speech, the outside is feared as a space of chaos and violence. Without language to produce rational speech, the latter is unable to generate peace and order. As Youatt (2014) points out, Jacques Derrida’s notion of deconstruction poses a formidable critique of the language objection. Contrary to the belief held in anthropocentrism, the idea of deconstruction is developed on the understanding that humans are never quite able to control language: … he [Derr ida] argues that the language objection fundamentally mischaracterises the way that language works. Not only are animals, in many senses, able to do much more than react, but language and signification processes (such as “traces”) of all kinds have a kind of power and agency of their own, working somewhat behind our backs in ways that both escape us and make us. The way that signification works, on Derrida’s account, suggests that we cannot really claim full ownership of our linguistic realm as radically independent from the world. (Youatt, 2014: 215) While Youatt turns to environmental politics to search for a way to ‘move forward from’ (2014: 216) the deconstructionist take on language, I see migrant activism as presenting another way to envision politics beyond the language objection. Just as Shelley’s novel questions the separation of humanity from animality, scholars of migrant activism fundamentally refuse to take the division between humans and non-humans as a starting point for politics. Without the ability to speak, anyone faces the risk of being excluded from the ‘human’ community, treated as non-humans, and rendered non-political. The literature on migrant activism, which is developed around the idea of acts of citizenship, acknowledges this critical role of language in animalising humans. Among others, Nyers (2006) identifies the link between animality and citizenship. Following his analysis of a range of key political thinkers including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emmanuel Levinas, and Giorgio Agamben, we can observe a persistent pattern where the figure of the


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citizen is defined through the human–animal division. Significant here is that state sovereignty exploits the dividing line between humanity and animality in its configuration of citizenship. Nyers (2006) argues that sovereign power, embodied as the state of exception, is exercised to control the line between the two: it determines who can belong to the space of humanity, whose voice can be recognised as intelligible speech, and who remains in the domain of animality and voicelessness: While the modern state claims to provide the spatial conditions for citizens to realize their “humanity,” at the limit of the state the sovereign relation passes in and out of phase with both animality and humanity. The practices of state sovereignty work to tame the contingency of these fluid relations by declaring them temporary and containing, reterritorializing them within the space of the camp. (Nyers, 2006: 78) Underlying Nyers’ claim is a link between citizenship and political speech. This link, he argues, derives from ‘an immanent connection between subjectivity and the social order that sovereignty makes possible’ (Nyers, 2006: xi). That is, whether one is recognised as a political being or not depends on one’s relationship with the state. Hannah Arendt speaks about the connection between citizenship and political speech by drawing on the case of refugees. According to Arendt, the true plight of refugees is that their political existence is erased altogether because of the lack of citizenship status. Without the ‘right to have rights ... to live in a framework where one is judged by one’s actions and opinions’ (Arendt, 1968: 176–7), refugees suffer from the loss of human agency to speak and act. For Arendt, refugeeness embodies ‘the loss of the relevance of speech ... the loss of all human relationship … the loss, in other words, of some of the most essential characteristics of human life’ (1968: 177). The political consequence of this discourse is profound. Without the ability to speak and act, refugees are treated as mere receivers of aid rather than active participants in reconstructing their lives. They are relegated to the status of animality in the sense that their voice is not taken seriously and remains ‘unintelligible’ to the ears of aid workers. For instance, Malkki (1996) writes about different perceptions of safety between international refugee agencies and refugees themselves, and the creation of a repatriation programme that neglects refugees’ will to return. While Nyers similarly comments on ‘the absence of speech that plays so negatively on the possibilities for a political subjectivity’ (2006: 75), he perceives ‘the need to develop perspectives that do not reproduce the claustrophobic vision of the political prompted by the logic of sovereignty’



(2006: 118). To break down the sovereign logic that produces the status of animality, Nyers turns his attention to a political phenomenon where refugees and irregular migrants defy their silenced position. Ranging from refugee warrior communities to irregular migrants fighting against detention and deportation, these noncitizen groups are not confined to voicelessness. Instead, they ‘interrupt the dominant political (speaking) order … to be recognised as a speaking being as such’ (Nyers, 2003: 1078). In these instances, sovereign relationship to political identity is subverted by refugees and irregular migrants who take back their speaking position. Nyers’ work is part of a growing body of research that, implicitly or explicitly, follows the act-based approach to citizenship. Theorised by Isin and Nielsen (2008), this approach focuses on ‘acts’ through which people challenge the accepted mode of belonging to community. Central to the acts of citizenship scholarship is the idea that citizenship ‘emerges in practice, in the claims and counter-claims of what it means to belong’ (McNevin, 2012: 167; original emphasis). It is through acts, or ‘a collective practice’ (Balibar, 2000: 42), that people ‘create a scene’ (Isin, 2009: 379; original emphasis) to demand their legitimate place in a community regardless of their status. From the perspective of acts, community is understood as a contested site of claim making. The actbased approach to citizenship highlights the way in which community is ‘mobilized as a strategic concept invoking certain images against others as political struggles’ (Isin, 2012: 450). The act-based approach to citizenship radically differs from the traditional approach. For the former, community is regarded as being constantly in the process of making, whereas for the latter, community is imagined as a static territorial entity. As Closs Stephens and Squire point out, ‘the modern liberal imagination binds citizenship and community together in a distinct geographical unit, in the sense that citizenship is conventionally understood in terms of a political community that is territorially defined’ (2012b: 554). Coinciding with the political community of the state, citizenship is conceptualised as rights and status given by the state (see, for example, Hammar, 1990). To be a fullyfledged political subject, one needs to be a citizen who is equipped with, as Marshall (1964) put it, civil, political, and social rights. In contrast to citizens, noncitizens fail to possess ‘the “proper” political subjectivity (i.e., state citizenship) through which they can be heard’ (Nyers, 2006: 16). An ensuing implication is that, in the traditional conception of citizenship, migrant activism carries a limited political significance of its own because it is led by people who lack state citizenship. For example, some scholars argue that newcomer migrants in Japan are unprepared to


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organise activism without the assistance of Japanese citizens because they lack a stable status (Chung, 2010: 50–3; Shipper, 2008: 59–60). Recent citizenship studies have developed a distinctively different understanding of migrant activism from the rights-based approach to citizenship. Building on the idea of acts of citizenship, many scholars argue that migrant activism is an important site where people claim their rightful place in the community. Regardless of their status – legal or illegal, permanent or temporary – participants of migrant activism refuse to accept the political possibilities that come with state-defined categories. Their refusal challenges the idea that the state has the prerogative to approve one’s membership to a community. For instance, migrants identify themselves not as ‘(failed) asylum claimants’ but as ‘refugees’ (Nyers, 2003; Moulin and Nyers, 2007), not as ‘illegal migrants’ but as ‘sans-papiers’ and ‘undocumented’ (McNevin, 2006; Johnson, 2014), and not as ‘foreigners’ but as ‘humans’ (Doty, 2006; De Genova, 2011). There are no a priori subjects whose political capacities are predetermined. Rather, people name themselves on their own terms. In this regard, they are ‘emerging political subjects’ (Nyers, 2008: 132) that emerge through ‘acting and reacting with others’ (Isin and Nielsen, 2008: 39).

Acts and the question of language While it is no longer contentious to conceptualise citizenship as acts, how exactly acts are linked to audibility remains unexplored. From the perspective of acts, citizenship is ‘about being there, legitimately, in public space, and being seen to be there’ (McNevin, 2012: 167; original emphasis). This does not mean that acts can be merely attributed to visibility, the fact that participants of activism appear in public. Acts also communicate protesters’ physical presence in a language intelligible to others. What are their demands? How do they understand the significance of their visible presence? Why do they feel that they are silenced? What emotion do they want to communicate in their protests? Audibility is a medium to translate answers to questions such as these in a language understandable to people whom protesters appeal to and negotiate with. Without the ability to command a language intelligible to their audience, protesters risk failing to convey their demands, communicate their emotions, and explain the reasons why they make themselves visible. Although it is hard to dismiss the significance of language to migrant activism, the linguistic aspect of acts is yet to be systematically examined. How exactly does language mediate acts? How is visibility translated into audibility? How does language constitute the political capacity of people who take part in migrant activism?



To ask these questions is not to deny the importance of non-verbal communication which provides an effective route to communicate emotions and get messages across (see, for example, Brook, 1997). Yet, we inevitably rely on language for emotions and messages to share and make sense. In representational practices, verbal forms of communication are inextricably bound up in non-verbal forms of communication. Hutchison (2016) makes this point in her study on trauma and affect. She argues that emotions need to be verbalised in order to transform an individual’s experience of trauma into a collective one. Language plays a key role here because ‘[l]anguage essentially translates the incomprehensible and ostensibly antisocial nature of trauma into comprehensible patterns of speech’ (Hutchison, 2016: 124). Although Hutchison is quick to acknowledge that trauma is represented in non-linguistic forms including art and photographs (2016: 125–30), language remains the linchpin of representational practices: … even nonlinguistic, aesthetic forms of representation remain reliant upon language for wider social signification and meaning. Even while modes of representation are of a visual or visceral nature, language remains an instrumental component of how individuals “make sense” of aesthetic sources and what they perceive to be their meaning. (Hutchison, 2016: 116) The role of language Hutchison discusses in her analysis of trauma can also be observed in migrant activism. Some scholars suggest that for noncitizens to be truly counted as political agents, their speaking ability is just as important as their visible presence. For example, in her study on the activism organised by Spanish-speaking parents in the US, McNevin observes how important it was for the parents to use Spanish at the negotiation table. According to McNevin, their first demand for the school authority was to change ‘the language of negotiation’ (2012: 175) from English to Spanish, so that the public institutions had to listen to Spanish speakers. This suggests that: These parents compel authorities to recognise Spanish speakers; to listen to broken English with patience, purpose and respect; and to find a more equal mode of communication. (McNevin, 2012: 176) Drawing on the case of female Filipino migrants in Japan, Yamamoto (2004) makes a similar observation. She argues that, due to the lack


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of linguistic skills in Japanese, the Japanese activists did not consult the Filipino migrants about how to organise activism. Instead, they were merely identified as providers of testimonies based on which the Japanese activists designed their activism (Yamamoto, 2004: 314–15). As a result, the relationship between the migrant protesters and local activists became hierarchical. Only the latter developed strategies for activism and acted as saviours of the former. Therefore, I understand that language is inseparable to acts. Citizenship cannot be construed independently of two modes of expression, both visibility and audibility. Language allows us to understand what protesters aim to appeal and achieve. Since language is a key medium of communication, it also determines the mode of communication between protesters and their counterparts. What and how language is used in migrant activism heavily determines the process of claiming citizenship. In this regard, migrant activism is not simply a battleground to challenge noncitizens’ invisibility. It is also a linguistic battleground where noncitizens’ visibility is contested together with their audibility. Struggles for citizenship take place both at the visibility–invisibility front as well as the audibility–inaudibility front.

Relationship between audibility and inaudibility Rancière’s concept of politics and speaking beings To situate migrant activism at the intersection between visibility and audibility, Jacques Rancière’s writings on politics are illuminating. Rancière argues that a political moment arises when social order is disrupted by an egalitarian logic. According to him, social order is governed by police logic that ‘lies in a certain way of dividing up the sensible’ (Rancière, 2010: 36). Police logic determines who has a voice and who does not, whose voice is heard and whose voice is made sheer noise, and thus who becomes visible and who remains invisible. Rancière calls the social order operated through police logic ‘consensus’. Consensus ‘defines hierarchical distributions where everyone’s speech is determined in terms of their proper place and their activity in terms of its proper function, without remainder’ (Corcoran, 2010: 2). Police logic draws a boundary to separate visibility and invisibility, audibility and inaudibility: our body and behaviour are governed by this logic (Rancière, 1999: 28–30; see also Foucault, 1991). While police logic distributes the sensory parts to decide who can be counted as speaking beings and who cannot, egalitarian logic challenges



the distribution of the senses by assuming ‘the equality of any speaking being with any other speaking being’ (Rancière, 1999: 30). This assumption of equality strikingly differs from police logic that operates through the unequal distribution of speech. Rancière argues that social order is disrupted when the logic of equality is set against police logic. He calls this disruption ‘disagreement’. Egalitarian logic denies the existence of the taken-for-granted distinction between the realm of visibility and that of invisibility, and exposes the arbitrary nature of such distribution: Disagreement … must be set up against two camps: those who think there is an understanding within understanding, that is, that all speaking beings are equal as speaking beings, and those who do not think so. (Rancière, 1999: 49) For Rancière, the moment of disagreement is that of politics: politics takes place when the allocation of voices is challenged by the assumption that everyone has a voice. Politics takes place when egalitarian logic brings the concept of equality into police logic to ‘reconfigure the space where parties, parts, or lack of parts have been defined’ (Rancière, 1999: 30). In Rancière’s conception of politics, visibility and audibility are somewhat intertwined with one another. He acknowledges that politics takes place when ‘the partition of the perceptible’ (1999: 27), or ‘an order of the visible and the sayable’ (1999: 29), changes. This does not mean, however, that visibility alone constitutes politics. Rancière’s concept of politics also has a distinctively linguistic dimension (Bennett, 2010: 106). According to Rancière, the point of politics is to establish an ‘understanding within understanding’ that ‘all speaking beings are equal as speaking beings’ (Rancière, 1999: 49). A political moment comes only when ‘the assumption of understanding is in dispute’ (Rancière, 1999: 57). In other words, the state of ‘understanding’ will not be realised unless the social order is subverted in the realm of speech. For Rancière, politics is to redistribute voice based on egalitarian logic and challenge the existing order of who can speak and who cannot, and whose voice is counted and whose is silenced. In this regard, Rancière’s thesis on politics builds a compelling case for migrant activism to be understood at the intersection between visibility and audibility. In migrant activism, protesters appear in public to present their demands. To do so is to assert their legitimate presence in the community and present themselves as speaking beings. The protesters are not constrained by rights and statuses that render them invisible and voiceless. Through their visible and audible presence, the protesters declare that they are rightful claimers of citizenship, and make themselves countable to the public.


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Theorising citizenship at the audibility–inaudibility front According to the act-based approach to citizenship, citizenship is enacted through acts. It is through acts that participants of migrant activism exercise their political capacity to become legitimate members of a community. If these acts depend on not just protesters’ visible presence but also their verbal communication, as I have argued, it poses challenging questions about language and citizenship. These are: do we need to possess linguistic skills to be fully included in a community? If we are unable to speak the language used in a community, does this mean that we are unable to disrupt police logic and become political? Does this mean that audibility, or even partial audibility, needs to be a condition of what Rancière calls politics? These questions are pertinent to migrant activism where noncitizens rely not just on their speech but also their silence to present their demands. Take, for example, the case of lip sewing. In 2002, a large-scale hunger strike took place in an immigration detention centre in Australia. As part of the protest, some detainees, including teenage asylum seekers, sewed their lips together. This lip-sewing protest sent a striking message that demanded a fundamental rethinking of the premise of the refugee determination system. The aim of the protesters was ‘to claim back the possibility of speaking politically’: they ‘… insist[ed] that what they have been denied is something they should not have had to ask for’ (Edkins and Pin-Fat, 2005: 22). The poem written by one of the protesters, Mehmet al Assad, poignantly communicates this: Through the Wire/one last time/please observe/I am sewing my lips together/that which you are denying us/we should never have/had to ask for. (quoted in Rajaram, 2004: 224)1 By sewing their lips and asserting their silence, what the protesters did was to engage with politics based on inaudibility. They expressed their dissatisfaction that the government, not asylum seekers themselves, had the prerogative to decide who they were – were they refugees or ‘bogus’ refugees? Instead of speaking, the protesters made themselves inaudible in order ‘to question the very grounds upon which debates about policy are premised’ (Edkins and Pin-Fat, 2005: 21). In this way, silence served as a powerful tool for the protesters to communicate their claim. Especially in the context of multilingual migrant activism, inaudibility is a key feature of activism. In monolingual migrant activism, visibility may be readily equated with audibility. Since the language barrier is not an issue, or at least not assumed to be one, protesters’ visible presence is



communicated through their own voice. Meanwhile, multilingual migrant activism challenges this equation. Since there is no shared language to be used by participants, becoming visible does not necessarily mean becoming audible. Even though people become visible by joining demonstrations and public meetings, some of them remain voiceless because of their inability to command the language used in activism. Some protesters’ voices become audible but only partially because of their limited linguistic skills. Others appear to be audible but only through the voice of interpreters. These instances suggest that the mismatch between visibility and audibility can have a significant implication to the making of political subjects. Especially in multilingual migrant activism, the givenness of linguistic capacity can no longer be taken for granted as a threshold for politics. To understand citizenship from the perspective of inaudibility, Rancière offers a helpful theoretical ground. Read together with his pedagogy, Rancière’s thesis on politics suggests that egalitarian logic is not necessarily based on linguistic transparency but on untranslatability of language. In The ignorant schoolmaster, Rancière (1991) introduces the pedagogical method proposed by Joseph Jacotot, a teacher and educational philosopher in 18th-century France. Jacotot’s pedagogy was based on his teaching experience when, despite having no knowledge of Flemish, he – a monolingual French speaker – managed to teach his Flemish-speaking students who had no knowledge of French. Not having the same language as Jacotot, his students were forced to interpret his words on their own and learn without his instruction. According to Rancière, this was a radically new way of asserting the equality of speech in the classroom. In a conventional pedagogical method, the distinction between the teacher and the student is embedded in the assumed distribution of speech between them. The point of teaching is to guide students so that they, too, can obtain voice and the ability to speak like their teachers. Pedagogy is preserved by police logic that sustains a certain kind of consensus in the classroom, that is, an agreement about a particular way of distributing voice. Jacotot’s pedagogy disrupts this consensus by assuming that ‘students’ are equal as speaking begins as ‘teachers’. He treated the former as if they already had a voice like him: Intelligence is not a power of understanding based on comparing knowledge with its object. It is the power to make oneself understood through another’s verification. And only an equal understands an equal.… The equality of intelligence is the common bond of humankind, the necessary and sufficient condition for a society of men to exist. (Rancière, 1991: 72–3)


Solidarity Activism?

Jacotot’s pedagogy suggests that linguistic capacity does not determine the possibilities of politics. The inability to speak the same language as Jacotot, and hence, to remain untranslatable to him, did not animalise his students. Although Jacotot was unable to understand his students’ language, he assumed that they had the capacity to speak for themselves. As such, his students were recognised as equal speaking partners to Jacotot and, in this respect, as fully-fledged political subjects. What Jacotot introduced to teaching was a subversion of the assumption of speech itself, the assumption that justified who was qualified to speak in the classroom and who was not. Thus, for Rancière, not intelligibility but unintelligibility constitutes political subjectivity. Read alongside his pedagogical philosophy, Rancière’s concept of politics bears important implications for the idea of citizenship: it suggests not only that migrant activism disrupts the allocation of speech, but also that such disruption is initiated by the untranslatability of language. For Rancière, a primary feature of politics is about equality of speech, not linguistic capacity to make meanings transparent and clear. His linguistic concern is ‘nothing to do with more or less transparent or opaque linguistic contents’ but ‘to do with consideration of speaking beings as such’ (Rancière, 1999: 50). In this way, Rancière’s concept of politics leaves open the possibility that inaudibility initiates a political moment.

Anzaldúa and the untranslatable language While Rancière uses Jacotot’s pedagogy to question intelligibility as the condition of politics, Gloria Anzaldúa proposes the idea of border tongue to situate unintelligibility as being central to the making of political subjects. For Anzaldúa, language is directly linked to the question of legitimate belonging. She reflects on her own experience as a Chicano speaker to examine in what way linguistic dislocation is equated to exclusion from a community. The Chicanos are people who live across the border between the US and Mexico. Their ancestors are Spanish conquistadors, Native Americans, and a mixture of the two, mestizo. According to Anzaldúa, the Chicanos’ cross-border experience suggests that they do not fit into any definable category of membership, such as American, Spanish, Native American, or even ‘Chicano’. She explores her own ambiguous location of belonging to each community from different perspectives, one of which is language. Anzaldúa sees the parallel between the silenced position of the Chicanos in society and the way their language is domesticated by standard English



and Spanish. According to Anzaldúa, the Chicano language is regarded as an improper, unauthentic, and uncivilised language, compared to language such as English and Spanish that represents the existing political communities such as the US and Mexico. The domestication of the Chicano language is internalised by the Chicanos themselves who feel ashamed of their own language and the way they speak either English or Spanish. For example: Chicanas who grew up speaking Chicano Spanish have internalized the belief that we speak poor Spanish. It is illegitimate, a bastard language. And because we internalize how our language has been used against us by the dominant culture, we use our language differences against each other.... To be close to another Chicana is like looking into the mirror. We are afraid of what we’ll see there. Pena. Shame. Low estimation of self. (Anzaldúa, 2012: 80) Anzaldúa argues that, for the Chicanos to claim their legitimate presence in the community where they live, they need to insist on their language: their way of speaking needs to be recognised as a legitimate way of communication. It is not the Chicanos who need to learn to speak English or Spanish in a less foreign and more intelligible manner to please the ears of native English- or Spanish-speakers; rather, it is the latter who need to accommodate the Chicanos’ way of speaking. Distinct here is Anzaldúa’s claim that the Chicano language is a ‘border tongue’, a language that is invented as well as constantly switched back and forth between multiple languages without any rule. According to Anzaldúa, the Chicanos speak multiple languages to invent themselves depending on their shifting relationships with existing communities. The languages they speak range from standard English and Spanish to Chicano Spanish, Tex-Mex, and North Mexican Spanish dialect. These languages are selected and mixed ‘in the same sentence or in the same word’ (Anzaldúa, 2012: 78). Without any authentic language to represent a single community, what is left for the Chicanos is a ‘border tongue’ where a language no longer singles out a specific location of their belonging: For a people who are neither Spanish nor live in a country in which Spanish is the first language; for a people who live in a country in which English is the reigning tongue but who are not Anglo; for a people who cannot entirely identify with either standard (formal, Castillian [sic]) Spanish nor standard


Solidarity Activism?

English, what recourse is left to them but to create their own language? (Anzaldúa, 2012: 77) In other words, the Chicano language remains inaudible to the ears of standard English- and Spanish-speakers because it constantly changes its forms to create a new language. The Chicano language escapes from the linguistic framework that attempts to capture and decipher its meaning. For Anzaldúa, to recognise the legitimate presence of the Chicanos is to recognise their way of speaking – that is, the Chicano language remains untranslatable to English- and Spanish-speakers – as a legitimate way of communication: Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity – I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself. Until I can accept legitimate Chicano Texas Spanish, Tex-Mex and all the other languages I speak, I cannot accept the legitimacy of myself. Until I am free to write bilingually and to switch codes without having always to translate, while I still have to speak English or Spanish when I would rather speak Spanglish, and as long as I have to accommodate the English speakers rather than having them accommodate me, my tongue will be illegitimate. (Anzaldúa, 2012: 81) By identifying the Chicano language as a foundation of the Chicanos’ rightful presence, Anzaldúa claims that their sense of belonging is built on the untranslatability of their language. Individuals’ authentic presence in a community is not derived from their ability to speak a language intelligibly, be that as English, Spanish or even Chicano. Regardless of how untranslatable and unintelligible their language is, individuals are entitled to belong to a community, legitimately. In this way, both Rancière’s and Anzaldúa’s writings allow the analysis of migrant activism that is attentive to the connection between audibility and inaudibility. Rancière and Anzaldúa offer an insight into the condition of politics that is built not simply on the assertion of voice but also the unintelligibility of voice. This allows us to appreciate inaudibility, manifested as the failure and mishap of communication, as being constitutive of political subjectivity. Their works develop the existing citizenship scholarship in the direction that theorises the mismatch between visibility and audibility, either calculated or forced, into the making of political subjects.



Language and solidarity Two different types of solidarity If migrant activism prompts the making of a different community from the one envisaged in state citizenship, this community-making process is not conducted in a linguistic vacuum. Language is implicated in strategies of identification to envision community. At the precise moment when the statist community is challenged by people taking part in activism, their linguistic capacity is interlocked with the process of taking their voice back and generating new political subjectivities. To focus on the linguistic element of acts is to reveal a complicated picture of community making. No longer is claim making for citizenship limited to acts led by migrants who are able to speak on their own. Instead, new ways of claim making can be found in acts that are conducted by those who remain inaudible despite their visible presence. While migrants’ physicality undoubtedly constitutes the process of enacting citizenship, visibility is interlocked with audibility. In multilingual migrant activism, where there is a gap between visibility and audibility, the faith one has in migrants’ voice collapses. While the presence of migrants in activism signals their visibility, it does not signal their audibility. Migrants remain inaudible because of their lack of linguistic skills in citizens’ tongues. In the case of the migrant activism in which I participated, Japanese was used as the main language of communication. Since many migrants do not speak Japanese, it was local activists who mostly spoke and became audible. They included trade unionists, volunteers, NGO staff members working on migrant workers’ issues, and Japanese lawyers working with migrants. For migrants who had limited linguistic skills in Japanese, their relationship with local activists in the linguistic domain shaped how they enacted themselves as political subjects. The language used by local actors becomes a readily available option for a number of reasons. First, multiple linguistic backgrounds mean that, while few local activists speak migrants’ own languages, global lingua franca, such as English, does not always serve as a fallback option. Some participants may be able to speak foreign languages such as English or Spanish, but may not feel comfortable enough to use them for official dealings. As discussed in Chapter 1, both migrants and local actors have varying degrees of English, which can make English a less practical medium. Consequently Japanese is almost unquestionably used at meetings between protesters and stakeholders including employers, politicians, and government officials. Second, some of the stakeholders seem to feel that


Solidarity Activism?

Japanese should be used at meetings because they are held in Japan. For example, some employers refuse to negotiate with trade union members unless Japanese is accepted as the main medium of communication (field note, 12 April 2010). For these reasons, migrant protesters inevitably rely on citizen-participants for linguistic support. To put it differently, paying attention to the gap between visibility and audibility facilitates a critical appraisal of the nature of solidarity forged among people joining the activism. While struggles for citizenship can be found in confrontations between participants in activism as a whole and their counterparts, these struggles can also be found in interactions between local activists and migrant protesters. Migrant activism is usually organised by migrants and their local supporters. They are brought together by a shared purpose to improve living and working conditions for migrants. Working together, local activists and migrant protesters are undoubtedly united in exploring an alternative way of belonging to community beyond the confines of the state centrism. However, this does not mean that they build an equal relationship. This is especially the case in multilingual migrant activism where migrant workers and local actors possess different linguistic skills to command the citizens’ language. Because of their limited linguistic skills, migrant activists need to depend on local activists for linguistic assistance. This unequal ownership of the citizens’ language inevitably shapes the ways in which participants enact themselves as political subjects and claim citizenship. Some scholars acknowledge that the relationship between local actors and migrant protesters is a critical feature of activism. Tsuda argues that, especially in countries like Japan where migrants are viewed as ‘temporary labour power’ (2006: 21), working for the betterment of migrants’ conditions generates a new mode of belonging to the community, or what he calls ‘local citizenship’. According to Tsuda, local citizenship is: … the granting, by local governments and organizations, of basic sociopolitical rights and services to immigrants as legitimate members of these local communities. This includes local governments’ immigrant social integration programs and policies, immigrant services offered by local NGOs, and local activism to demand and secure basic rights for immigrants. (2006: 7) Compared to Tsuda, Johnson (2012) offers a more nuanced understanding of the relation between local activists and migrant protesters. She identifies two different kinds of solidarity forged among participants. The first type



of solidarity activism positions local actors as acting ‘on behalf of the noncitizen’ (Johnson, 2012: 120): In order to be effective in expressing demands or giving voice to concerns, non-citizen activism as understood within this framework requires the citizen to “deliver” the message. Without the involvement of the citizen, no voice is possible and the demands or concerns go unheard. (Johnson, 2012: 120) Johnson warns that the relationship between noncitizens and their local supporters becomes one of a ‘clientelist relationship’ (2012: 120) where the former depends on the latter, and activism ultimately ‘centres on and begins with the citizen’ (2012: 122). By contrast, the second type of solidarity activism ‘begins with the non-citizen’ (Johnson, 2012: 122). In the latter case, local actors are ‘working and speaking “with”’ migrants rather than acting on behalf of them (Johnson, 2012: 122). Johnson argues that the solidarity based on equality between local activists and noncitizens is comprised of ‘a multitude of voices speaking together in the same message, demand or refusal’ (2012: 122). This differs from the first type of solidarity that assumes an inequality of speech between those who have the legitimacy to speak and those who do not. The second type of activism Johnson identifies has important implications for the way in which local actors participate in the process of enacting citizenship. According to Isin, ‘to be a citizen is to make claims to justice: to break habitus and act in a way that disrupts already defined orders, practices and statuses’ (2009: 384). In this line of thinking, as Nyers and Rygiel argue, the important question is not who initiates acts, but how those acts disrupt the existing categories and statuses ‘in favour of a more fluid exchange between subject positions’ (Nyers and Rygiel, 2012: 10). Categories such as citizen and noncitizen are not settled. Rather, both local actors and migrant protesters ‘engage in writing scripts and creating the scene’ (Isin, 2009: 381) through their actions of taking part in migrant activism: Citizenship understood as political subjectivity shifts our attention from fixed categories by which we have come to understand or inherit citizenship to the struggles through which these categories themselves have become stakes. It also shifts our attention from already defined actors to the acts that constitute them. Rather than asking “who is the citizen?” the question becomes “what makes the citizen?” (Isin, 2009: 383; original emphasis)


Solidarity Activism?

Therefore, to examine the relationship between local actors and migrants offers an important insight into the way in which citizenship is enacted and what kinds of political subjects emerge from the process of enacting citizenship. Even though local people take part in migrant activism and practice ‘local citizenship’, their participation may simply reinforce the citizens’ monopoly of political speech and reproduce the hierarchical status of citizens over noncitizens. This type of migrant activism is nothing more than what Isin calls ‘the conduct of those who are already considered as citizens and whose conduct is juxtaposed against those who are not’ (2009: 383). Meanwhile, if local actors take part in migrant activism as an equal speaking partner to migrant activists, migrant activism can become a site where both migrants and local people ‘enact themselves as political beings’ (Nyers and Rygiel, 2012: 9).

Interactions between local actors and migrants as a form of citizenship struggle Multilingual migrant activism complicates this picture, however. When the local language is used as the main device for communication, the line of demarcation between the two different types of solidarity identified earlier is not as clear as it can be in monolingual activism. Since participants share a common language to use, monolingual migrant activism may be able to sidestep the question of a linguistic hierarchy between local activists and migrants. Meanwhile, the linguistic hierarchy is deeply embedded in the moment of enacting citizenship in multilingual migrant activism. Since the citizens’ tongue is used as a working language for activism, the visible presence of noncitizens is not directly translated into their audible presence. Therefore, how participants negotiate the question of migrant audibility constantly shapes the type of relationship between local actors and migrant activists. The various language practices involved in negotiating the mismatch between visibility and audibility show that struggles for citizenship take place at multiple locations. As Milani points out, the enactment of citizenship is not limited to ‘public events of political mobilisation’ but also ‘ephemeral and apparently mundane occurrences of agency on grounds of language that unfold in daily interactions’ (2015: 326; original emphasis). Following Milani, I would argue that everyday interaction between local actors and migrants is a key site of citizenship struggles. In multilingual migrant activism, where many noncitizen protesters lack the ability to speak for themselves, the production of particular political subjects emanates from the linguistic tension between local people and migrant



protesters. In this regard, the focus on language practices highlights a dynamic aspect of community making from the perspective of seemingly ordinary interactions between local actors and migrants. The chapters that follow focus on three different language practices that characterise the relationship between migrant protesters and grass-roots Japanese activists. In Chapter 3, I look at a case where migrant activists perceived their inaudibility as a problematic feature of activism. Migrant workers felt that they were being silenced by Japanese activists, and in this regard animalised because of their inability to speak Japanese. For them, to recover their speaking position was to build an equal relationship between migrant activists and Japanese activists. They argued that, although the labour union should have been a community where people were united as ‘workers’ regardless of nationality, in reality, it was divided between Japanese and non-Japanese members. While the former spoke on behalf of the latter, the latter felt frustrated that they were not given an equal chance to speak on their own. Because of their limited linguistic ability to use Japanese, migrant workers eventually felt the need to create a more ‘democratic’ union where everyone had a chance to speak for themselves through the medium of English. While some migrants refused to accept their silenced status in activism, others played along with it. In Chapter 4, I look at some instances where migrant protesters strategically exploited their inaudible position. Just as in the case discussed in Chapter 3, migrant participants discussed in Chapter 4 were treated like children by Japanese activists because of their inability to speak and understand Japanese. Translation assistance was provided in a selective manner, which made it difficult for migrants to speak on their own. However, unlike the case discussed in Chapter 3, the gap between visibility and audibility did not yield to tensions between local activists and migrant unionists. Instead, migrants made use of their silenced status for strategic reasons: in return for their silence, they expected the Japanese activists to properly handle their labour dispute cases. In Chapter  5, I focus on the figure of the mediator who acts as a spokesperson of migrant workers and facilitates communication between local actors and migrant protesters. In particular, I look at migrant volunteers, immigration lawyers, and interpreters. As I discuss, these mediators lent their professional skills and knowledge to help migrants communicate with their Japanese counterparts: they represented migrant workers at meetings, court, and collective bargaining to make the migrants visible and their voices audible. However, the agents of migrant workers acted as more than just their representatives. Although they were supposed to faithfully convey the migrants’ voices to judges and employers, the agents also


Solidarity Activism?

discreetly took part in the interaction between the migrants and their Japanese counterparts. They controlled the course of the negotiations and determined how the migrant protesters communicated with their employers. They were motivated to do so purely because they wished to ensure the best interests of the migrants they worked with. In this way, the voice of noncitizens was heavily edited by their agents who independently decided when and how to intervene in their speech. My intention is neither to assume that these language practices alone determine the relationship between migrant protesters and local activists, nor to argue that they are more important than other language practices that may be observed in multilingual migrant activism. Furthermore, the lines of demarcation of these different language practices are not always clear. Rather, my intention is to look at the instances of inaudibility I observed in migrant activism in Japan and to examine in what way these instances signal community of a different kind. In the multilingual migrant activism where I participated, the visible presence of noncitizens contrasted sharply with their lack of audibility. Almost everywhere I went, migrant workers were never the minority in terms of numbers, including collective bargaining, trade union meetings, street demonstrations, and meetings with government representatives. In fact, they often outnumbered local activists. Yet, it was Japanese people who usually did the main part of the talking, while migrant protesters spoke on only limited occasions. This, however, does not simply indicate that noncitizens fail to enact themselves as political beings. Building on the insights offered by Rancière and Anzaldúa discussed in this chapter, I contend that migrants’ inaudibility invites us to investigate various strategies noncitizens devise to negotiate the gap between visibility and audibility. My task in the following chapters is to investigate how migrant protesters negotiate their inaudible presence when local activists control the domain of speech. What kind of community is reimagined through this negotiation between audibility and visibility (see Chapter 6)? How might untranslatability not be a problem but a productive aspect of community? As the acts-based approach to citizenship has suggested, migrant activism is a site of reimagining what it means to belong to a community. Regardless of status, people act as if they are legitimate members of a community through their participation in activism. By focusing on language practices in activism, I intend to examine the contentious relationship between local people and migrant protesters and the implications of this for the idea of community. Not quite understanding one another, ‘solidarity’ built in migrant activism is featured in various types of ‘misunderstanding and disappointment that generate a politics among would-be friends’ (Honig,



2001: 79). The focus of the following chapters is the process by which migrants reconstitute themselves as political agents while negotiating the mismatch between visibility and audibility. How their acts of contestation unfold in the space of language have much to reveal about the changing terrain of citizenship in contemporary Japan. Note The full poem is available at asylum.html




Silence and the Image of Helplessness: The Challenge of Tozen Union In April 2010, a group of migrant members left the National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu (Nambu) to join a new trade union called the Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union (Tozen). For a long time, Nambu had a sizable number of mainly English-speaking migrants who worked as language instructors in Tokyo and its vicinity. They formed a group called the Nambu Foreign Workers Caucus (Nambu FWC) as part of the Nambu union in 2004, and have played an active part in migrant activism since then. Despite their visible presence, migrant members remained relatively distant from Japanese members. Around 2010, the distance between the two turned into visible tensions. Some FWC members left Nambu to build a new union, Tozen, which was soon joined by the majority of former FWC members. Their decision to leave Nambu was prompted by a sense of exclusion that arose from the denial of their right to speak in the union. Migrant workers at Nambu had become increasingly dissatisfied, because for them, the union appeared undemocratic and secretive. The migrant workers’ split from Nambu suggests one way in which linguistic differences can orient the community-making process. Nambu consists of predominantly Japanese-speaking members. At its peak, it had about 500 migrant members out of about 2,500 (Takasu, 2003: 36, 38). To overcome language barriers among its members, the union took some measures to develop a sense of solidarity. Despite its efforts, it ultimately failed to provide an environment where migrant members felt included in union management. Not being able to speak Japanese, migrant members of the union perceived their inability to communicate in their own language as not simply a question of linguistic differences but of who had the right to speak in the union.



It could be argued that the dispute between Nambu and the FWC stemmed from the strained relationship between rank-and-file union members and union organisers. As Turner’s study (1995) on Japanese trade unions suggests, the development of a democratically run trade union is a perennial challenge to any union. In the case of the two Japaneseonly trade unions that Turner studied, albeit in different ways, union leaders alone decided the goals and strategies. While the rank-and-file members were ostensibly included in union management, ‘[t]oo often what was intended to be consultation was little more than an opportunity for expression designed to appear democratic, the substance being handled somewhere beyond their reach’ (Turner, 1995: 181). Consequently, ordinary members of the unions felt ‘frustrated by the unwillingness of their leaders to listen to them’ (Turner, 1995: 165). The struggle of migrant members in Nambu was not, however, only a question of the rank and file demanding internal democracy. What the migrant members saw in their relationship with Nambu was first and foremost a hierarchical relationship between Japanese members and foreigners. As I show in this chapter, the FWC members felt that, despite their participation in union activities, their voice continued to be ignored by Japanese union members because they were not regarded as equal. Furthermore, when the signs of discord became apparent, some Japanese trade union activists from Nambu and other unions supported the migrant members’ decision to form their own union. The pro-independence Japanese activists were, however, reluctant to express their support openly. They were afraid that showing explicit support would give the impression that talk of independence was facilitated not by the migrants themselves but by the Japanese union members (field note, March 2010). This also suggests that the tension between Nambu and the FWC was primarily understood by Japanese trade unionists as that between migrant members and Japanese members. The case of Nambu and the FWC provides an insight into the ways in which migrant members negotiated their visible yet inaudible presence in union activism. Some might also argue that the dispute between Nambu and the FWC was related to racial tensions between Japanese members and migrant members. As one English language teacher from the US put it, (white-skinned) language teachers are exoticised and viewed almost like ‘celebrities’ by Japanese students at school (interview with Mark, former Nambu FWC member, 24 June 2010). Since some migrants, who are typically white-skinned, are placed ‘above’ Japanese in racial terms, it can be argued that language teachers left Nambu, a majority-Japanese trade union, because of their sense of racial superiority: they felt the need to ‘teach’ Japanese workers how to run a trade union ‘properly’.


Silence and the Image of Helplessness

For two reasons, I believe this does not apply to the case discussed in this chapter. First, the relationship between Japanese members and migrant members of Nambu remained relatively neutral for nearly 30 years. It was only in the late 2000s when certain terms of union management were changed that migrant workers began to think about the possibility of leaving Nambu. Second, Tozen, a new union set up by former migrant members of Nambu, aimed for inclusion rather than exclusion. Its members made a deliberate effort to create a democratic union that valued the voice of every union member regardless of nationality. As I discuss in this chapter, the dynamics I observed in Tozen were not about a specific racialised group – in this case, English-speaking language teachers – taking over the running of the union, but rather a struggle among members to create a democratic union when the level of their English language proficiency differed. Migrant members of Nambu and Tozen are mainly language instructors from English-speaking countries including Canada, the UK, and the US. They are documented workers, whose residence status is usually either ‘instructor’ or ‘specialist in humanities/international services’. Calling language instructors ‘migrant workers’ might appear troubling because the category of migrant worker is usually linked with low-skilled and physically demanding jobs. As Korekawa (2015) shows, American and British workers who live in Japan are predominantly upper white-collar workers with university degrees. Tai similarly points out that, compared to Asian workers, North Americans and Europeans living in Japan are ‘much less likely to engage in 3K [kitsui (demanding), kitanai (dirty), and kiken (dangerous)] jobs’ (2009: 158) because their language, such as English or French, is regarded as ‘cultural capital’ in Japanese society. Most of the language instructors I talked to during the course of my research similarly appeared uncomfortable being associated with labels such as migrant workers and foreign workers. Since these labels carry racially ‘unfavourable’ and ‘lower-class’ connotations, they usually preferred being identified with professional categories such as language instructors and language teachers. For them, to be called migrant workers was to be positioned ‘lower’ in class and racial hierarchy. For example, one language teacher from the US described her identity in Japan as: ‘I am an American first. Then I am an English teacher’ (interview with Amy, former Nambu FWC member, 22 April 2010). Another English language teacher from the US became puzzled when he learned that my research project dealt with people from both North America and Latin America working in Japan. He could not understand why these two groups of people, which he regarded as unquestionably different in terms of race and class, could be discussed in the same project (interview with Mark,



former Nambu FWC member, 24 June 2010). When I asked a French language teacher about the possibility that his trade union might establish relationships with migrants from Asian countries, his first response was: ‘I am a [sic] middle class’. He was sceptical that such solidarity would be built because of the economic disparity between Asian migrant workers and French language teachers (interview with Lucien, Tozen member, 8 May 2010). Being linked to racialised ‘others’, the category of the migrant worker constructs an arbitrary division between skilled and unskilled workers. People who are identified as ‘skilled’ migrants may not necessarily have skills but are regarded as such simply because of their favourably positioned racialised status. By the same token, the status of ‘unskilled’ migrant worker does not necessarily indicate a lack of skills: instead, their skills might be undervalued because of their less-favourable racialised position. The English language teaching industry in Japan is a good example. The resident status obtained by language teachers does not require any educational training or qualifications in language teaching, let alone a degree in any specific subject. Many English language teachers are hired simply because they are native English speakers with a university degree: ‘The only indispensable prerequisite for obtaining this [language instructors’] status is a degree, which does not have to contain any English language or teaching training components …’ (O’Sullivan, 1996: 23). In this book, I use the terms ‘language instructors’ and ‘migrant/ foreign workers’ interchangeably. I see much wisdom in the analysis that pays attention to people who may not be typically identified as ‘migrant workers’ elsewhere but are nonetheless treated differently in Japan from Japanese workers because they are ‘foreigners’. Language instructors have been part of trade union activism in Japan since the 1990s (McLaughlin, 2007: 10–11). Regardless of racialised and classed status, language instructors are compelled to contact trade unions and take part in activism when they face poor and unfair treatment at work (Ogawa, 2001; Takasu, 2003). Thus, the migratory experience of language teachers is an important case to examine the relationship between migrant protesters and local activists in Japan. This chapter is divided into three. The first section discusses the context in which the Nambu FWC was established and the relationship developed between migrant members and Japanese members of Nambu. The second section focuses on the events and issues surrounding the tension between Nambu and Nambu FWC. The final section discusses the challenges of Tozen in terms of communication between English-speaking members and non-English-speaking members of the union.


Silence and the Image of Helplessness

Unionisation of language teachers Working in the language teaching industry When Japan entered a long period of depression lasting more than a decade in the early 1990s, there was a surge of labour disputes in the foreign language teaching industry involving migrant workers. Until then, language instructors had enjoyed a fairly secure working environment. Japan’s economic bubble in the late 1980s and its rising international presence made the country an attractive place to visit and stay. O’Sullivan comments that while some people came to Japan specifically for the purpose of teaching, such as through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) programme, the rest were either interested in ‘one or many aspects of Japanese culture’, or ‘simply travelling, and [they] find Japan an interesting place for an extended stay’ (O’Sullivan, 1996: 3). For the latter group of people, teaching English was an appealing option since ‘they can earn a useful amount of money teaching English during their stay’ (O’Sullivan, 1996: 3). In the 1980s, the English language teaching industry was rapidly expanding under the nation-wide call for ‘internationalisation’ (Takasu, 2003: 37; interview with Takashi, Nambu member and long-term active trade unionist, 13 May 2010). At that time, many Japanese perceived studying English at language schools as a matter of prestige and a sophisticated hobby: ‘Adults may be studying English as a hobby, or for a kind of social cachet’ (O’Sullivan, 1996: 16; original emphasis). Alongside the call for internationalisation, the focus of English education shifted from reading and writing to speaking. As Yamada argues: While Japan’s English language education traditionally focused on grammar, reading and writing, the curriculum started to stress communicative skills in 1989. Along with the introduction of a communicative approach, the teaching style has changed from grammar/knowledge-based to oral communication. (2015: 4) The emphasis on English-speaking skills contributed to the proliferation of language schools, which offered conversation salon-style teaching. The main attraction of these language schools was to offer their customers a chance to interact with native English speakers. An increasing demand for language teachers meant that finding jobs at language schools was not so difficult for native English speakers. For example, having arrived in the middle of the English language school boom



of the 1980s, O’Sullivan found his first job as an English teacher ‘less than 24 hours after touching down in Tokyo’ (O’Sullivan, 1996: 3). Considering that he had never been to Japan before, this is indeed astonishing. Even though his case might have been exceptional, O’Sullivan confidently writes: ‘most people find that it is around a year before they have everything set up the way they want it – a pleasant apartment, all paid up, a satisfactory timetable [for teaching] and a proper visa’ (O’Sullivan, 1996: 14). The language instructors’ secure working environment changed when the bubble economy burst in the early to mid-1990s. As an increasing number of language schools started downsizing, there was a rapid increase of labour consultations brought to trade unions by language teachers: From 1992, financial conditions [of language schools in Japan] rapidly worsened and due to bankruptcy, closure and retrenchment, there were many cases of restructuring, dismissals, unpaid wages and deteriorating working conditions. (Takasu, 2003: 37) It was around this time that an increasing number of English teachers began to approach the Nambu trade union. This was not the first time, however, that Nambu handled cases brought by language teachers. In the mid-1970s, followed by a sudden increase in living costs and the collapse of the dollar caused by international oil shocks, some language teachers felt the need to unionise to protect their job security. They found out about Nambu through Beheiren (Citizen’s League for Peace in Vietnam), whose anti-Vietnam War campaign the union was actively involved in at that time. This resulted in the establishment of a labour branch, Sony Language Laboratory (Sony LL) in 1974. The branch was not only the first Nambu labour branch led by migrant workers, but also the first union branch organised by newcomer migrants in Japan (Takasu, 2003: 36). The surge of unionised language teachers in the 1970s was short-lived: ‘… key members returned to their home countries, working conditions improved, and within a few years, some unions disappeared’ (Takasu, 2003: 37). The second rise of unionisation among language teachers began in the 1990s, which led to a steady increase in language teachers joining Nambu. Hirohiko Takasu, a former Nambu trade union organiser who worked closely with foreign language instructors throughout the 1990s, recollects that between 1992 and 1995, ‘unions were formed at fourteen schools and 1992–93 was the peak of foreign membership in NUGW Tokyo South [Nambu], with perhaps about 500 foreign members in the union’ (Takasu, 2003: 38). Around 2000, several major language schools such as NOVA and ECC collapsed (Origuchi, 1997: 51). This further increased


Silence and the Image of Helplessness

labour consultations brought to Nambu and the number of Nambu union branches organised by language teachers. Furthermore, Nambu is seen as an approachable union for migrant workers because it is a so-called community workers’ union. Nambu was established in 1956 as Jounan Chūshou Goudou Roudou Kumiai [Jounan Small and Medium Enterprise Amalgamated Union], which was ‘a local community amalgamated union that could also be joined by individual workers’ (Takasu, 2003: 35). Japanese trade unions are primarily categorised into two groups: an enterprise union (kigyou kumiai) and community workers’ union (chīki goudou rouso). Enterprise unions are a traditional form of organisation in Japan, and usually set up within large corporations (Kumazawa, 2013: 82–130). Only full-time Japanese permanent workers of the company are usually welcomed. Enterprise unionism means that ‘nearly all unions are organized at the enterprise level regardless of their occupations and only one union in one firm is quite common’ (Tachibanaki and Noda, 2000: 11). This differs from Europe and North America where ‘the organization of unions is based on worker’s occupation and/or the industry in which a particular firm operates’ (Tachibanaki and Noda, 2000: 11). In Japan 80–90% of enterprise unions are closed shops where employees have few options but join (Tachibanaki and Noda, 2000: 20, 23, 27). Unlike enterprise unions, community workers’ unions are open to anyone regardless of employment category (part-time or full-time), nationality (Japanese or non-Japanese), or legal status (with or without status) (Shipper, 2008: 93–4). Since the majority of migrants work in small and middle-sized companies without permanent contracts and, in some cases, any status of residence at all, community workers’ unions offer an attractive place to contact if they face trouble at work (Ishizaki and Yorimitsu, 2004: 4; Shipper, 2008: 93–4). Japanese trade unions are not necessarily open to migrant workers, believing that accepting migrant workers to unionism would lower the labour standard in general (Ijū Roudousha to Rentai suru Zenkoku Network, 2009: 61; see also Terasawa, 2000: 220). Since the 1980s, however, various community workers’ unions have gradually accepted migrant workers (Ishizaki and Yorimitsu, 2004: 3).

Establishment of Nambu FWC Despite their affiliation to Nambu, unionised language instructors at first lobbied for issues related to language teaching through a separate organisation, the Kanto Teachers’ Unions’ Federation (KTUF).1 KTUF



was set up in 1990 by a group of language teachers from various unions, including those at Nambu, who worked in Tokyo and its neighbouring areas (Takasu, 2003: 37). As such, KTUF was able to address various issues that concerned language teachers from different unions, such as standardisation of working conditions and precarious employment status (Takasu, 2003: 37). Although KTUF was initially established as a fairly formal organisation that collected dues from its member unions, it was eventually dissolved in 2004 ‘due to the bankruptcy of many of its member unions’ companies, and the departure of active individuals’ (National Union of General Workers, 2004: 2; see also McLaughlin, 2007: 142–4). In 2004, some former KTUF members set up a group within Nambu, the Nambu FWC, which was, in practice, a successor for KTUF. Since then, Nambu FWC has functioned as a hub of language instructors in the greater Tokyo area. The FWC continued to address issues raised by KTUF, such as fixed-term contracts and unfair dismissals, but also others including enrolment in social insurance (shakai hoken), overtime pay, and low wages.2 For example, unlike Japanese colleagues, foreign language instructors do not generally receive bonuses and/or social insurance from their employers (Wilkinson, 2003: 366; Committee for the Life and Rights of Migrant Workers and SMJ, 2010a: Part II 1(1)). The increase in salaries for language teachers also became one of the demands pursued by some Nambu labour branches. Since the 1990s, language teachers’ salaries have decreased to as little as ¥1,500 per hour, less than two-thirds of what they used to earn in the 1970s and 1980s (interview with Takashi, Nambu member and long-term active trade unionist, 13 May 2010). As KTUF’s successor, Nambu FWC grew to become a go-to union when language teachers faced problems at work. When Nambu FWC was set up in 2004, there were seven union branches: Simul Academy International Teachers Union, NOVA Union of Teachers, Berlitz General Union Tokyo, University Teachers’ Union, I-Campus Union, Tokyo Metropolitan Kokusai High School Union of Foreign Teachers, and IHT/ Asahi Workers Union (National Union of General Workers, 2004: 2). The number of branches quickly expanded to represent mostly migrants working as language instructors. FWC members usually unionised at their workplace. For example, there were union branches organised at private language schools such as Simul Academy, Berlitz, Linguaphone Japan, Kanda Institute of Foreign Languages, and Institut franco-japonais de Tokyo (Nichifutsu Gakuin, currently the Institute français du Japon). Some of these labour branches included a small number of Japanese members who worked at these schools. Other members had multiple workplaces and unionised under


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the same professional category. For instance, the University Teachers’ Union collected members who worked at various Japanese universities. The Assistant Language Teachers’ branch was set up by assistant language instructors who worked at public and private secondary schools. Although the majority of the Nambu FWC branches were composed of language teachers, it also had labour branches organised by journalists, such as The Japan Times branch, and others who joined Nambu FWC as individual members. Most Nambu FWC members came from English-speaking countries such as Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US, but some were from French-speaking countries including Canada and France. Most migrant members were language teachers, shared similar problems at work, and used English as their main language for communication. Given these factors, it made practical sense to create a sub-group within Nambu, primarily for migrant workers. Nambu FWC was granted semiautonomous status within Nambu. As part of Nambu, the FWC paid union dues to Nambu. Its members were encouraged to attend Nambu activities including its annual general meetings. The Nambu executive committee included some FWC members. While the FWC was treated like any other Nambu union branch in these regards, it also enjoyed a semi-autonomous status, unlike other branches. Nambu FWC had its own union organisers who were in charge of Nambu FWC and who coordinated its activities with Nambu (interview with Masaki, former Nambu organiser, 2 April 2010; interview with Fumi, former Nambu organiser, 21 May 2010). The FWC held its own annual general meetings in English, different from the ones held at Nambu. It had its own executive committee, separate from the Nambu executive committee, which was comprised of FWC members only. Brian, a long-time union organiser at Nambu, served as an important bridge in connecting FWC members with Nambu.3 Brian had been working as the first and only full-time migrant organiser since the establishment of the FWC. He came to Japan in 1995 and first worked as a translator at a Japanese company. He began to get involved in Nambu activities when the company fired a group of translators and copyeditors, including Brian, and the labour dispute began. After the dispute was settled, Brian started volunteering at Nambu, and Nambu later hired him as a full-time union organiser. Between 2004 and 2010, when the FWC was part of Nambu, Nambu had three full-time union organisers, Brian and two Japanese staff. While Brian was in charge of most of the union branches belonging to the FWC, the Japanese staff members were primarily responsible for other union branches that consisted of Japanese members. Brian’s position as an FWC-focused full-time union organiser meant that, not only was



information about the FWC passed on to Nambu through Brian, but also information about Nambu was provided to migrant members through him. He informed FWC members of Nambu meetings, and regularly updated them on its activities. With his fluent linguistic skills in Japanese, Brian served as a key facilitator of interactions between migrant workers of the FWC and Japanese members of Nambu. He acted as a translator for migrant members and Japanese members, not just at meetings but also in an informal setting if necessary. Brian was not the only person who embodied the link between the FWC and Nambu. Several migrant members were selected as Nambu’s executives since the establishment of the FWC, and between 2006 and 2010, some migrant members were hired as part-time staff to assist Brian. Nevertheless, for many migrant members, Brian served as the most visible and important connection with Nambu. One former union branch leader at the FWC put it to me this way: ‘[For many migrant members], Nambu was Brian’ (interview with Ben, former FWC member, 29 May 2010).

Changing relationship between migrants and Japanese Talk of independence from Nambu did not emerge among FWC members until the late 2000s. Until then, the relationship between migrant members and Japanese members remained relatively neutral. Some efforts were made to create an inclusive environment where members could take part in union activities regardless of their nationality. For example, since 1991, Nambu began to provide language assistance, such as translation of materials and provision of interpreters, to its migrant members at the annual general meeting (Takasu, 2003: 38; interview with Fumi, former Nambu organiser, 21 May 2010). The annual general meeting was the highest decision-making body of the union where important issues of union management were decided, including amendments to the constitution, approval of executive committee members, and approval of the budget. Provision of English language assistance at the general meeting was a critical step for migrant members to participate in the running of the union, even in a ceremonial way. In 1997, the first migrant member was selected as an executive committee member in Nambu, and the second one in 1999 (McLaughlin, 2007: 146). Although the number of migrant member executives remained one or two until the establishment of the FWC, it can be argued that an inclusion of migrant members in the executive committee was another symbolic acknowledgement of the presence of migrant members in Nambu.


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Nambu’s major labour dispute with the Tokyo Gaigo Senmon Gakkou (Tokyo Foreign Language College), which began in 1995 and lasted for seven years, also provided an opportunity for migrant members and Japanese members to work closely. The dispute began when five Japanese full-time teachers were fired. This eventually led to a series of dismissals involving both Japanese union members and migrant members of the school. During the dispute, union members cooperated with one another in a number of ways. For example, Nambu’s Japanese union branches successfully mobilised other Japanese trade unions to publicise the case widely and build a solidarity movement across unions (interview with Masaki, former Nambu organiser, 2 April 2010). An English conversation class called Kaiko Academy (Dismissal Academy) was sporadically held by dismissed English teachers to Japanese members of Nambu and other unions. Their participation fee was used to finance the dispute. Other similar fundraising events, such as a benefit performance, also created an opportunity for migrant union members and Japanese members to interact (McLaughlin, 2007 : 90–1). As McLaughlin (2007: 158–60) suggests, there was some discord between Japanese members and migrant members of the union over the way in which the labour dispute with the Tokyo Foreign Language College was handled. Despite this, visible tensions between the two only arose in 2009. Several incidents took place around that time, which seemed to trigger talk of independence among migrant members. One incident was the handling of a sexual harassment allegation against Brian. While the case was dropped later and his name was cleared, some FWC members thought that Nambu had handled the case in an undemocratic manner (field note, 23 March 2010). Some changes and irregular procedures regarding the FWC’s cooperation with Nambu also left sources of potential friction in the future. For example, at Nambu’s annual convention in 2009, only one Japanese member was selected as chairperson. This was against the custom held between 2004 and 2008, where one Japanese and one migrant member served as joint chairs at conventions. This symbolic gesture of solidarity between Japanese members and migrant members was ended without any explanation to, and consultation with, the FWC. Aside from these visible changes in union management, a deteriorating relationship between Nambu and Brian also contributed to talk of independence. Brian directly worked with two other Nambu Japanese union organisers and attended a number of Nambu events including the annual general meetings and the executive committee meetings. He got to know Japanese union members who were active in Nambu as well as trade unionists from other unions. He was well versed in Japanese customs and



had a native-level proficiency in reading, speaking, and writing Japanese. And yet, he continued to feel that he was constantly being identified as a foreigner, not as a person working toward the same goal together with other Japanese workers. For instance, Nambu Japanese union organisers frequently introduced Brian to others as, ‘Korega uchino gaikokujin no orugu desu’ (‘This is our [Nambu’s] foreign union organiser’) . This made him wonder why other Japanese union organisers were not introduced as ‘This is our Japanese union organiser’ (field note, 7 March 2010). At demonstrations, one of the frequently used chants was: ‘Gaikokujin to isshoni tatakau zo!’ (‘Let’s fight together with foreigners!’)). For Brian, this seemed to suggest that migrant workers were separated from Japanese workers and perceived as being in need of support from the Japanese (field note, 7 March 2010). At the Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan (SMJ) national forum held in June 2008, Brian expressed his frustration to migrant workers belonging to other unions. The SMJ national forum, a biannual event, attracts civil society actors ranging from migrant workers’ community unions to immigrant women’s NGOs and organisations working for refugees and detainees. After the general meeting, several thematic meetings are held, and forum participants can join the ones they are interested in. In 2008, one of the sub-group meetings was on labour and chaired by Brain. For the meeting, Brian proposed a provocative statement for discussion: ‘Labour unions should not help migrant workers’. Brian explained to the attendees, including migrant workers and Japanese unionists, that his intention was to problematise the hierarchical relationship between Japanese union members and migrant union members (field note, 14 June 2008). The topic failed to engage the participants. A handful of migrant workers commented on the way they worked with Japanese workers in their union activities, but none directly responded to Brian’s statement (field note, 14 June 2008). I suspect the forum might not have been the best place to discuss the topic frankly, since both migrant workers and Japanese activists were present at the meeting. The semi-autonomous status of the FWC within Nambu suggests that migrant members remained neither too close nor distant from Nambu’s Japanese members. In other words, there were limited occasions for most of the FWC members, except Brian and a few others, to directly observe Nambu’s union management. However, two events took place at the height of the uncertainty over independence that gave FWC members a crucial chance to learn about Nambu and to form their own opinions. One was the meeting called the ‘Great Debate’ held among FWC members to discuss the future of the FWC.


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The other involved the FWC’s submission of 35 requests to Nambu. As I show in the next section, what came out of these two events was a quest for democracy. It was through the idea of democracy that migrant unionists problematised their inaudible position within Nambu and envisioned a union community where everyone had the right to speak on their own.

Lack of democracy, lack of audibility The Great Debate In early February 2010, the FWC organised a parliamentary-style debate called the ‘Great Debate’ to discuss the future of the FWC. It was the first and only time when FWC members as a whole debated openly whether they should leave Nambu to set up an independent union of their own. About 25 people joined the event. It was open to both FWC members and the rest of the Nambu members, but neither the two full-time union organisers of Nambu nor the Nambu Japanese members, except one, came to the event.4 It was broadcast live via the internet, and everyone was able to access to the site if requested (field note, 7 February 2010). The motion for the debate was shared a couple of weeks prior to the event through the FWC members’ listserv as follows: ‘Members of the FWC should separate from members of the Nambu and form a new labour union’ (field note, 7 February 2010). At the event, four FWC members volunteered to speak about their positions: two stood to support the motion and two against. The former, the ‘Leave’ side, was represented by two members; one had an ongoing dispute with his employer over his dismissal case and a provision of social insurance. The latter, the ‘Remain’ side, consisted of language teachers from two large union branches, one of which also had an ongoing labour dispute at that time. After each speaker’s talk, the floor was opened for questions, which was followed by an informal discussion. At the end, a stroll poll was taken in an open ballot system: 13 members voted to leave the union, 2 to stay, and 5 were undecided. Interestingly, both the Remain and Leave sides constructed their positions based on the question of language, albeit in different ways. Both speakers from the Remain side argued that Nambu was a key resource for FWC members because the majority of language teachers were unable to speak Japanese. One Remain-side speaker began his speech by pointing out how difficult it would have been to create an English-speaking union



in a county where union activities were primarily conducted in Japanese. The other speaker reminded the audience that their activities, such as collective bargaining and interactions with lawyers and government agencies, needed to be translated and facilitated in Japanese. For the Remain-side members, migrant workers’ inability to speak on their own was a practical linguistic problem. Meanwhile, the Leave side regarded migrant inaudibility as a manifestation of an unequal relationship between local activists and migrant protesters. For the Leave-side speakers, what bothered them the most was that migrants were not given a chance to speak on their own. One speaker representing the Leave side said: ‘I don’t like to have a mommy and daddy figure [in union activities]’ (field note, 7 February 2010). He expressed his disappointment with Nambu that, although the union should have been blind to nationality, migrant workers of Nambu were treated like ‘children’ who needed help from Japanese members acting as their ‘parents’. The other Leave-side speaker pointed out that migrant members were made visible in union activities only in a way that served the purposes of Japanese members. He described that, for Nambu, working for migrant workers was its ‘special project’ because migrant workers were treated like ‘jewels’ and ‘pretty ornaments’ that Nambu could proudly present to others (interview with Mark, former Nambu FWC member, 24 June 2010). For him, to be truly visible in union activities, migrant members needed to be treated as an equal partner to Japanese members, as people who had the ability to act on their own. Thus, he concluded his speech by saying, ‘We have the power to build a new union’, arguing that migrants were not as powerless as the Nambu Japanese members thought they were (field note, 7 February 2010). To signal the unequal relationship between migrant members and Japanese members, the Leave side relied on the concept of democracy to highlight the importance of migrant audibility. Brian, who openly argued for the need to leave the union, made sure that the Great Debate was organised in a democratic way where anyone could speak freely and openly. Both sides presented their positions in writing and shared them with FWC members (emails circulated on the FWC mailing list, 26 January 2010). Brian submitted the Leave side position, while one FWC member the Remain side. During the event, the participants spoke candidly about their opinions on the future of the union. Some expressed their reservations about independence, demanding that the Leave side provide the exact reasons why migrant members needed to leave Nambu. Some even expressed their distrust of Brian, who was present at the event, and his handling of the relationship between the


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FWC and Nambu. After the event, Brian praised the success of the event as follows: We had a magnificent debate today about Nambu FWC’s future. It was a wonderful working example of democracy, free speech, transparency and solidarity.… When it came to the debate over the renamed agendum “FWC’s future”, nearly every member spoke her or his opinion pro, con and undecided.… The democratic, open, lively debate was quite refreshing – how a union should be. (email sent by Brian, 17  January 2010; emphasis added)

Submission of 35 requests Soon after the Great Debate, the FWC handed a formal letter to Nambu containing 35 requests. Each request was written in both Japanese and English. By translating their requests into Japanese, FWC members ensured that their voices would be heard by the Japanese members of the Nambu, loud and clear. In the letter, migrant members raised a number of issues that had been discussed at the Great Debate event. These included the process and method of collecting union dues, access to the union’s financial record, and the status of one part-time union member of staff (Nambu FWC, 2010). Other issues were related to the existing practices of the union. For instance, one of the requests specifically spelled out the need to ensure the democratic nature of the union management irrespective of union organisers’ nationality or positions (Nambu FWC, 2010). Nambu remained silent on the FWC’s requests, however. It neither provided answers to the 35 requests nor organised a meeting to discuss these requests with the FWC. No specific reason was given to FWC members to justify Nambu’s unresponsiveness. Although the submission of the letter was intended to clarify some aspects of the union management, the union’s unresponsiveness unwittingly corroborated the main claim put forward by the Leave side during the Great Debate: Nambu was an undemocratic union that did not allow migrant members to speak up. Having been frustrated at Nambu’s lack of response, eight FWC union members occupied the union office in early April and demanded that Nambu talk to them. Brian, one of the participants, described the incident as follows: We [the Nambu and Nambu FWC] should be all on the same side, but that is not the reality. Our solidarity is broken …



we have done everything possible to resolve things through “rational discussion”…. (email sent by Brian, 6 April 2010) While the FWC was depicted as trying to have a ‘rational discussion’ and, in this way, adhere to the idea of democracy, Nambu was regarded otherwise. Instead of having a ‘rational discussion’, Japanese unionists refused to discuss the issues with migrant unionists. The FWC and Nambu ‘should be all on the same side’ because they were both union members. By concealing the information that should have been open to all union members, Nambu undoubtedly left the impression that migrant members had been silenced in the running of the union. Less than a month after the occupying of Nambu’s office, the majority of FWC union branches left Nambu to join the new union, Tozen. Following Rancière (see Chapter 2), it could be argued that migrant members’ assertion of the right of speech was one way to bring the egalitarian logic into what migrants saw as a hierarchical relationship between Japanese and migrant members of the union. The latter acted on the assumption that, regardless of nationality, each union member was equal and entitled to have a say about the union. By bringing the egalitarian assumption of speech into the union management, FWC members practised what Rancière calls politics, the moment of disturbing the existing social order (Rancière, 1999, 2010). The migrant workers challenged the silenced position assigned to them and the monopoly of speech by the Japanese citizens. What was key for migrant members’ assertion to their right of speech was the idea of democracy. With the idea of democracy, some FWC members argued that they were not the recipients of help from Japanese trade unionists and would not remain quiet. For them, a democratically run union should ensure that everyone could speak freely and that no one should be silenced. The Great Debate event was one example of how migrant unionists envisioned a democratically-run union. It was held based on the assumption that any member could exercise their right of speech. Similarly the 35 requests were submitted because the FWC assumed that Nambu would take its union members’ voices seriously, regardless of their nationality. In contrast to the FWC’s democratic handling of the independence talk, Nambu appeared as an undemocratic union. It refused to have any discussion with its migrant members. In this way, the idea of democracy was used to resist the distribution of voices where only citizens, in this case, Japanese union members of Nambu, monopolised the domain of speech. Although migrant members were visible through their participation in the union, some felt that they had been treated as voiceless children in need of a ‘mommy and daddy’ who spoke for them.


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Democracy and language The idea of democracy was not only connected to migrants’ right to speech but also intertwined with their Japanese language skills. During the course of my research, I talked to both migrant workers and Japanese workers of Nambu, who explained that the language barrier between Japanese and migrant members was unrelated to the latter’s decision to leave Nambu. Once I asked one migrant unionist whether the majority of FWC members would have left Nambu if they could have spoken Japanese and communicated directly with Japanese members. He suspected that they would still have left because, he argued, the fundamental reason for migrants leaving Nambu was a disagreement over Nambu’s union management (interview with Thomas, former FWC member, 17 June 2010). Another long-time Japanese Nambu activist reflected on the lack of a ‘cooperative’ (kyousei) relationship between migrants and Japanese workers. He speculated that without such a relationship, both sides did not have the basis to understand one another (interview with Takashi, Nambu member and long-term active trade unionist, 13 May 2010). For him, it was not linguistic differences but the lack of a cooperative relationship that caused FWC’s breakaway from Nambu. Drawing on the Tokyo Foreign Language College dispute case, another Japanese member argued that Japanese and migrant unionists were not divided by their linguistic differences but rather united by their effort to support one another (interview with Fumi, former Nambu organiser, 21 May 2010). Only one migrant member ventured that speaking English as the common language might have contributed to a sense of solidarity among migrant trade unionists. Yet she quickly acknowledged that the division between the Leave side and the Remain side among English-speaking migrant members was ‘irreconcilable’ because factors other than linguistic differences played a part in the FWC’s quest for democracy (interview with Amy, former Nambu FWC member, 15 September 2010). I certainly do not think that linguistic differences alone can explain migrant members’ decision to leave Nambu. Migrant workers’ primary concern was what they perceived as the lack of democracy in union activism. At the same time, however, the demand for a democratic union was intertwined with migrant members’ inability to understand Japanese. Their sense of being included in union activism was dependent on the lowering of the language barrier between Japanese and English speakers. For example, at the Great Debate event, the two speakers from the Remain side argued that the ability to speak Japanese was vital for migrant members to take part in union activism in Japan (field note, 7 February



2010). One Leave-side speaker responded to this point by emphasising the importance of bilingual speakers in the new union so that any member could participate in union activities when English was used as the main medium of communication (field note, 7 February 2010). In other words, for both the Leave and Remain sides, the ability to communicate in Japanese was understood as a crucial means for guaranteeing migrant members’ participation in union activism. The connection between the idea of democracy and language barriers could also be seen in the 35 requests prepared by the FWC. Each request was written in both Japanese and English so that the voice of migrant members was made intelligible to anyone, regardless of nationality. For migrant unionists, the idea of democracy was premised on the assumption that people could communicate with one another without language barriers. The difference between the Remain side and Leave was that while the Remain side saw Nambu as a resource to make up for migrant workers’ lack of Japanese skills, the Leave side argued that the new union could find a way to bridge the linguistic gap between English and Japanese on its own. As a bilingual union activist, Brian also seemed to be acutely aware of the link between linguistic competency and migrant workers’ ability to exercise their right of speech in trade union activities. Soon after Brian started working at Nambu, he was surprised to learn that union members were separated in some meetings depending on which language they spoke, English or Japanese. Having seen this, he made sure that interpreters were provided at meetings so that non-Japanese-speaking union members could attend the same meetings as Japanese-speaking union members (field note, 23 March 2010). Brian observed that, the more interpretation assistance was provided, the more migrant members started to speak up at meetings because they could, first and foremost, understand what was being discussed (field note, 23 March 2010). In other words, for FWC migrant members, to be able to ‘speak’ had two meanings. First, it carried a symbolic meaning of democracy where the voice of migrant members was included in union activism. Some FWC members left Nambu to challenge the speechless position assigned to ‘foreigners’ in contrast with Japanese members who acted like their ‘parents’. These migrants envisioned a union where everyone was treated equally and the voice of each member was taken seriously. Second, to be able to ‘speak’ meant that there were few language barriers. To exercise the right to speech, migrants needed to be informed of what was being discussed at meetings and to be able to express their opinions regardless of their Japanese linguistic skills. For this reason, having translators at meetings was vital for many FWC members. Without translation


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assistance, they would not have been able to understand what was being discussed at meetings and to voice their opinions. For migrant workers, language was both a symbolic sign of their audible status and a tool of communication. In this regard, a new union allowed former FWC members to create a space to break their silence, a space where they could speak on their own. The establishment of Tozen allowed migrant workers to realise their version of a democratic union in an environment where English, the language spoken by the majority of them, was used as the main language of communication.

Democratic union for all? To gain their audible presence, some migrants decided to set up a union where English was used as the main medium of communication. They refused to belong to a union where they were made visible only to serve an ornamental role. For them, creating an English-speaking union was a way to make sure that their voices would be heard in union activities. Following Chapter 2, it can be argued that the migrant workers’ decision to set up a union points to a type of politics conditioned by translatability – one’s voice needs to be made intelligible in order to enact oneself as a political being. English-speaking migrant members felt that not being able to speak on their own meant losing their audible, and hence political, status. However, as I discuss in this section, the newly created English-speaking union also faced the challenge of linguistic differences. Since some Tozen members are not English speakers, they have to manoeuvre their untranslatable and inaudible position within the union. Unlike the case of FWC, these non-English members of the union do not find their lack of audibility problematic. It appears that, for them, the mismatch between visibility and audibility is something they live with in a multilingual union.

Tozen and the democratic ethos In April 2010, the majority of FWC union branches left Nambu to join Tozen. Together with new local branches of Tozen, they held the first Tozen annual convention on 25  April, where about 40 people participated. The breakaway from Nambu did not end entirely amicably. Tozen members, many of whom used to belong to Nambu, were no longer invited to street demonstrations, meetings, and events that were



organised by Nambu and its partner organisations. Reference to the FWC was also removed from Nambu’s website. In the history section of Nambu’s website, the union history abruptly ends in the 2000s with the phrase, ‘soukatsu henshu chu’ (‘currently preparing to summarise and edit’).5 Despite Nambu’s continuous attempt to silence the voice of former FWC members, Tozen successfully established itself as a sought-after union for people working in the foreign language teaching industry. When Tozen was set up, it initially consisted of seven local unions, but its membership expanded quickly. As of March 2018, it has 22 union branches, some of which used to be part of Nambu, and others were formed by Tozen. The former include The Japan Times, Gakugei Daigaku, Linguaphone, and Sophia University International Teachers and Employees Union, while the latter include the Syndicat des Employés de l’Institut franco-japonais (SEI), Philippine National Bank (PNB), Union des Personnels Locaux du Lycée Franco-Japonais de Tokyo, University Workers Union, Gaba language school branch, Apple Japan Local, and COCO (Nichii York Academy, Communication Competence) Local.6 Among Tozen members, there was a strong sense of solidarity built around the idea of democracy. Members were encouraged to exercise their right of speech and to voice their opinions. Their active participation was considered a crucial element of a democratic union. For instance, throughout the union’s first convention, the word ‘democracy’ was repeatedly used. Before the approval of the union constitution, Tozen executives who drafted the constitution highlighted parts that might directly affect the question of the democratic management of the union (field note, 25 April 2010). These parts included the selection process of Tozen executives, the creation of a committee that monitors executives, open access to information on records of union dues, and the disclosure of all records of income and spending of union finances. Later, Brian, the first president of the union, reported on the event as follows: We adopted a constitution for the union that demands far greater democracy, transparency and fairness, including a special constitutional commission to adjudicate disputes, complete financial transparency to all members, and strict rules on democratic procedures. (email sent by Brian, 26  April 2010; emphasis added) The idea of democracy was continuously used after the first Tozen convention. Before the union’s quarterly meetings, Brian urged its members to attend the meeting and reminded them that the union had


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been created by them, and that each member had a voice to contribute to Tozen: Please help us improve our attendance and member participation further. The more members participate, the more democratic and successful will our union be. Help us build a truly democratic, transparent and effective labor union. (email sent by Brian, 4 July 2010; emphasis added) At the second quarterly meeting held in October 2010, participants had lively debates about whether Tozen should accept one migrant worker from another union (field note, 15 October 2010). During these discussions, several union members argued that, as a ‘democratic’ union, Tozen should be open to people from other unions. Other members asked what this new member could do for the union: they argued that, if the new member was to join Tozen, he needed to actively participate in union activities to practice its democratic spirit. Whenever necessary, the union members took pains to repeatedly emphasise the democratic nature of their union.

Silence of non-English speakers The connection between the idea of democracy and linguistic competency poses a challenging question to multilingual migrant activism. If migrant workers’ linguistic ability is linked to their sense of inclusion in union activism, as was the case with Nambu, there will always be some members who might feel powerless because of their inability to speak the ‘right’ language. Tozen, too, faced this challenge. In Tozen activities, English was used as the main language for communication. This meant that the new union’s democratic ideal was partially dependent on its members’ ability to speak English. Tozen is primarily composed of English speakers, but a minority of members speak other languages, such as French, Japanese, and Tagalog. For instance, one Tozen branch, SEI, is composed of both French- and Japanese-speaking people. The PNB consists of Filipinos who speak English, Tagalog, and other dialects of the Philippines. One Filipino member of PNB sometimes translates in Tagalog for others who have trouble using English (interview with Susan, Tozen member, 28 June 2010). The university teachers’ union and individual union members include Japanese workers. This multilingual aspect certainly appears to be a point of pride for Tozen. Prospective members are assured that they



can contact the union ‘in your language’ since it has ‘native speakers of Japanese, English, Tagalog, French, Urdu, Cebuano [a dialect in the Philippines], Ilokano [a dialect in the Philippines], Vietnamese and other languages’.7 At the same time, the multilingual aspect of the union presents a formidable challenge to Tozen’s democratic ethos. Since its inception, the union has been confronted by the question of how to create a democratic union where everyone can speak on their own regardless of different levels of proficiency in English. At the first union convention held in April 2010, some non-English speakers already had trouble following the meeting. At the beginning of the convention, some English-speaking Tozen members explained the purposes of Tozen and its significance to the Japanese labour movement. Their speeches were filled with hope for the new union and enthusiasm for the new journey it was about to begin (field note, 25 April 2010). In the middle of this introductory session, one member from the US quietly approached me to ask if I could act as a translator for three Japanese lawyers who had been invited as guests to the meeting. This surprised me. I somehow assumed that interpretation arrangements had been made in advance so that not only the guests but also Tozen’s non-English-speaking members could follow the first meeting of the new union. As the convention went on and newly-selected executive members repeatedly emphasised the democratic nature of the union, some Japanese people belonging to the SEI branch appeared puzzled at the contents of the discussion. Aside from the declaration of the union, all the materials distributed at the meeting were only available in English (field note, 25 April 2010). Not being able to follow the discussion led by native English speakers, Japanese SEI members, whom I was sitting nearby, asked a French speaker to translate the discussion into French for them. Later I had a chance to talk to this French union member. He explained that, while French-speaking members of his union were able to use English without difficulty, Japanese-speaking members had trouble following meetings and discussions held in English (interview with Lucien, Tozen member, 8 May 2010). He further speculated that, although Tozen vowed to be ‘a union for all’, in reality, it would have difficulty accommodating migrant workers from China and Southeast Asia because they may not feel comfortable using English (interview with Lucien, Tozen member, 8 May 2010). The English-speaking environment seemed to be a continuous challenge for some non-English-speaking unionists in subsequent meetings. When I attended Tozen’s annual meeting in April 2016, I observed the same kind of linguistic struggles I saw during the union’s first year. At the meeting,


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a motion was proposed by one member regarding Tozen’s position on nuclear energy policies. After a discussion was held in English, voting for the motion was called for, and a Japanese member volunteered to represent her union branch to vote. Despite her intention, however, she could not fathom the exact substance of the vote. A migrant worker who convened the meeting in English approached her to check which way she was voting. Not exactly understanding what he was saying in English, she eventually accepted the response rehearsed by him. This incident reminded me of the difficulty for some non‑English-speaking members to participate in Tozen activities. Because little translation assistance was offered, non-English-speaking unionists became more or less silent throughout the meeting. Meanwhile, discussions were dominated by native English speakers and non-English speakers who could speak English well.

Living with untranslatability Some Tozen members were aware of the linguistic barriers. One Filipino member observed that it was largely thanks to Brian who acted as a translator that non-English-speaking people could voice their opinions in Tozen (interview with Susan, Tozen member, 28 June 2010). During the time when I subscribed the union’s mailing list between 2010 and 2018, seasonal greetings and announcements of events, such as collective bargaining, demonstrations, and union meetings, were usually circulated both in Japanese and English. Occasionally, some announcements were also made in French and Tagalog. This indicated the widely shared awareness within the union that, without translation assistance, some people could not take part in union activities. Crucially, despite the language barrier, non-English-speaking workers did not seem to be bothered by the limited way in which they could engage in Tozen activities. Unlike former FWC members, Tozen members who could not speak English appeared indifferent to their inaudible status within the union. One reason for this could be that non-Englishspeaking workers did not feel that their union was undemocratic. Unlike Nambu, Tozen members took pains to create a democratic union where everyone could feel included. Currently, the union’s executive president is a Japanese-speaker and its general secretary a French-speaker.8 At the first convention, the union’s declaration of independence was read out by Brian in English and a Japanese member in Japanese (field note, 25 April 2010). At the first summer quarterly meeting, the same declaration was read out by a Filipino worker in English and another Japanese worker in



Japanese (field note, 23 July 2010). These examples clearly signalled the union’s effort to become a place not just for native English speakers alone but for all workers with multiple linguistic backgrounds. Thus, in the case of Tozen, untranslatability seems to be widely regarded as something that one needs to live with. Since both English and nonEnglish speakers perceive Tozen as a democratic union, or at least a union that makes a conscious and persistent effort to be one, the latter are not bothered by their inaudible presence. Untranslatability of their voice is something they accept as an unavoidable feature of a multilingual union. After all, it is not easy to find interpreters and to create an environment where constant simultaneous translation is provided. Even if interpreters are provided, it may not be practical to have them present because interpretation takes time. One English-speaking trade unionist from a different union reflected on communication problems of his own organisation that consisted of English, Japanese, and Portuguese speakers. He pointed out that the time spent for discussion would be severely curtailed, compared to discussion held without the presence of interpreters (interview with Charles, GU member, 21 June 2010). Considering that union activities are mostly held in each union branch, many members may see few incentives to bother raising the issue of interpretation at Tozen’s general and executive meetings. At the same time, I began to wonder whether there was only one way for migrant members to negotiate the gap between visibility and audibility. In the case of the English-speaking workers at the FWC, they responded to this gap by making themselves both visible and audible. They were troubled by that gap and saw the need to create an English-speaking union where they could take back their audible presence. Meanwhile, it appears that together with Japanese members who could not speak English well, non-English-speaking migrant workers at Tozen have engaged with union activism in a different way from former FWC members. Instead of challenging the dominance of English, they seem to be willing to be part of the union even if they have limited opportunities to participate in meetings, in a meaningful way, because of their lack of English skills.

Conclusion The contrast between FWC’s breakaway struggle from Nambu and Tozen’s non-English-speaking workers’ indifference to language barriers suggests different ways of engaging with untranslatability. In the case of Nambu, migrant inaudibility symbolised a hierarchical relationship between Japanese unionists and migrant activists. The latter felt that


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they were silenced by the former on account of their inability to speak Japanese. For these migrant workers, the establishment of Tozen was a challenge to their inaudible position. By using the idea of democracy, they argued that everyone should be able to speak on their own, regardless of nationality. In Tozen’s case, inaudibility was something to live with. Since the idea of democracy was already widely shared among its members, nonEnglish-speaking workers did not seem to find it particularly problematic that they had difficulty joining discussions and exchanging their opinions with native English speakers. Although the voice of some non-Englishspeaking migrants remains untranslatable, their inaudibility has been, so far at least, accepted as an unavoidable feature of a multilingual union. As I show in the next chapter, inaudibility can also be engaged productively without the kind of confrontation discussed in this chapter. In the case of a trade union where the majority were Latin American workers, Japanese unionists conveniently misinterpreted the silence of migrants as a sign of solidarity between local activists and migrant protesters. Meanwhile, the migrant workers encouraged such misinterpretation: they remained silent, rather than raising a voice to challenge Japanese members. Through their silence, migrants demonstrated their ‘loyalty’ to their union. For some migrant workers, not raising a voice of their own gave a convenient means of creating a favourable impression among Japanese activists and ensuring that their own labour disputes were handled properly by Japanese people. In this way, unlike Tozen’s nonEnglish speakers who merely regarded their inaudibility as an inevitable feature of a multilingual union, Latin American migrants saw a chance to creatively engage with the untranslatability of their voice. Notes Some refer KTUF as the Kanto Foreign Language Teachers Union Federation (Takasu, 2003: 37). 2 Migrant workers from Latin America reported the same problems. See Murayama (2009, Table 4). 3 Brian is a pseudonym. 4 An exception was a long-serving Japanese member who spoke English well and personally got to know some Nambu FWC members. At the event, he remained silent. 5 See the Nambu website at 6 See the Tozen website at 7 See 8 See and 1



Rewriting the Meaning of Silence: Latin American Migrant Workers from Kanagawa City Union On 21 April 2010, I attended a demonstration called the ‘Day for Foreign Workers’ Rights’. The street demonstration was organised by three trade union groups, Nambu Foreign Workers Caucus (FWC), Kanagawa City Union (KCU), and Zentouitsu Workers Union (Zentouitsu). Each union represents specific migrant groups: FWC stands for language teachers from Europe and North America, KCU manual workers from Latin America, and Zentouitsu trainees and interns from China. About 80 people participated in the demonstration to visit companies against which the unions were fighting. Setting up in front of company offices, the demonstrators appealed to the public to explain how migrant workers were being treated by their employers. When the demonstrators moved to the entrance area of the English language school that had a labour dispute with the FWC, several FWC members took turns to make speeches about their working conditions. For this occasion the FWC had prepared an A4-size double-sided leaflet that contained information about several labour disputes involving FWC members. During the speeches, together with other FWC members, I distributed the leaflets to both passers-by and members of other trade unions. Distributing leaflets to passers-by was not an easy task. Street demonstrations tend to carry a negative image in Japan due to the legacy of student radicalism in the 1960s and 1970s (Oguma, 2012: 140–54). Some people visibly avoided the demonstrators with their trade union flags and placards. Others looked at us with suspicion.



Handing out the leaflets was equally challenging when I approached KCU’s migrant members. Some of them said, ‘No English’ or ‘I can’t read Japanese’ in broken English or Japanese. When I showed them that the leaflet was written in both English and Japanese, some took it but, after a brief glace, put it into their pockets. Others simply shook their heads to decline the leaflet. Language barriers may not have been the only reason why KCU migrant workers showed little interest in the FWC’s leaflet. Most Latin American migrants in Japan, mainly Bolivians, Brazilians, and Peruvians, engage in so-called ‘3K’ jobs (or ‘3D’’ jobs in English) – kitsui (demanding), kitanai (dirty), and kiken (dangerous) – the kind of jobs ‘the Japanese no longer wanted to do’ (Sharpe, 2011: 122). Because of the different lines of work they engage with from language teachers, KCU members might have felt that that they had little in common with FWC migrant members. While Nambu FWC’s agenda is mostly about ‘job tenure, improvement and standardization in work conditions and salary schedules, and workman’s compensation’, migrants who work as manual labourers in Japan are concerned about ‘just remuneration for injury, medical coverage and safe working conditions’ (Douglass and Roberts, 2000: 283). Importantly, KCU migrant members’ indifference to demonstrations was not limited to the FWC’s protest I joined on that day. As I discuss in this chapter, on other occasions including their own union’s demonstrations, they appeared somewhat distant from the noise and enthusiasm that characterised community union activism. This does not mean that KCU migrant members were invisible and silent. The KCU street demonstrations were usually filled with sound. Its migrant members sang songs of their own and loudly chanted with their fists raised in the air. At the same time, closer observation revealed an unmistakable element of silence. Not all KCU migrant participants were as vocal as Japanese members of the same union. Most remained quiet and offered not their voices, but their physical presence. However, unlike in the case of the FWC, KCU migrant workers merely followed what Japanese activists instructed them to do. As Chapter 3 has shown, FWC members regarded the gap between their physical presence and lack of their own voice as a troubling sign of inequality between Japanese and migrant trade unionists. They questioned the division between citizens and migrants by openly challenging the monopoly of speech by the former. Meanwhile, KCU migrant members appeared unconcerned by the mismatch between their visibility and audibility. Instead of confronting the Japanese activists, KCU migrant members simply let the Japanese do the talking.


Rewriting the Meaning of Silence

As I argue in this chapter, what concerned these migrant members the most were their own labour disputes. Many KCU migrant members were interested in neither the unequal relationship between migrants and Japanese workers nor abstract goals such as energising trade union activism. Instead, their interest was in solving their own work-related troubles. To do so, it was crucial for these migrant workers to depend on KCU’s Japanese organisers who had the requisite negotiation and Japanese language skills. Therefore, many migrant members pretended to be enthusiastic about union activism to please the Japanese members of the union. In this way, KCU migrant members engaged with the mismatch between their visible presence and silence differently from Nambu FWC members. Instead of openly confronting the Japanese activists, they opted for a pragmatic strategy of using the union to pursue their own personal gain. Existing studies dismiss the migrant workers’ strategic use of trade unions as a sign of their failure to participate in activism in a politically meaningful way (Tsuda, 2006: 283–3; Sharpe, 2014: 163–6). Built on my discussion in Chapter 2, I argue instead that nikkei migrant workers’ relation to the KCU indicates an act of questioning the citizens’ monopoly of speech at the expense of migrant inaudibility. By exploiting their own silenced position to pursue personal gain, KCU migrant members quietly rewrite the terms of their own inaudibility. What appears as lack of enthusiasm for union activism does not necessarily signal their mere ‘unwillingness to become active civic participants’ (Tsuda, 2006: 283), but has much to reveal about a strategy of belonging to community through performative silence. This chapter focuses on two occasions, the annual meeting between trade unions and central government representatives as well as KCU’s ‘Day Long Action’ (ichinichi koudou). While the former is an occasion where the KCU works with other unions to appeal to the government, the latter is the union’s own direct action event to pressure corporations with which the KCU has ongoing labour disputes. These two events show different ways in which both Japanese members and migrant members of the union put on an act of showing their solidarity, while in practice, each pursued their own goal at the expense of migrant workers’ inaudible presence. The chapter is divided into three. The first section discusses the socioeconomic background of Latin American migrants in Japan and their relationship to the KCU. The subsequent two sections examine the two occasions mentioned above, respectively.



Latin American migrants and Kanagawa City Union (KCU) Welcoming back Japanese descendants? The KCU largely consists of Latin American nikkei migrants, including Bolivians, Brazilians, and Peruvians. A sizeable group of people from South America began to arrive in Japan since 1990, drawn by the government’s creation of a new visa category, ‘long-term resident’ (teijūsha). This category applies to second- and third-generation nikkeijin, descendants of Japanese émigrés. Unlike other residency statuses, the teijūsha visa has no restrictions on what jobs the ‘foreign-born Japanese’ (Shipper, 2008: 26) are allowed to take in Japan. This has led to a dramatic increase in nikkeijin from Latin America, ‘supplying the peripheral labour market in the manufacturing sector, particularly in the automobile, electronic and food-processing industries’ (Urano and Yamamoto, 2008: 224). A decade-long recession in Japan has not resulted in a decline in the number of Latin American nikkeijin (Tsuda, 1999a: 146; Kajita et al, 2005: 8–9). The history of Japanese emigration to Latin American countries dates back to the early 20th century. Encouraged by the government, many Japanese citizens moved to Latin America in search of work, and eventually formed sizeable minority communities in their host countries. The Japanese government’s official emigration programme was active for 48 years, ending only in 1973 (Yamanaka, 1997). The return movement of nikkei migrants increased dramatically after the 1990 reform of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act (see Ministry of Justice, 2006: 29, Table 11). From 1985 to 2008, the number of Brazilians and Peruvians in Japan jumped from 2475 to 372,305. By the 2000s, Latin American Nikkeijin made up the “third largest group of foreigners in Japan” and the “country’s newest ethnic minority”…. (Hollifield and Sharpe, 2017: 384) The 1990 amendment provided not only Latin American nikkeijin but also their family members with easy access to the Japanese labour market. It allowed the spouses and children of nikkeijin migrants to stay in Japan and work without any restrictions for up to one year, and to renew their statuses without limitations. Long-term resident status or being spouses or children of Japanese nationals have served as, what Cornelius (1994) calls, a ‘side-door’ policy that allows Japanese companies to hire migrant workers as manual


Rewriting the Meaning of Silence

labourers (see also Kajita, 1994). Many of the nikkeijin migrant workers have engaged with so-called unskilled jobs. According to the Ministry of Labour, between 1992 and 1995, more than 50% of nikkeijin took on jobs in manufacturing, and about 15–20% in construction (statistics cited in Brody, 2002: 57). While the Japanese government does not officially accept manual labourers from abroad, it has deliberately created a number of loopholes in its immigration law (see Chapter 1). These policies, called ‘back-door’ and ‘side-door’ policies, allow Japanese firms to employ migrants as de facto manual labours. The creation of long-term resident status serves as one way to secure an unskilled workforce through an ‘unofficial’ channel (Cornelius, 1994; 395–7; Kajita, 1994: 51). Several factors prompted the relaxation of the immigration control for nikkeijin in 1990 (see, for example, Kajita, 2002: 21–5; Kajita, et al, 2005: 118–19). Among them, some writers mention racial homogeneity as a crucial factor. According to Yamanaka (1993), policy makers believed that ‘Japan’s possession of “one ethnic group, one language” as a key contributing factor to its post-war economic miracle’ (1993: 79). In this regard, the nikkeijin was regarded as an ideal group because, as ‘relatives of Japanese’, they would contribute to Japan’s economic prosperity without causing any problems of integration (Yamanaka, 1993: 79). Tsuda (1999b) similarly points out that the image of Japan as a homogeneous country served as a key ideological consideration for policy makers. The nikkeijin were regarded as being tied to Japan through their ‘race and blood’. This constituted the view that ‘those who are racially Japanese (that is, of Japanese descent) are assumed to be culturally Japanese as well because Japanese culture is transmitted through family socialization among those of Japanese descent regardless of national boundaries’ (Tsuda, 1999b: 11). Based on this view, the nikkeijin were differentiated from other groups of migrants: they were regarded as being part of ‘us’ in terms of their racial and cultural origins, and were assumed to have little difficulty in assimilating into Japanese society (Tsuda, 1999b: 12–13).

Isolation of Latin American migrants The discourse of racial homogeneity, however, does not necessarily lead to inclusion of Latin American nikkeijin into Japanese society once they come to Japan. For example, Brody points out that nikkei workers tend to feel isolated at work because of their limited Japanese language skills and a feeling of being discriminated against by Japanese co-workers (Brody, 2002: 64–5). Tsuda’s observation is illuminating in this regard. At the factory where he conducted the fieldwork, nikkei Brazilian workers wore blue-



coloured factory uniforms that served as an ‘ethnic marker which clearly distinguished them from Japanese workers’ in the same factory (Tsuda, 2003: 16). Neither spoke to the other because of the language barrier, the different types of jobs assigned to them, and some degrees of prejudice held by Japanese workers against the nikkeijin (Tsuda, 2003: 103–54). Beyond work, interactions between nikkeijin migrants and local residents are similarly limited (Kajita et al, 2005). Some housing agencies and landlords are reluctant to rent to foreigners, including nikkeijin (Brody, 2002: 65–6). In some cases, companies not only provide nikkeijin workers with apartments, but also dispatch corporate coaches for workers to commute (Kajita, 1994: 152). This further isolates the nikkeijin since there are few opportunities for them to interact with Japanese local residents. As the nikkeijin have begun to bring their spouses and children, channels of communication between the nikkeijin and local residents have increased, including at schools and hospitals. As Ikegami’s study suggests, however, the increasing contact may also accelerate the nikkeijins’ isolation due to language barriers, discrimination against foreigners in general, and lack of facilitators acting as mediators between nikkeijin migrants and local residents (2002: 163–75). Some Latin American nikkeijin feel alienated in Japan to the extent that they have begun to self-identify themselves as members of their countries of birth, in spite of a sense of alienation they previously felt in these countries because of their ancestral ties to Japan (Roth, 2002; Tsuda, 2003). To be clear, nikkeijin migrant workers can still work in Japan without Japanese language proficiency: When assigning specific tasks, the most important criteria was the language ability of individual nikkeijin. Those who do not speak Japanese cannot be given complicated duties that require extensive explanation and are therefore assigned the simpler jobs. Thus, they are generally given tasks that can be explained physically, through movements and gestures, which are frequently the most physically strenuous jobs. (Tsuda, 1999a: 161) Yet the poor Japanese language skills of the nikkei workers make them susceptible to exploitation by unscrupulous sub-contractors (Brody, 2002: 62) and workplace discrimination (Brody, 2002: 62, 64–5). Isolation from regular Japanese workers further ‘reduce[s] the need for linguistic assimilation’ for the nikkeijin (Brody, 2002: 67). In addition, as Sharpe argues, although the nikkeijin are separated from other migrants by their blood ties, ‘shared ethnicity does not necessarily


Rewriting the Meaning of Silence

facilitate immigrant political incorporation’ (Sharpe, 2011: 141). The contrast with the so-called zainichi Koreans is a telling one. Zainichi Koreans are descendants of Koreans in Japan, many of whom came to Japan as forced labourers during Japan’s imperial expansion in Asia. While suffrage for zainichi Koreans has been widely discussed among the public and policy makers, ‘virtually no media reports discuss the extension of political rights to LAN [Latin American Nikkeijin] on the basis of their coethnicity but rather argue the benefits and detriments of extending local voting rights to foreign nationals in general and Zainichi Korean “special permanent residents” in particular’ (Sharpe, 2011: 133). Following Kajita’s suggestion (2002: 23), the different degrees of interest in the political rights of zainichi Koreans and Latin American nikkeijin may indicate that Japan is not necessarily ‘an absolute “ethnic nation”’ (Kajita, 2002: 23) in the sense that blood lineage alone is not the defining aspect of the immigration policy. There are some channels for foreign residents including the nikkeijin to take part in political activities, at least at the local level, such as through the foreign residents assemblies and ombudsmen (Takao, 2003: 564; Hollifield and Sharpe, 2017: 387–8). Although these forums serve as an important arena for foreign residents to semi-officially express their concerns and opinions, their impact is limited because discussions in these forums carry no legislative power (Sharpe, 2011: 137). Sharpe (2014) identifies several reasons why political opportunities for Latin American nikkeijin are limited. Among them, ‘the difficulty of the Japanese language serves as a significant barrier’ (Sharpe, 2014: 164). Although nikkei workers might be interested in organising activism on their own, they inevitably have to depend on Japanese activists who act as translators for them. Furthermore, ‘the relative newness and small size and status of Latin American Nikkeijin groups’ (Sharpe, 2014: 164) as well as the internal division between nikkei Brazilians and other migrant workers from Latin American countries contribute to the limited political presence of Latin American migrant workers as a whole (Sharpe, 2014: 164–5). Drawing on the case of nikkei Brazilians, Higuchi (2002) suggests that some migrant workers are less interested in joining activism due to their unclear prospects of living in Japan on a long-term basis. According to Higuchi (2002: 217–18, 220), nikkei Brazilians are the least active migrants in the areas of voting as well as participation in foreign residents assemblies. Higuchi identifies the intention to remain in host countries as a crucial element to assess foreign residents’ motivation to act politically (2002: 208). Unlike zainichi Koreans, who are mostly born and raised in Japan, the prospect of staying or leaving Japan remains unclear for many nikkei Brazilians (Higuchi, 2002: 215–16; see also Kajita, 1994: 161–5).



Therefore nikkei Brazilians are identified as ‘guest worker’ migrants in that they are ‘less interested in the politics of host countries and continue to pay more attention to the tie to their countries of origin’ (Higuchi, 2002: 213).

Diverse backgrounds of KCU migrant members Despite their limited political presence in Japanese society, some Latin American migrants contact trade unions when they encounter difficulties at work. For example, Tanno (2002: 58) writes about the tendency among nikkei Peruvians to contact trade unions because, compared to nikkei Brazilians, it is more difficult for them to find jobs once they are fired. Angelo Ishi, a migration researcher, also comments on the recent trend where more and more Latin American nikkei workers are approaching trade unions in Japan because their working conditions are getting worse (Hirano, 2010: 185). The KCU is one of the trade unions where a sizeable number of Latin American migrants in the greater Tokyo area are joining to resolve labour disputes.1 It is located in Kanagawa prefecture, next to Tokyo, and part of the Keihin industrial zone. The union’s history dates back to 1984 when it was set up as a trade union open to any workers regardless of nationality and immigration status (Murayama, 1997). In collaboration with the Society in Solidarity with Foreigners in Japan (Tainichi Gaikokujin to Rentaisuru Kai) (hereafter referred to as Society in Solidarity), KCU started labour consultations especially for migrant workers from South Korea in the early 1990s. At that time, many Korean migrant workers came to Japan without any resident permits and worked in ports and Chinese restaurants.2 Being a port city and home of one of the largest Chinatowns in Japan, Kanagawa prefecture attracted many Korean workers (Murayama, 1997: 25). These Korean workers were initially suspicious of Japanese trade unions. Therefore, Satoshi Murayama, the founder of KCU, and his colleague, Masako Hirama, a zainichi Korean who initially acted as a translator between Japanese and Koreans migrants, began their regular visits to Kotobukicho area, which had a heavy concentration of Korean workers (Murayama, 1997: 25). Their visits were held twice a month for four years. Working closely with the Society in Solidarity also helped KCU to become known among migrant workers (Ogawa, 2004: 249). As a Catholic organisation, the Society in Solidarity had its own channel to work with migrant workers, particularly those from the Philippines, Korea, and Latin American countries (Ogawa, 2004: 247–9).


Rewriting the Meaning of Silence

Until 1998, the majority of labour consultations handled by KCU were related to Korean migrant workers (Ogawa, 2004: 254). As the number of Latin American nikkeijin increased after the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act of 1990, the number of the KCU members from Latin America gradually increased; since 1999, it exceeded those from South Korea (Urano, 2007: 58). The union has more Peruvian members than Brazilians, which reflects the location of the union. Among the registered Peruvians in Japan (47,972 in 2017), about half live in the Kanto region (24,296, 50.6%), including Kanagawa prefecture, where KCU is based (e-Stat, 2017c). In contrast, about 60% of Brazilians live in the Tokai region (107,149) including Aichi and Shizuoka (e-Stat, 2017c). In 2008, 61% of labour disputes were brought to KCU by Peruvian workers, followed by Brazilians (17%) and Bolivians (6%) (Murayama, 2009). Between 6 January to 31 May 2010, KCU handled 104 cases. Among them, 50 cases were from migrant workers from Peru, followed by 23 from Brazil and 14 from Japan (KCU, 2010). As of 2016, it had 818 members, about 650 of them migrants (Asahi Shimbun, 2016). KCU represents a diverse group of Latin American migrants who are, as a group, far from homogeneous. The more Latin American nikkei workers have come to Japan, the more varied their social and demographic backgrounds have become. For example, compared to the earlier group of nikkei Brazilians, people who have come to Japan since the late 1980s are younger – the latter group of nikkei Brazilians are mostly in their 20s and 30s – and relatively educated and privileged group (Tsuda, 1999b: 4–5). As the flow of migration from South America accelerated since 1990, the type of nikkeijin who came to Japan also changed. Due to a volatile economic situation in Brazil, some Brazilian nikkei migrants started coming to Japan around the mid-1980s. They tended to have few economic opportunities in Brazil and had been forced to seek employment in Japan. A few years later, as the image of working in Japan improved among the nikkei community in Brazil, more people came to Japan, not so much out of dire need, but to expand their own businesses and improve their living standards (Kajita, 1994: 153–5; Tsuda, 1999b: 16). Mori (1995: 525–7) notes that since 1990 there have been three groups of nikkei Brazilians, each of which has been driven by different motives: the first group came to Japan to increase their overall family income; the second group aimed to realise their personal career goals; and the third group was more interested in ‘enjoying’ the experience of living in Japan. Sueyoshi (2017) similarly observes the different reasons for migration between first- and second-generation nikkei Peruvians. While the former were driven by the need to ‘provide material wellbeing to their families’, the latter was driven by ‘emotional and moral



well-being’, where coming to Japan was perceived as an opportunity for career advancement and personal wellbeing (Sueyoshi, 2017: 230). The relaxation of immigration for nikkeijin has also prompted family migration where people have joined family members who are already working in Japan. The status of Brazilian migrant workers and that of Peruvian workers also differs. Compared to nikkei Brazilians, nikkei Peruvians tend to lack the necessary documents that prove their Japanese ancestry because they had to discard such documents to survive political upheavals in Peru during the Second World War. Consequently, ‘a considerable number of Peruvians have irregular visa documentation and many of them are illegal’ (Urano and Stewart, 2007: 111). Their unstable visa status makes it difficult for some Peruvians to find jobs in Japan. Job security and access to social welfare services also differ between nikkei workers and non-nikkei workers, Peruvians with legal status and those without, and those with better language skills and those without (Urano and Stewart, 2007: 122). These differences can result in internal rivalries among Latin American migrant workers (Sharpe, 2014: 164–5).

Silenced voice of migrant workers Visible presence of migrant workers These various divisions among Latin American migrants did not appear noticeable at the KCU’s demonstrations I attended. Rather, what stood out was their presence as migrant workers as a group. To mobilise a large number of migrant workers for street demonstrations is a unique feature of the KCU. As one of the KCU union organisers says, ‘Number is everything’ when it comes to demonstrations to effectively generate an impact (quoted in Shipper, 2008: 108). Migrant workers also became visible by using distinguishing outfits. KCU demonstrators, who included a small number of Japanese participants, usually wore vivid yellow vests on which a slogan was written both on the front and the back together with the union’s name. The slogans included: ‘Gaikokujin roudousha no kaiko wo yurusanai!’ (‘Don’t allow dismissal of foreign workers!’) and ‘Gaikokujin roudousha no kenri wo mamore!’ (‘Protect the rights of foreign workers!’) (field note, 25 June 2010). Some KCU members held union flags with the union’s name written in white letters on bright-red cloth. Since the members of other unions and NGOs did not necessarily wear any special clothes for the occasion, KCU members stood out among the demonstrators.


Rewriting the Meaning of Silence

The presence of migrant workers in KCU was also communicated via their music performances. This is another unique feature of demonstrations organised by KCU. According to Murayama, this style of protest was originally inspired by Korean migrant workers in Japan who incorporated songs and dance into their protests (Asahi Shimbun, 2016). These days KCU members sing a couple of songs in Spanish, including well-known Latin American protest songs Venceremos and El pueblo unido jamás será vencido, in front of the demonstrators. The lyrics of these songs are modified from the original versions to include some Japanese texts such as ‘Makenaizo!’ (‘We will not lose!’) and ‘Tatakauzo!’ (‘We will fight!’). The songs were accompanied by a drum beating out the rhythm. During the songs, several KCU members also moved a big dragon-like doll up and down, and walked in a small circle so that the dragon looked as if it was moving. The sheer volume of the sound generated by their performance left an unforgettable impression on the participants in the protests. By including songs sung in Spanish, the KCU demonstrations successfully made migrant workers visible. Since its members are mostly Latin American nikkeijin, their appearance can easily blend in with other Japanese people, making it hard to recognise who are ‘foreigners’. As Tanno points out (2002: 18–35), because Latin American migrant workers ‘look Japanese’, Japanese employers prefer to hire them over other migrant groups who look visibly different from the Japanese. For this reason, if the participants in the demonstration sing non-Japanese songs, it indicates that there are indeed ‘foreigners’ participating in demonstrations. While KCU migrant members became visible at the demonstrations I joined, they remained largely silent. Their visible presence was not translated as their audible presence. As I discuss below, at the annual meeting between civil society organisations and the government, the visible presence of migrant workers starkly contrasted with their lack of voice. While the Japanese activists monopolised the domain of speech, migrant members fell silent at the meeting where the Japanese language was predominantly used.

Annual meeting with government officials On 8 March 2010, a group of trade unions and NGOs gathered in the House of Representatives in Kasumigaseki, Tokyo, to attend the annual negotiation meeting with government officials. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a wide range of issues concerning foreigners living in Japan. The meeting with the government was one of a series of events organised every year for migrant workers during the period of the Spring



Offensive (shuntou). The Spring Offensive, a unique trade union practice in Japan, was originally initiated by the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan (Nihon Roudou Kumiai Souhyougikai) in 1955 with the aim of coordinating the actions of trade unions across different corporations to simultaneously make their demands. Since Japanese trade unions are organised primarily based on corporations, each union has its own agenda and requires less cooperation among workers. The Spring Offensive is designed to collectively boost the bargaining power of workers as a whole. The Spring Offensive for migrant workers began in 1993, facilitated by several trade unions including KCU, Nambu, and Zentouitsu (Torii, 2004, 2010). Various activities take place during the Spring Offensive period, and the meeting with the government representatives is one of them. Other events are also organised during this period such as street demonstrations – the ‘March in March’, the ‘Day for Migrant Workers’ and, the ‘Shuntou Solidarity Day’ – and collective bargaining between trade unions and employers. The meeting between NGOs and government representatives held during the Spring Offensive is a rare face-to-face occasion for activists and bureaucrats alike. For the NGOs and trade unions, the meeting is an important event to convey their concerns directly to government representatives and report situations about migrant workers. For bureaucrats, the meeting presents a useful chance to obtain hands-on information and modify their policies to accommodate reality on the ground. Sometimes the annual negotiation meeting leads to tangible changes. For example, as a result of having talks for several years with the National Tax Agency on the salary forms of migrant workers, the government eventually created a new form so that migrant workers could claim a tax reduction from their salary (Torii, 2004: 288). The annual meeting held in 2010 was attended by several trade unions and NGOs including KCU, Nambu, Zentouitsu, the Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan (SMJ), and Tokyo Occupational Health and Safety Centre. From the ministry side, participants included the Japan Pension Service, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Cabinet Office, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and Tourism, and the National Police Agency. The meeting was divided into three sessions. Labour-related demands were discussed in the morning, including contractual outsourcing and social benefits for language instructors. The afternoon began with a discussion of detention issues and the domicile registration of foreign nationals. The last session focused on the training and internship system.


Rewriting the Meaning of Silence

Representatives from the government side came and went, depending on whether or not the topics of each session were relevant to their ministries. When the topics discussed concerned their work, representatives of relevant ministries, NGOs, and trade unions joined the negotiation table. During each session, the table was fully occupied by participants from both sides. The floor was opened every now and then by the chairperson so that the people sitting behind the discussion table could provide additional information and put forward demands not mentioned at the table. The meeting was a full-day event with a one-hour lunch break in the middle: it began at nine in the morning and ended at five in the afternoon. Inside the meeting room, one desk was set up at the front. The bureaucrats sat on one side of the table, facing toward the room, while the NGOs and trade unions sat on the opposite side. The table was set up so that at least 10 people could sit on each side. The interpretation desk was set up at the front corner of the room. The organisers prepared ear phones for migrant workers to listen to the semi-simultaneous interpretation.

Japanese as the main language of the meeting In 2010 I attended the meeting to assist a professional Japanese-English interpreter. The room was packed with about 60 people. The KCU brought a large group of Latin American migrant workers: they sat more or less in the same area and wore yellow union vests for the occasion. The Foreign Workers Branch of Zentouitsu brought about 10–15 people including Chinese trainees and interns. A handful of people were from Nambu FWC. In terms of numbers, migrant participants outnumbered Japanese participants. And yet, the former hardly spoke during the eight-hourlong meeting since the main language used for the meeting was Japanese (field note, 8 March 2010). No doubt some migrant participants were familiar with the Japanese language and were able to speak Japanese, to some extent. However, to be able to participate in discussions and negotiate in Japanese requires a different level of linguistic fluency. During the talks, Japanese members of NGOs and trade unions nudged the bureaucrats to take some actions. They sometimes accused the government of inaction and demanded that the bureaucrats explain in detail the rationales for particular policies. The Japanese activists skilfully deciphered some bureaucrats’ responses that had been made in convoluted Japanese sentences, and admonished them when the bureaucrats used highly technical terms or abstract words to avoid providing straightforward answers. They talked persuasively, too, presenting concrete examples based



on experiences on the ground. Sometimes the activists tactfully praised the government officials, while severely chastising them at other times. Meanwhile the migrant workers remained tongue-tied. Most were unable to take part in the discussion because they were unable to speak Japanese or did not have the Japanese language fluency required for the occasion. Only two migrant members, one from Nambu FWC and the other from the General Union (GU), briefly joined the negotiating table and directly interacted with the government representatives (field note, 8 March 2010). They were fluent in Japanese: when they joined the discussion table, they expressed, in Japanese, their concerns and made suggestions. Otherwise no migrant workers sat at the negotiation table. Although documents used at the meeting were translated from Japanese to Chinese, English, and Spanish, the translation was incomplete, which posed further difficulties for migrant workers of the KCU. Three sets of documents, one set for each session, were prepared in Japanese (Committee for the Life and Rights of Migrant Workers and SMJ, 2010a, b, c). The materials handed out in the first session on labour-related issues were only translated into English. Considering that some labour-related issues directly affected people from Latin America, it did not seem to make much sense that a Spanish translation of the documents was not provided during the first session, but only for the last session on the training and internship system. For instance, parts of the demands presented in the first session read as follows: ‘Many foreign workers, especially most of the workers from Latin America, work at factories on electricity, cars and food. Their employment style is contractual’ (Committee for the Life and Rights of Migrant Workers and SMJ, 2010a: 3, Part III). And yet, alongside Chinese translation, Spanish translation was given only for the last session on trainees and interns (Committee for the Life and Rights of Migrant Workers and SMJ, 2010b). Furthermore, no documents were translated for the second session on immigration policies (Committee for the Life and Rights of Migrant Workers and SMJ, 2010c). In addition to translated documents, semi-simultaneous interpretation was provided. However, interpretation assistance also appeared insufficient. For the occasion, the KCU asked Mari, a nikkei Peruvian member of the union, to act as an interpreter for the entire duration of the meeting. She had been attending the annual meeting with the government for several years, acting as a Japanese-Spanish interpreter. When I spoke to Mari later, she was critical of the quality of translation assistance at the meeting (interview with Mari, 15 March 2010). Who checks the accuracy of the translated materials? How do we know that the interpretation is correct? Who interprets in place of her when she is the only Japanese-Spanish interpreter and needs a break? Indeed, when I was at the interpretation


Rewriting the Meaning of Silence

desk with Mari, she was away from the room every now and then during the meeting, but no one was covering her work. The negotiation with the government was conducted in such a way that silenced migrant activists who could not speak Japanese. Japanese was used as the main language of communication while other languages were excluded. Since translation assistance was incomplete, the migrant workers were only able to get a partial and patchy understanding of the negotiation. For the members of NGOs and trade unions, the annual talk with the government was a rare opportunity to appeal to government officials directly. Despite such importance, only Japanese activists, and a handful of migrant workers who had a sufficient level of Japanese, were able to voice their opinions, while the majority of migrant workers sat quietly behind the negotiation table.

Exploiting the silence of migrant workers Importantly, the presence of Japanese citizens, and the justification of their demands, was fortified by assigning a speechless status to migrant protesters. The mere collective presence of silent foreigners filled the room, corroborating the authority of Japanese activists as a ‘representative’ of migrant workers. Having a translation booth at the meeting and handing out translated documents were noticeable indications of the presence of migrants in the room. Most migrants, however, said nothing but merely faced the bureaucrats from behind the Japanese activists at the negotiating table. It is not hard to imagine that the accounts and demands presented by the Japanese activists sitting at the negotiation table would have become less convincing in an empty room with no migrant protesters present at all. As Shipper argues, having a large presence of migrants gives Japanese trade unions and NGOs ‘greater moral authority’ (2008: 108). In this respect, having these migrant workers on the side of the Japanese activists gave weight to their remarks. Japanese speakers monopolised the domain of speech, assuming the role of citizens who enjoy their prerogative to have a dialogue with the government. Meanwhile, the presence of migrant protesters was used to provide Japanese speakers with a silent authorisation; they negotiated with the government on behalf of the migrant workers. This exclusionary language practice produced a hierarchical relationship between Japanese and migrant participants in activism. While the former became visible in leading debates and strategising the direction of the negotiation, the voice of the latter was made inaudible. Some scholars



similarly observe the unequal relationship between local activists and migrant protesters in different contexts (see, for example, Kim and Inazuki 2000; Morris-Suzuki, 2003). For instance, Lisa Go, a missionary who works to support Filipino women in the sex industry, argues that although foreigners and Japanese citizens are both there to work together, only the Japanese citizens lead the movement. The voice of Filipino women activists becomes audible only when they perform the role of providing stories of their experience, which strengthens the image of them as victims, and fortifies the image of Japanese citizens as helpers (Go and Jung, 1999: 30–1, 315). Yamamoto (2004: 315) also points out that the lack of interpretation for non-Japanese speakers at meetings where both Japanese and Filipino participants attend further reinforces the silence of the Filipino participants. Go and Yamamoto’s arguments echo the experience of the migrant workers who attended the annual meeting with the government. By excluding foreign languages from the negotiation, only people who spoke Japanese were invited to join the discussion. When migrant workers were allowed to sit at the discussion table, they were required to speak in Japanese. Although translation assistance was provided, it was partial and insufficient. This made it more difficult for migrant workers to participate in the discussion. Since the meeting was designed and conducted in such a way that fluency in Japanese was a prerequisite to be able to join the discussion, the majority of migrant workers sat behind the negotiation table silently. The visible and yet silent presence of migrant workers lent the Japanese activists the authority to speak on their behalf.

Performing silence Indifference to the gap between visibility and audibility The Japanese members of the KCU appeared oblivious to the majority of its migrant members being unable to understand Japanese at the annual talk with the government. After all, the meeting had been organised for more than 10 years. If they wanted, the Japanese union organisers could have ensured proper interpretation services and full translation of handouts for migrant members. And yet, no one seemed to be bothered enough to ensure that the participation of migrant workers in the meeting became meaningful. Just like Go and others observed, some migrants, such as FWC members, regarded the migrant inaudibility as a troubling sign of inequality between migrant activists and Japanese activists (see Chapter 3).


Rewriting the Meaning of Silence

However, this does not seem to be the case for KCU migrant members. Instead of confronting Japanese union members, KCU migrant members appeared more or less indifferent to the silenced status ascribed to them at the meeting. For example, in the middle of a heated discussion between Japanese activists and bureaucrats, I noticed that some KCU migrant workers were dozing off every now and then (field note, 8 March 2010). Were they just tired? Or were they bored because they could not follow the discussion? Perhaps both? Mari, a Latin American nikkei migrant who regularly worked as a Spanish-Japanese translator for KCU, also suggested the KCU migrant members lacked interest in trade union activism. While she believed that migrant workers themselves needed to be ‘empowered’ through activism, she lamented that many KCU migrant members merely sang when they were asked to sing and danced when they were told to dance (interview with Mari, 15 March, 2010). On one occasion, after the annual meeting between activists and bureaucrats, Mari was stopped at the train station by a migrant worker from KCU who had attended the event. He casually asked her, ‘What kind of place were we staying today?’ (email correspondence with Mari, 10 March 2010; author’s translation). She was shocked to hear that although he had spent a whole day attending the meeting, he had no clue of what the meeting had been about. Together with other migrant workers, he had dutifully and wordlessly sat in a room, giving others the impression that they had understood what was discussed. At least to the eyes of the bureaucrats who only met these migrant workers once a year, their presence at the meeting must have appeared as an indication of their enthusiasm about migrant workers’ issues in general and their silent approval for Japanese activists. Having lodged no complaints, KCU migrant members appeared to play along with the Japanese activists, to create the illusion that the Japanese and migrant members of the union were of one mind. That migrant members merely provided their physical presence at the meeting was no secret to the union’s Japanese members. Rather, as I will discuss below with an example of KCU’s Day Long Action, the union’s activities are designed so that Japanese members and migrant members of the union can both benefit from each other to realise different goals at the expense of migrant inaudibility. For the Japanese union members, the goal is to appeal effectively to the Japanese public. To do so, street demonstrations are conducted exclusively in Japanese. They care less about whether migrant workers understand what is going on at demonstrations. For the migrant members, the goal is personal: they wish to solve their own labour disputes. For this purpose, they happily become silent when they are told to do so by Japanese union organisers. In exchange for their



silence, the migrant workers are eager to secure the Japanese activists’ involvement in their own labour cases.

Appealing to the ‘Japanese’ public The Day Long Action is a well-known KCU activity that dedicates one whole day to staging a series of demonstrations in front of accused companies.3 As the name implies, it is a day-long event, usually starting from seven thirty in the morning and ending around eight in the evening (Shipper, 2008: 105). It is held at least once a week and 50 to 60 times every year in total. Each time, 30 to 60 members attend, and about 80% of them are migrant workers (Ogawa, 2000a: 47). More or less the same format of protest takes place throughout the event. The protest starts with speeches conducted in front of the company accused by KCU. KCU’s Japanese staff members usually make speeches in Japanese to explain how the firm treats KCU members badly, and to criticise the company’s foul play. These speeches are followed by the members chanting several phrases such as, ‘Issho ni tatakau zo!’ (‘We will fight together!’) in Japanese. KCU members punch their fists in the air to demonstrate their intention to fight management (Shipper, 2008: 105). Chants are followed by several songs sung in Spanish by union members. The songs are accompanied by the sound of a large drum. Some members move a green dragon doll up and down during the songs. After this, the participants move on to the next venue to stage another demonstration following the same format (field note, 25 June 2010). During one action day, the union usually visits three to four businesses to protest. As Ogawa (2000a, b) points out, the purpose of Day Long Action is to appeal to the public. By making protests in front of firms with a large crowd of people, the event attempts to publicise labour disputes and demonstrate the unfair treatment of migrant workers to the public. Shouting loudly in front of company offices with microphones and making noises with street performances tarnish the public image of these companies because neighbouring corporations can see that these accused firms have some problems with their employees. This social pressure and the desire to maintain a good corporate image inevitably put pressure on the companies, which can result in better deals and smooth solutions to labour disputes. Importantly, the target audience of their appeal is the ‘Japanese’ public. Having attended the event, Shipper points out: Through these disruptive, annoying, or distracting demonstrations, the community workers’ unions effectively


Rewriting the Meaning of Silence

engage citizens, including passersby, in communication with one another on issues concerning foreign workers. (2008: 106; emphasis added) The Day Long Action is a chance to appeal to the ‘Japanese’ public, which includes random passers-by, businesses with which they have a dispute, and the local community in which these companies are located. The purpose of the Day Long Action was clearly reflected in the manner in which the Japanese language was exclusively used throughout. When I attended the event, there were about 30 people (field note, 25 June 2010). The majority of the participants were migrant members of the union including Bolivians (Spanish), Brazilians (Portuguese), and Peruvians (Spanish). Only a handful of Japanese members joined: two union members and three or four KCU staff members. Although the participants in the event were mainly migrant members, no translation between Japanese and Spanish, or Portuguese, was provided, except twice. Once, during a break, a Japanese union organiser informed the participants about the location of toilets and reminded them to flush the toilet after use. I wondered whether some migrant members felt insulted, or at least awkward, to have been treated as if they did not know how to behave in a public toilet. The other time, interpretation was provided during a speech made by a KCU union organiser. One of the businesses the union visited on that day was holding a shareholder meeting. In front of the company’s office, the union’s founder, Murayama, began to explain in Japanese the nature of the labour dispute they had with the firm. He used a microphone and spoke as if he was talking directly to the shareholders. After the set of protesting activities was finished, there was still some time left until the shareholder meeting was due to finish and the shareholders were to come out. Only then did he begin to make another speech in Japanese, and one union member was asked to provide an interpretation in Spanish. This was the only time when translation of speeches relevant to the demonstration was provided, although the content of the speech was not quite about the labour dispute between the union and the company in question. Murayama provided a brief history of the KCU instead, and discussed more general topics about Japanese society, such as the corruption of Japanese courts. The shareholders’ meeting finished in the middle of his speech, and people started coming out of the building. Murayama immediately stopped his speech and began to emphasise the company’s foul play in Japanese again. The interpretation abruptly stopped. The Japanese union organisers were fully aware that the majority of migrant members were unable to understand what was going on during



the Day Long Action. One of the Japanese staff members had made a casual remark, in Japanese, about the reason why the union members sang songs: ‘These people do not really understand the [Japanese] language. So the only thing they can do is to sing a song’ (field note, 25  June 2010; author’s translation). This remark echoes comments made by Ken, one of the leading Japanese organisers of the union: ‘Many of KCU’s migrant workers do not understand the [Japanese] language.… And this [demonstration] is street action (gaitou koudou). They cannot just stand there idly. They need to perform some action’ (interview with Ken, 28 June 2010; author’s translation). He acknowledged that many KCU members could not understand Japanese. When showing me the monthly KCU newspaper filled with photos (Kanagawa City Union, 2009b), Ken explained that, since many members were unable to read Japanese, pictures would suffice to explain the union’s activities to them (interview with Ken, 28 June 2010). By organising protests predominantly in Japanese, the KCU made sure that it appealed to the Japanese people. Although the Japanese activists knew that most migrant members did not understand Japanese and were thus unable to fully comprehend what they were actually protesting about, they did not seem to be bothered by the inaudible status of migrant workers. Since the purpose of the protest was specifically to appeal to the ‘Japanese’ public, providing a translation was not a priority.

Silence as a means to pursue personal gains Crucially, for KCU’s migrant members, the Day Long Action is an important occasion where they demonstrate their serious commitment to trade union activism. Unlike other trade unions that usually give a daily allowance for members who participate in protests, the KCU only provides its members with lunch and train fares (interview with Ken, KCU union organiser, 28 June 2010). This is because the union’s Japanese staff members use the attendance of the union’s events, including the Day Long Action, as a way to judge how serious and committed union members are to the cause of migrant workers in Japan. Depending on their level of commitment to union activities, the union staff decide how much support the union will offer to solve their individual labour disputes. In the past, if people did not attend the Day Long Action, they were not even able to seek any consultations with the KCU (interview with Ken, KCU union organiser, 28 June 2010). Shipper (2008: 105) reports that the Day Long Action was conducted four times a month, and attendance of at least one of these events was a prerequisite for the


Rewriting the Meaning of Silence

organisers of the union to agree to handle its migrant members’ labour cases. In other words, for KCU migrant workers, the main purpose of participating in the protest action is to exhibit their enthusiasm in front of Japanese union activists who will eventually handle their labour disputes. As Ogawa observes: In reality, the participation in the Day Long Action event is not necessarily dependent on the eagerness of migrant workers. For migrant workers, attending the event is above all proof that they have the will to fight with the KCU. That is, it may be that migrant workers attend the event in order for the KCU to pick up their labour disputes. (2000b: 28) The migrant workers’ pragmatic incentive to attend the Day Long Action can be explained by the union’s high rate of resolving industrial relations cases. Each year, KCU receives about 300 to 500 labour disputes: they range from accident compensations and unpaid salary to disenrollment from employment insurance, health insurance, welfare pensions, and violent treatment in the workplace (Ogawa, 2000a: 42; Murayama, 2009: 12–13). These disputes are almost single-handedly dealt with by Murayama, a legendary trade union activist and founder and chair of the union. He started participating in union activities in the early 1970s. His devotion to trade unionism resulted in him being ambushed and beaten by the Japanese mafia (yakuza), allegedly hired by unknown business interests, which increased his respect among some migrant workers as well as Japanese unionists (Shipper, 2008: 116). His long experience as an activist and his passion to fight for migrant workers are key assets for KCU to establish a reputation as a union with the ability to solve labour disputes. The incentives for migrant workers to use KCU can also be explained by the union’s ability to settle cases with a greater amount of compensation than other unions. Many Latin American migrant workers are hired through sub-contractors to work in small and mediumsized companies (Urano and Stewart, 2007: 104, 119–20). The KCU, however, requests compensation not from these companies but from their parent corporations that hire migrants as dispatched labourers. These organisations have a bigger financial base and are well able to pay 60 to 100% of the compensation requested by the KCU. Since the KCU’s financial income depends on contributions (15%) from the total compensation received by its members, the relatively high compensation it wins through labour disputes results in the union having an affluent financial status (Ogawa, 2000a: 45).



The high success rate and greater compensation seem to explain the large number of migrant workers contacting KCU and becoming its members. The growing reputation of the union reflects the number of labour cases it receives. For instance, in 2008, 536 labour dispute cases were brought to KCU, and 642 people joined the union. Murayama proudly reported that another union that frequently appeared in the media received about 3,000 labour dispute cases, but only 150 to 200 new members (Murayama, 2009: 13–14). Taking into account the possible motivations for people to attend union activities, I suspect many KCU migrant members attend demonstrations and meetings not because of their genuine enthusiasm in trade unionism, but because of the need to pretend that they are interested in it. If attending union activities such as the Day Long Action is a prerequisite for their labour disputes to be handled by the KCU, it is not difficult to guess that people must dutifully attend these events, even when they are not generally interested in union activism. To be fair, some migrant members of KCU might become interested in trade unionism as a result of their regular participation in KCU activities. Indeed, in 2006, a group of Peruvian members created a sub-group of KCU called Form Condor Union to promote unionisation at work, arguing that doing so would be beneficial for ‘fighting for workers’ rights over the long term’ (Urano and Stewart, 2007: 119). In Turner’s study on Japanese unions, she observes that some Japanese union members developed a certain degree of ‘workers’ consciousness’ through their participation in street demonstrations (1995: 184–99). Similarly, I think it is entirely possible that some migrants might genuinely become motivated beyond their self-interest to express their anger and frustration even in the most orchestrated forms of protest, such as the Day Long Action. For example, during the Day Long Action event I joined, at one point there was a skirmish over the location of the protest between union members and security guards hired by one of the companies KCU visited that day. Due to the Road and Transportation Law, KCU protests were previously conducted within the premises of the company. However, because the security guards were new to their job, they did not know this past practice, and requested that the demonstrators leave the premises. The small arguments between the security guards and the union organisers grew to a situation where migrant protesters then burst into the building. Once inside the building, some of them suddenly began to sing songs in Spanish. This was the first time I saw them singing songs voluntarily. Their spontaneous singing loudly conveyed their anger. This unsolicited act of singing signalled an undeniable declaration of their presence. By singing in an otherwise quiet office building, these migrant protesters


Rewriting the Meaning of Silence

made themselves not just visible but also audible – through the songs – asserting their legitimate right to protest. At the same time, not all of the migrant members joined in with the singing. When they were asked to leave the building by the security guards, some quickly left the premises and waited for the other union members outside, standing away from the building. A couple of them were having a quick smoke. Perhaps these members wanted to protect themselves from getting into trouble instead of insisting that they had the right to protest. After all, if they only cared about their own labour dispute, why would they bother risking themselves by getting into trouble for others’ labour disputes? The performative aspect of silence could also be seen at other occasions during the demonstrations. At each protest site, demonstrators had to shout with their fists high in the air while chanting slogans such as, ‘Isshoni tatakauzo!’ (‘We will fight together!’), ‘Makenaizo!’ (‘We will not surrender!’), and ‘Futoukaiko yamero!’ (‘Stop unfair dismissal!’) in Japanese. Because of their unfamiliarity with the Japanese language, some migrant members struggled to chant. Some simply moved their mouths to pretend that they were shouting something. Others made some shouting sounds to imitate the sound of chanting in Japanese. At one point, I was standing next to a Bolivian migrant worker. We were standing near the back of the group. When the chanting started, he began saying something entirely different, while giving me a mischievous look. Others standing close to him noticed this, and they all eventually began to chant something different together. They shouted sufficiently loudly for the people around them to hear. However, they did not shout loud enough for the union’s Japanese staff standing at the front of the group to hear them. Later, I asked what they were chanting. Some laughed while others simply shrugged their shoulders. I was not sure if they had even understood my question, either in English or Japanese. Or were they just being evasive? Disclosing what exactly they were chanting could suggest that they were not serious about union activities. If this became known to the union’s Japanese members, they would certainly risk the possibility of the union not handling their labour cases. Thus, for the union’s migrant members, their silence had a performative element. It did not matter for them whether or not they were informed about the purpose of the protest or given sufficient translation of speeches. They did not care much about what exactly they were shouting. After all, the migrant members were protesting for labour disputes that concerned other union members. Their main purpose to attend union activities was to appear as if they were committed to union activism and to act as



if they were in solidarity with other migrant members who had similar problems. In this way, they performed the silent role expected of them. It was through this performance that the migrant members ‘demonstrated’ their commitment to the Japanese union organisers and, in turn, secured KCU’s help in resolving their own labour cases. Existing studies suggest that the tendency among migrant workers to use trade unions only for personal gain indicates the limit of selforganised migrant activism: they fail to voluntarily mobilise themselves, but instead remain as passive recipients of the help offered by local activists. When migrant workers contact organisations such as NGOs and trade unions, some of them are simply motivated to solve the problems they have (Ishizaki and Yorimitsu, 2004; Takaya, 2008: 132–4). Referring specifically to migrant workers at the KCU, Ogawa argues: … we can hardly say that the union [KCU] is cultivating the ability of its foreign membership to realise its rights as workers by forming solidarity relations at work and expanding their autonomy by organizing other workers themselves. (2001: 5; see also Ogawa 2000a, b) Ogasawara and her colleagues also observe that Japanese trade unions in general fail to secure migrant workers’ sustained commitment to union activism beyond their individual labour cases (Ogasawara et al, 2001: 174). Shipper similarly says: Once their [foreign workers’] disputes are resolved, they typically leave the workers’ unions. In other words, foreign workers in Japan join these labor unions not to strengthen worker solidarity and the labor movement but to seek resolution of specific labor disputes with employers. (2008: 94) The performative aspect of the silence suggests, however, that migrant workers are not necessarily passive when participating in union activities. In the case of KCU activities discussed in this chapter, they actively determined their relationship with Japanese members on their own terms. To solve their own labour disputes, the migrant workers performed the silent role expected of them by the Japanese union members. Their silence was a means to pursue their own interest rather than an indication of their subordinate position in relation to the Japanese trade unionists. In this way, the migrant workers rewrote the terms of their own silence: migrant inaudibility signalled their quiet refusal to engage with the kind of politics where citizens monopolised the domain of speech.


Rewriting the Meaning of Silence

Conclusion As discussed in Chapter 3, the language teachers of the FWC created their own union to defy the silenced status ascribed to them. Instead of confronting Japanese activists as these language teachers did, the KCU migrant members performed their silent part and followed what they were told to do and how to behave by Japanese unionists. At the annual talk with government officials, the union’s Japanese activists relied on the collective presence of its migrant members to assert their authority. Their silent presence was necessary for Japanese participants to verify their credibility, that they were speaking on behalf of migrant workers as a whole. At the Day Long Action, migrant workers’ attendance was equally important to create an illusion that a large number of migrants cared about issues concerning other migrant workers. Migrant protesters hardly spoke at both occasions other than sitting quietly, or shouting and singing when they were told to do so. The large appearance of migrant demonstrators put pressure on a company to resolve its labour dispute with KCU as soon as possible. It was not the voice of migrants but their visible presence that mattered for Japanese activists. Meanwhile, the migrant participants willingly performed the silent role given to them. At the annual talk with the government, they patiently sat behind the negotiation table although they could not understand what was being discussed in Japanese. At the Day Long Action, they chanted in Japanese, or pretended to do so, even when they did not understand the meaning of what they were shouting. They also sang songs in Spanish, no doubt a ‘foreign’ language not only for Japanese- but also for Portuguesespeaking members of the union. In return for their silence, the migrant protesters made sure that their own labour cases would be handled by the Japanese union organisers. The KCU’s high success rate and its reputation for demanding relatively large amounts of compensation are attractive incentives for migrants to join the union and to take part in its activities. Especially when attendance is used as a criterion of whether or not the union organisers will look after their cases, migrant members can be motivated by an instrumental desire to resolve their own labour disputes rather than an interest in supporting trade unionism more generally. By performing the role expected of them, the migrant protesters quietly rewrote what it meant for them to be silent in union activities. Their silence was a means to make personal gains through the KCU. Performing silence allowed the union’s migrant members to disengage from activism where citizens monopolised the domain of speech. Instead, they ensured that in return for their silence, their labour disputes would be solved with the union’s assistance. In this way, KCU migrant workers demanded



fair and just treatment at work through their strategic engagement with silence. Notes Aside from the KCU there are a couple of unions in the western part of Japan, such as the GU, that accommodate nikkei Brazilian workers. Some Japanese and Brazilian workers at Bando Chemical Industries in Kobe also formed a trade union together in 2009 (Hirano, 2010). 2 See the blog entry posted on 11 December 2017 in the announcement (oshirase) section of KCU’s website at 3 Following Urano (2007: 57), I translate the phrase ichinichi koudou as ‘Day Long Action’ in English. Shipper (2008: 104) calls it ‘all-day action’, and KCU (2009a) translates it as ‘One-Day Action’. 1



The Hidden Space of Mediation: Migrant Volunteers, Immigration Lawyers, and Interpreters The previous two chapters have discussed different ways in which migrant workers negotiate the mismatch between their physical presence and lack of opportunities to speak when enacting citizenship. Chapter  3 focused on migrant workers, mainly from English-speaking countries, who challenged the gap between visibility and audibility. In the Nambu union where Japanese was predominantly used, some migrant workers perceived the lack of opportunity to speak on their own as a problematic sign of inequality between citizens and foreigners. To reclaim their voice and create a truly ‘democratic’ union, where anyone can speak regardless of nationality, the migrant workers set up their own trade union, Tozen, where English was used as the main working language. Meanwhile, migrant workers discussed in Chapter  4 exploited the mismatch between their visibility and silence. Some migrant members of Kanagawa City Union (KCU) used their silence as a means to make personal gains. The purpose of joining union activities for these migrant workers was to demonstrate their commitment to union activism so that Japanese unionists would agree to handle their labour disputes. While the migrant workers needed Japanese activists to solve their own labour cases, the latter needed the former’s physical presence to increase the authenticity of their claims. The migrant members, therefore, did not regard their silent position as signalling a hierarchical relationship between migrant protesters and their local supporters, as discussed in Chapter 3. Instead, silence was a tool for migrant workers to protect their own interest as workers. In exchange for performing a silent role in



union activities, migrant workers ensured that their labour disputes were addressed by Japanese activists and in this way, pursued what they saw as their rights as workers. As this chapter will show, the process of negotiating the mismatch between visibility and audibility does not simply involve migrant workers themselves. It also involves people who act as agents for migrant workers. These include volunteer organisations organised by migrants, lawyers working for migrant workers, and interpreters facilitating communication between migrant protesters and their Japanese counterparts. These people lend their professional skills and knowledge to assist migrants. Through their professional positions, migrant volunteers, lawyers, and interpreters act for migrant workers, conveying their demands to employers and judges. Importantly, the role of migrant volunteers, immigration lawyers, and interpreters is not limited to delivering messages and acting as the migrants’ representatives. They also act as mediators between migrant workers and their counterparts, intervening in the process of solving labour disputes. Although they are supposedly mere spokespersons, they use their knowledge of labour issues, Japanese legal practice, and the Japanese language to shape the voice of migrant workers. They tactfully nudge migrant workers to change their initial positions to accept offers and suggestions by their employers and the court. Interestingly, their intervention is kept hidden so as to give an impression that they are merely acting as messengers. Mediated through agents, the voice of migrant workers becomes simultaneously both audible and inaudible. They are audible because migrant workers are represented by people such as migrant volunteers, immigration lawyers, and interpreters acting as their emissaries. At the same time, to achieve what the agents themselves think of as the ‘best’ outcome from labour disputes, these emissaries exploit the seemingly audible presence of migrant workers, intervening in the interactions between migrant workers and their Japanese counterparts. This chapter is divided into three sections. The first section focuses on a migrant volunteer organisation called the China Japan Volunteer Organization (CJVO) (Chū Nichi Volunteer Kyoukai). CJVO’s members are mostly long-term Chinese residents living in Japan. Using their familiarity with both Japanese and Chinese customs and languages, CJVO members support other Chinese people, including migrant workers, to solve problems they encounter in Japan. The purpose of the CJVO is not only to advocate migrant workers’ rights, but also to avoid conflicts between Chinese migrants and Japanese people. In doing so, the CJVO sometimes convinces migrant workers to concede their


The Hidden Space of Mediation

position so that both parties in a negotiation are able to find a mutually agreeable solution. The second section examines the role of Japanese immigration lawyers who use their legal skills to act on behalf of migrant workers, that is, their clients. Migrant workers rely on immigration lawyers in various areas of trade union activism including planning and organisations of street demonstrations and solving labour disputes through the courts. The lawyers’ official role is to provide legal advice to migrant workers and represent them in a legal setting. In practice, however, lawyers sometimes work to change migrant workers’ positions, when deemed necessary, in order to obtain what the lawyers see as the best and attainable results within the constraints of the Japanese legal system. The third section focuses on the role of interpreters. Given limited financial resources, trade unions usually use interpreters from among their members, who are either Japanese or migrant members and fluent in Japanese and the language of the migrant workers. These interpreterscum-activists use their linguistic skills to convey the voice of migrant workers and their employers during negotiations. At the same time, to elicit the best outcome for migrant workers, the interpreters quietly manipulate interactions between the two parties as they decide what and how to translate. What is unique about the role assumed by the CJVO, immigration lawyers, and interpreters is that they keep their role as mediators hidden as much as possible. This creates an impression that migrant workers are fully in control of their own voice. What this chapter shows is the ambiguous line between migrant audibility and inaudibility. When migrant workers work on their own labour disputes, others also take part in the process of creating what is represented as the ‘voice’ of migrant workers. The interaction between migrant workers and their agents reveals a mundane yet hidden practice of negotiating the gap between the audible presence of migrant workers and their silence.

China Japan Volunteer Organization (CJVO) Trainees and interns as an exploitative form of labour In the spring of 2010, Li Na and Zhang Min, two women from China, contacted the CJVO by telephone to seek help.1 They had come to Japan through the technical intern training programme (TITP) (gaikokujin ginou jisshū seido), and were working as trainees (kenshū-sei) in a Japanese company in Aichi prefecture, in central Japan. Li Na and Zhang Min were



part of a group of five female trainees from China, who were working in a small company and sharing an apartment provided by their company. One morning, their apartment was suddenly surrounded by a group of people, who forcefully took Li Na and Zhang Min’s colleagues away. Li Na and Zhang Min guessed that their colleagues were being taken to the airport and sent back to China, against their will. Having suspected that the company was about to go bankrupt since the owner had fallen ill, they thought that their colleagues had been forcefully returned to China because the company could no longer afford to pay even the small sum of ‘training’ fees they were entitled to. Li Na and Zhang Min were frightened that they, too, could be in the same situation as their colleagues, so they waited for a chance to secretly contact the CJVO. The problem Li Na and Zhang Min faced was not unique since the TITP fundamentally exploits the unclear line between trainees and interns (aka technical intern trainees or foreign trainees) and workers. As discussed in Chapter 1, the distinctive feature of the Japanese government’s approach to immigration is a peculiar mix of official non-acceptance and unofficial acceptance of foreign manual workers. While trainees and interns are officially allowed to come to Japan solely to learn skills from Japanese corporations, they are, in practice, used as cheap labour in industries severely affected by labour shortages. Many Japanese corporations take advantage of the ambiguous status of trainees and interns by refusing to pay decent salaries, because they are not officially ‘workers’, and by failing to provide a safe working environment. The TITP was formally established in 1993 but is based on a longexisting skill and knowledge transfer programme where foreigners used to be given student status for the purpose of receiving training in Japanese corporations. The precursor of the programme dates back to 1954, when the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) first started accepting foreigners into Japan for training purposes (Sano, 2002). Together with the creation of a new status called ‘trainee’ in 1990, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) relaxed the eligibility criteria for which companies were allowed to hire trainees. This change was prompted by requests from small and medium-sized businesses facing serious labour shortages (Gaikokujin Kenshūsei Kenri Network, 2009: 11–13). Until then, trainees and interns had been accepted by large individual enterprises. The 1990 relaxation added a new scheme called the ‘acceptance supervised by organisation’ system (dantai kanri gata), which qualified companies with less than 50 employees, and sometimes only a handful of ‘staff’ all composed of one family, to provide suitable training places for people coming to Japan through the TITP (Ito, 2008: 95–6). The 1990 announcement by the MOJ paved the way for the TITP to accept migrants as unskilled workers


The Hidden Space of Mediation

for the purposes of training (Gaikokujin Kenshūsei Kenri Network, 2009: 143). At the time when I conducted the main part of my fieldwork in Tokyo, the majority of people coming through the programme were Chinese (Igarashi, 2011: 201). This trend has continued to date, although countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia have also become major sending countries (e-Stat, 2017a). The majority of the firms accepting foreign trainees do not have the capacity to train people in terms of their technology as well as manpower. According to the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO), about 61% of the companies using foreign trainees have less than 50 employees, and 23% less than 200 (JITCO, 2012: 92). Most of the small and medium-sized businesses using the TITP are from the ‘3K’ (kitsui, kitanai, and kiken, aka demanding, dirty, and dangerous) industries, such as construction, manufacturing, and farming, which fail to attract Japanese workers and have suffered from a shrinking labour force (Hatate, 2001: 133; Iguchi, 2008: 4–5, 11–12). Even some global giants such as Mitsubishi and Panasonic have violated the law by treating foreign trainees as de facto ‘workers’ (The Japan Times, 2019). Thus, for Japanese companies, trainees and interns play an indispensable role in keeping their businesses running while minimising personnel costs (Iguchi, 2008). The TITP was revised several times in the 2010s, but perhaps the most dramatic change was made in December 2018 when the Japanese government decided to further expand the programme. Under the latest revision of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, several changes were made, including the duration of training visas and the family reunification of trainees and interns. Furthermore, 14 different types of industries, all of which are severely short-staffed, are to be allowed to apply for the TITP, including construction, nursing, food services, and building cleaning. This is estimated to open the way for the arrival of about 340,000 migrant workers for the purpose of ‘training’, at least in the first five years from April 2019, when the law comes into effect (The Japan Times, 2018a). While the expansion of the TITP has been widely understood as further preparing the way for accepting manual labourers from abroad (BBC News, 2018; The Japan Times, 2018b; The New York Times, 2018), the government has insisted that it is not the same as an ‘immigration policy’ (Nihon Keizai Shimbun, 2018b). The MOJ describes trainees and interns as ‘foreign nationals [who are] to acquire skills etc through onthe-job training while in employment, thereby contributing to effective technology transfer and human resources development as part of Japan’s international contributions’ (Ministry of Justice, 2018a: 29). JITCO, an



organisation set up in 1991 by five different ministries to supervise the TITP, states as follows: The technical intern training programme accepts trainees and interns with the aim to contribute to industrial development of their countries through training people. Given its historical background, characteristics and contents, this programme significantly differs from acceptance of foreign workers. (JITCO, 2011: 2)2 Despite the government’s continuous assertion, however, many have long pointed out that through the TITP, the government is allowing companies to secure cheap unskilled workers from abroad without contradicting its official stance of not accepting them (Komai, 1993: 54–5; Kajita, 1994: 44–5). Being legally defined as trainees and interns while in practice being treated as unskilled workers, the status of migrants coming to Japan through the TITP is made precarious despite their ‘legal’ entry to the country (see also Chapter 1). In 2017, more than 7,000 people who came to Japan through the training and internship system disappeared during the ‘training’ period. This is three times more than in 2012 (Ministry of Justice, 2018b). Due to the dire working situations of foreign trainees, some activists call the TITP ‘contemporary slave labour’ (‘Gaikokujin Roudousha Mondai to Korekara no Nihon’ Henshu Iinkai, 2009). The annual Trafficking in persons report by the US State Department (2018: 246–7) also identifies several ways in which migrants using the TITP have actually become trafficking victims. Being afraid that trainees and interns might disappear to look for better jobs or report abuses to the authorities, the Japanese employers often heavily monitor the lives of their foreign trainees (Gaikokujin Kenshūsei Mondai Network, 2006; ‘Gaikokujin Roudousha Mondai to Korekara no Nihon’ Henshu Iinkai, 2009). For example, employers have been known to take several documents from foreign trainees such as passports, ‘alien registration certificates’, and bankbooks. Without these documents, the trainees cannot run away because they do not have any proof of identity or the means to withdraw their salary that is deposited directly to their bank accounts. They are also discouraged, or not allowed at all, to contact anyone outside their workplace. Some of them are not even allowed to have mobile phones. Some foreign trainees sign documents to stipulate their agreement to these restrictions prior to their travel to Japan, not knowing the content of the documents because they are given misleading information


The Hidden Space of Mediation

or are not provided with a sufficient translation to be able to study the documents. They are often put into dormitories or apartments arranged by their employers, so that the companies know where the trainees and interns live, and monitor their lives outside working hours. Trainees and interns are also required to work overtime, night shifts, weekends, and national holidays. Most of their work is unpaid or paid far below the minimum wage. Among 7,089 foreign trainees who disappeared in 2017 and were later caught, 67.2% listed low wages as the primary reason for abandoning their ‘training’ (Nihon Keizai Shimbun, 2018a). If trainees complain about their situations, their employers can forcefully return them to their home countries against their will. Thus, they are constantly threatened with forceful return, sometimes accompanied with the use of violence. Various cooperatives (kyoudou kumiai) also heavily monitor the lives of foreign trainees. Supervised by JITCO, business and agricultural cooperatives deal directly with sending organisations in the countries where the trainees are from, and supervise the Japanese companies that accept them. Together with the cooperatives, the companies often decide on matters related to the trainees including forceful return to their countries of origin. Being afraid that their exploitative and inhumane working conditions will be exposed to the public, some companies and cooperatives hire people or use their employees to abduct foreign trainees who contact labour unions and NGOs, and send them back to their home countries before their cases are pursued in Japan (Gaikokujin Kenshūsei Mondai Network, 2006).

CJVO and its aim It is against this background that Li Na and Zhang Min contacted the CJVO. The CJVO was set up in 2006 and consists of Chinese migrant volunteers who live across Japan, including Okinawa and Hokkaido (the southernmost and northernmost prefectures respectively). It provides a hotline for Chinese people who get into difficulty in Japan. Their problems vary from issues related to international marriage (between Japanese and Chinese people), education for children, and traffic accidents to work-related problems and visa status (China Record, 2011). Once the CJVO receives a phone call, the members who answer the call either respond themselves or circulate the information on the organisation’s mailing list. Through discussion and information sharing on this mailing list, CJVO members offer advice and sometimes take direct action, as



in the case of Li Na and Zhang Min. As of 2010, the CJVO had more than 200 volunteer members (interview with Li Wei, long-term CJVO member, 15 May 2010). Between 2006 and 2011, it had received about 3,000 consultations in total.3 In 2015, the CJVO published a book to celebrate its upcoming 10th anniversary (see Zhang, 2015). Most CJVO members are part of the growing number of new overseas Chinese migrants (shin kakyou-kajin) taking up so-called white-collar positions in Japan, including academics, lawyers, and business people. The term ‘new overseas Chinese’ indicates people who have arrived in Japan since the late 1970s and early 1980s, when China went through a series of domestic reforms. The difference between ‘newcomer’ and ‘oldcomer’ Chinese (rou kakyou-kajin) is not straightforward (Yokokura 2008), but the latter generally refers to people who came to Japan before 1972, when China and Japan reopened diplomatic relations, many of them prior to the Second World War (Ju, 2005: 132). New overseas Chinese have constituted the largest group of foreign nationals in Japan since 2007. For example, in 2017, Chinese nationals (excluding people from Taiwan) constituted more than a quarter of registered foreign nationals (73,890, 28.5%), followed by people from South Korea (450,663, 17.5%) (e-Stat, 2017b). New overseas Chinese work in various fields including education, information technology and high-technology industries, and media (Dan, 2003). Some have attained higher academic degrees such as PhDs and work in Japanese universities or major Japanese companies including Sony, Matsushita, and Toyota (Ju, 2005: 133). Alongside this group of new overseas Chinese are pre-college and college students as well as foreign trainees who are perceived as the potential reserves of future white-collar Chinese residents in Japan (Ju, 2005: 132). The organisational ethos of the CJVO is reflected in the way in which it handled the case of Li Na and Zhang Min: it aims to be a bridge between Japanese and Chinese people living in Japan. The organisation was founded by Zhang Jianbo and his friends after he learned that a Chinese woman living in a remote Japanese countryside town had killed two children in February 2006.4 Having learned that she had come to Japan as the wife of a Japanese husband and lived in an isolated place, Zhang felt sorry for her and suspected that she must have suffered from extreme loneliness (interview with Li Wei, long-term CJVO member, 15 May 2010). He reasoned that if there was someone from China who could have listened to her and mitigated her isolation, she might not have committed such a crime: If only there were some Chinese people who had just listened to her, she would have never experienced that deep level of


The Hidden Space of Mediation

isolation and desperation, and such a horrific incident might not have taken place. (China Record, 2011) The CJVO was thus set up to serve as a venue where Chinese people in Japan could consult and share their problems with CJVO members, so that their problems could be resolved before causing friction between Chinese residents and local residents. To achieve this overarching goal, the CJVO helps troubled Chinese people, regardless of their immigration status, to protect their rights in Japan (interview with Li Wei, long-term CJVO member, 15 May 2010). In the case of Li Na and Zhang Min, the CJVO’s first action was to find a temporary refuge for them. It is fairly common practice for Japanese companies and cooperatives to force their trainees to return to their home countries once they find out that the trainees have attempted to disclose their working conditions to concerned groups including trade unions and NGOs (Gaikokujin Kenshūsei Kenri Network, 2009). Having heard the story of what had happened to the other trainees at the company, the CJVO members knew that Li Na and Zhang Min could be taken to the airport at any moment. Therefore, immediately after Li Na and Zhang Min contacted the CJVO, its members started looking for a place for them to stay safely while they pursued their claims. Some members quickly responded to the mailing list request for sheltering them. In the end, one CJVO member living in the same prefecture where Li Na and Zhang Min worked as trainees offered to take them to her place. The CJVO members also asked Li Na and Zhang Min how they would like to pursue their case. Did they want to receive their salary now and then go back to China? Did they want to continue to work in Japan? Did they want to work in the same company or a different one? It turned out that, for Li Na and Zhang Min, their highest priority was to complete their training period. Li Na and Zhang Min explained that they contacted the organisation because they were afraid that they might be forced to go back to China before they were able to finish their training period (interview with Li Wei, long-term CJVO member, 15 May 2010). Returning to China earlier than planned meant having less time to earn money in Japan than they had originally signed up for. Hence, Li Na and Zhang Min requested the CJVO to make sure that they could stay in the company until they had completed their ‘training’. Migrant workers coming to Japan through the TITP receive a small allowance, as little as ¥300 per hour (less than £2) as a ‘training’ participation fee (Gaikokujin Kenshūsei Kenri Network, 2009; Gaikokujin Kenshūsei Mondai Network 2006). Although their allowance is more than half of the minimum wage of Japanese workers, working



in Japan as a trainee is believed to generate enough money to, as one immigration lawyer puts it, ‘build a house in China’ (interview with Naoki, immigration lawyer working mainly with Chinese migrants, 1 April 2010). Therefore, migrant workers are less concerned with their official immigration status (interview with Yoshiko, staff member of a migrant advocacy group and interpreter between Chinese and Japanese, 8 April 2010; Gu, 2009; Shindo, 2014). Since they regard their ‘training’ to be work, they feel cheated if they are unable to complete their training period or if their allowance does not properly reflect the amount of work they do (interview with Jasmine and Rosa, trainees from the Philippines, 23 May 2010).

Mediating between trainees and their employers Importantly, the CJVO not only represented the voice of the Chinese migrant workers but also helped them to understand the position of their Japanese employers. Having learned that Li Na and Zhang Min had expressed their wish to complete their training period, the CJVO contacted their employers. It also approached the president of the business cooperative which oversaw Li Na and Zhang Min’s training assignment. The purpose was to listen to the employer’s side of the story and to find a solution that was agreeable to both the trainees and their employer. The CJVO members asked the company and the cooperative: why did the company forcefully return the other trainees? Would the cooperative and company be willing to carry on hiring Li Na and Zhang Min as trainees in their current positions? Did they have any intention of sending Li Na and Zhang Min back to China? In this way, migrant volunteers attempt to not simply stand up for troubled Chinese migrants but they also listen to their Japanese counterparts to provide the Chinese migrants with the perspective of Japanese society. Most of the people contacting the CJVO are Chinese migrants who do not know much about Japanese society and who do not speak Japanese well (interview with Li Wei, long-term CJVO member, 15 May 2010). To teach these Chinese migrants how things work in Japan, CJVO members utilise their own experience of living and working in Japan for extended periods as well as their ability to communicate in Japanese (interview with Li Wei, long-term CJVO member, 15 May 2010; interview with Zhang Yong, Chinese student volunteering at CJVO, 19 April 2010). Because of the lack of language abilities and knowledge of Japanese society, some Chinese migrants may persist with demands that are unlikely to be acceptable in Japan. In


The Hidden Space of Mediation

this respect, the purpose of the CJVO is also to assist troubled Chinese migrants to ‘adjust’ (tekiou) to Japanese society, teaching them how things are done in Japan (interview with Li Wei, long-term CJVO member, 15 May 2010). In the case of Li Na and Zhang Min, CJVO members used their Japanese linguistic skills and their understanding of labour practice in Japan, and assisted their clients by telling them which of their demands were worth pursuing and which were not. Through the process of communicating with the disputed company, the organisation learned that the company was about to go bankrupt and could no longer employ Li Na and Zhang Min as trainees. The company was small, and its owner thought it would be hard to rebuild its business once bankruptcy was declared. So the CJVO surmised that there would be little chance for the trainees to continue their work in the same company. Having considered both parties’ needs, the CJVO advocated that their clients continue working in a different company to complete their training period. The CJVO convinced the company and the cooperative not to send Li Na and Zhang Min back to China, pointing out that they had originally been assigned to come to Japan as trainees and expected to complete their training period. They demanded that the right of their clients as ‘trainees’ should be respected, and argued that this right should not be ignored simply because their employer’s financial situation had changed. At the same time, the CJVO also convinced the trainees that there was no point in insisting on working in the same company and expecting to receive a salary. They explained the company’s financial state to the trainees, and argued that it would be best if they completed the rest of their training period in a different company. Having secured agreements from both sides, some CJVO members with legal expertise drafted a letter of agreement that could be used for legal battles if either side breached the agreement they had signed. After the CJVO obtained signatures from both parties, Li Na and Zhang Min were relocated to a different company through the cooperative to resume their remaining ‘training’ years in Japan. Mediated through migrant volunteers, the voice of the migrant workers became both audible and inaudible at the same time. On the one hand, their voice was certainly communicated through the CJVO members who had the knowledge and linguistic skills to navigate through Japanese society. As the members themselves were Chinese migrants, not only did they understand and sympathise with the situation of their fellow countryfolk, but they were also trusted by their clients to handle their case well. On the other hand, the voice of the migrant workers was somewhat



lost in the CJVO’s mediation process. The CJVO members were not hesitant in convincing their clients to change their demands so as to realise what they saw as an achievable solution. As one of the CJVO members said, the aim of the organisation is to ‘adjust’ the positions of both Chinese migrants and Japanese people, so that they can solve the problem before the differences between the two parties get out of hand (interview with Zhang Yong, Chinese student volunteering at CJVO, 19 April 2010). The CJVO bridges both Japanese and Chinese sides by intervening before the frictions between them become too hard to solve, that is, before they require official intervention such as from lawyers, the courts, or trade unions. For instance, the case of Li Na and Zhang Mei could have been handled by, or in collaboration with, trade unions, immigration lawyers, or the Labour Standards Inspection Offices (Roudou Kijun Kantoku-sho). Instead of contacting any of these groups, however, the CJVO quietly mediated the dispute between the trainees and their employer. In this way, the migrant volunteers actively yet quietly intervened in interactions between the migrant workers and their employer.

Immigration lawyers’ involvement in trade union activism In migrant activism, immigration lawyers play various roles. Apart from working on individual cases, the immigration lawyers work to change specific immigration policies on a wider scale. They lobby with immigration activists, NGOs, and trade unions, to obtain support from parliament, organise public meetings to disseminate information to the public, and join street demonstrations to appeal to the public and pressure the government. They have also formed their own professional groups to assist foreigners in defending their rights (Shipper, 2008: 97–9). For example, in June 2008, about 40 lawyers set up the Lawyers Network for Trainees and Interns (Gaikokujin Kenshūsei Mondai Bengoshi Renraku Kai, now called Gaikokujin Ginou Jisshūsei Mondai Bengoshi Renraku Kai) to organise advocacy work for migrant workers coming to Japan through TITP and to share information about cases involving trainees and interns (Ibusuki, 2009).5 In 2012, a group of lawyers also formed the Lawyers Network for Foreign Workers to ‘provide foreign workers with the legal consultation services in a telephone [sic]’.6 The crucial roles played by immigration lawyers are not limited to lobbying and organising protests. They become indispensable parties in migrant worker activism by simply performing their occupational duties as lawyers. Lawyers are usually hired by trade unions or directly


The Hidden Space of Mediation

by migrant workers to work on specific labour disputes. Their work involves representing migrant workers at court, giving legal advice on demonstrations and strike actions, dealing with negotiations between migrant workers and their employers, and attending collective bargaining. For example, when a trade union branch decides to conduct a strike, its members contact lawyers hired by the union to check the legal implications of the strike action in Japanese labour law (field note, 23 March 2010). Before distributing leaflets describing a company’s foul play, migrant workers also contact their lawyers to ask about the specific location of a demonstration. Should they distribute leaflets and organise a public demonstration on or off the company premises? What space exactly is considered company premises? Some union members also check with the lawyers on the response they receive from their employers in collective bargaining, to see if the employers’ responses violate the collective bargaining rights provisions of Japanese labour law. In this way, the lawyers work closely with migrant workers to advise them on their labour disputes and strategies to pursue their demands. However, interactions between lawyers and migrant workers are not as straightforward as they appear. Although both are ultimately united to work for the rights of migrant workers, they can have different ideas as to what levels of concessions are acceptable at negotiation, and when to stop disputing with employers. Some immigration lawyers consider the disagreements between immigration lawyers and their clients as stemming from the latter’s limited understanding of the Japanese legal system. For instance, one immigration lawyer lamented that migrant workers often insisted on pursuing court cases until the end, believing that it was worth trying if there was even a slight chance of winning the case (interview with Michiko, member of the Lawyers Network for Trainees and Interns, 7 May 2010). The lawyer argued that people did not usually know how time-consuming it was to fight a legal battle in a Japanese court without a settlement. Even if migrant workers are determined to fight in court, there is usually only a small chance that they will win the case entirely. As a lawyer, therefore, she has to decide when the best time is to make her clients stop arguing with their employers and persuade them to take a settlement option (interview with Michiko, member of the Lawyers Network for Trainees and Interns, 7 May 2010). The case of one legal dispute brought about by a trade union highlights how immigration lawyers do not simply represent the wishes of migrant workers but also intervene in a dispute by talking their clients into compromising on their original demands. When several migrant workers of one trade union branch were sued by their employers over their strike action, they asked a group of lawyers who represented their union to



handle the case. Before the union side appeared at court, the lawyers and migrant workers had a lengthy discussion on how to proceed with the case. At one meeting between the lawyers and the union members, the lawyers outlined, in concrete terms, the concessions the union members should be prepared to accept. Some migrant members felt that the proposed concessions were too much and were thus reluctant to accept the lawyers’ suggestion (field note, 23 March 2010). Having seen the hesitation among the migrant workers, one of the lawyers told them that unless the union side showed its willingness to make compromises, the judges would develop a negative image of the union, which could badly affect the outcome of the dispute (field note, 23 March 2010). In a subsequent meeting, the union members eventually agreed to accept the lawyers’ suggestion. After the meeting, however, several migrant workers expressed their frustration that their lawyers had not really understood what they would have liked to achieve in the dispute, which was to fight their employers to the very end (field note, 29 March 2010). Naoki, another immigration lawyer, points out that it can be difficult for some migrant workers to pursue a settlement option because the concept of settlement carries the impression that not only employers but also migrant workers have done something wrong (interview with Naoki, immigration lawyer working mainly with Chinese migrants, 1 April 2010). One of his cases involved demanding a company to pay foreign trainees overtime payment and to return monthly deductions, which had been withheld from the migrant workers’ salaries under the false premise of placing a ‘deposit’ in the trainees’ bank accounts. While the company argued that the trainees were not workers and hence denied responsibility for paying overtime, the trainees argued that they had been used as labourers and should be treated as such. At the time when Naoki started handling the case, the trainees had already stopped receiving a salary from the company. They had no income because their training visa status did not allow them to do any work other than ‘training’. In addition, since they were living in a dormitory provided by the company, they were about to be evicted. Considering the situation, Naoki thought it best to find a solution to the case as quickly as possible. For this purpose, he decided to use the industrial tribunal system (roudou shinpan seido) that had been introduced in 2007 with the aim of avoiding a lengthy court battle and resolving disputes expeditiously (Takayagi, 2010). At the industrial tribunal, statements from both sides were presented to the judge, who eventually suggested a settlement (wakai) where the company paid almost 90% of the money requested by the trainees. The company had originally suggested a payment of about 60% of the unpaid


The Hidden Space of Mediation

overtime requested by Naoki and his clients, and refused to pay 100% of the requested sum. For Naoki, the outcome of the industrial tribunal was a victory. First of all, his clients’ claim was accepted that the trainees were, in practice, ‘workers’, hence the company had to pay for their overtime ‘work’. The judge’s proposition was also favourable to the trainees because the company bore a legal obligation to pay 90% of the sum that the trainees had originally requested. However, Naoki’s clients were not satisfied with the suggestion of a settlement. They could not understand why they had to agree to a settlement. For them, it was the company that had treated them unlawfully and that should thus be penalised accordingly. From their point of view, the settlement implied that not only the company but also the trainees had been accused of misconduct. Based on his experience as a lawyer, Naoki thought that if his clients were to refuse the judge-solicited settlement idea, the dispute between his clients and the company would be prolonged. So he explained to the trainees that agreeing with this settlement was the fastest way to receive most of the money they had requested. Eventually Naoki had to arrange two meetings with the trainees, each meeting lasting for several hours, to convince them that the settlement was their best option (interview with Naoki, immigration lawyer working mainly with Chinese migrants, 1 April 2010). Differences of opinion between lawyers and clients are inevitable even when the clients are Japanese. However, in some cases, migrant workers regard this as a sign that their lawyers have failed to truly take the side of the migrants. For instance, after the aforementioned meeting where the unionised migrant workers agreed to the lawyers’ suggestion on the compromise position, several migrant workers started complaining that some lawyers representing them had failed to even write their names accurately in the legal documents. They thought that this would have been unthinkable if the lawyers were dealing with Japanese clients. The migrant workers went on to describe one of their lawyers as being more sympathetic to their demands than the other lawyers because of the former lawyer’s better handling of the language spoken by the migrant workers (field note, 29 March 2010). Needless to say, lawyers ultimately have to follow the wishes of their clients (interview with Naoki, immigration lawyer working mainly with Chinese migrants, 1 April 2010; interview with Michiko, immigration lawyer and member of the Lawyers Network for Trainees and Interns, 7 May 2010). And yet, precisely because immigration lawyers wish to ensure the best result possible, they are not hesitant in intervening in the negotiation process. After all, it is part of their professional responsibility



to explain to migrant workers what is considered an acceptable and proper response in the Japanese legal field, and what the best option is to solve the case under the Japanese legal system. In this way, the lawyers intervene in negotiations between migrant workers and their employers and, if necessary, modify their clients’ positions. Such intervention is inevitable especially when immigration lawyers are passionate about the cause of migrant workers and hence try to ‘win’ the case for them, even though ‘winning’ involves a settlement instead of fighting to the end. Thus, the lawyers’ actions in each of the cases discussed above were part of carrying out their occupational duties: they pursued the interests of their clients. To do so, the immigration lawyers not only listened to the voice of migrant workers and acted as their emissaries in legal settings, but also shaped their clients’ position. Using their knowledge and experience about Japanese legal practice, they assessed the negotiation process and determined when the migrant workers should stop fighting their employers and to what extent they should be ready to compromise. During this process, the voice of migrant workers simultaneously appeared and disappeared. It became audible through the figure of the lawyer who conveyed the wishes of migrant workers to their employers. It also became inaudible when the lawyers themselves took part in the process of constructing migrant workers’ positions and their ‘voice’. Since lawyers were supposed to merely act as the spokespersons of migrant workers, their part in shaping the voice of their clients was kept hidden. In front of judges, companies, and employers, the lawyers acted as if they were simply carrying out the wishes of the migrant workers, concealing the fact that they had intervened in shaping the actions taken by their clients.

Not so ‘faithful’ interpretation? Interpreters-cum-activists Since the participants in migrant activism in Japan include people from different places, including those from Asia, North America, and South America, the presence of interpreters is a key feature of migrant activism. On various occasions, ranging from meetings with government representatives to street demonstrations and union activities, interpreters are called to facilitate communication between Japanese-speakers and non-Japanese speakers. Despite the critical role played by interpreters, professional interpreters are rarely used in migrant activism due to a lack of financial resources.


The Hidden Space of Mediation

Instead, members of NGOs, trade unions, church-based groups, and sometimes friends and family members of migrant workers agree to act as interpreters often free of charge or for a small sum of money. For instance, the Rights of Immigrants Network in Kansai (RINK) not only works as a hub of various advocacy groups working on the issue of migrants in Osaka and its vicinity, but also provides bilingual assistance to migrant workers who have problems with their visa status and labour-related issues. It is mostly made up of Japanese-speaking members who are also fluent in other languages such as Chinese, English, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish. They help migrant workers to solve whatever problems they have in Japan through the medium of the first language spoken by migrant workers.7 In the case of the trade unions discussed in this book, each union usually relies on bilingual, or semi-bilingual, union members. These union members attend collective bargaining while acting as amateur interpreters between migrant workers and their employers. Precisely because the interpreters used in migrant activism are not simply translators but also members of NGOs and trade unions, the line between interpretation and mediation becomes murky. Interpreters do not just translate from Japanese to another language and vice versa; they sometimes take advantage of the fact that they are alone in a solitary world of translation where no one else knows exactly how they are interpreting the two languages.8 Moving solo between Japanese and foreign languages, interpreters effectively manipulate the ways in which the voice of migrant workers is uttered through different languages, and work for what they see as beneficial to migrant workers. For example, Yoshiko, a long-time interpreter between Chinese and Japanese, reluctantly acknowledged that she does not provide translation word for word. As a consultant for migrant workers, Yoshiko’s priority is to find a position that both migrant workers and their Japanese employers can agree on. To do so, Yoshiko manipulates interactions between the two so that the labour disputes can be resolved: What I do on a daily basis is indeed different from simple translation…. I need to take care of the issues which I was asked for. So my ultimate purpose is to solve the issues brought about by the [migrants].... When I do translation [for migrants], I deliberately try to translate to include some apologetic tones or emphasise positive comments about the other side, so that the other side feels the sincerity shown by their counterparts. When [migrants] get angry while I am translating, I also tell them to calm down by saying that “I understand your feeling but....” If I truly stick to the role of interpreter, I know I should



not do this. But in cases where both parties are already in trouble, no matter how confrontational they become, nothing productive would come out of the meeting.... In other words, I am mediating while translating. (email correspondence with Yoshiko, 19 April 2010; author’s translation) Another interpreter, Takashi, bluntly admitted that, through his interpreting role between English and Japanese, he makes sure that the trade union side gets the best result from negotiations with their employers (interview with Takashi, 13 May 2010). Being an active and devoted union member, Takashi attends collective bargaining as an interpreter between migrant workers and their employers. He nonchalantly acknowledged that he interferes with statements made by migrant workers and their Japanese employers. For instance, when Takashi sees it as necessary to create tension between the union and the employers, he purposefully adds provocative tones to his translation. People who receive such a response feel offended, believing that Takashi is directly translating the comments of the other side. At times, he also deliberately translates in a confusing manner to provoke either side, or sometimes both sides, of the negotiation. Confusing and unclear answers make either the union or the employers feel insulted because they feel that the other side is avoiding direct answers and is acting insincerely. As a translator as well as a union member overseeing the process of collective bargaining, Takashi feels responsible for the result of the negotiations between his union and the employers. By taking advantage of his role as an interpreter, he strategises on his own how to pull the strings in negotiations, so that the union side is able to achieve what it is that they want. In some cases, the line between interpretation and mediation can become increasingly ambiguous. This is especially the case when interpreters have to decide whose voices are translated and whose are not. In one meeting I attended between migrant workers and immigration lawyers, Michael, a bilingual union member speaking English and Japanese, carefully selected whose comments were relevant to the discussion and which information could be delivered to the lawyers. Only the comments that Michael deemed important were translated. When some union members presented their opinions to the lawyers, instead of interpreting the comments for the lawyers, Michael directly responded to the migrant members by saying: ‘Focus on your point’, or ‘No need to say that now [in front of the lawyers]’ (field note, 23 March 2010). While interpreting, Michael attempted to keep the discussion on track and made sure that the union members got the most out of the meeting with the lawyers. To make sure that the meeting was productive for the migrant workers, Michael used his


The Hidden Space of Mediation

position to select which voices needed to be translated and communicated to the lawyers in Japanese. Mediated through the figure of the interpreter, some voices of the migrant workers were made intelligible while others remained foreign. Since interpreters are usually themselves activists working for the benefit of migrant workers, they assume the double role of interpreters and mediators. For them, interpretation is not strictly a transaction between Japanese and other languages, but a tool to achieve what they see as the best results for migrant workers. Interpreters-cum-activists interfere with interactions between migrant workers and their counterparts by deciding which voices get translated, and in what way the voices are translated. The voices of migrant workers are made audible and legible in Japanese only when interpreters deem their voices important. Furthermore, interpreters also control the presentation. Regardless of how angry migrant workers might be, if the interpreters decide that showing anger is not productive to the negotiation, their angry voice is transformed into a tame, quiet voice. Equally, regardless of how calm and non-confrontational the migrant workers are, if the interpreters find it necessary, their quiet or neutral voice is changed into an angry one, with the intention of stirring confrontation between the migrant workers and their counterparts.

Hiding intervention Crucially, interpreters hide their intervention, which maintains the illusion that they are only exchanging one language for another. To live up to the trust bestowed on them, interpreters are reluctant to disclose that their translation goes beyond a mere swapping of languages. If they were to reveal their active role in interfering with the interaction between migrant workers and their Japanese counterparts, they would appear unprofessional, disloyal even, and be unlikely to be employed again as ‘translators’. Revealing their intervention would mean losing a means to use their linguistic skills to maximise the gains of migrant workers. Therefore, interpreters act as if they are mere conveyers of the migrants’ voices. Yoshiko said as follows: I probably should not say it openly that I do not necessarily interpret every single word and phrase accurately. However, under certain circumstances and situations, I believe that my type of “interpretation” is necessary. (email correspondence with Yoshiko, 19 April 2010; author’s translation; emphasis added)



Although Takashi freely admitted to me his active intervention in interactions between migrant workers and their Japanese counterparts through translation, he nevertheless hides his involvement from the union members with whom he works. At collective bargaining, he asks both migrant workers and their employer not to look at him but to look at each other (interview with Takashi, 13 May 2010). In this way, he presents himself to others as if he is merely facilitating communication between union members and their employers. By asking the participants not to look at him, Takashi hides his own existence and pretends to act as a faithful interpreter. He quietly intervenes in interactions between the migrant workers and Japanese employers, making sure that no one notices his deliberate misinterpretation. Unlike Yoshiko and Takashi who carefully keep their involvement unnoticed by others, Michael seems to be genuinely confused about which role he plays when he translates: is he a faithful interpreter? Or is he mediating? Verbal interactions take place in quick succession. This sometimes makes it hard for interpreters to pin down whether they are actually translating or merely manipulating interactions. In the aforementioned meeting, where Michael acted as an interpreter, he repeated to the migrant participants: ‘This is NOT what I think. This is what the lawyers think’ (field note, 23 March 2010). However, his repeated emphasis became mixed up in his own decision of which comments to translate and which comments not to translate. This decision was based on his own role as a union member who felt responsible for other migrant workers. Thus Michael sometimes acted as a translator, and at other times he used his position to select which voice of the migrant workers was to be translated, and thus went beyond the simple role of interpreter. During the process of interpretation, Michael himself appeared confused by his own role, making it unclear exactly when he helped migrant workers to become audible and when he silenced them. In this way, his intervention remained hidden.

Conclusion This chapter has looked at three different groups of people who are involved in making migrant workers visible and audible: migrant volunteers of the CJVO, immigration lawyers, and interpreters. Each example demonstrated that they use their skills and knowledge of Japanese customs, legal practices, and language to help migrant workers become visible and audible at the same time. To bridge Japanese and Chinese communities, CJVO members become representatives of Chinese migrant


The Hidden Space of Mediation

workers in trouble, and demand that their rights are respected. The aim of immigration lawyers is to work for migrant workers who are their clients. For this purpose, they act as their representatives in front of judges and employers, and work to get justice for their clients. Interpreters represent the voice of migrant protesters, literally, so that communication between migrants and their counterparts becomes possible. As discussed in this chapter, however, representing migrants is not as straightforward as it appears. At times, migrant volunteers, immigration lawyers, and interpreters argue with migrant workers and exert pressure, gently but firmly, as to which course of action the workers should take, when they should stop disputing with their employers and make concessions, and how they should present themselves. In this process, they become active mediators between the migrant workers and their counterparts. Each intervention remains hidden from the parties involved. For CJVO members, their activities are aimed at solving problems between Chinese migrants and Japanese employers before they get out of hand and become visible in the public arena. For this reason, the CJVO avoids working with official actors such as trade unions and the courts, and handles cases on their own. For immigration lawyers, their professional position conceals their role in shaping migrant workers’ standpoint, and creates the illusion that they are mere emissaries of their clients in a legal situation. For interpreters, admitting that their interpretation is not so faithful can be detrimental since it raises suspicions about the quality of their work and undermines their professional reputation. To lose the status of interpreter is to lose a useful means of bringing negotiations to a satisfactory conclusion. For these reasons, interpreters-cum-activists behave as if they serve only as a translation machine. In this way, the voice of migrant workers simultaneously becomes audible and inaudible. For migrant workers, people who act as their agents serve as a crucial medium to make their voice audible to others. They depend on the knowledge and skills of their agents to confront their employers, convey their anger and frustration, and present their demands. At the same time, the audible presence of migrant protesters is interwoven with their inaudibility because the voice of migrant workers is not theirs alone. Following the advice of people who represent them at negotiations, migrants may have to change their demands, sometimes against their wishes. Their voice gets translated selectively, only when their ‘spokespersons’ regard it as necessary to translate, and in a way that the migrants may never have intended. Thus, unlike the cases discussed in the previous two chapters, this chapter highlights instances where the line between migrant audibility and inaudibility is not so clear-cut. For



migrant workers, it is sometimes beyond their power to control their voice and decide when and how they become audible or silent. When migrant workers demand their rights and present their understanding of how they should be included in the community, their very voice becomes evasive. Whether they like it or not, they enact citizenship while losing ownership of their own voice. Notes The information about the labour dispute involving Li Na and Zhang Min (both pseudonyms) was obtained by interviews with two active members of the CJVO (Zhang Yong, 19 April 2010; Li Wei, 15 May 2010) who handled the case. 2 These ministries are the Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Labour (now Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare), Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry), and Ministry of Construction (now Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism). 3 A newspaper article from Mainichi Shimbun [The Mainichi], 18  February 2011, posted on the Duan Press website ( 4 She was later diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia but was sentenced to life imprisonment. For details of her case, see Hirai (2011). 5 See also 6 See 7 See 8 For my usage of translation and interpretation, see note 1 in the Introduction. 1



Untranslatable Community: Toward a Gothic Way of Speaking In the book Seeing like a state (1998), James Scott discusses how the modern state manages its population and territory by editing out ambiguity. According to Scott, the principal function of the state lies in its obsession to make space, and people inhabiting that space, legible: An illegible society, then, is a hindrance to any effective intervention by the state, whether the purpose of that intervention is plunder or public welfare. (Scott, 1998: 78) In order to make people readable to itself, the state relies on categories to simplify otherwise complex human activities. It makes people the target of surveys, identifies the names and their family relations via the birth and marriage registration system, finds out the locations of their whereabouts, records them on maps where the space is readily readable, and corrects their otherwise ‘disorganised’ social behaviour through common legal and cultural practices (Scott, 1998). Among others, Scott speculates, standardisation of language ‘may be the most powerful’ way for the state to govern space and ‘the precondition of many other simplifications’ (1998: 72). In the case of France, for example, replacement of local languages used in various provinces with one official language – French – was an essential part of the state-making process: Officials insisted that every legal document – whether a will, document of sale, loan in instrument, contract, annuity, or property deed – be drawn up in French. As long as these documents remained in local vernaculars, they were daunting



to an official sent from Paris and virtually impossible to bring into conformity with central schemes of legal and administrative standardization. (Scott, 1998: 72) In other words, to establish a statist way of ‘seeing’ works in tandem with that of ‘speaking’. Space is organised through language that works as a cardinal classification unit to govern people who otherwise command different languages. The imposition of a common language enables the state to ‘read’ space and make it visible. Thus, the totalising impulse of the state lies in the domain of visibility and audibility. For Étienne Balibar, to realise citizenship, in his case, European citizenship, beyond the statist totalising impulse is to create a new linguistic system called the ‘language of Europe’ (Balibar, 2004: 177–8). By this, Balibar means ‘the practice of translation’ that legitimises the circulation of and increases familiarity with various language groups used in Europe – ‘starting with Arabic, Turkic, Urdu, and others that are already widely practiced on European soil’ (Balibar, 2004: 234). Balibar’s proposition chimes with that of Umberto Eco: The solution for the future [of Europe] is more likely to be in a community of peoples with an increased ability to receive the spirit, to taste or savor the aroma of different dialects.… Polyglot Europe … could be a continent where differences of language are no longer barriers to communication, where people can meet each other and speak together, each in his or her own tongue, understanding, as best they can, the speech of others. (Eco, 1995: 350–1) Following this line of thinking, I have demonstrated in the previous three chapters that making oneself visible is not the only way to reclaim space. Drawing on the case of multilingual migrant activism in Japan, I have shown that reclaiming space of citizenship also requires a search for a different way of speaking. In Chapters 3, 4 and 5, I have shown various ways in which people interacted with each other at the audibility– inaudibility front, and explored different ways of ‘speaking’ when enacting citizenship. For some, to speak is to gain full control of their own speech. For example, a group of migrant workers created their own union, Tozen, to change the working language of activism from Japanese to English, a language more familiar to them than Japanese (see Chapter 3). The purpose of setting up the union was to establish their audible presence in activism. For some, speaking involves rewriting the meaning of their


Untranslatable Community

own silence. In the case of Kanagawa City Union (KCU), the union’s migrant members let the Japanese union members monopolise the domain of speech. In exchange for their silence, the migrant workers expected that the union would handle their labour disputes (see Chapter 4). For these migrant workers, silence was used for personal gain. For others, somewhat paradoxically, to speak is to lose control of one’s own voice. Chapter 5 showed that the spokespersons of migrant workers, such as migrant volunteers, immigration lawyers, and interpreters, not only helped migrant workers to become audible, but also controlled how they appeared ‘audible’ (see Chapter 5). Mediated through the voice of these agents, the voice of migrant workers became simultaneously audible and inaudible. In each case, people taking part in migrant activism searched for a mode of forming solidarity beyond their status as ‘citizen’ and ‘foreigner’. They tried out and developed various ways of speaking, combining speech and silence, and exploiting the gap between. Through this heterogeneity of speaking, people realised a different way of living in urban space and forming a new relationality. The purpose of this chapter is to examine the implications of these different ways of speaking to the idea of community. If space is reclaimed by people who invent different ways of speaking, what kind of community emerges from multilingual migrant activism? How can community be theorised at the intersection of speech and silence, communication and miscommunication? I will investigate these questions by engaging with the works of Jean-Luc Nancy, Bonnie Honig, and Slavoj Žižek. For Nancy, community is not a territory but a mode of relationality, of how we relate to one another. Theorising community from the perspective of language and translation, Nancy offers a way of thinking about community through the failure of communication (see also Shindo, 2012). Nancy’s idea of ‘inoperative community’ helps us to understand the critical role communication plays in multilingual migrant activism, and in particular, the implication of failed communication for the idea of community. Nancy’s theorisation of community situates untranslatability, or the failure of communication, at the core of community. In comparison, Honig’s and Žižek’s writings on a gothic reading of community highlight the key affective mechanism of uncertainty that works in tandem with the emergence of community.1 Albeit in different ways, both thinkers suggest that the failure of communication is not a problematic but a productive feature of community since it forces us to acknowledge our own inability to understand ourselves. Honig’s and Žižek’s approaches to community help us to explore a new way of thinking about community at the limits of



translation. This consists of embracing, rather than attempting to manage, the uncertainty of what is to come. This chapter is divided into five sections. The first section reflects on the case studies presented in the previous three chapters to discuss, in what way, the practice of translation is a key feature of multilingual migrant activism.2 The second section then discusses Nancy’s understanding of community. In particular, I look at his argument that communication failure lies at the heart of community making. In the third and fourth sections, I revisit the various instances discussed in the previous chapters where people negotiated the failure of communication and developed different understandings of speech and silence. The final section introduces the gothic approach to community to further investigate the political possibilities of failed communication in rethinking citizenship. I draw on Honig’s and Žižek’s writings to examine what is at stake when community is conceptualised through the assumption of unintelligibility.

Ambiguous zone of intelligibility In multilingual migrant activism in Japan, an impressive range of languages is spoken by those involved, including Chinese, English, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish. Although people are familiar with English, Japanese or in some cases, other languages, they have different levels of linguistic competency in these languages. This inevitably poses challenges for communication. Participants in activism have no choice but to engage with the practice of translation, through which their interactions are mediated. The key finding of the previous three chapters is that translation does not make the interactions transparent. While translation clears the air of miscommunication to some extent, it simultaneously reveals the impossibility of communication. Despite the practice of translation, inaudibility is not always translated into visibility where every voice becomes intelligible. Even when silence is made audible thanks to translation, it may become audible only partially, or in a distorted way. Participants in activism enact citizenship in this ambiguous zone of intelligibility. The previous chapters have shown various ways in which people negotiated the linguistic hurdles of multilingual migrant activism. First, as mediators of communication, translators were visible in almost every aspect of migrant activism I participated in. Interactions were facilitated through the voice of the translator at meetings between trade unions and government representatives (see Chapter 4), collective bargaining and


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court hearings (see Chapter 5), meetings between trade union members and their lawyers (see Chapter 5), and even interactions between migrant members and Japanese members of the same unions (see Chapter 3). In most of these cases, translators were non-professional. Due to a lack of financial resources, trade unions and NGOs usually depended on someone, either Japanese or migrant members of the organisations, whose linguistic competency was good enough to act as translators. Translators were themselves trade union organisers, members of trade unions, or lawyers, who were bilingual or semi-bilingual speakers of Japanese and the languages spoken by the migrant workers. As discussed in Chapter 5, this double role of translators suggests that translation can become more than just a simple transaction between two different languages. While translators undoubtedly aim to bridge the linguistic gap, they can simultaneously be motivated by their own desire to work for migrant workers. In other words, translation is not always performed solely for the simple reason of facilitating communication. Through the voice of these translators, conversations between migrant workers and their counterparts are sometimes subtly manipulated, without the knowledge of either party. Translators use their linguistic skills as a means to bring a favourable conclusion to a labour dispute. Second, even when translators are purely motivated by their desire to bridge the linguistic gap, their translation does not make communication intelligible. Due to budget constraints, trade unions and NGOs can only afford to have a minimum number of translators hired for the occasion. There is usually one translator who works for the entire duration of a meeting. This means that, when a translator has to take a break, participants are left alone without translation assistance (see Chapter 4). Lacking sufficient financial resources, trade unions also have to compromise on the quality of translation. Most non-professional translators lack simultaneous interpretation training, which is necessary for the accurate translation of rapid dialogues. Translation in migrant activism also requires extensive knowledge about labour laws and mastery of legal terms and related jargon, both in Japanese and foreign languages. Often the focal point of labour disputes concerns the fine details of labour laws and practices, which are familiar only to long-serving activists and lawyers. Because of the variable quality of translation, migrant workers have to endure different levels of clarity offered by different translators. Third, the practice of translation can be purely symbolic in some cases. Provision of a translation service does not guarantee clarity in communication. And yet, because of the presence of translators, migrant inaudibility sends a misleading impression that migrant workers do understand what is being discussed and endorse how Japanese activists



handle negotiations. In this case, translation carries almost no practical function for migrant trade unionists. Chapter  4 has discussed some instances where the silence of migrant workers was misused by Japanese activists to cement their legitimacy, in the eyes of their negotiating counterparts, as representatives of the migrants. Last, with or without translators, participants in migrant activism muddle through a patchy terrain of communication because of their different levels of linguistic proficiency in foreign languages. For example, English classes are mandatory in Japanese schools usually for six years. This prepares most Japanese trade union activists with some basic comprehension of English. Migrants may also have a rudimentary proficiency in English as well as Japanese. Some people discussed in the previous chapters were studying Japanese or had at least some basic understanding of Japanese because of their working experience or family connections in Japan. This means that they could, to some extent, make sense of conversations in English or Japanese, by recognising some familiar words and guessing at the content of the conversations. However, as discussed in Chapter 3 with the example of Tozen union, to have basic conversational skills in English or Japanese (or both) is not the same as having the level of fluency required to participate in discussions held in these languages. Discussions are usually conducted by multiple people. Some may speak very fast or have strong accents and intonations. To participate in discussions also requires both listening and speaking skills. For instance, some trade union members may be perfectly capable of following meetings held in a foreign language. And yet, they may still find it difficult to find a way to interject in the flow of conversation and express their thoughts, clearly and intelligibility, in a foreign language. In some cases, as shown in Chapter 4, native Japanese speakers deliberately construct convoluted sentences and use unfamiliar policy jargon to avoid giving direct responses. Consequently, meetings and discussions held in one language tend to be dominated by the native speakers of that language or by people whose speaking and listening skills are at a nearly native level. Thus, the practice of translation is deeply embedded in the politics of citizenship. In multilingual migrant activism, where participants neither share the same language nor have the same level of linguistic proficiency, they inevitably have to enact citizenship in the ambiguous zone of intelligibility. Between Japanese and migrant participants, as well as among migrant participants who speak different languages, communication is fragmentary. Either side can never be sure whether the conversation between them is truly understood by the other. People constantly face


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their own inability to translate their voices into a language unfamiliar to themselves. The figure of the translator is supposedly a reassuring solution to this linguistic challenge, since they can act as messengers in a foreign language. Somewhat paradoxically, however, communication mediated through translators remains unintelligible to those who entrust their messages because speakers can never know exactly how their voices are translated. It is partially because translators used in migrant activism are often activists themselves who have their own ideas of how communication should be done to maximise the interests of migrant workers. In other cases, contrary to the best efforts and intentions of non-professional translators, their mediation may cause miscommunication simply because of their inadequate translation skills or insufficient translation assistance, as is often the case for cash-strapped trade unions and NGOs. Understood in this way, communication and its failure are key features of multilingual migrant activism. When people claim their legitimate place in community, their voices travel through a fog of unknowability.

Community and miscommunication The enactment of citizenship in the patchy terrain of communication reveals an intimate link between community and communication. Following the claims of acts of citizenship scholarship, I have regarded migrant activism as an important instance where people contest, negotiate, and redefine the meaning of being a legitimate member of a community (see Chapter 2). People organise various actions to make a claim to a community, thus determining who is entitled to belong to the community and in what ways. If this claim-making process takes place in the ambiguous zone of communication, as the case of multilingual migrant activism in Japan has elucidated, we are tasked with the challenge of thinking about community in relation to the gap between intelligibility and unintelligibility. Jean-Luc Nancy’s approach to community offers a productive starting point to unpack the link between community and communication. To be clear, Nancy is not the only one who discusses the importance of this link. For example, Cynthia Weber reads Balibar’s understanding of translation as follows: … regimes of translation might be the location for practices of active citizenship that might participate in the construction



of a new public sphere of transnational citizenship. (Weber, 2012: 482) Balibar’s insistence on the ‘political importance of the practice of translation’ (Weber, 2012: 482) in rethinking citizenship echoes Zygmunt Bauman, who argues: The possibility of universalism lies precisely in this common capacity to reach an effective communication without possessing in advance common meanings and interpretations.… Universality is only the capacity of communication and mutual understanding, which is common to all groups, in the sense of “knowing how to proceed” reciprocally, but also knowing how to proceed when confronted with others who have the right to proceed in a different manner. (Bauman, 1999, quoted in Balibar, 2006: 6) While Nancy follows Balibar and Bauman by talking about the crucial role translation plays in rethinking relationality, he is different from them in arguing that unintelligibility, not ‘effective communication’, is a key feature of community. For Nancy, translation does not make us intelligible to each other, but only exposes us to our own failure to understand each other. This is a unique feature of Nancy’s work, which offers a helpful way to think about multilingual migrant activism taking place in the ambiguous zone of intelligibility. In the essay ‘Our sharing of exposure’ (‘Watashitachi no kyoutsū no hakanasa’ in Japanese) (Nancy, 2001), Nancy writes about the way in which translation uncovers the failure of communication.3 This short essay was prepared to commemorate the Japanese translation of his book, La communauté désoeuvrée (Inoperative community in English). Quite suitably for the occasion, his essay reflects on the translation gap between the French word communauté (community) and its Japanese equivalent, kyoudoutai. Nancy points out that these two words have been used in specific historical and political contexts that are unique to France and Japan respectively. This difference, he argues, is not translatable. The Japanese word for community can never be truly an equivalent to the French word, and vice versa (Nancy, 2001: 223). Rather than considering this unbridgeable gap as a limit of translation, however, Nancy embraces it: ‘These two [words] meet, as if two ships come across each other and move side by side. Touching each other’s body, each ship makes its own limit the other’s limit. Each ship becomes the other’s limit’ (Nancy, 2001: 226) For Nancy, translation is not a practice


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to transform a language foreign to our ears into something familiar. Instead, translation only reveals the illusion that language is self-contained: language ‘does not really have an existence of its own’ (Nancy, 2001: 226; original emphasis). The two words, the French word communauté and the Japanese one, kyoudoutai, share their inability to be translated into the other’s language. Such untranslatability allows each word to make sense of its own meaning in its difference from the other (Nancy, 2001: 227). Thus, translation enacts ‘trans-lation’ (Nancy, 2000: 87) in the sense that translated languages become related ([re]lation) to one another through (trans-) the sharing of the limitation that neither word can make itself intelligible on its own. Nancy’s understanding of translation reflects his unique way of thinking about the relationship between language and community. Nancy considers that ‘Language is essentially in the with. Every spoken word is the simultaneity of at least two different modes of that spoken word; even when I am by myself, there is the one that is said and the one that is heard, that is, the one that is resaid’ (Nancy, 2000: 86). ‘My’ voice can never be ‘mine’ because, for that voice to exist, ‘I’ need someone (including ‘I’) who listens. ‘I’ speak but that act of speaking is only possible because there is ‘you’ who listens to ‘me’. Thus, ‘Every voice is in itself opened, plural, exposing itself to the outside world’ (Devisch, 2006). Thinking language in this way, Nancy regards relationality as ‘an ontologically primary dynamic’ (Coward, 2012: 476). Relationality is not something that is shared between the self and the other as this perception assumes that there are two separate entities called ‘the self ’ and ‘the other’. Instead relationality is something that is realised through the ‘shared division’, that is, the sharing of the limit of being: This shared division can be conceived of as the boundary where the precise extent of self and other is established: the point where self stops and other begins. It is the establishment of this boundary that is the ontologically constitutive moment in any form of existence. But this boundary belongs to neither self nor other: it belongs to both and is thus shared. And yet it also divides. It is thus an inalienable surface of contact at which a relation of division is constituted. (Coward, 2012: 476) Singularity is always constituted in others, and being is always singular plural. Therefore, relationality is ‘a bond that operates across a distance (however small) ensuring that self and other are empirically interconnected (often in agonistic and conflictual relations) and yet ontologically separate’ (Coward, 2012: 475).



Nancy’s approach to language and relationality establishes a distinctive link between community and communication: community emerges through communication (see Ganon, 2005: 394). Since communication is the most exposed moment of singularities (Nancy, 2000: 85), each of us comes to share our own limitations of being by way of interacting with others and finding ourselves in them. As Nancy puts it: In place of such a communion, there is communication. Which is to say, in very precise terms, that finitude itself is nothing; it is neither a ground, nor a substance. But it appears, it presents itself, it exposes itself, and thus it exists as communication. (1991: 28) In other words, Nancy theorises community not from the question of what ‘is’ community but how it ‘happens’ and ‘emerges’ (Closs Stephens, 2013: 96; see also Edkins, 2005). To ask what ‘is’ community is to imagine community as either a collection of individuals who gather together (com + munis) or a pre-existing entity through which individuals come together (com + unus) (Coward, 2009). Imagined in this way, community assumes the collective ‘we’ as its basis. By asking how community happens and emerges, Nancy argues instead: We do not have to identify ourselves as “we,” as a “we.” Rather we have to dis-identify ourselves from every sort of “we” that would be the subject of its own representation, and we have to do this insofar as “we” co-appear. (2000: 71) Contrary to the idea that community is a definable unit (such as territory or group) that exists self-evidently based on a set of common attributes (or ‘we’), Nancy argues that community is ‘not an essence, not an identifiable totality which receives its meaning and determination from a transcendental signified’ (Morin, 2006). For Nancy, community emerges when people interact with one another, in ‘the moments, collisions and encounters which produce different subject positions’ (Closs Stephens, 2013: 96). It is in these ‘encounters in time’ that communities are ‘reformed’ (Closs Stephens, 2013: 96). Thus, community is not represented by ‘we’ but emerges, or happens, in encounters through which ‘an irreducible multiplicity of singular beings’ are realised relationally (Hutchens, 2005: 124). As Coward (2012) points out, searching for shared commonalities will inevitably draw us back to the ‘classical conception of citizen and community’ where plurality merely comprises ‘the gathering together


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of identical subjects and the exclusion of their others’ (2012: 471). In Nancy’s theorisation of community, rather than seeking commonalities as a foundation of plurality, we are invited to ask what sort of plurality there will be that recognises ‘the mutual imbrications of different political subjects’ (Coward, 2012: 471): Whereas the binding of citizens to one another is a matter of their substantial similarity, the question of being-with-others involves the articulation together of substantially different political subjects. The question thus arises as to what might be between subjects that are articulated or imbricated in the way [Nancy] suggested. (Coward, 2012: 471) I would argue that what Nancy’s understanding of community ultimately suggests is that ‘what might be between subjects’ is the failure of communication. It is through the exposure to unintelligibility that community emerges in encounters. If an encounter between self and other is conducted with the purpose of making each voice intelligible, it only works to produce a shared understanding between them, upon which a collective ‘we’ is formed. Therefore, to aim for the success of communication is to look for a way to make community operative. Such a community-making process revolves around an expectation that people interact with one another in an intelligible way. To fulfil this expectation is to find and establish connections between people so that community can be created based on collectiveness. This is the type of community that Nancy is critical of: for Nancy, community is ‘inoperative’ (Nancy, 1991). It always works against the force of looking for commonality, and as such, is ‘not a work to be done or produced’ (Nancy, 1991: 35). By theorising community as emerging, through encounters, in an ‘inoperative’ way, Nancy suggests that interactions between people are conducted without any promise of understanding. What each encounter does is not to look for an understanding between ‘us’ but to expose the incompleteness of our understanding of each other as well as ourselves. Because each voice is mutually imbricated in one another, it is never complete on its own but only becomes a voice in relation to other voices. To put it differently, since ‘community does not lead to any “communion” or fusion of singular identities’ (Korhonen, 2006), belonging to community does not necessitate the possession of specific features that represent community, such as languages, cultural practices, and values, so that an encounter between self and other results in a successful understanding of one another either at the linguistic level (language) or normative level (cultural practices and values). There is no



a priori ‘we’ to belong to, but only ‘we’ who are articulated relationally in the failure of being on its own. There is no intelligible voice of ‘we’ that is created through encounters, but only multiple voices of ‘we’, each of which is uttered without the promise of intelligibility. Each one of us can never be quite sure of the way in which our voices are communicated and understood by others. Being exposed to this ‘not-knowing’, ‘“we” co-appear’ (Nancy, 2000: 71). Thus, it is through the sharing of the failure of communication that the ‘inoperative’ community is set in motion.

Different ways of engaging with audibility and inaudibility An effort to create an ‘operative’ community involves the desire to achieve intelligibility in communication. As Scott (1998) describes in his writings on modern state management, language becomes a key tool for the state to make space and its inhabitants legible so as to ‘see’ and govern them. In the making of community, therefore, there is only one authentic way of ‘speaking’. ‘Speaking’ is to ensure the success of communication, so that the space becomes readable and governable. Thus, an ‘operative’ community resonates to the Hobbesian traditional approach to community that is constructed through the spatial division between the inside and the outside (see Chapter 1). While the inside of the community is a place of sameness, the outside is that of foreignness. To be part of community is to acquire the attributes that represent the inside. In this line of thinking, migrants’ inability to speak the language of the host community is regarded as a disturbing sign of failed ‘integration’. The unsuccessful practice of translation is regarded as merely a technical or policy problem to be solved, so that people can make their voices intelligible to each other and better facilitate ‘integration’. Meanwhile, Nancy’s approach to community opens up various ways of ‘speaking’ as being integral to the community-making process. Language is not merely a tool for communication, but more importantly a means to form relationality of being singular-plural. Untranslatability indicates not a problem of communication but a lack of promise to yield successful communication through interactions, and as such, a productive feature of community making. Since speaking is no longer limited to speech that ensures understanding between people, there are various ways in which community emerges through the failure of communication. To explore different ways of ‘speaking’ in relation to failed communication is to fully take into account inaudible political subjects in the enactment of citizenship. In Chapter 2, I discussed these kinds of


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political subjects in relation to Jacques Rancière’s and Gloria Anzaldúa’s writings on politics and belonging. Rancière (1991) draws on JeanJoseph Jacotot’s pedagogy to discuss politics based on unintelligibility. Although Jacotot’s Flemish-speaking students were unable to make them comprehensible to Jacotot, who only spoke French, he nevertheless assumed their capacity to speak on their own. By assuming the equality of speech, Jacotot disrupted the existing allocation of voice between students and teachers, and brought forward a political moment based on inaudibility. Anzaldúa (2012) speaks about belonging and unintelligibility in relation to the Chicano language, or what she calls a ‘border tongue’. Border tongue refers to a group of languages that do not fit into the existing geopolitical configuration and hence remain ‘foreign’ to others. As a Chicano speaker, Anzaldúa insists on speaking the border language. For her, to speak the Chicano language and remain unintelligible to others, in her case, Spanish- and English-speakers, is a key strategy to assert the legitimate presence of the Chicanos. To be unintelligible is not a hindrance to belonging but a claim in itself to devise a new way of belonging. By situating unintelligibility at the heart of political subjects, both Rancière and Anzaldúa suggest a different way of ‘speaking’ from the one based on audibility. For them, something productive happens when we fail to make ourselves intelligible to others in claiming our legitimate presence. Reading Nancy’s approach to community together with Rancière and Anzaldúa helps us to appreciate various instances of communication failure in the making of community. In the case of multilingual migrant activism discussed in this book, the failure of communication was manifested in different understandings of voice and silence held by participants of activism. Not sharing the same language for communication, they perceived and used silence differently, which also mirrored different understandings of what it meant to be audible. In some cases, the participants attempted to resolve these differences, however unsuccessfully (see Chapter 3); in other cases, the differences remained as they were (see Chapters 4 and 5). The cases of Nambu and KCU both demonstrated that some people perceived the relationship between audibility and inaudibility in parallel to the hierarchical relationship between citizens and foreigners. In both cases, owing to their limited linguistic competency in Japanese, non-Japanesespeaking trade unionists were unable to participate in union activism without the assistance of Japanese union members. Not being able to speak Japanese meant that most migrant workers were excluded from discussions and negotiations, while Japanese people primarily decided



how the union should be run, as was the case in Nambu, and how to handle labour disputes and negotiations, as in the case of KCU. In each case, the voice of migrant workers was made largely irrelevant in activism, in contrast to Japanese union members who monopolised the domain of speech. The examples of Nambu and KCU have also demonstrated that people regarded migrant inaudibility differently. In the case of the Nambu FWC, some migrant members found their silenced position a troubling sign of powerlessness. They felt that their relationship with Japanese union members was unequal because they had to rely on Japanese-speaking interlocutors. Other FWC migrant members did not see their inaudibility as a sign of an unequal relationship between Japanese and foreigners. For them, their silence was merely an indication of language barriers, an unavoidable feature of multilingual activism. When these two different groups of migrant members of the FWC were unable to resolve their differences, the former decided to leave Nambu to set up an English-speaking union, Tozen. For the members of Tozen, changing the working language of activism from Japanese to English was a symbolic act of taking back their own voice and becoming audible. Since its establishment, Tozen has attempted to build a working relationship with other Japanese-led unions, including Nambu, although not so successfully. In this way, former FWC members have also tried to intervene in the domain of speech monopolised by Japanese citizens, however tenuously. Although some non-English-speaking members of Tozen have struggled to take part in union activities because of their limited linguistic skills in English, they did not seem to be troubled by their silenced status in the union. This suggests that, similar to migrant workers who decided to remain in Nambu, Tozen’s non-English-speaking members regarded their inaudibility as an inevitable aspect of multilingual activism. Similar dynamics were seen between KCU’s Japanese and mostly Latin American migrant members. Its activities were mainly led by the former, who exploited the limited Japanese skills of the latter. At negotiations and demonstrations, the silence of migrant members was misused by the Japanese members to increase their own authority in the eyes of negotiating counterparts. Some KCU migrants found this problematic. By setting up a union branch and developing migrant workers’ consciousness, these migrants attempted to challenge citizen-led activism. The KCU’s other migrant members, however, perceived their silenced position as neither a simple issue of language barriers nor a disturbing sign of inequality between Japanese activists and foreigners. Instead, they used their own inaudibility as a means to make personal gains. Many migrant


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workers were attracted to join the KCU because of the union’s high success rate in resolving labour disputes. While Japanese union members exploited migrant inaudibility to emphasise their role as working on behalf of migrants, migrant members performed the silent role expected of them, and let the Japanese people take over the domain of speech. In return, the migrants ensured that their own labour disputes would be handled well by Japanese members. In this way, they quietly rewrote the meaning of silence and the terms of their relationship with the Japanese unionists. While the examples of Nambu, Tozen, and KCU dealt with the question of either becoming audible or inaudible, the examples of migrant volunteers of the CJVO, immigration lawyers, and interpreters were about becoming audible and inaudible simultaneously. The latter acted as agents of migrants by offering their professional skills and knowledge about Japanese labour practice, the Japanese legal system, and the Japanese language to assist migrants. They represented migrant workers at meetings with employers and court hearings, and helped migrant workers to communicate their points of view and convey their demands to employers and judges. While the voice of migrant workers became audible in this way, it also became inaudible because these agents interfered with the interactions between migrants and their counterparts. As discussed in Chapter  5, migrant volunteers, immigration lawyers, and interpreters each used their professional position to mediate the interactions by quietly participating in the process of constructing the ‘voice’ of migrant workers. Driven by the motive to realise the best possible result for migrant workers, the mediators sometimes convinced migrant workers to make concessions during the negotiation process. Both the CJVO and immigration lawyers used their familiarity with Japanese legal practices and the Japanese language to decide at what point migrant workers should stop pursuing their goals. Meanwhile, interpreters used their professional instinct, as activists, to determine how migrant workers should appear in negotiations, for example, whether to express a confrontational or cooperative stance, or similar nuances of communication. The agents of migrant workers discussed in Chapter  5 were both migrants and Japanese: the CJVO was composed of Chinese migrant volunteers living in Japan; immigration lawyers were Japanese; and interpreters were both Japanese and migrant union activists. Through their positions, these agents made decisions on when to translate, whose voice to translate, in what way, and when to directly intervene in interactions. In other words, the practice of mediation is conducted in a highly unpredictable and inconsistent manner. Deliberately and sometimes



inadvertently, the spokespersons of migrant workers sometimes lost their own voice – when they merely conveyed the voice of migrant workers – and at other times, regained it when they interfered with interactions. In this way, it was in losing control of their voices that both migrant workers and their agents became audible.

Solidarity reconsidered Because of these competing understandings of audibility and inaudibility, forming solidarity among participants in activism is never straightforward. The existing understanding of solidarity distinguishes migrant activism that ‘centres on and begins with citizens’ from the one that ‘begins with the non-citizen’ (Johnson, 2012: 122). The former refers to the hierarchical relationship where local actors work on behalf of migrants, whereas the latter refers to the relationship where both work together as equal partners (see Chapter 2). Chapters 3, 4, and 5 have demonstrated that this seemingly clear-cut separation between the two types of solidarity activism was not the case in multilingual migrant activism. As people engaged with the domain of speech and silence differently, their visions of solidarity also differed. To be clear, people taking part in multilingual migrant activism develop solidarity first and foremost on the basis of common identities, such as workers, local residents, or humans. Each trade union discussed in this book, Nambu, Tozen, and KCU, welcomes members regardless of their nationality and status. These unions, also known as community unions, are relatively small compared to major enterprise-based trade unions, but stand out for their flexibility and openness in terms of their membership criteria (see Chapter 1). While major trade unions tend to perceive migrant workers as potential competitors for Japanese workers and lend little support to the former, the community unions opened their door to migrant workers as early as the 1970s, and have continued to work with them since. Unlike traditional trade unions, the community unions work with a range of people including human rights activists, immigration lawyers, doctors, and clergy and parishioners of Christian churches. Together with these activists and local organisations, community unions advocate for the rights of foreigners in various fields, including healthcare, immigration, detention, and education. People taking part in migrant activism are united around a shared identity of being workers, local residents, or even human beings. It is through these identities that community is reimagined beyond the separation of the citizen from the foreigner.


Untranslatable Community

For example, the CJVO, discussed in Chapter  5, regards Chinese workers in Japan as local residents and fights for their rights. It argues that Chinese migrant workers, or any Chinese people living in Japan for that matter, should not be discriminated against based on their nationality and their status as foreign. For immigration lawyers, their clients deserve to be heard and represented regardless of who they are. Although their work is not pro bono, the immigration lawyers I talked to were driven by a strong sense of social justice. As members of the Lawyers Network for Trainees and Interns, they all work closely with trade unions and NGOs to advocate the rights of migrant workers. For these lawyers, migrant workers are much more than clients for their firms, but above all, human beings whose rights need to be respected. However, engaging with the line between audibility and inaudibility differently, participants in activism project different, and at times competing, visions of solidarity. For instance, a group of migrant members at Nambu felt frustrated that, although workers should be treated equally regardless of their nationality, they were primarily regarded as powerless victims in need of Japanese people’s help. As discussed in Chapter 3, these migrant workers eventually left Nambu to set up Tozen to pursue their own vision of solidarity based on equality. Other migrant workers at Nambu refused to join Tozen, because for them Nambu had ensured an equal relationship between migrants and Japanese members. These competing visions of solidarity could also be seen among Japanese members of the union. Some Japanese trade union activists supported the establishment of Tozen, while others did not. To attach different meanings to inaudibility is to associate different purposes with solidarity. Some people think that the ultimate purpose of activism is for migrant workers to receive financial compensation from their employers. For some, revealing the employers’ wrongdoing and ultimately forcing them to publicly admit their malpractice constitutes a successful outcome. For others, the purpose can be as abstract as promoting the rights of foreign residents or improving the status of workers in general. As discussed in Chapters 4 and 5, people negotiate with these different aims, sometimes purposefully and other times unknowingly. For example, migrant workers and immigration lawyers may disagree with whether, and when, they should concede their initial position to accept an offer presented by employers, and in some cases, judges who handle labour dispute cases. Depending on the contents of the offer, immigration lawyers sometimes nudge migrant workers to negotiate with their employers despite the workers’ initial intention to seek redress through the courts. Such an intervention can also be made by activists working as interpreters at collective bargaining and meetings



between migrant workers and their employers. When deemed necessary, interpreters-cum-activists subtly change the tone of interactions and add or delete a few words to steer the conversation toward the direction that they, but not necessarily the migrant workers, perceive as desirable. Different purposes projected on to migrant activism do not automatically result in friction between migrant and Japanese trade union members. In the case of the KCU discussed in Chapter 4, while many of its migrant members are primarily motivated to solve their own labour disputes, Japanese trade union members seek to increase the union’s visibility in public and improve the working conditions of migrant workers in general. Each side uses the other to realise their own goal: migrant members rely on Japanese members’ negotiation skills, while Japanese members depend on the physical presence of migrant members in demonstrations and negotiation tables. In this regard, these migrant workers were not necessarily relegated to a powerless position but performed the silent role expected of them to solve their own labour disputes. They rather exercised their autonomy to negotiate the relationship between citizens and noncitizens. The examples of the CJVO, immigration lawyers, and interpreters discussed in Chapter  5 suggest that, depending on the specific role performed by participants in activism, the type of activism where it is primarily designed by and for citizens, can creep into the other type of activism where noncitizens take the lead in activism, or vice versa. This can be initiated deliberately, as is the case of the CJVO which is consisted of migrant volunteers. The CJVO’s aim is to mediate conflicts between Japanese and Chinese residents before the conflicts require an ‘official’ intervention by organisations such as trade unions, government agencies, and the courts. After assessing the nature of the dispute carefully, CJVO’s members persuade Japanese citizens to accept the demands of migrant workers. At the same time, they also tell migrant workers to accept the customs and practices acceptable to their Japanese counterparts. The activism intervened by the CJVO centres on both citizens and noncitizens. The line separating the two conflicting types of activism is also unclear in the case of immigration lawyers and interpreters. As I have shown in Chapter 5, both of them sometimes use their mediating positions to gently guide migrant workers in the direction that they find advisable. Such intervention is propelled by their sense of professional duty as lawyers working for the benefit of their clients, and as activists working in the best interest of migrant workers. In these cases, immigration lawyers and interpreters bypass the division between citizens and noncitizens to monopolise the domain of speech on their own. While the intervention by immigration lawyers is understood by some migrants as signalling the


Untranslatable Community

dominance of citizens in activism, interpreters safely, and without the knowledge of others, control the domain of speech, manipulating the interactions between migrant workers and their counterparts.

Speaking gothically The preceding sections have examined the failure of communication, which, as a central feature of multilingual migrant activism, lies at the heart of the community-making process. Following Nancy’s theorisation of community, I have argued that various instances of failed communication discussed in this book reveal an important site of community making. Participants in activism develop different understandings of audibility and inaudibility that characterise their interactions with each other. This section extends our understanding of community by looking at a key affective device, uncertainty, in the making of community. The facilitation of encounters through miscommunication indicates an unpredictable aspect of interaction. Communication does not offer any promise of understanding between people. Rather, as this book has shown, people interpret, and misinterpret, the voice and silence of others, on which they form their own perceptions of who they are and how they relate to each other. Since encounters take place in this opaque terrain of intelligibility, we do not know for certain how our interactions end. As demonstrated in Chapters 3, 4, and 5, sometimes the communication failure may end up making some migrants angry for being treated like children by the Japanese. Sometimes migrants may exploit the failure of communication as a means to make personal gains. Sometimes the failure of communication may be merely regarded as an unavoidable feature of multilingual migrant activism that simply has to be lived with. At other times, the failure of communication may not even be recognised as such because communication appears intelligible through the figure of interpreters. Thus, interactions are unpredictable and elicit a feeling of uncertainty, of not knowing exactly what they will turn out to be. Bonnie Honig (1994, 2001) and Slavoj Žižek (2016) write about ‘not knowing’ when we interact with one another, and its implication for the idea of community. Honig does this by using gothic literature, whereas Žižek, the idea of alienation. Albeit in different ways, they both argue that community emerging at the limits of translation involves uncertainty. For Honig, imagining community through translatability of subjects is a manifestation of the liberal approach to pluralism, where differences are treated ‘in a modus vivendi way’. In this approach, conflicting beliefs, desires, and practices are regarded as a symptom of the community



that needs to be managed. Building on Bernard Williams’ approach to dilemmas, Honig challenges the idea that community is an innocuous place where one can retreat from conflicts, embodied in the form of dilemmas. Williams argues that ‘dilemmas’ are ‘situations in which two values, obligations, or commitments conflict and there is no right thing to do’ (Honig, 1994: 568). Honig refines Williams’ idea by putting dilemmas not ‘at bay rhetorically, psychologically, and politically’ (Honing, 1994: 568), but at the heart of the community-making practice. For Honig, dilemmas indicate not simply ‘a symptom of value pluralism’, but also a sign of incommensurability, ‘the ineradicability of difference from identity’ (1994: 569): Rather than springing up ab initio, dilemmas are actually the eventful eruptions of a turbulence that is always already there. They are the periodic crystallizations of incoherences and conflicts in social orders and their subjects. (Honig, 1994: 569; original emphasis) Being critical of the liberal pluralist approach to community, Honig explores a gothic way of narrating community to situate dilemmas at the centre of the community-making process. She argues that a female gothic heroine often builds an ambivalent relationship with the community, a place called ‘home’. For example, in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, it is the familiar space of home that becomes mysterious and foreign. Each story depicts a gothic heroine who uncovers a secret about home, often symbolised as her discovery about a hidden side of the male hero, such as her husband or lover. Despite her discovery, she often remains at home because she is never fully certain of how to make sense of her findings: ‘they [female gothic heroines] end up with a man who still might be a murderer, or they uncover only some but not all the secrets that haunt them’ (Honig, 2001: 118). Thus female gothic heroines are torn between conflicting emotions about home. Home is a source of uncertainty, manifested as unresolvable tensions between fear and relief, deception and truthfulness, and honesty and manipulation. Although Žižek does not resort to gothic literature explicitly, his idea of alienation similarly echoes Honig’s understanding of dilemmas. In resonance to Honig’s critique of liberal pluralism, Žižek is critical of the utopian ideal of multiculturalism that unquestionably celebrates the attitude of ‘understanding-each-other’ regardless of different social practices. Žižek argues that the attitude of ‘understanding-each-other’ is not necessarily helpful because there is always something that remains unintelligible, something that one can never understand, in what a neighbour does:


Untranslatable Community

… every neighbour is ultimately creepy. What makes a neighbour creepy are not his weird acts but the impenetrability of the desire that sustains these acts. (Žižek, 2016a: 73) Instead, Žižek calls for ‘a dose of alienation’, that is, the attitude of trying not to understand everything about the neighbour: ‘Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that, sometimes, a dose of alienation is indispensable for the peaceful coexistence of ways of life. Sometimes alienation is not a problem but a solution’ (Žižek, 2016a: 74; original emphasis). Critically, for Žižek, ‘a dose of alienation’ is ultimately not for neighbours but for ourselves. Using Robert Pippin’s reading of John Ford’s film, The Searchers, Žižek points out that we can never be truly sure about who we are. In the film, the main character, Ethan, assumes a task to search for Debbie, his niece raised by Native Americans, and to kill her because of her association with them. Having learned that, for Debbie, the Native Americans had become her family, Ethan regards Debbie as no longer belonging to his own family. However, when Ethan finally catches Debbie and is able to execute his task, he suddenly changes his mind. Pippin interprets Ethan’s sudden change of mind as his puzzlement of his own sense of who he is: ‘Ethan … suddenly realizes he does not know his own mind…’ (Pippin, quoted in Žižek, 2016a: 78). Ethan’s ambivalent relationship with himself echoes Honig’s gothic reading of home: what truly lies in the place called home – embodied in the figure of the self, in Žižek’s case – remains a mystery. Žižek applies this to argue that what unites ‘us’ and ‘others’ – in his case, immigrant refugees – is not that both are humans, but that both are unable to know about ourselves/themselves: Universality is a universality of “strangers”, of individuals reduced to the abyss of impenetrability in relation not only to others but also to themselves.… That’s why the privileged way to reach a Neighbour is not that of empathy, of trying to understand them, but a disrespectful laughter which makes fun both of them and of us in our mutual lack of (self-) understanding (inclusive of “racist” jokes). (Žižek, 2016a: 79) Contrary to the image of community presented by liberal pluralists and multiculturalists, the gothic reading of untranslatability of the subject imagines community unworkable. Drawing on Nancy’s work (1991), I have discussed earlier that there is a persistent desire to narrate community as an operative entity. To make the community workable, difference is regarded as a problem to be solved, a potential obstacle for the normal working of the community, and a threat to the creation of a



harmonious space of the inside. Just as Nancy argues that community is ‘inoperative’ because encounters do not result in managing differences, Honig suggests that community is always being torn apart because of the feeling of uncertainty: we are torn between different and contradictory emotions and not quite sure what to make of our ‘dilemmas’. Calling this community a ‘dilemmatic space’ (Honig, 1994), Honig argues that community is always, and inherently, incoherent because the feeling of uncertainty prevents differences from being reconciled. In this way, Honig disrupts ‘modus-vivendi liberal dreams of home’ (Honig, 1994: 586; original emphasis), where conflicting desires and practices are rejected and dilemmas suppressed. Community is unworkable because it remains uncertain of how to make sense of differences and foreignness that arises from irreconcilable differences. Thus, Honig and Žižek discuss a critical link between uncertainty and community. For Honig, it is this affective device, uncertainty, that can work as leverage to energise debates about community: ‘What if, instead, democratic subjects [are] related ambivalently, gothically, and, yes, passionately, to their leaders, their nations, their state institutions, and all their sites of belonging?’ (Honig, 2001: 121). Similarly, Žižek argues that not knowing who we are is the key emotional basis of establishing relationality: we need ‘not to recognise ourselves in strangers, but to recognise a stranger in ourselves’ (Žižek, 2016c), so that we appreciate a moment of ‘the true encounter with a real Neighbor in his/her specific way of life’ (Žižek, 2016b). Like Žižek, Honig argues that the sense of certainty, the belief that we know others, ultimately limits what kinds of relationships might be developed through encounters between self and other. She argues that an ‘insistence on total identification of an ideal object’ inevitably leads to the ‘loss of opportunities’ to meet ‘the challenge to work and live and share not just with people with whom we have a great deal in common but also with those with whom we just happen to be bound up’ (Honig, 2001: 117–18). Imagined gothically, community no longer represents a space that operates on the assumption of intelligibility. Instead, it is centred on the feeling of unsureness: we remain uncertain about how we understand others, let alone ourselves. Community which emerges by way of failed communication never quite makes interactions transparent and intelligible.

Conclusion This chapter has sought to explore an idea of community that theorises miscommunication as a way of ‘speaking’ when people claim their


Untranslatable Community

belonging to community in migrant activism. Building on my empirical engagement with how various groups of migrants and their local supporters negotiated the gap between visibility and audibility, I have argued that the failure of communication is central to the making of community. Not speaking the same language, people interpreted, and misinterpreted, voice and silence differently. Based on these different understandings of audibility and inaudibility, different visions of solidarity were held and the relationship between migrants and local activists determined. Drawing on Nancy’s approach to community, I have argued that community understood from the angle of failed communication challenges the traditional idea of community that is based on the statist spatial logic of separating the inside from the outside. In the conventional approach to community, there is only one way of ‘speaking’. That is, interactions are based on the success of communication. Such success is critical in making each voice intelligible so as to establish a shared understanding between people and to form a collective ‘we’. Doing so is to identify differences and foreignness that does not belong to the inside of community. In contrast, Nancy argues that community represents not a common feature shared among us but a mode of relationality where ‘we’ emerge only in our failure to understand ourselves. Thinking in this way, community is not a distinctive unit to belong to but appears in encounters, when communication takes place. Since every communication exposes the limits of intelligibility, community emerging in encounters is inherently ‘inoperative’: it refuses to decipher differences to look for familiarity, to create collectiveness, and to eliminate foreignness. Interacting in the ambiguous zone of intelligibility, people do not become part of something, which represents a traditional form of belonging to community. Instead, they only become relatable to one another. Such relationality is realised in their own inability to translate their voice, in the failure to achieve intelligibility. The political possibilities of untranslatability are substantial. Honig’s and Žižek’s gothic reading of community suggest that community emerging in failed communication opens up a unique political discourse where differences remain ‘ontologically different’ but are ‘empirically interconnected’ (Coward, 2012: 475) through the feeling of uncertainty. While multiculturalism is centred on the desire to translate differences into sameness, and in this way, looking for assuredness in encounters, thinking of community in relation to untranslatability points to the importance of ‘not knowing’ in theorising community. While the former regards intelligibility as a pre-condition of belonging, the latter regards unintelligibility as a condition of relationality. Thus, to reclaim space



involves a ‘gothic’ way of speaking where communication is a mechanism not to achieve intelligibility but to expose unintelligibility. Through the failure of communication, we enact a way of speaking where we find our own voice not in ourselves but only in others. The possibilities of ‘beingwith’ lie in not knowing who exactly ‘we’ are, and in this way, belonging to the voice of others. Notes Following Ross (2006), I use ‘affects’ and ‘emotions’ interchangeably. I use ‘translation’ and ‘interpretation’ interchangeably. See note 1 in the Introduction. 3 Nishitani Osamu is a translator of La communauté désoeuvrée. Quotes of Nancy’s essay (2001) used in this chapter are my translation from Nishitani’s translation (of Nancy’s essay from French to Japanese) to English. 1 2


Conclusion The objective of this book was to explore the connection between citizenship, language, and community. The case of Japan offers an important angle for examining this connection. In the context of migrant activism, English does not necessarily work as a global lingua franca to facilitate the communication of local activists and migrant protesters. Instead, Japanese is used as a primary working language at demonstrations, meetings among activists, negotiations between NGOs and government agencies, and collective bargaining between migrant workers and their employers. This challenges the assumption that participants of activism are more or less able to communicate successfully. By approaching the question through the Japanese experience, the activity of translation emerges as central to both our practical and theoretical understanding of the topic. By looking at interactions between people who are supposedly united to fight for the same cause but nevertheless disunited because of language barriers, this book has identified multiple locations of citizenship struggles. Participants navigate various instances where the tension between audibility and inaudibility becomes contentious, such as in interactions between migrant workers and their Japanese supporters, discussions between migrants and immigration lawyers, and conversations facilitated by Japanese and migrant volunteers who act as interpreters. These everyday interactions reveal a dynamic aspect of community making that takes place in the linguistic encounter between local activists and migrant protesters. This book has aimed to investigate the connection between citizenship, language, and community by looking at such instances of citizenship struggles. This objective has structured my conceptual and empirical investigations. In Chapter 1, I introduced a peculiar tension between language and community. On the one hand, language draws a boundary that separates the inside of the community from the outside. On the other, language disturbs the boundary to create an ambiguous space of belonging. Chapter 2 focused on the specific implication of this tension to the analysis of multilingual migrant activism. Drawing on the acts



of citizenship scholarship as well as the works of Jacques Rancière and Gloria Anzaldúa, I discussed migrant activism as a key site where language becomes a tool to sometimes divide citizens from foreigners – the former dominate the domain of speech at the expense of the latter’s silence, and at other times, challenge such division. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 provided empirical illustrations of various translation practices. As each chapter has shown, the two paradoxical connections between language and community, discussed above, are reflected in different ways in which participants of activism engaged with the question of audibility and inaudibility. Migrant protesters and Japanese activists interacted with one another by interpreting and misinterpreting the voice and silence of the other. Based on these, they projected competing visions of solidarity on to their relationship. The empirical chapters have also shown that the failure of communication is an unavoidable characteristic of these interactions. Be it the relation between English speakers and Japanese speakers, the activism of Portuguese and Spanish speakers alongside Japanese speakers, interacting directly or through the figure of the mediator, people developed their understandings of what it means to be audible and silent through the patchy terrain of communication. In Chapter 6, I returned to my conceptual investigation to find a way to speak productively about community in relation to failed communication, as highlighted in Chapters 3, 4, and 5. The view advanced here is that unintelligibility is a key basis of relationality. Drawing on the works of Jean-Luc Nancy, Bonnie Honig, and Slavoj Žižek, I have argued that the failure of communication is a productive feature of community because it reveals that uncertainty over who ‘we’ are lies at the heart of community making. From this angle, community is understood as emerging through encounters that reveal not what we have in common, but what we fail to be on our own. To think of community in this manner is to articulate belonging in a new mode of relationality: belonging is not realised in an aspiration to become part of a particular group, but in finding our voice only in others. The purpose of this concluding chapter is to reflect on the insights obtained from the study on multilingual migrant activism. I do so in two areas: first, I discuss the broader significance of this study for not only the ‘politics of translation’ (Spivak, 1993) but also the politics of untranslation – translation that fails to make interactions intelligible. As I argue, the politics of untranslation offers an effective critique to the persistently divisive political rhetoric about migration where knowing ‘the other’ conditions the acceptance of migrants. Second, I focus on the hidden aspect of untranslatability, as found in migrant activism. I



discuss in what way an appreciation of these aspects is important to the ongoing inquiry about community in the fields of international relations and political geography.

Politics of untranslation In ‘The politics of translation’, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1993) talks about the practice of translation that offers a powerful basis of solidarity, in her case, a translational feminist solidarity (1993: 192). She looks at the way in which non-English texts are translated into English, and what gets silenced in the translation process. In particular, Spivak is critical of the loss of Third World female writers’ agency (1993: 182). She argues that the idea of transnational solidarity among women conceals the persistent ignorance and negligence toward women who speak languages of lesspowerful countries, and whose voice is neither heard nor translated. For Spivak, therefore, an alternative form of solidarity can be found in a practice of translation where translators actively intervene in the translation process to let an otherwise silenced voice appear. The critical connection between translation and solidarity, as discussed by Spivak, has long animated scholars of translation studies. As a founding practice of community, translation is connected to different visions of belonging. The question of how to translate a ‘foreign’ voice is the question of which side translators and interpreters form their solidarity with. To whom do they swear allegiance? Which community do they truly belong to? Should translation be done so that the original ‘foreign’ voice remains intact although it may ‘disturb’ the ears of the people who receive that voice? Or should it prioritise fluency and naturalness so that the trace of foreignness disappears? In translation studies, the intimate link between translation and belonging is manifested in two opposing approaches to translation: domestication of translation and ‘foreignisation of translation’ (Schleiermacher, 1813/2004). While the former refers to a type of translation where a trace of foreignness is erased completely from translated materials, the latter deliberately preserves the foreignness. The tension between these two approaches has been discussed by various translation studies scholars. For instance, Lawrence Venuti famously proposes the concept of (in)visibility of translators, to criticise the English-language culture that praises the fluency and naturalness of translation. For Venuti, translation is the product of the translators’ intervention, and thus, is ‘the site of many determinations and effects – linguistic, cultural, economic, ideological’ (Venuti, 1995: 19). Following Friedrich Schleiermacher’s idea



of ‘foreignisation of translation’, Venuti argues that to expose ‘unequal cultural exchanges’ and challenge the hegemony of ‘English-language nations’ (Venuti, 1995: 20), translation should be faithful to the original even if that means some ‘foreign’ elements remain untouched. Bhabha similarly calls for translation that keeps the ‘foreignness of languages’ alive (Bhabha, 1994: 227): ‘not “to turn Hindi, Greek, English into German [but] instead to turn German into Hindi, Greek, English”’ (1994: 228). Translation is not to convert foreignness into the language of receivers (readers of translated materials), but to keep the original voice of the sender (the author) and bring the receivers to the author. According to Bhabha, it is through this type of translation that ‘newness’ emerges: ‘the ambivalent process of splitting and hybridity that marks the identification with culture’s difference’ (Bhabha, 1994: 224). Emily Apter illustrates the precarious status of belonging accorded to translators by their ability to speak multiple languages. She draws on an example of translators between Arabic and English working in post9/11 America, such as those at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. According to Apter, ‘a substantial number [of these translators] were charged as Al Qaeda infiltrators’ because of their abilities to communicate with the suspects in Arabic (Apter, 2006: 15). Apter’s observation resonates with the precarious position of translators working in other contexts (see, for example, Inghilleri, 2009a). The practice of translation is inherently political because it is about ‘national sovereignty, the construction of individual/collective identities and rights, and the question of territorial borders’ (Inghilleri, 2009b: 10). Translators’ allegiance to their country of citizenship can be easily questioned because of their ability to speak ‘foreign’ languages. This has serious repercussions, especially when these languages are spoken by the ‘enemies’ of their countries of citizenship. While translation, either its domestication or foreignisation, can be used to affirm an existing mode of belonging where claims to community are based on allegiance and loyalty, it also entails possibilities of new ways of belonging. For instance, Sherry Simon calls the space of interactions mediated by the practice of translation as a ‘contact zone’, where ‘cultures, previously separated, come together and establish ongoing relations’ (Simon, 1999: 58). She looks at how Québécois writings unsettle the postcolonial relationship between French-speaking Québec and Englishspeaking Canada. Apter speaks about the ‘translation zone’ (2006), where ‘consciousness crosses over to a rough zone of equivalency or crystallizes around an idea that belonging to no one language or nation in particular’ (2006: 6). The statist allocation of space is critically assessed in this zone of translation (Apter, 2006: 5). Building on Pierre Bourdieu’s work, Moira



Inghilleri talks about the ‘zones of uncertainty’ where the outcome of translation can never be guessed in advance. Read together with Inghilleri’s claim, the ‘newness’ Bhabha talks about suggests an opening for different ways of belonging to community that marks both fluidity and fixation. The two conditions of belonging – ‘whether the crossing of cultural frontiers permits freedom from the essence of self ’ or ‘whether, like wax, migration only changes the surface of the soul, preserving identity under its protean forms’ – are ‘ambivalently enjoyed in the “survival” of migrant life’ (Bhabha, 1994: 224). In this regard, Bhabha’s idea of ‘newness’ echoes Walter Benjamin’s argument that the task of the translator is ‘to release in his own language that pure language which is under the spell of another, to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in his re-creation of that work’ (Benjamin, 1969/2004: 82). As discussed in this book, to navigate the space of translation where different languages meet, one potential strategy is to stop searching for intelligible communication altogether. Instead, starting from the unintelligibility of communication can offer us a productive way to form solidarity beyond the domestication or foreignisation approaches to translation. To take the domestication approach will introduce the logic of the inside and outside, where solidarity is formed in terms of people’s affiliation to one particular community and one particular language group. To take the foreignisation strategy will reproduce the separation between the self and the other, because neither side shares intelligibility. Both strategies limit the possibilities of solidarity based on intelligibility. In the former, intelligibility is imposed on the communicative space between the self and the other, because the other is represented in the language only intelligible to the self. This makes the relationship between the two not solidaristic but hierarchical. In the foreignisation strategy, possibilities for solidarity are difficult to find because the self and the other is essentially separated from one another, each having a space of intelligibility of its own. Drawing a clear line between the ‘self ’ and the ‘other’, the foreignisation strategy assumes that ‘we’ will understand ‘us’ even though ‘they’ will not, and vice versa. Instead, I have suggested in this book the idea of relationality centred on unintelligibility. The failure of communication points to a mode of belonging that is realised in the limits of translation: we belong to each other only through the unintelligibility of our own voice. It is not in our ability to understand each other but our inability to do so, and ultimately to get lost in our own voice, that we find each other. We share what unbinds us in this relationality. Possibilities of solidarity lie not in the promise of intelligibility that enables us to ‘understand’ each other, but in what we fail to come to terms with in our own voices.



The politics of untranslation presents a powerful antithesis particularly to the current political climate, where knowing ‘the other’ is embedded into the acceptance of migrants and refugees in wealthy countries, including Japan. Especially since the so-called refugee and migration crisis in Europe circa 2015, there has been an unmistakable desire to ‘know’ who comes in to ‘our’ territory and who lives here with ‘us’. To know, in other words, is to identify and select those who share commonalities with ‘us’ in terms of language, cultural practices, and racial background. It is to ensure that those who live with ‘us’ will not untie the collectiveness that binds ‘us’. This ideological stance creates a dangerous demarcation of human life: those who are perceived as ‘different’ from ‘us’ are justifiably regarded as someone not worthy of ‘our’ fellowship, a target of deportation and banishment. In this regard, politics of untranslation presents a way to make a productive political intervention by advocating what Derrida calls ‘unconditional hospitality’ (Derrida and Dufourmantelle, 2000). In Of hospitality, Derrida (2000) raises the critical connection between language and hospitality: the question of hospitality begins with the question of whether strangers can present themselves as worthy of receiving hospitality from the host. To do so, strangers have to translate themselves into the language spoken by the host to prove their worthiness. The language is foreign not only in the sense that it belongs to the host, but also that it is a legal language, unfamiliar to most of us anyway, and yet ‘in which the duty of hospitality is formulated’ (Derrida and Dufourmantelle, 2000: 15). To be accepted as a ‘refugee’, or to gain a specific immigration status in the host country, requires familiarity with legal knowledge and terms. Strangers have to present themselves in a way that is translatable not only in the language of the host but also the legal framework through which their existence becomes legible legally. Built on this critical link between language and hospitality, Derrida advocates the idea of unconditional hospitality. According to Derrida, there are two types of hospitality: conditional and unconditional. Conditional hospitality is based on intelligibility between the host and the foreigner. Information such as the name, origin, and social background of the foreigner needs to be successfully communicated in the language of the host, so that the host knows who the foreigner is. Unless knowledge about the foreigner is presented to the host, the foreigner is not even regarded as someone worthy of the host’s hospitality. In contrast, unconditional hospitality is based on untranslatability of the voice of the stranger. The communication between the host and the stranger fails because the latter is unable to speak the language of the former to identify who s/he is. In this regard, unconditional hospitality is ‘given to the other before they are



identified, even before they are (posited as or supposed to be) a subject, legal subject and subject nameable by their family name’ (Derrida and Dufourmantelle, 2000: 29). Derrida rhetorically asks: Shouldn’t we also submit to a sort of holding back of the temptation to ask the other who he is, what her name is, where he comes from, etc? Shouldn’t we abstain from asking another these questions, which herald so many required conditions, and thus limits, to a hospitality thereby constrained and thereby confined into a law and a duty? (Derrida and Dufourmantelle, 2000: 135) Following Derrida’s call for unconditional hospitality, the politics of untranslation offers a powerful basis of relationality through which we imagine community differently from the one based on the separation between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Community is no longer a place where ‘we’ is imagined as a collective entity. Rather, community is realised as a precarious encounter that only exposes the limit of our own being. This line of thinking presents a critical addition to the burgeoning research field on solidarity activism, where different strategies of forming solidarities between local activists and people on the move are discussed (see, for example, Ataç et al, 2016; della Porta, 2018; Rosenberger et al, 2018; Squire, 2018). The politics of untranslation suggests that a powerful basis of solidarity between local activists and migrant protesters is not who ‘we’ are, whatever ‘we’ is – including humanity – but not knowing who ‘we’ are. Through sharing such vulnerability of not knowing exactly who ‘we’ are, we find ourselves in others.

Co-appearance of multiple communities This book has also suggested that failed communication, which sets the ‘inoperative’ community in motion, tends to be concealed. In the multilingual migrant activism I participated in, unintelligibility was observable but rarely discussed openly. Participants in activism more or less pretended as if communication among them was clear and unproblematic. In the cases of Tozen and KCU, there were some people, Japanese and migrant union activists alike, who were unable to participate in discussions (see Chapters 3 and 4). Instead of revealing the failure of communication, however, they quietly and dutifully sat at meetings and never raised the issue of failed communication. Interpreters similarly acted as if communication was made intelligible because of their involvement



in interactions between migrant workers and their Japanese counterparts (see Chapter 5). The translators concealed their active interference in the communicative process from others to give the impression that they were merely acting as a translation machine. The reasons for such pretence were nothing elaborate. In the case of KCU, the silent participants merely wished to focus on their own labour cases and did not bother raising the problem of miscommunication. Some Tozen members regarded failed communication as an unescapable feature of multilingual migrant activism. Translators understandably kept their intervention quiet to protect their professional reputation. In these instances, a new mode of community making centred on unintelligibility is kept invisible under the illusion that visibility always matches audibility. Every voice appears translatable and audible, although some voices remain untranslated. Communication and miscommunication worked in tandem while maintaining an illusion that communication was successful and there was no trace of miscommunication. An ensuing implication of this hidden practice of failed communication is that even when one type of community appears to be dominating the way we live, it does not mean that other types of community are kept at bay. In the context of this book, the traditional form of community, based on the assumption of a homogeneous linguistic space, appears together with a new form of community enacted at the limits of translation. For example, while some local activists reinforced the hierarchical relationship between citizens and foreigners by controlling the domain of speech (see Chapters 3 and 4), others, such as citizen and migrant translators, practised failed communication quietly (see Chapter 5). In some cases, within the same union activities, two different types of community were exercised simultaneously (see Chapter 4). In this way, to navigate the messy reality of activism, the people I discussed in this book engaged, strategically and selectively, with the gap between communication and miscommunication, depending on their needs. Consequently, multiple forms of community co-appeared. This points to the need to theorise community relationally rather than independently. The existing scholarship has so far presented a number of different images of community, such as the Unavowable Community (Blanchot, 1988) and Coming Community (Agamben, 1993). The search for a new form of community is driven by the need to look critically at the existing statist form of political community. My own way of thinking about community in this book is one example of that. At the same time, what my conceptual and empirical investigations of multilingual migrant activism have uncovered was not a straightforward articulation of an alternative image of community as such. While it was



possible to see a different way of belonging and to detect a possibility of forming community based on relationality, the old form of community also lingered to offer a readily applicable method to negotiate the space of translation. If people’s interactions are mediated by both the ‘persistence’ of the statist way of thinking about community (see Closs Stephens, 2013) and a different kind of community that challenges this statist approach to community, we are confronted with the task of thinking imaginatively about the co-appearance of these competing visions. This, rather than the privileging of one form of community over another, seems to be a fruitful way forward in the theorisation of community. I believe such inquiry is critical, now more than ever, as people are increasingly polarised over migration and divided between different visions of belonging.


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mismatch between visibility and audibility xiv–xix, 7–8, 41–2, 45–54, 71, 76, 80, 93–6, 105–6, 149, 158 see also communication; intelligibility/unintelligibility; language; visibility/invisibility

acts of citizenship xvi, 4, 8–9, 21, 30, 33–4, 36–7, 41, 133 see also categories of citizenship; citizenship affect see emotion Anderson, B. 1–2 animality xiii, 32–6 see also humanity anthropocentrism 33–4 Anzaldúa, G. xvi, 31, 43–5, 51, 139, 152 Apter, E. xx, 154 Arendt, H. 35 audibility/inaudibility and citizenship 7, 9, 29–30, 37, 39–43, 128, 130 and Kanagawa City Union (KCU) 80–1, 88–9, 91–8, 101–2, 139–41, 144 and legibility 2–4, 6, 123 and mediators (China Japan Volunteer Organization (CJVO); immigration lawyers; interpreters) 105–7, 115–16, 120, 123–5, 126n, 141–5 and Nambu Foreign Workers Caucus (Nambu FWC) 54, 65–71, 139–41 and Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union (Tozen) 71–7, 128–9, 140–3 link between audibility and inaudibility xvi, 31, 39–45, 107, 125, 138–43, 145, 149, 151–2

B back-door policy 12, 20, 82–3 see also precarity Balibar, É. 36, 128, 133–4 Bauman, Z. 134 belonging xiv, xvi, 2–3, 23, 27, 30, 61, 64, 74, 147, 148–55, 159 and Anzaldúa, G. 43–5, 139 and authenticity 1, 5, 17 gothic mode of xviii, 31, 148–50 political belonging 15–16 to community xviii, 5–7, 9, 15–17, 30–1, 36, 47, 81, 137, 149, 155 traditional form of xviii, 5, 36, 149 see also translation; untranslatability Benjamin, W. 155 Bennett, J. xiii, 40 Bhabha, H. 3, 154–5 Bolivian migrants 23, 80–2, 87, 97, 101 see also Kanagawa City Union border tongue 43–4, 139 see also Anzaldúa, G. Brazilian migrants xii, 11, 13–14, 18, 21–3, 25– 6, 80–8, 97, 104n see also Kanagawa City Union




miscommunication xii, xv, xviii, xx, 31, 129–30, 133–4, 137–9, 145, 148–52, 155–8 non-verbal communication 38 success of xvi, 137–8, 149 see also audibility/inaudibility; language; translation community and communication 129–30, 133–8 and language xvi, 1–4, 9, 135, 138, 151–2 and untranslatability 51, 129, 135, 138, 147, 149 belonging to xviii, 5–7, 9, 15–17, 30–1, 36, 47, 81, 137, 149, 155 boundary of xi, 2–4, 7 community making xi, xiv–xv, xix, 6, 15, 46, 50–1, 53, 130, 137–8, 145–6, 151–2, 158 Hobbesian approach to 34, 138 inoperative community 129, 137–8, 148–9, 157 political community xi, 2, 5, 10, 15, 36, 158 see also Nancy, J-L.; translation community workers’ union (chīki goudou rouso) 13, 59, 96 see also enterprise union; Kanagawa City Union; Nambu Foreign Workers Caucus; trade union; Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union Coward, M. 135–7, 149

Cameron, D. 2 categories of citizenship 6, 8, 15–16, 21, 37, 48, 55–6, 127 see also irregular migrants; legality/ illegality; noncitizens; refugees Chakrabarty, D. xiv Chicanos 31, 43–5, 139 see also Anzaldúa, G. China Japan Volunteer Organization (CJVO) xvii, 106–8, 113–16, 124–5, 126n, 141, 143–4 establishment of 111–13, 125 membership of 112, 115 Chinese migrants xii, 11, 14, 23, 25, 27n, 74, 79, 106, 111–16, 118–19, 124–5, 141, 143 see also China Japan Volunteer Organization; Kakoukai Chung, E.A. 9–10, 17, 37 citizens see citizenship; categories of citizenship; local activists/local supporters citizenship acts of xvi, 4, 8–9, 21, 30, 33–4, 36–7, 41, 133 language as central to vi, xix, 31, 41 local citizenship 16, 47, 49 site of citizenship struggles 6, 9, 31, 49, 151 state-centred approach to xi, 8, 30, 36–7, 46 see also categories of citizenship Closs Stephens, A. 15, 36, 136, 159 collective bargaining xv, 50–1, 66, 75, 90, 117, 121–2, 124, 130, 143, 151 communication and community 129–30, 133–8 and intelligibility/unintelligibility xviii, xx, 133–4, 137, 149–50, 152, 155–6 language of 25, 46, 71, 93 medium of xiii, xv, 26, 39, 47, 70–1

D Day Long Action (ichinichi koudou) xvii, 81, 95–100, 103, 104n see also Kanagawa City Union De Genova, N. 19, 37 democracy 30, 50, 54–5, 65–77, 105, 148 demonstration xix, 4–8, 18, 23, 29, 42, 51, 64, 71, 75, 79–80, 88–90, 95–102, 107, 116–17, 120, 140, 144, 151



demonstration (continued) see also monolingual migrant activism; multilingual migrant activism Derrida, J. 34, 156–7 dilemma see gothic approach; Honig, B. disagreement see Rancière, J.

Goldring, L. 19–21 gothic approach xviii, 31, 127, 129–30, 145–50 see also Honig, B. Gottlieb, N. 5, 27

H Higuchi, N. 85–6 Hobbes, T. 2, 34, 138 Hollifield, J.F. 82 Honig, B. xviii, 51–2, 129–30, 145–9, 152 see also gothic approach hospitality 156–7 see also Derrida, J. humanity 31–5, 157 see also animality Hutchison, E. xiii, 38

E Eco, U. 128 Edkins, J. 41, 136 egalitarian logic 39–40, 42, 68 see also Rancière, J. emigration 18, 82 émigrés 12–13, 82 emotion xii–xiii, xvi, 37–8, 87, 146, 148, 150n English 62, 79, 153–4 English language education 22, 26, 56–7 English-speaking migrants xvii, 13–14, 24–6, 53–6, 61, 65, 69–71, 74–7, 105, 140 futility of English as a global lingua franca xv, 25–6, 46–7, 151 proficiency in xii, 2, 55, 57 enterprise union 59, 142 see also community workers’ union; trade union

I illegality see legality/illegality Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act 12, 20, 82, 87, 109 immigration lawyers xvii, xix, 50, 105–7, 116–20, 124–5, 129, 141–4, 151 immigration policy 12, 85, 109 inaudibility see audibility/inaudibility Inghilleri, M. 154–5 integration 2, 5, 47, 83, 138 intelligibility/unintelligibility 3, 31, 35, 37, 43–5, 139, 145–8, 157 ambiguous zone of 130–4, 149 and communication xviii, xx, 133–4, 137, 149–50, 152, 155–6 and Joseph Jacotot’s pedagogy 42–3, 139 see also language; speech; translation; untranslatability interpretation see translation interpreters xvii, 8, 42, 50, 105–7, 114, 129, 153, 157

F Federation of Workers’ Union of the Burmese Citizens in Japan (FWUBC) 14 Foreign Workers Branch of Zentouitsu (FWBZ) 14, 18, 79, 90–1 Form Condor Union 14 see also Kanagawa City Union Fortier, A-M. 2 Frankenstein see Shelley, M.

G General Union (GU) 14, 92, 104n



Korean migrants 11, 14, 86–7, 89 see also zainichi Koreans

interpreters (continued) as translators xxn, 24, 61, 70, 85, 121–3, 126n, 130–3, 150n, 153–4, 158 interpreters-cum-activists 120–5, 141–5, 151 my role as an interpreter xv, xix, 91 provision of 25–6, 62, 70, 76, 92 see also translation; intelligibility/ unintelligibility; untranslatability irregular migrants 13, 36, 88 see also categories of citizenship; legality/illegality; noncitizens; refugees Isin, E.F. xi, 4, 7–8, 15, 21, 36–7, 48–9

L Landolt, P. 19, 21 language and anthropocentrism 33–4 and community xvi, 1–4, 9, 135, 138, 151–2 and hospitality 156 and material turn xii–xiii, xv and translation xi–xii, xiv, xviii, 129, 131, 155 as a foreign language xi–xii, xiv, xvi, 4, 8, 32, 46, 50–1, 57–8, 72, 94, 103, 121, 128, 131–3, 154–5 as a tool of integration 2, 5, 138 as central to citizenship vi, xix, 30–1, 41 language barrier 9, 41, 53, 69–70, 75–6, 80, 84, 140, 151 linguistic proficiency xvii, 7–8, 24–5, 55, 84, 132 of Europe 128 standardisation of 2, 127 see also audibility/inaudibility; communication; English; intelligibility/unintelligibility; Japanese language; speech language instructors see English Latin American migrants see Bolivian migrants; Brazilian migrants; Peruvian migrants legality/illegality 14–15, 17–21, 29, 37, 88 see also categories of citizenship linguistic turn xii lip sewing 41 see also silence local activists/local supporters xii, xiv–xvi, xvii–xviii, xx, 3–9, 27, 31, 39, 46–51, 56, 66, 77, 94, 102–3, 105, 149, 151, 157–8 local citizenship 16, 47, 49 long-term resident (teijūsha) see visa status

J Jacotot, J. 42–3, 139 Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO) 109–11 Japanese economy 11–13, 20–1, 82 Japanese language 85, 89, 97–8, 101, 106, 141 proficiency in xii, 24–5, 50–1, 69, 81, 83–4, 91–4 Johnson, H. xi, 6, 37, 47–8, 142

K Kajita, T. 12, 16, 82–5, 87, 110 Kakoukai (Chinese Trade Union) 14 Kanagawa City Union (KCU) xvii, 72, 80–1, 90–2, 94–5, 99, 102–4n, 105, 129, 139–42, 144, 157–8 and music performance 88–9, 96–8 and workers’ consciousness 100–2, 140 establishment of 14, 86–7, 99–100 membership of 14, 18, 23, 82, 87 Kanto Teachers’ Unions’ Federation (KTUF) 59–60, 77n Komai, H. 110




and democracy 69–71 and Kanto Teachers’ Unions’ Federation (KTUF) 59–60, 77n establishment of 53, 59–62 membership of 55–6, 58–9, 60–1 relationship with National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu (Nambu) 53–5, 61–5, 71–2, 76–7 see also Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union Nancy, J-L. xviii, 129–30, 133–9, 145, 147–9, 150n, 152 National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu (Nambu) see Nambu Foreign Workers Caucus newcomers 10–14, 16–17, 23–7, 36, 58 see also oldcomers Nielsen, G.M. xi, 4, 7, 15, 21, 36–7 nikkei migrant workers see backdoor policy; Bolivian migrants; Brazilian migrants; long-term resident (teijūsha); Peruvian migrants; side-door policy noncitizens xi–xiv, xvi–xvii, 6–7, 19, 27, 31, 36, 38–41, 48–9, 51, 144 see also categories of citizenship; irregular migrants; legality/ illegality; refugees noncitizen political participation 4, 9, 29–30 see also monolingual migrant activism; multilingual migrant activism Nyers, P. xi, 8, 15, 21, 29–30, 34–7, 48–9

material turn xii–xiii McLaughlin, J.W. 56, 60, 62–3 McNevin, A. xi, 15–16, 36–8 mediation 105–6, 114–16, 121–5, 129–30, 133, 141, 144, 154, 159 mediators see China Japan Volunteer Organization; immigration lawyers; interpreters migrant activism see monolingual migrant activism; multilingual migrant activism migrant protesters xii–xviii, xx, 3–6, 8–9, 23, 27, 31, 39, 47–8, 50–1, 56, 66, 77, 93–4, 100–3, 105–6, 125, 151–2, 157 see also categories of citizenship; irregular migrants; legality/ illegality; noncitizens; refugees migrant volunteers see China Japan Volunteer Organization migrant workers’ association 13–14 Milani, T.M. 49 Miller, M. 29–30 Ministry of Justice (MOJ) 10–11, 13, 20, 23, 27n, 82, 90, 108–10, 126n miscommunication see communication Miyajima, T. 16 monolingual migrant activism xii, 4, 41, 49 Morris-Suzuki, T. 9, 12, 16, 94 multiculturalism 26–7, 146–7, 149 multilingual migrant activism xii, xvi, xx, 4–9, 23, 26, 31, 41–2, 46–7, 49–51, 73, 128–30, 132–4, 139–42, 145, 151–2, 157–8 Murayama, S. 77n, 86–7, 89, 97, 99–100


Obama, B. 2 Ogawa, K. 56, 86–7, 96, 99, 102 Oguma, E. 9, 79 oldcomers 10, 112 O’Sullivan, J. 56–8

Nambu Foreign Workers Caucus (Nambu FWC) xvii, 13–14, 18–19, 22, 65–71, 76, 77n, 79–81, 91–2, 103, 139–43




Shelley, M. 30–4 Shipper, A.W. 9, 17–18, 22, 27n, 37, 59, 82, 88, 93, 96–9, 102, 104n, 116 side-door policy 12, 20, 82–3 see also precarity Simon, S. 154 silence xvii, 71–2, 77, 80–1, 94–6, 105, 107, 132, 141 and lip sewing 41 and speech xviii, 41, 129–30, 142 and voice xx, 139, 145, 149, 152 as performance 81, 94, 101–5 silenced position/status xvii, 9, 36–7, 40–3, 50, 68, 77, 81, 88, 93–4, 103, 140, 153 see also speech solidarity xiii, xvii, 6–7, 129, 142–3, 149, 152, 157 and language 31, 46–51, 153–5 and trade union activism 53, 56, 63, 67–70, 81, 102 Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan (SMJ) 60, 64, 90, 92 sovereignty 35–6, 154 state citizenship xi, 8, 30, 36–7, 46 state making 2, 6, 30, 37, 127–8, 138 space xviii, 3, 35, 37, 40, 71, 117, 129, 146–9, 151, 154–5 and language 2–3, 52, 148, 154–5, 158–9 and state sovereignty 2–3, 5, 34–5, 127–8, 138 dilemmatic space 146–8 reclaiming space 16, 31, 71, 128–9, 149–50 special permanent residency (SPR) see visa status speech xii, xiv–xv, 3–4, 34–5, 38–43, 48–9, 67–72, 80–1, 101–3, 128–30, 138–45 and silence xviii, 41, 129–30, 142 and translation xiv–xv, 97, 101 intelligible speech 34–5 speaking being 36, 39–40

Peruvian migrants 14, 18, 23, 80, 82, 86–8, 92, 97, 100 see also Kanagawa City Union pluralism 145–6 police logic 39–42 see also Rancière, J. political claim xi, 16 political community xi, 2, 5, 10, 15, 36, 158 political subjectivity 30–1, 35–6, 43, 45, 48 politics see Rancière, J. politics of untranslation 152–3, 156–7 see also translation precarity xiv, 19–21, 60, 110, 154, 157

R racialised status 21–3, 55–6 racial homogeneity 83 racial tension 54, 156 Rancière, J. xvi, 45, 51, 68, 139, 152 and politics 39–43 refugees xi, 14, 20, 27n, 29, 35–7, 41, 64, 147, 156 see also categories of citizenship; Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act; irregular migrants; legality/ illegality; noncitizens relationality xviii, 129, 134–8, 148–9, 152, 155–9 residency status see visa status Rights of Immigrants Network in Kansai (RINK) 121, 126n Rousseau, J-J. 3, 34 Rygiel, K. xi, 15, 30, 48–9

S Schleiermacher, F. 153 Scott, J. 2, 127–8, 138 Sellek, Y. 11, 13 Sharpe, M.O. 9, 14, 80–2, 84–5, 88



domestication versus foreignisation 153–5 limits of xv, xviii, 129–30, 145, 155, 158 politics of untranslation 152–3, 156–7 translation assistance 70–1, 75, 91–4, 97, 131, 133 see also belonging; communication; intelligibility/unintelligibility; interpreters; untranslatability translators see interpreters Tsuda, T. 16–17, 22, 47, 81–4, 87 Turner, C.L. 54, 100

speech (continued) the domain of xiv, 51, 68, 89, 93, 102–3, 129, 140–2, 144–5, 152, 158 see also language; intelligibility/ unintelligibility; silence Spivak, G.C. xiv, 152–3 Spring Offensive (shuntou) 89–90 Squire, V. 15, 36, 157 superdiversity xix–xx

T Tai, E. 55 Takasu, H. 53, 56–60, 62, 77n Tanno, K. 13, 18, 86, 89 Technical Intern Training Programme (TITP) 20, 107–11, 113, 116 involvement of China Japan Volunteer Organization (CJVO) 111–16 involvement of immigration lawyers 116–17, 119, 143 trainees and interns 14, 20, 25, 79, 92, 107–11, 118–19 see also back-door policy; side-door policy Torii, I. 14, 90 trade union participation in 14–15, 17–18, 85 multilingual trade union 71, 73–4, 76–7 see also community workers’ union; enterprise union; Kanagawa City Union; Nambu Foreign Workers Caucus; Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union trainees and interns see Technical Intern Training Programme translation and Balibar, E. 128, 133–4 and Bhabha, H. 154–5 and interpretation xxn, 126n, 150n and language xi–xiv, xviii, 129–31, 155 and Nancy, J-L. 134–5, 150n and speech xiv–xv, 97, 101

U uncertainty xviii, 3, 19–21, 31, 64, 129–30, 145–6, 148–9, 152, 155 see also untranslatability untranslatability xviii, xx, 51, 71, 75–7 and community 51, 129, 135, 138, 147, 149 of language 42–3, 45 politics of untranslation 152–3, 156–8 see also belonging; communication; intelligibility/unintelligibility; translation; uncertainty Urano, E.I. 14, 82, 87–8, 99, 100, 104n

V Venuti, L. 153–4 Vertovec, S. xix–xx visa status 11–12, 17, 19, 58, 88, 111, 121 definition of foreign residents 27n long-term resident (teijūsha) 20, 82–3 of language instructors 55 residency status 17, 22, 82 special permanent residency (SPR) 10–11, 27n trainees and interns 14, 20, 25, 79, 92, 107–11, 118–19




visibility/invisibility 62–3, 66, 68, 71, 125, 130, 144, 153 and silence 80–1, 105 and space 128 becoming visible and audible xviii, 7, 40, 76, 124 link between visibility and invisibility 39–40 mismatch between visibility and audibility xvi–xix, 7–8, 41–2, 45–54, 71, 76, 80, 93–6, 105–6, 149, 158 visible presence of migrant protesters (as opposed to their vocal presence) 7–8, 12–13, 37–8, 41–2, 45–54, 88–9, 101, 103 see also audibility/inaudibility

Yamada, M. 26, 57 Yamamoto, K. 38–9, 94 Yamanaka, K. 82–3 Youatt, R. 34

Z zainichi Koreans 10–11, 17, 25, 27n, 85–6 see also oldcomers; special permanent residency Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union (Tozen) xvii, xix, 55–6, 77n, 105, 128, 132, 140–3, 157–8 and democracy 71–7 establishment of 53, 68, 71–2 membership of 14, 23, 71, 73 see also Nambu Foreign Workers Caucus Zentouitsu Workers Union see Foreign Workers Branch of Zentouitsu Žižek, S. xviii, 129–30, 145–9, 152

W Weber, C. 133–4 Weiner, M. 9