Back in 2009, Peter Hitchens wrote about a trip he made to Japan, and wrote, in part:
Japan has unintentionally conducted an astonishing experiment which establishes once and for all that it is culture and upbringing, not blood and genes, which determine where and how you fit in and who and what you are.
Back in 1990, Japan’s rulers began to wonder how to cope with an ageing population and a falling birthrate, without destroying the country’s unique culture. They needed workers to do the jobs known as the Three Ks – kitsui, kitanai, kiken, or hard, dirty and dangerous.
The authorities decided to encourage immigration from Brazil, where many Japanese families had emigrated about a century before and where there are now more than a million ethnic Japanese. The idea was that, being basically Japanese, the Brazilians would fit in.
It was not to be. More than 300,000 came from Brazil and Peru. Many of them ended up in Hamamatsu, a neat if dreary industrial city, making TV sets and cars, two hours south of Tokyo by Shinkansen bullet train. There, all too many of them did not, would not, or perhaps could not, fit in.
Coming from a chaotic, loud land of carnivals and exuberance, they found it difficult to belong in a place where failing to sort your rubbish into burnable and non-burnable items is a major affront to public morals, and modesty is very highly valued.
Having been raised in Brazil’s outgoing sunshine culture, with perhaps a few words of old-fashioned Japanese learned from grandparents with vague memories of the homeland long ago, they swiftly encountered problems over their graffiti, loud music, unruly children and generally non-Japanese behaviour.
Shops, claiming that the migrants stole from them, began to sprout signs saying ‘No Brazilians’, which were eventually taken down after protests. But the sentiment lingers on and the experiment is coming to a sad end.
To me, these rather tragic people look completely Japanese. But my Japanese guide could immediately tell that they were different. Even the set of their faces, formed by speaking Portuguese rather than Japanese, marked them out. So did their very different diet. And – even where they spoke good Japanese – their accents instantly gave them away.
Now many are on the dole, which in Japan means relatively generous unemployment benefit for a few months, followed by severely means-tested and regulated minimal benefits reserved for those who really cannot work – in practice, for many people, nothing at all.