Skills, Occupations, and Inequalities Among the Europeans in Japan

Monday, July 14, 2014: 12:00 PM
Room: 301
Distributed Paper
Milos DEBNAR , Kyoto University, Graduate School of Letters, Kyoto, Japan
In this paper, I consider the cases of skilled European migrants in Japan and attempt to deconstruct the image of highly skilled and privileged group often associated with them. The paper is based on empirical research among 56 migrants residing in Japan conducted between 2009 and 2012.

Similarly to, for example, Shanghai (Farrer, 2010) the unvarying picture of the ‘privileged elite’ from the West is getting distorted through increasingly diverse migration flows as well as persistence of the nationalism. Whereas on the basis of their residency status or Japan’s standard occupation classification, the jobs many of my interviewees held are classified as professional or high-skilled, they often engaged in very specific jobs characterized by their culture. Many Europeans in the job market are seen primarily as authentic bearers of the ‘foreign’ or ‘Western’ culture that is usually associated with globalization as well. This ‘culture’ is being commodified and consumed and, in a certain way, represents Japan’s modus vivendi of engaging with the global world. On the other hand, access to other spheres of job market is constrained by strong expectations of the majority population seeing the foreigners as intrinsically ‘other’, temporary sojourners rather than possibly more permanent residents possessing also professional skills not related to their culture as well as particularities of the Japanese job market such as high importance of the school to work transition in the career formation.

Consequently, such a closure of the Japanese job market produces a new class of skilled migrants located in segregated job niches that are not exerting the skills for which they are praised in policies and public discourse. Their positions are less privileged and inequalities with the majority population as well as other, more typical high-skilled migrants such as expatriates are produced.