Foreign Workers and Law Enforcement in Japan
Gastarbeiter und Exekutive in Japan

Kegan Paul Verlag, April 1997, ISBN 0-7103-0555-9, Leinen, 300 Seiten

Publisher's notes
This is a detailed study of the extent to which an increased influx of foreign workers is a threat to law and order in the context of the data-generating process of police statistics and the media coverage of 'crimes' committed by foreigners.
It shows that a general mood in which foreign workers are viewed as a potential danger to Japanese society 'protects' the criminalization of foreign 'illegal' migrant workers. The crime statistics are a result of this mood, a direct product of the willingness of the public to inform the police, the reactive and pro-active moves of the police, and of tough prosecution and harsh sentencing by the courts. The fashioning of a crime wave is shown to be a complex interaction between the mass media, the population, the executive and judiciary, both in general and in the case of particular policies on crime. Based on two years of field study in Japan, and a thorough analysis of Japanese media reports on foreign migrant workers in the years 1981-1990, culminating in the implementation of a new Immigration Control Act, it has implications for all countries with a large migrant worker population, and for the universal problem society has in dealing with 'the stranger'.
Foreign Workers and Law Enforcement in Japan makes an important contribution to the fields of Japanese studies, sociology, criminology and labour migration.

The work begins by tracing the upsurge of 'illegal' foreign workers in Japan - those who enter on tourist or entertainment visas, as students, as trainee-probationers, those who enter through a sham marriage with a Japanese national and those whose legal work permits have expired. It builds a social profile of these 'illegals', showing that they are young, mostly single and relatively well-educated. Because of fear of expulsion, lack of social contacts and over-dependence on employer and workplace, their ability to avail themselves of the protection of the law is negligible, and they are always at risk of becoming victims to multiple exploitation.

The study goes on to examine the role played by the police, judiciary and the media in the criminalization of these workers. Police play on and intensify feelings of insecurity, producing a state of conscious suspicion in the public. Attention is selectively focused on Asian foreigners, who are given harsher sentences than those given to Japanese. Formal arraignments and proceedings are instituted too often. The whole social climate favours repression and control. In the creation of this climate, coverage of the 'problem' of 'illegal' foreigners by the mass media plays a crucial role, particularly in regard to public perception and distribution of 'stereotypes of criminality of foreigners'. On the basis of the criminological control paradigm, all these elements give rise to a feedback process with reciprocal linkage effects - resulting in a 'crime wave'. This 'functionalizing' of the ascription of a 'high criminal potential' to foreigners can also be found in other countries experiencing 'high' and 'unexpected' immigration.


  • Preface
  • Preliminary Remarks
  • Phenomenology of the 'Illegal' Labour Migration to Japan
  • Some Historical Preliminaries
  • Prelude: The Japayuk Question
  • The Early Stage of an Irregular Process of Migration: The Increase in Male 'Illegal' Workers
  • The Debate Concerning a Formal Policy on Guest Workers
  • Migrant Workers and Criminality
  • The Media and Criminality