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Report on the 12th SDGs Seminar: Ibaraki Prefecture Efforts to Promote Acceptance of Foreign Workers


For the 12th SDGs Seminar held on June 29, 2021, titled “Ibaraki Prefecture Efforts to Promote Acceptance of Foreign Workers,” Mr. Hiroki Takano, who is Chief of Employment Opportunity Promotion Section, Labor Affairs Division, Department of Industrial Strategy, Ibaraki Prefectural Government, was invited to talk about local government efforts to support foreign workers.

Guest speaker Mr. Hiroki Takano

In today’s Japan, population decline, falling birth rates, and aging populations are severe issues nationwide. In Ibaraki Prefecture, the population decreased by around 70,000 between 2000 and 2015, and population decline of 70% or more by 2040 is projected for some municipalities. Such issues cause a range of problems: not only does consumption fall off, but lifestyle service industries also decay, infrastructure deteriorates due to shrinking tax revenues, and communities break down as local events such as festivals can no longer be held. To improve the situation, Ibaraki Prefecture turned its attention to overseas demand.

In contrast to Japan, the global and Asian populations are trending upward. To resolve its problems, Mr. Takano says, Japan needs to tap into the overseas demand generated by such growth, expand its exports and overseas operations, and boost inbound consumption by overseas visitors to Japan. To achieve these aims, Ibaraki Prefecture promotes itself internationally through initiatives such as pitches to foreign inward investment seminars led by the governor, participation in overseas food sampling events, and production of tourist pamphlets.

To resolve its labor shortage, Ibaraki also undertakes activities to promote acceptance of foreign workers. There are currently 39,479 foreign workers in the prefecture, and this number has increased even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Japan needs to accept foreign workers even in a situation where they have to shoulder the burden of quarantine measures and individual travel difficulties, and Mr. Takano has made me sharply aware of the severity of Japan’s labor shortage problems, noting that “the social structure could not hold up without foreign workers.”

Scene from the online seminar

The Ibaraki Foreign Worker Support Center, established in 2019, conducts seminars for local companies on employing foreigners and training for accepting such workers, offers free advice to foreigners seeking employment in local companies, and provides support for Japanese language education. It also conducts employment matching, based on the memorandum of understanding concluded with the government agencies, educational institutions of Vietnam, Myanmar, and Mongolia, and with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The “Ibaraki Course” facilitates acceptance of nursing care trainees educated in Vietnam’s Long An Province by nursing care facilities in the prefecture. The program aims not only to resolve local nursing care operators’ labor shortages, but also to let trainees acquire Japanese nursing care know-how in a country with a fast-aging population through practical training in Ibaraki. To this end, even after trainees have completed their technical training, the program supports them to gain qualifications such as Specified Skilled Worker (Nursing Care) and Certified Care Worker, and trains personnel to support the nursing care industry in both Ibaraki and Long An.

It is not uncommon to come across views opposing acceptance of foreigners, but after attending this seminar I felt that rather than debating whether or not to accept foreign workers, we should engage in livelier discussion of how to accept them. Foreign workers are essential to Japan, and by taking the perspective of not only choosing them but also being chosen by them, I believe that government organizations, companies, and local residents will change the way they engage with such workers.

(Hanako Hirota, third-year student, Global Studies for Inter-Cultural Cooperation,
Department of Languages and Culture, Faculty of Letters and Education)

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