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Open Access ‘Entangled in Tokyo’: Exploring Diverse Pathways of Labor Market Incorporation of African Immigrants in Japan

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‘Entangled in Tokyo’: Exploring Diverse Pathways of Labor Market Incorporation of African Immigrants in Japan

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Abstract In this article I explore employment practices and pathways of labor market incorporation of sub-Saharan African immigrants in Japan. Based on secondary information as well as 5 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Tokyo and its suburbs, I will first describe the history of migration from Africa to Japan and the current demographic characteristics of African immigrants in Japan. I will then continue to describe the employment practices of African immigrants to explore questions surrounding integration, incorporation, and the use of human and social capital in the Japanese context. My findings give a first indication of the mechanisms behind the diverse trajectories, especially highlighting the importance of entrepreneurship, transnational ties with the country of origin, and ties with Japanese nationals in facilitating labor market incorporation. Finally, attention is also given to the role of the Japanese state in facilitating or hindering opportunities for employment.

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32. FN1 1)In 2005 the number of visa over-stayers was 207,000 while the total unauthorized population was estimated to be 250,000.
33. FN2 2)In the 1980s quite a number of immigrants from the Middle East came to Japan, especially from Iran, since visas were easily obtained by Iranians in those days.
34. FN3 3)See Tsuda (2005) for an overview of the migration policy framework in Japan.
35. FN4 4)In many cases, the respondents were curious about the lives of African immigrants in the Netherlands and asked me about immigration policies and possible business opportunities in the Netherlands.
36. FN5 5)Japanese weddings are often performed in chapels with ceremonies performed by white ‘priests’ – usually exchange students or English teachers with no religious authority – and having Christian songs performed adds authenticity.
37. FN6 6)Although a lot of the discussions in the media on the African immigrants visible in the entertainment districts of Roppongi and Shinjuku focuses on their possible involvement in drug-related crime (Friman 2001), I did not manage to talk to representatives of this ‘alternative pathway’ to integration – or at least no one admitted to me being involved in this trade.

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Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Universiteit Maastricht the Netherlands


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