Russian-speaking Migrants Working in Japan: Exploring Inequalities and Underemployment

MUKHINA, Varvara
Assistant Professor
Russian Studies

Co-author: GOLOVINA, Ksenia
Project Assistant Professor
University of Tokyo

 (Presented at the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, 2016 International Conference “Unequal Families and Relationships”, Edinburgh)

 According to the 2015 statistics on foreign nationals by Japan Ministry of Justice, there are nearly 13000 migrants from post-Soviet countries in Japan. Women constitute 63.9% of this number. In case of Russia, for example, the rise of female migration abroad in 1990’s-2000’s is related to the fact that women’s chances to secure jobs at the Russian labour market decreased due to socio-economic constraints. In many post-Soviet countries the labour market experienced even stronger turbulences than in Russia, causing outbound migration. Many women first relocated to big Russian cities, such as Moscow, and then ultimately moved abroad. Some women in the former Soviet countries, especially those in their late 20s and older with advanced education levels, considered marriage migration as they had missed out on conventional for their respective countries marriage timing for their specific cohort. In this respect, it is important to determine whether migrants from Russia and other post-Soviet countries, who moved east, could successfully incorporate into the Japanese labour market.

This presentation aims to introduce the joint-research that was performed in Japan in April 2015 – March 2016, targeting Russian-speaking migrants from post-Soviet countries. The research focused on determining the situation pertaining to the educational background, work experience, and current working status of the sampled Russian-speaking migrants, both male and female. Combining a sociological and an anthropological approach, the study consisted of an online survey (sample=184) complemented by a series of in-depth interviews. Ultimately, an objective of this project was to identify whether migrants already living in Japan could successfully integrate in the Japanese labour market while being provided with equal opportunities and secure positions in relation to long-term residence status and income.

The results of the online survey of Russian-speaking community in Japan have shown that nearly 30% of the survey participants are unemployed, although over 70% of them reported wanting to participate in paid labour in Japan. In terms of employment status, male participants of the study showed higher employment and greater income rates than females. Many found their niche in highly specialized professions, such as the ones in technical fields, known for their labour shortage in Japan; this situation has allowed these men to obtain some freedom in negotiating their positions within the companies. Women showed higher rates of unemployment than men; the highest rates were indicated for the group, whose initial purpose of visit to Japan was marriage. The same group had the largest proportion of respondents with higher education and reported the strongest disappointment about their career chances in Japan, stating that professionally they would have achieved more in the country of origin.

At the same time, the results of in-depth interviews show that despite recognizing their downward mobility, related to migration, most women accept their underemployment. They overcome their initial internal conflict by internalization of the expectations of the Japanese society to be a “good wife and mother”, who devotes all her time to children and family. On the other hand, the requirements of full-time employment in Japan make it difficult to combine the roles of a “good worker” and a “good wife and mother”, forcing many women to abandon the thought about full-time employment. As such, they are displaying work-life balance strategies similar to those discussed in relation to the Japanese women (Roberts 1994, Holloway 2010). Thus, it can be concluded that Russian-speaking women, who moved to Japan in 1990’s-2000’s, experienced double marginalization, first in the context of the labour market of their country of origin and then of their new country of residence. The interviews also helped to identify important data on how Russian-speaking men re-visualize their work-related identities when facing conflicts. Thus, both men and women have to ultimately make decisions that are not necessarily in line with their initial expectations.

 This study has made it possible to determine the factors that prevent the Russian-speaking migrants in Japan from gaining a stable position in the workforce. These factors are closely related to perceptions of gender in the labour market of the host country on the one hand and the migrants’ personal views on gender roles on the other hand. The collision of these societal perceptions and personal views often leads to work inequalities and marginalization among the migrants.

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