International Communities in Japan: Niseko, Hokkaido

Date: Monday, March 13
Time: 6:30-8:00
Venue: Kochi University of Technology, Eikokuji Campus (Kochi City). Room A108
Title: International Communities in Japan: Niseko, Hokkaido
Speaker: Michael Burns

Abstract: The Niseko Tourism Zone, which includes the three Hokkaido municipalities of Rankoshi, Niseko, and Kutchan comprises one of the largest international communities in Japan by percentage of foreign residents to Japanese residents. Nearly 10% of the long-term residents in the Kutchan and Niseko municipalities have foreign resident status, a higher percentage of the overall population than any ward in Tokyo. This is particularly unusual in Japan, a country where approximately 98% of the overall population are Japanese nationals. However, with the decreasing domestic birth rate and growing number of long-term foreign residents in the country, Niseko may be the beginning of a long term trend in Japanese towns that make use of foreign labor.

Despite its relatively small population, Niseko Town has 5 CIRs, a number comparable to cities a hundred times larger. Niseko has embraced a form of “town building” (machidzukuri) that encourages foreign residents to play an active role in the local community. The Niseko CIRs engage in a variety of activities meant to facilitate this intercultural communication. During my time working in Niseko, I translated Japanese documents into English and helped interpret for residents who needed to complete municipal paperwork at the town hall. I also taught introductory Japanese language classes for foreign residents. Sometimes I found myself serving as an intermediary between the foreign community, Japanese community, and the municipal government. Foreign and Japanese residents alike share concerns over issues such as the environmental and economic impact of overdevelopment. Niseko’s CIRs are often the first point of contact when these groups reach out to the government with their concerns.

In my presentation, I will introduce the Niseko international community and explore a few of the challenges and opportunities that emerge when a substantial portion of a Japanese municipality is made up of people from around the world.

Bio: Michael Burns previously worked as a Hokkaido CIR in the Niseko Town Hall Industry and Tourism Division from 2019 to 2021. His work primarily involved translation and interpretation for Niseko’s foreign residents. He is currently a master’s student at the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale University, where he specializes in Japanese history.

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