Ksenia Golovina, Community-building of Russian-Speaking Migrants in Japan: Material Lives and (Digital) Visibility

Focusing on historical processes and migration types and patterns, this study examines the history of Russian-speaking migration to Japan since the first quarter of the 20th century and up until now. The study pays particular attention to the transformation of community-building practices in light of these migrants’ “material lives” and outward, community-oriented manifestations of the latter. “Material lives” refers to practices rooted in materiality and includes homemaking, crafts, and dress. While certain areas, such as the situation of the so-called “white Russians” or post-Soviet female migration to Japan, have been researched in previous studies, a holistic approach that is intuitive to the changes of the recent years and inclusive of the material component is yet to be presented. This study attempts such an integrative approach and draws its data from home-based, object-oriented interviews with Russian-speaking migrants in Japan, cyberethnography, and literature review. In the past decade, Russian-speaking migrants in Japan have witnessed events in the country that played an important role in the launch of online groups, further prompting a rise in community activities made visible through digital sources. This study argues that besides shared communication in the Russian language, community building has been enacted through the increased visualization of migrants’ “material lives,” with Sovietness, Russianness, Europeanness, and cultural fusion emerging as common thematic orientations. Analyzing this “outward” material component in its present digital form in juxtaposition with the material practices of previous generations of Russian-speaking migrants, as early as the beginning of the 20th century, provides directions for rethinking the notion of “visibility” in migrant and community studies. 

Viktoriya Kim, Russian-Speaking Women in Japan: Immigration, International Marriage, Community Creation and Aging Trends

This presentation introduces my ongoing research related to marriage and labor migration to Japan with a focus on Russian-speaking female migrants. According to the Ministry of Justice by the end of 2019 within Japan there were 16,310 nationals of the former Soviet Union (FSU) countries – Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the majority of which were females – 9,318 (57%). In relation to the residency statuses, men and women from abovementioned countries hold permanent residency (5,459), “student” (3,525), “engineer/specialist in humanities/international services” (2,128), “dependent” (1,738), and “spouse of Japanese national” (1,450) visa types.

   The number of residents from the FSU countries in almost all categories has been steadily growing in the last decade. Considering this continuing trend, my research is focused on tracing the reasons for migrations and the migration channels these people used in the recent years, as well as identifying settlement patterns and long-term issues that Russian-speaking residents face. Building upon my fieldwork on female marriage migrants married to Japanese men (49 couples), I have continued tracing the lives of some of my participants and identifying the changes they experienced in relationships, their life views, aging in Japan and thoughts of the future. I also focus on the aspects of community building and entrepreneurship among Russian-speaking residents and the role of internet in the diaspora formation. This research is based on the analysis of activities and trends in the Russian-speaking Facebook groups (n=6) in Japan before and during COVID-19 restrictions (April-July, 2020) and a survey among participants (n=86) of these communities. In general, I explore the changes in immigration from the FSU countries to Japan in the last decade and consider future research topics that will be important in the field of FSU nationals’ migration to Japan.

Helena Hof, (Im)Mobility and Place-making among European middling migrants in Tokyo

This presentation brings together the main findings of the authors’ longitudinal study of EU migrants who spend their early career in Tokyo. Starting in 2014, the qualitative project has followed a group of 35 highly-educated EU citizens who came to Japan as young adults and, often after a time at a Japanese university, entered the Japanese labor market. While considerations to move to Japan are motivated by lifestyle, popular culture or the imagination of the exotic other, these Europeans’ channels into the labor market also speak of decreasing employment opportunities and youth precarity in their home countries.

   What was often intended a rite of passage or an exciting year abroad extends into the experience of labor migration where the migrants compete with the native population for local jobs. However, they lack the status and the security net, which their expatriate and diplomat forebears in Tokyo held. In contrast to their senior co-ethnics, the young, mostly white, migrants stick out in the Japanese workplace precisely because they lack their forebears’ status and because they struggle to carve out their own space in the host society in which many of them long to integrate. Their boundary work reveals a conscious distancing from their senior co-ethnics who are “above” them in terms of age, income and status. At the same time, the young migrants, to some extent, horizontally cross ethnic boundaries.

   Additionally, patterns of intimacy shape these young Europeans’ socialising practices and geographical mobility in various ways. While about half of the migrants seem to settle with a local or third-country spouse, others, as dual career couples or independent singles, orient themselves at opportunities around the globe and identify with other mobility-experienced young professionals of different ethnic, national and religious backgrounds. Overall, staying, and the chance to develop a sense of belonging, are closely related to migrants’ life stage with their transition from single junior employee to mid-career employee and spouse and/or parent as well as the changing social and cultural landscape of Tokyo amidst a diversifying resident population in Japan.

Adrijana Miladinović, The Influence of Whiteness on Social and Professional Integration: The Case of Highly Skilled Europeans in Japan

Following the unceasing globalization processes, an increase in mobility has propelled international migration and strengthened intercultural rapport. There has been a diversification of migrants, from those forced by circumstance to those who willingly pursue lives in different communities. Within the latter, a category that has recently come into focus in migration studies is that of the “White” (Caucasian) migrant, often assumed to be highly educated and skilled. Although White migrations are not a new phenomenon, the deep-seated, albeit now contested, ideas of White supremacy and privilege, propagated throughout the European colonization beginning in the fifteenth century, continue to play important roles in contemporary intercultural communication, especially through the construction of White migrants’ image as that of cosmopolitan elites in non-White majority contexts. 

   Focusing on highly skilled White European migrants, this research explores their subjective experiences of integration in non-White communities, specifically Japan, aiming to reveal any advantageous influence or otherwise previously constructed narratives of Whiteness might have in this process. The non-White majority society of Japan had embraced European knowledge during the Meiji period (1868-1912), along with pre-established Western racial hierarchies and the image of Whites. Nonetheless, they have since developed the myth of racial/ethnic homogeneity of its people, while at the same time refuting Western civilizations’ assumed supremacy and relegating them to the position of cultural “Others”, thus rendering their integration nearly impossible.

   The data obtained in sixteen semi-structured interviews confirms that Whiteness influences integration by granting the European residents an advantage in the Japanese job market, particularly compared to their peers from other Asian countries. However, it essentially remains an obstacle in everyday community integration as the European professionals do not feel accepted in the Japanese society and consequently abandon any possibility of integration, retreating into “cosmopolitan islets” wherein they renegotiate and preserve their White European identities.

Keywords: Whiteness, migration, integration, highly skilled Europeans, Japan