Employing foreigners in the industry in Japan

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As part of the Japanese culture, bonsai command attention overseas as well as in Japan for their high level of artistry. According to the Ministry of Finance’s foreign trade statistics, the 2016 export value of ornamental plants was up by 8% on the previous year, taking it to 88 billion yen, with 80 billion yen of that representing garden plants and bonsai. The number of bonsai fanciers is growing, with the majority centered in Europe. While overseas production is becoming popular, many individuals understand the appeal of Japanese bonsai and come to Japan out of a desire to learn the art in its home country. What manner of things must one keep in mind when accepting interns or employees from overseas?

Status of Residence System

In Japan, there is a status of residence system based on the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act. The system is used to continually monitor the status of foreigners living in Japan for medium and long-term periods, in order to guarantee their appropriate stay. Foreigners must gain an approved status of residence in order to stay in Japan.

Cultural activities

One form of status of residence available to foreigners who want to study bonsai is that of “cultural activities.” This is a status of residence which can be gained if the foreigner undertakes unpaid study or artistic activities; conducts specialist research into culture or arts unique to Japan; receives tutelage from a specialist or studies as an apprentice to a renowned bonsai artist.
Conditions of this status of residence: The subject must be involved in study or artistic activities from which no income is derived, conducting specialist research activities about culture or art unique to Japan, receiving instruction from a specialist, or undertaking activities to learn about culture or art unique to Japan. The subject must have the financial means to support themselves during their stay, and the specialist with whom the subject is studying must have the relevant knowledge, techniques and experience.
Because the “cultural activities” residence status is not recognized for employment, the foreign resident may not earn income from their undertaking. There are also limitations on the type of casual or part-time work allowed in order to cover living expenses and other necessary costs.

Technical intern training

On the other hand, in the agricultural field, there are foreigners who study while working as technical interns. The primary purpose of technical intern training is the transfer of skills that contribute to the creation of human resources that will serve to further the growth of developing countries or regions. It involves youth and young adults from developing countries or regions coming to Japan for a fixed term to receive training, who then employ the skills learnt in Japan back in their home countries or areas.
A system is being established to meet the future needs of the bonsai industry’s anticipated expansion overseas, targeting a technical intern system featuring 144 jobs in 80 occupational categories, as well as six jobs in two agricultural categories. Specifically, the latter two categories are crop farming and livestock farming; within the crop farming category, protected horticulture and upland farming of vegetables and fruit trees are designated jobs. The targeted crops and produce are enumerated in detail, with examples of produce from crop farming including “⑤ Flowering plants,” “1. Cut flowers,” and “2. Potted plants” (with the exception of bonsai). At the present time, the bonsai industry is in a category that is not able to make use of this technical intern system.
Recognized occupational categories have been added at the request of industry organizations in the past. It is anticipated that in coming years, due to occupational categories related to bonsai being added to the system and the increasing number of foreigners studying bonsai while working in the field as technical interns, the overseas bonsai industry will grow and thereby expand the global bonsai market.

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