“My parents are Ghanaian, but my heart is more Japanese. Why should I have to suffer like this just because I was born a foreigner? ” writes Eunice Kwarteng, age 22, in an essay she wrote on her life as a foreigner on provisional release who was born and raised in Japan.
For most of her childhood and adolescence, Eunice was among the thousands of foreign nationals in Japan on provisional release, or karihomen (仮放免) in Japanese.
The in-between children
Karihomen, by definition, denotes a crime committed and subsequent imprisonment.
The crime? Existing on Japanese soil without a status of residency. They’re immigrants who arrived in Japan legally, their immigration status tied to their parents’. And when their parent loses their legal residence status, so do they – no matter how long they’ve lived in Japan.
The prison? Detention centers operated by Japan’s Immigrations Services Agency (ISA). The United Nations has called for the ISA to improve its treatment of migrants and asylum-seekers following a string of incidents in recent years. They include the case of 33-year-old Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali, a Sri Lankan woman who died under brutal conditions in a Nagoya detention facility. Authorities arrested Wishma for overstaying her student visa.
The reported number of people on provisional release status varies by source. A report by NHK last December reports that there were 4,174 karihomen cases by the end of 2021. The Sankei News released a higher estimate of 5,910 cases.
Figures have sharply risen in recent years. Earlier reports from 2019 by the Immigration Services Agency recorded 2,303 foreign nationals on karihomen status–––about half of today’s figure.
The same report revealed that 6.5% of karihomen cases were of people who had been living in Japan for at least ten years.
Entire families that have made Japan their new home can wake up one day to the Japanese immigration system knocking on their door, presenting them with grim options. Pack up and leave. Or linger–––without the right to work or access public services.
15 Years (And Counting) In Fear Of Deportation
For Eunice, all she knew was life in Japan. Born and raised by her two Ghanaian parents in Tatebayashi City in Gunma Prefecture, Eunice “strongly identified as a member of Japanese society.”
Just like her Japanese classmates, she would don a randoseru (ランドセル) schoolbag in the mornings.
But when her father’s status of residency expired, her entire family of five lost their right to live in Japan.
Eunice’s father was held in an immigration detention center for ten months. ISA granted him karihomen status, which by law extended to his spouse and offspring.
After Eunice’s father was granted provisional release, her family hoped to reclaim their residency status. But that’s no easy feat in Japan.
More than 15 years have passed since Eunice’s family was slapped with karihomen status. That imposes significant restrictions such as prohibiting labor, movement between prefectures without permission, and resident registration. Without resident registration, individuals are left without access to health care, public schooling, and public housing.
Eunice and her sister are the only two out of her family of five who were able to obtain zairyu-tokubetsu-kyoka (在留特別許可), or Special Permission to Stay issued by the Minister of Justice in the spring of 2023. Her parents and younger brother are still on karihomen status.
“Losing their status of residency, they (my parents) were prohibited by law to work. So, we were always broke,” writes Eunice.
For food and clothing, Eunice’s family survived with the support of members from their church and family members overseas. School fees exacerbated the strain on her family’s money struggles.
Eunice attended public school, which is the cheapest and only option for the one in seven children in Japan who live in poverty. But still, it costs a lot.
“Watching my parents struggle to cover periodic school fees, club activity costs, uniform purchases, and transportation fees made me gradually understand what situation my family was in,” writes Eunice.
According to critics like Ogiue Chiki (荻上チキ), author of Black School Rules (ブラック校則), Japanese schools protect their own school rules before giving a pass to students who cannot afford expensive uniforms.
It is unsurprising that Eunice’s karihomen status was not taken into consideration by her school given the broader context of Japanese schools’ rigid enforcement of school rules such as the recent ban on sunscreen.
“Don’t be surprised if you are deported”
Karihomen status lasts only a month. So, this required Eunice to make monthly visits for fifteen years to ISA to get permission for extensions. The only exception for Eunice was during her high school years when ISA had her submit extension requests every three months.
Still, every visit took a toll on Eunice.
She had to take an absence from school for every visit to the Tokyo ISA office which was a four-hour journey back and forth from her house in Gunma.
To even travel between Gunma prefecture to Tokyo, Eunice had to submit an “application for permission to temporarily travel,” or ichiji-ryokō-kyoka-shinseisho (一時旅行許可申請書). This is obligatory for any holder of karihomen status who wants to cross prefectural borders.
The train station that Eunice would disembark at to get to the Tokyo ISA office is Shinagawa Station. Not coincidentally, this station hangs up a massive sign every June to warn against alien workers. The banner is the doing of Japan’s Immigration Ministry. In earlier years, the slogan had a stronger racist tone: “Month to Combat Illegal Foreign Workers.”
As we saw this year, they dialed it down: “Please Cooperate with Proper Employment of Foreigners.”
Plus, they added a mascot. Progress?
Past the banners and mascots and behind the doors at ISA, the message is clear: we don’t want you here.
“Every time I appeared at ISA, I was told ‘Don’t be surprised if you are deported at any time,'” writes Eunice.
Still Fighting To Stay Home
After finishing high school, Eunice passed exams for the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, one of the most competitive and renowned universities in Japan.
However, without the freedom to open a bank account, she was turned away from financial aid and scholarships. Luckily, she managed to get an exemption for tuition.
Still, living under karihomen status as a university student was hard. She could not hang out with friends freely due to the restrictions imposed on her travel. To go anywhere other than her university campus and church, she had to ask for ISA’s permission.
She kept her karihomen status a secret from her friends and professors. “I didn’t want them to think of me as a bad person who’s here illegally,” Eunice says.
Before she began sharing her story this spring after graduating from university, she completed her thesis on the lives of people with karihomen status in Japan.
“I am a Ghanaian born and raised in Japan. But as far as my memory goes back, I’ve always strongly identified as a member of Japanese society. So, I’ve lived my life believing that I am more Japanese than I am Ghanaian,” writes Eunice.
Eunice represents the many who are fighting to protect the home they’ve found in Japan–––a fight for which the stakes got higher this June when Japan’s Upper House passed a controversial bill revising Japan’s asylum law.
What to read next
 日本で生まれ育った仮放免者としてMy life as a foreigner on provisional release, born and raised in Japan. アフリカンキッズクラブ（AKC）リレーエッセイ第15回
 ＜独自＞入管仮放免中の逮捕361人 昨年、作人未遂や違法薬物も. THE SANKEI NEWS
 Rights sought for foreign nationals on provisional release. The Asahi Shimbun
 両親はガーナ人、生まれ育った日本 明かせなかった「私は仮放免」.朝日新聞
 U.N. urges Japan to Improve treatment of migrants after death of Sri Lankan detainee. The Japan Times
 ブラック校則. 東洋館出版社
 Opening the ‘Black Box’ of Japan’s immigration system. NHK World-JAPAN
 What you need to know about the revision of Japan’s asylum law. The Japan Times