Kawaguchi City has Japan’s largest population of foreign residents with a high concentration of Turkish nationals of Kurdish ethnicity. Recently, local media has focused attention on various incidents and clashes surrounding the community. And the local branch of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party has responded with an ominous note encouraging a legal crackdown on “foreigners”.
Sad and deplorable: violence tarnishes Kurdish community’s reputation
On August 12th, news outlets reported growing tensions between Japanese locals and Kurdish residents of Turkish nationality in Kawaguchi City, Saitama Prefecture.
In an interview with The Sankei News, Korkut Gungen, Ambassador of Turkey to Japan commented on July a 4th incident. The incident involved the attempted murder of Kurdish residents. Afterwards, a panic erupted after Kurdish residents gathered outside the hospital where doctors treated the victims.
“That was a sad and completely deplorable (event),” says Ambassador Gungen in an article released August 12th.
A source told Saitama Shimbun that the altercation between the Kurdish residents originated from a dispute about relationship issues.
At 8 PM on July 4th, a Kurdish male acquaintance chased down a 36-year-old Turkish man. He then cut across his head and neck with a knife-like object.
The attackers fled the scene. Paramedics took two other victims, a 24-year-old and another 45-year-old, to the hospital for treatment.
Nearly a hundred people connected to the victims formed a crowd around Kawaguchi Municipal Medical Center for answers but instead caused a commotion that prompted the Prefectural Riot Police Squad to interfere. The hospital had to halt all ambulance dispatches from 11 PM to 5 AM the next day.
Demolition sites: “crazy noise and shakes”
The more recent reports of clashes revolve around Kurdish demolition contractors based in Kawaguchi City.
Kawaguchi City, population six hundred thousand, is Japan’s municipality with the highest percentage (6.7%) of zainichi-gaikokujin (在日外国人), or foreigners living in Japan. The city also has Japan’s largest population of Turkish nationals, the majority of Kurdish ethnicity.
Approximately two thousand Kurds live in Kawaguchi City. Many of them work at the 170 demolition contractors either owned by or run with Kurds. Contractors like KURDISTAN Ltd. make up nearly 60% of the City’s demolition contractors.
Residents living near sites where contractors store their materials and trucks have voiced complaints about various disturbances.
Major Japanese news outlets The Sankei News and Yahoo! NEWS JAPAN both featured the same quotes by distraught residents.
“This area used to be quiet farmland and forest, but for years now, crazy noise and shakes have started from early in the morning,” says one resident.
Another says, “There is a school zone here where multiple trucks drive through, endangering children. The clouds of dust they leave powder my laundry white.”
Several municipalities have introduced regulations to limit the expansion of such demolition bases. Details of future regulations and how they will impact demolition contractors are not yet available.
Fencing in the noise
Last July, Kawaguchi City brought a new ordinance into effect that obligated contractors to submit plans for constructing new sites to the mayor for approval. The same ordinance also introduced new building criteria such as the construction of a 1.8-meter-high board fence to block noise, shakes, and dust from adversely polluting surrounding areas.
As new regulations have made expansion within Kawaguchi City challenging, some contractors are now seeking land in neighboring cities.
In response, Saitama City and Koshigaya City have announced plans to submit proposals to their respective city councils for an ordinance that will regulate the sites of demolition contractors.
An anonymous member of Koshigaya City Council told The Sankei News: “I’ve heard from residents that half of the material storage sites are built illegally. Many citizens fear that their situation will look like the case with Kawaguchi City. We are currently researching ordinances from neighboring cities.”
“We do the work Japanese don’t”
On the same day Ambassador Gungen’s interview hit the news along with various other reports related to the July 4th incident, The Sankei News released another interview. An anonymous Kurdish male in his 30s who runs a demolition contractor’s business in Kawaguchi City shared his take on the ongoing conflicts between local Japanese and Kurdish residents.
“People do bad things whether they be Japanese, Chinese, or Turkish. Why are (they) singling out Turkish people for criticism?”
“I will also acknowledge that there are some Kurdish people who act as though they are living in Turkey,” adds the man, alluding to the need for Kurdish people to adjust to cultural and societal norms in Japan.
The man interviewed by The Sankei News came to Japan in 2002, fleeing political persecution in Turkey. He applied for recognition of refugee status in Japan but received rejection after rejection. More than two decades later, the man still does not have refugee status. He is currently processing his 5th application.
In the meantime, Japan’s Immigration Services Agency (ISA) has put him on provisional release, or karihomen (仮放免). Provisional release allows unauthorized immigrants to stay out of detention centers but live under harsh restrictions, with virtually no access to social welfare benefits. People under provisional release can’t even work.
The severe restrictions lead some to dodge the law in order to survive. In 2020, police arrested a Kurdish representative of a demolition contractor business in Kawaguchi City for hiring Kurdish immigrants on karihomen status.
Risk of physical injury
While many Kurdish demolition workers are risking their freedom by working illegally, they are also at great risk for physical injury without access to health services.
Even Japanese who have secure health insurance avoid demolition work, which most regard as a “3K workplace”. The first K is for kitsui (きつい), or tough. The second is for kitanai (汚い), or dirty. The third is for kiken (危険), or dangerous.
This dislike for demolition work created a vacuum for foreign residents to fill in the 1990s in Kawaguchi City.
“We do the work Japanese don’t,” says the Kurdish man interviewed by The Sankei News. “We take on low-paying jobs from Japanese clients and work from 5 AM to 8 PM.”
Japan’s LDP branch calls for crackdown on “foreigners”
Local politics in Kawaguchi City are adding to the friction between Japanese and Kurdish residents.
Even before the July 4th incident and recent measures to impose further regulations on demolition contractors, the Kawaguchi City Liberal Democratic Party Branch Council held a meeting in late June. It discussed and approved a statement titled “A Statement Demanding the Reinforcement of Crime Control for a Subdivision of Foreigners”.
The document’s title in Japanese reads ichibu-gaikokujin-ni-yoru-hanzai-no-torishimarikyōka-wo-motomeru-ikensho (一部外国人による犯罪の取り締まり強化を求める意見書).
A translation of the document follows:
Currently, there are over 40,000 residents of foreign nationality in Kawaguchi City. In addition, it is assumed that there are a considerable number of people under karihomen status among the foreigners living without a residence card. Although most foreigners are residing in good faith, a subdivision of foreigners is behaving in a manner that is out of control in living areas around material storage sites and dense housing areas. They are repeatedly tailgating and cause accidents harming people and objects in which cases the victims are left to clean up with their own insurance. There have already been fatal accidents. Despite the situation having been impossible to ignore, the reason why nothing has improved is because of a lack of police power.
Also, we cannot ignore the crimes such as theft and damages reported by news outlets.
Currently, the lives of local residents have reached a level of utter fear and we are in immediate and desperate need of a strengthened police force to maintain the safety of our neighborhoods. Such actions by a subdivision of foreigners have also worsened the discrimination and prejudice cast over other groups of foreigners, which we cannot possibly ignore.
Thus, we demand the following in order to inform you of this community’s dire situation and solve it immediately.
1. Increase the number of police officers and reinforce the crackdown on crime involving a subdivision of foreigners
2. Reinforce patrols around areas where there are material storage sites
3. Reinforce crackdown on traffic offenses such as reckless driving
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