“Place making” in Kawakami: aspirations and migrant realities of Chinese “technical interns”

Liang, Meng

In this paper, I examine Chinese agricultural labor migrants’ experiences in rural Japan. The research is based on multi-sited ethnography, mainly in Kawakami, a village located in central Japan, from July to November 2012. I go beyond the labeling of Chinese migrants as passive victims of difficult work conditions and exploitation, which pervades much of the literature on international migration, and argue that Chinese peasant workers possess an agency to negotiate, navigate, and survive in the village. The strategy they take is to contest over local institutions to build up their own “places,” where they can find provisional security, a sense of relief, and mutual support. These “places” further facilitate the formation of the social networks among the workers, although this is officially repressed by the dominant society. A functioning social network plays a significant role to help workers adapt, overcome difficulties, and exercise their agency in a more effective way.