Historically, there has always been a sense of us and them when dealing with foreigners in our midst. The Asahi Shimbun believes this mind-set must change.

Increasingly, non-Japanese from all walks of life can be found toiling in jobs that help keep our society vibrant.

They are making a valuable contribution, and are part of the very fabric of our way of life.

Many millions of foreign tourists also visit our shores each year, and there are many foreign students in Japan as well. They all bring greater vitality to communities across the breadth of the nation.

We recognize their presence and their contributions. It has created new business opportunities, even as regional economies contract due to the aging of the population and falling birthrate.

In June, the government approved a policy to relax visa requirements for a range of foreign workers, even as it maintained it had no intention of accepting more immigrants.

The "Koe" (Voice) section of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun publishes letters from readers on a daily basis. On occasion, readers are asked to send in letters addressing a specific theme.

A call for ones on "co-existing with foreigners" elicited a huge response.

In cooperation with the AJW website, some of those letters will be introduced in English. We are also asking foreign readers to write in about their experiences in Japan and how they view this country.

Many letters noted the growing number of foreigners working in jobs that used to be held by Japanese, even in the countryside, not just the big cities like Tokyo.

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First letter:

Cooperation, not separation

I frequently come across foreigners working in all sorts of situations, such as construction projects, water works construction and manning cash registers at supermarkets. I am very grateful that they chose to work in Japan.

I am especially thankful when I see them taking a break, or eating meals in the shade, while working on construction sites in the heat.

A number of foreigners have moved into my neighborhood. Someone wrote in English the proper rules for taking out garbage because the collection days were not being adhered to properly. That made me deeply aware there are numerous situations that require English.

I also believe it is now more important than ever to co-exist with each other, regardless of background. That way, we can all lead fuller lives, rather than try to separate ourselves like about a decade ago, when it was more common to say that I am of this nationality while that person is of that nationality.

(Etsuko Fukuda, homemaker, Tokyo, 55)

Second letter:

Excuse to maintain cap on wages?

I come into frequent contact with foreign workers in my daily life, as they clean hotel rooms, prepare meals at "udon" noodle shops or wait on tables at restaurants.

At one supermarket, the three men working the cash registers were all young foreigners. When I asked in Japanese for chopsticks, there was no response, so I tried using English. One of the men leaped over the counter to get the chopsticks, which he handed to me with a smile.

Many foreigners can be found working at manual labor. Concerns have been raised that they are being used to fill the labor shortage. I have heard that some foreign students who come to learn Japanese are unable to both work and study.

Some technical trainee interns at auto manufacturers were taken advantage of. I am worried that their acceptance of low wages is one way of keeping the pay for that occupation at low levels when it should be increasing.

(Reiko Setoguchi, homemaker, Fukuoka, 58)

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The letters also conveyed a need to have empathy with people of different nationalities that is fostered through daily interactions. Readers pointed to the growing number of foreign students at senior high schools or in home-stay programs.

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Third letter:

Rethinking xenophobia

At one time, I felt xenophobia was one course that Japan had to consider. But over the past three years, during which my family has accepted students from Indonesia, the United States, China and France in a home-stay program, I have come to realize that xenophobia would bring no benefit to Japan, but only lead to Japan's isolation from the world.

With an intensified exchange of products, people, capital and information, trying to counter such a trend is as difficult as trying to stop time. It is said that the labor of foreigners will become increasingly necessary in the future. In that case, it would be more advantageous to design a system to allow more foreigners to live in this country.

Through our exchanges with the foreign students, I learned that there were people who loved and tried to understand Japan as much as the Japanese themselves. While I feel that the identity of Japan should be protected, I believe it is possible to co-exist with foreigners and that more aggressive efforts are needed to allow them to live and work here, rather than exclude or reject them.

Greater efforts should be made in various policy areas that have been neglected until now, such as expanding the rights of foreigners, allowing them to vote in municipal elections and educating them about Japanese culture.

(Tadao Tasaki, part-time worker, Saitama, 62)

Fourth letter:

Diverse classmates, living textbook

Co-existing with foreigners is absolutely possible. At my senior high school, 15 Japanese students formed a single class with about 10 to 15 foreign students. Those students come from many nations, including not only in Asia, but also from South and North America, Europe and Africa. We are all enjoying our school lives. Naturally, some problems arose due to the language barrier as well as differences in one's sense of values and customs. But, above and beyond that, they have provided me with much more.

We Japanese students have been greatly influenced by their directness in discussing topics in their home nations, such as religious conflict, as well as immigrant and refugee issues, that we would only know of through the media if we had no contact with them.

There are some industries in which many companies would not survive without foreigners. I also feel there are many Japanese who are worried about the problems that might arise, such as those now sweeping Europe as it tries to deal with immigrant and refugee issues.

However, I am certain that the best way to put such concerns aside and make co-existence possible is through mutual understanding. I feel my class at the senior high school led a wonderful school life because of the efforts we made for mutual understanding.

(Ryotaro Kaga, prep school student, Fukuoka, 18)

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Many leading companies with headquarters in Japan are seizing the opportunity to hire more foreign nationals due to the globalization of their business operations. In many companies, foreign nationals are part of the management, as a result of mergers and acquisitions.

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Fifth letter:

Overcoming barriers in age of multinationals

The automobile company that I used to work for received a capital injection from a foreign company after its business performance stagnated. In addition to the company president, many positions were filled with people from the United States, Britain, Australia and the Middle East, from executives down to department heads and ordinary employees. This is what the company president told the Japanese executives.

"Our company, if described using golf terms, has shanked the tee shot into a forest and the golf ball is close to being out-of-bounds. But, there is no need to cry over spilled milk. We have to think about the direction we want to hit our second shot."

I was not the only one who continued to harbor some resentment due to major differences in the national traits of Japanese as well as their customs and way of thinking. Even though there were interpreters, some miscommunication led to quite a few scenes of confrontation. It is only to be accepted that things will not go smoothly among those who have grown up under different environments.

However, since we are all human, a path forward can be found as long as we mutually work to recognize, communicate with and understand each other. I learned how important it was to understand that evolution was possible because of the interaction between cultures. I believe everyone should think about how to overcome cultural differences to achieve a more affluent and diverse society.

(Toshiro Yoshioka, retired, Tokyo, 76)

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Japan is now a tourism powerhouse with around 30 million foreign visitors every year. With globalization in full swing, the government is pushing a policy to accept more foreign students.

But unlike in Western cultures, it cannot be said that everyone in Japan has an opportunity to communicate with foreigners on a daily basis. The following letter was sent by a Japanese woman whose husband is German.

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Sixth letter:

Give a thought to the other party

Imagine being in my German husband's shoes. He co-exists with 130 million foreigners in Japan.

He has told me about a number of his surprising experiences in Japan, such as having the person next to him suddenly stand up as soon as he sat on a train, being peered at closely when he used a public bath, being praised just because he could use chopsticks or being confronted by total strangers in a park and asked persistently about his family.

I hope Japanese readers can imagine how they would feel if they were praised like a child just for being able to use a knife and fork skillfully. Wouldn't they also feel uncomfortable if they were asked by people they pass on the street about how they came to know their boyfriend or girlfriend? Even if their language and way of thinking may differ, they feel the same emotions as Japanese when they are sad or embarrassed. I believe what is most needed for co-existence is the imagination to be considerate enough of the other party.

(Yuko Yoshida Wetzel, Japanese language teacher, Kanagawa, 38)

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The Koe section of The Asahi Shimbun received a large number of other letters. We also want to introduce the views of foreigners about co-existing in Japan, and we invite them to send letters spelling out their views or experiences. The letters will not only be posted to the AJW website. Some will also be translated into Japanese and published in The Asahi Shimbun.

Letters can be sent by e-mail to (voice@asahi.com).

Please include your name, address, age, gender, occupation and telephone number. In principle, we do not accept anonymous letters. Please refrain from sending the same letter more than once, or including it as an attached file. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity.