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Land of the Rising Sun
As Demographic Problems Grow, Japan Weighs Immigration

Japan is a notoriously closed-off society—difficult for outsiders to understand, but also nearly impossible for them to join. Japan accepts few immigrants, and its society’s ethnic uniformity is a key foundation of modern Japanese culture. Yet, as the population grows older, Japanese officials are starting to think about how younger foreign populations can support the economy. Reuters:

Desperately seeking an antidote to a rapidly aging population, Japanese policymakers are exploring ways to bring in more foreign workers without calling it an “immigration policy”. Immigration is a touchy subject in a land where conservatives prize cultural homogeneity and politicians fear losing votes from workers worried about losing jobs.

But a tight labor market and ever-shrinking work force are making Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policy team and lawmakers consider the politically controversial option.

Signaling the shift, leading members of a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) panel on Tuesday proposed expanding the types of jobs open to foreign workers, and double their numbers from current levels of close to 1 million. “Domestically, there is a big allergy. As a politician, one must be aware of that,” Takeshi Noda, an adviser to the LDP panel, told Reuters in an interview.

Immigrants are an attractive salve for Japan’s demographic wounds, and Japanese xenophobia is an easy target of Western condescension. But it is simplistic and foolish to dismiss Japan’s remarkable ability to modernize and simultaneously retain a distilled identity. In an era when many developing countries struggle to calibrate their societies in the face of globalization and multiculturalism, Japan hasn’t had to worry about either. In ways that many observers are likely to overlook, that’s an important Japanese advantage.

Nonetheless, Japan’s aversion to foreigners is a sizable hurdle. Japan has historically had a tough time absorbing new populations. Even reabsorption has been a challenge, as when Japanese Brazilians returned to the Land of the Rising Sun when Brazil’s economy was struggling in the 1990s. Given Japan’s peculiar nature, any changes on immigration are likely to come very slowly, however urgently they may be needed.

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  • Pete

    Send the Syrian refugees to Japan. That’s win-win. No?

    • Fat_Man

      You beat me to the punch. If the Muslims of the Middle East can becomes Swedes, they can become Japanese.

    • Beauceron

      Indeed. In fact, isn’t it racist if Japan doesn’t accept them?

  • Andrew Allison

    Perhaps the problem is that Japan is insufficiently self-confident. Its culture is (with a notable exception or two) admirable, and Gaijins who don’t appreciate it will probably not stay. Full disclosure: my first wife was a Sansei and I’ve enjoyed my times with and without her in Japan.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    The deception being promoted by the Leftists is that falling birthrates are a problem of the developed 1st world nations, but that doesn’t explain the demographic disasters in Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba, etc. The problem is the lack of hopefulness in Socialist Countries. A look at the nations around the world shows, that the birthrate is directly proportional to the level of Socialism in each country.

    So the fact is that people don’t breed when they aren’t hopeful about the future.

    Leftism is about dividing a shrinking pie fairly, Capitalism is about increasing the size of the pie as quickly as possible, and letting those doing the most to increase the size of the pie take the lion’s share of the pie. This has the counter intuitive result in everyone getting a larger piece of the pie.

    At one time America was Capitalist, but for over a century, America has been becoming ever more Leftist, and with the advent of “Obamacare” America has gone into full decline.

  • gabrielsyme

    Importing a bunch of low-skilled labour, and thereby keeping working-class wages low, strikes me as precisely the wrong policy to pursue if you are looking to restore demographic balance and vigour.

    If Japan starts importing workers to care for their old-age homes, there will be no Japan to eventually recover from its cultural malaise.

  • White Knight Leo

    You’d think they’d have learned from Europe’s problems.

  • Jeremobi

    Does Japan have rapidly rising wages and high inflation? No, then the problem isn’t too few workers. If productivity rates increase even slightly, the growth will swamp any additional costs of caring for the elderly.

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