Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Immigration Policy for Japan’s Sustainable Future
MENJU Toshihiro / Managing Director, Japan Center for International Exchange

July 6, 2017
The biggest challenge confronting Japan in the coming decades and beyond is the declining population. The newest data published by the National Institute of Population and Social Security projects a sharply quickening pace of decline from 6.2million in the 2020s to 8.2 million in the 2030s and to 9 million in the 2040s. Japan’s current population is 127 million, but the projected pace of decline would mean that a population equivalent to that of Tokyo would keep disappearing approximately every dozen years. This is bound to affect not only the economy but all other fabrics of society, rapidly shrinking Japan.  

A further serious problem is the highly warped population composition. People over the age of 80 came to exceed 10 million in 2015, while the birthrate continues to decline rapidly. As a result, more than 500 public primary and junior high schools are being closed down every year. With the decline in productive population, closures of bus lines have amounted to more than 2000 kilometers every year, and the local traffic networks have been shrinking rapidly. The government has been bent on restoring the population and securing the labor force under the banner of regional revitalization and dynamic engagement of all (100 million) citizens. However, the continuing downward trend in the number of women in their twenties and thirties dashes the hope for an increase in the number of children even though the TFR (total fertility rate) may go up. In fact, there has been no instance in the world where the TFR of around 1.4 has been restored to the replacement level of 2.0.
Then, can the acceptance of immigrants from overseas be considered as the last resort? In Japan, the issue of immigrants has tended to be considered as a taboo, and has yet to be fully debated. But there is no other developed country than Japan that does not accept immigrants. If Japan were to avoid this option despite the severest prospect of population decline in the world, it would spell a decisive decline of Japan as a nation.  

What lies behind the lack of progress in debate on the acceptance of immigrants in Japan is the widespread, misguided notion that “Immigrants would increase crimes.” or that “Even in the age of declining population, Japan would be safe and sound with the benefit of higher value-added economy.” In reality, despite the increasing number of foreigners who visit or settle in Japan, the Police White Paper of recent years indicates that the crimes committed by foreigners have been on the decline. But the average Japanese do not know these facts. They tend instead to have a very negative image of immigrants, such as describing them as if they were would-be criminals. This kind of prejudice stands in the way of objective debate.

Immigration policy should be considered not just in the context of seeking a solution to the problem of labor shortage. It could inject new hopes to those in Japan who feel increasingly cooped up in stagnation, and provide a source of hitherto unknown innovations and cultures. This would apply not only to high-caliber people but also broadly to foreign human resources. A number of American high tech firms have been founded by first or second generation immigrants. Many of them carved out their career from humble beginnings in ordinary immigrant families.
Immigration policy requires two components. One is the acceptance framework policy to determine how many and what kind of people will be accepted from which countries.
Another is the integration policy to help them settle and word actively in Japan. Japan has already been accepting university-educated foreigners. What will become necessary will be the acceptance of blue-collar workers, of whom massive manpower shortage is expected. In terms of the acceptance framework policy, we should, for the time being, accept by stages those youths from friendly South-east Asian countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam who have a certain level of Japanese language proficiency, at least a high school diploma, and have secured a stable job in Japan in advance. For those young people, visas should be renewed after three years, and ways should be open for them to settle in Japan with the condition of improved Japanese language proficiency and stable employment.

With the ever-aging society, there are signs that exclusionist mentality may be gaining ground in Japan. But if the population decline continues unabated, it is conceivable that the clock may be turned back by 50 years to a period where some Japanese youths abandoned Japan to emigrate abroad. On the other hand, if the policy for the settlement of foreign nationals gets under way, it may become possible in the future to stem the population decline at a certain level, if not to stop altogether the decline of half a million a year. If that can be done it will give to young people and investors new hopes for Japan’s future.
“Settlement of foreign national will give new hopes for Japan.” This is the belief that propelled me to publish a book entitled “Genkai Kokka (Marginal Nation)” from the Asahi Shimbun Publishing Company in 2017. We need urgently to start a national debate on breaking the taboo on the acceptance of immigrants and opening the ways for the settlement of foreign nationals in Japan.

The writer is Managing Director and Chief Program Officer, Japan Center for International Exchange.

The English-Speaking Union of Japan

毛受敏浩 / 日本国際交流センター執行理事

2017年 7月 6日






一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Immigration Policy for Japan’s Sustainable Future