Let’s talk about immigration in Japan. I want to keep the first part of this post neutral, so before I share my thoughts let me give you a few points for context:
It recently came to my attention that Japan’s First Party had planned and held an “Anti-Immigrants Day”. This event came, partly, in response to the new measures regarding immigration that the Japanese Government is talking about. In short, due to the inevitable labor shortage that Japan is facing because of its aging population, the Government would resort to allow more foreign workers.
Right now, one in five people in Japan is over 65 years old and the birth rate is at an all time low. If they approved this hypothetical measure, it would grant a higher number of visas to foreign workers, even to those that don’t fit the current strict standard.
As of today, Japan welcomes foreigners selectively, vetted by a “Point-based system”. This system is designed to allow visas to mostly:
- Academic professionals and researchers
- Advanced specialists (engineers, international trade, finance, PR)
- Advanced business management professionals (representatives or officers of an organization).
The system leaves many jobs and fields pretty much inaccessible to foreigners and keeps Japan’s immigration as a “highly educated / socially valuable and responsible” one.
One in five people in Japan is over 65 years old and the birth rate is at an all time low.
There is no easy way to fix the imminent labor shortage in Japan, especially refusing to allow immigrants to fill those gaps. If nothing changes, in the near future Japan won’t have enough workers to support its retirees.
Why does Japan have this problem? Facts are clear: Japanese people these days are not getting married as much, not having babies as much and divorcing more than ever. But the reasons behind the facts may not be that easy to grasp. From now on, I will express my own opinion along with the facts so please take it as such.
Japan has -and prides itself in- a very homogeneous society. Most people in Japan enjoy a comfortable middle class life, with one of the lowest crime rates, good healthcare, and low unemployment. As I always say, Japan is a great country to live in. The Japanese people are in general, incredibly pleasant to interact with. From their sense of duty to their politeness, I feel welcome and at ease 90% of the time. I think we can all agree that the fact that Japan is safe and clean is a result of the Japanese people and their upbringing, which values “the group” highly, sometimes at the expense of individuality.
Japan is a very homogeneous society. Most people in Japan enjoy a comfortable middle class life, with one of the lowest crime rates, good healthcare, and low unemployment.
Adding other cultures to the Japanese homogeneity means risking the current status quo, and that would explain why the far right is making a little more noise than usual. However, it’s no other but the status quo who brought Japan to their aging population and labor shortage dilemma. Increased immigration in Japan would put an economical band-aid to the issue, but it would still need surgery.
Marriage numbers are low. Dating numbers are low. Birth rates are low. Why?
- Marriage is quite an old school ordeal in Japan: Civil unions are rarely recognized and often have less rights than a marriage union. Arranged marriages are still practiced. Women are socially pressured to leave the workforce after marriage to raise children (and sometimes take care of the groom’s parents) despite being highly educated. Extra-marital sex is not such a big deal, especially for men. Divorces are still kind of a taboo.
- Dating is not a field of roses either. Many Japanese people seem to find it “expensive and troublesome”. The upbringing of boys and girls in Japan is not ideal to provide them with the skills to understand and interact with each other, in both romantic and platonic ways. And I may add, sex-ed in Japan is notoriously lacking on safe-sex and STD knowledge. To the point of having to use Sailor Moon to get women to buy condoms.
- There are not many incentives to start a family in Japan. Housing is expensive and prices are always rising. Child care is scarce and very expensive, so women are both socially and economically forced to not bring a salary to the household. On top of that, having children in Japan is not very affordable, but it’s a whole new level of shame to be a single mom in Japan.
There is no denying that all these impediments causing the labor shortage problem are engraved in the culture as much as the good traits are. I can’t help by wonder how, if it’s not by committing the unspeakable and changing the culture, is Japan going to resolve this issue and leave it behind once and for all.
In my opinion, well-wishing foreigners are invaluable to Japan. It was the BBC which brought to light “Japan’s Secret Shame”, opening the can of worms that was so well kept under the rug. This year’s Pride Parade was vastly engrossed by foreigners. We’re here, and we’re saying “it’s OK for married women to work“, “It’s OK to not put the rice next to the woman for her to serve the men at the table in a ryokan” (true story), “It’s OK to maintain an economically balanced romantic relationship“, “It’s not ok to borderline bully new workers in a company”, and a long etc. And by doing this, I believe we’re giving a fresh point of view that helps, now and in the long run, those who are living in beautiful Japan.
Increased immigration in Japan would put an economical band-aid to the issue, but it would still need surgery.
The fear of change is understandable but it should never be put before the bigger picture. It’s a dangerous path. Especially when wielded by foreigners that, infatuated with the good side of Japan, have not experienced first hand the real struggles of the people that actually live here. Allowing a holiday-based opinion of a culture to judge whether or not it should evolve to fix itself is not the best idea.
As for the far right movement, I think it would be better for them to offer a solution to the real problem instead of just criticizing possible options.
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