Japanese "Immigration Battle Diary"

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 6/19/2007 03:13:00 PM
No, no, it's not what you think if images of a Japanese Pat Buchanan or Jean-Marie Le Pen are being evoked. Like many other developed countries, Japan, the world's second largest economy, is contemplating revisions to its migration policy. However, this challenge is greater for Japan as it is more culturally homogeneous than most other developed countries. On top of that, it does not really have a comprehensive immigration policy as this former civil servant attests in his book called the "Immigration Battle Diary." (I do hope that something is lost in the translation of the title as it sounds rather Hobbesian.) Hidenori-san sees two main possibilities for Japanese migration--maintain the status quo tight immigration policies and accept a dwindling population (the small option), or promote a large-scale influx to compensate (the big option):
A former director of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau, Sakanaka Hidenori ended his 35 year career as a Justice Ministry official in 2005. Shortly after retiring, he published Immigration Battle Diary probably the most detailed discussion yet on the future of Japanese immigration policy and the role of immigrants in the world’s second largest economy. The abridged translation presented here is based mainly on the book's final chapter, which summarizes Sakanaka's views on the immigration options facing Japan.

Sakanaka’s intervention could not be more timely. With little net immigration to offset a falling fertility rate, the population of over 127 million is set to plummet to just over 100 million by the middle of the century. The number of permanent foreign residents recently passed two million, or 1.57 percent of the total population, a tiny figure for a developed country. The contracting workforce will be asked to support a growing army of pensioners in a country with the longest life-expectancy in the world. By 2005, there will be just two younger workers supporting each retired person, down from 11 in 1960...

As an immigration officer's memoir, it is unsurprising that in the book's early pages Japan's foreign community comes across largely as a target for the attention of law enforcement. Yet, as you move through the book, it becomes clear that the author's view of Japan's immigrant issues is far from one-dimensional and his recommendations for immigration policy far from the official mainstream...

In this essay, Sakanaka acknowledges that if Japanese society is unable to reach a consensus on the benefits of large-scale immigration, demographics could be allowed to follow their present course. However, he points out that allowing the population to decline should be considered an active choice that should only be made with full awareness of the possible economic, social, political and cultural consequences.

Japan's population, which peaked at 128 million in 2004, is falling. If current trends continue, it will drop below 90 million within 50 years and fall by two-thirds to 40 million within 100 years [1]. As Japan's population falls, many people say the country's future is bleak. The general mood is pessimistic. Dire predictions include a massive decline in economic growth. I think it is unwise to spark fear with such predictions. Yet if current trends continue, Japan will inevitably witness an unprecedented population decline. What lies ahead? Radical change is required. The Japanese people must not shirk from addressing this national issue...

We can examine how Japan could address population decline by considering the following two extreme options. The Small Option is to allow the population to decline. The Big Option is to compensate for the impending population decrease by accepting immigrants, maintaining Japan's current position as an economic powerhouse. The Small Option would maintain the status quo. The Big Option would increase Japan's ethnic minority population. Whichever option is chosen, Japanese citizens will have to overcome difficult obstacles.

The Small Option would aim to accept the natural population decline and allow the development of a more laid-back society of perhaps 80 million people. An essential part of this scenario is the use of strict policies to limit immigration into Japan. However, if the population continues to fall, there is a high chance of economic depression and social stagnation. Choosing this option requires an awareness of these possible outcomes.

Under this scenario, native Japanese people would continue to play all the major roles involved in running the economy and society. Immigration controls would be tightened. The government could adopt immigration policies that basically barred entry to foreign laborers and other immigrants. The feasibility of The Small Option depends on whether the number of people from other countries seeking to work in Japan can be precisely controlled. As the population of the developing world rises and the desire of developing world workers to live and work in the developed world grows steadily stronger, Japan will need immigration controls strong enough to withstand the pressure of these migratory forces. Starting with China, many of Japan's neighbors have huge populations and outward migratory pressure. Japan will not be able to prevent a mass population influx without building stronger walls around its borders.

Citizens living in a society with a continually shrinking population will not only have to change their lifestyles but will also have to take on greater responsibility. They will have to take an outlook on life molded by an expanding society and modify it to fit a contracting one. They will need to move from a lifestyle that celebrates richness to one that celebrates simplicity. As the country tries to maintain its social welfare system, they will have to bear higher tax levels and accept lower levels of pension and other benefits.

If the Japanese people keep rigidly to the basic stance outlined above, we can imagine that in the latter half of the 21st century Japan may become a mature society with a moderate-sized population living a comfortable, relaxed lifestyle in a rich natural and social environment. It is quite possible that in a slow-paced, peaceful society, more people may want to have a large family and the population may bottom out and start to rise once again. In the 21st century, problems associated with population growth which affect the global future, such as resource depletion and environmental destruction, are expected to grow more serious. Japan's affirmation of population decline and attempts to build a more ‘compact’ society could well be welcomed by the international community...

The Big Option, on the other hand, would aim to compensate for the natural decline in the Japanese population through a mass influx of immigrants, supporting a "dynamic Japan" that maintained economic growth. Japan would keep its position as a leading global economy and maintain its current standard of living. The success of the policy would depend on how far Japan could develop an openness towards the new arrivals. If this path is chosen, immigrants would play important roles in Japan's economy and society. The Japanese people's tendency to embrace growth and fundamentals of the economy would not change.

To implement The Big Option, the country would need to accept over 20 million immigrants during the next 50 years. Before welcoming such an unprecedented influx, Japan would need to build a national consensus that new arrivals should be welcomed as "friends" and contributors to Japanese society. Japan would have to transform itself into a land of opportunity, building an open, fair society which guaranteed equal opportunity, judged people on their merits, and allowed everyone to improve their social status regardless of origin or ethnicity.

Japan's criteria for accepting new arrivals and its immigration procedures would have to be open, transparent and fair if immigration authorities were to appropriately process a vast number of immigration applications. A major issue would be how to define acceptance criteria. The state's basic attitude to the treatment of foreigners would also be called into question. Under Japan's current policies, which generally view foreigners as a target for control and regulation, Japan will not be able to make the leap and become a tolerant multiethnic society.

The government would have to emphasize deeper integration between Japanese and other nationalities. It would have to transform governmental administration to better account for immigrant needs and guarantee immigrants and ethnic minorities the same rights as native Japanese. The smooth integration of newcomers into society should be placed at the centre of government policy, with a particular emphasis on Japanese language education and employment assistance. The government would also have to ease the passage to citizenship.

Of course, if Japan were to become a multiethnic society, problems resulting from differences in ethnicity, culture and religion would be unavoidable. The government would have to mediate the conflicting interests of different groups and avoid provoking interethnic conflict. It would also take on the heavy responsibility of establishing principles to promote social integration, binding the various ethnic groups together as Japanese citizens. To responsibly tackle these serious issues, the state would need to establish a national Immigration Agency with a mandate to plan and implement comprehensive policies for the treatment of immigrants, promote the social integration of ethnic minorities, and monitor and prevent discrimination.

We should note that even if Japan managed to resolve its immediate problem of population decline through the acceptance of immigrants, Japan would, in the not-too-distant future, come up against various obstacles including the social burden of large-scale migration, and environmental and energy problems.