Japan has been facing its declining population for years. Its society is composed of two extremes, with a growing number of seniors, as well as a growing number of twenty-somethings who age and never produce the offspring that would be expected in any other society. The latter are the source of handwringing among the Japanese government. Without youth to work and spend, Japan may continue to see widespread deflation and a stagnating economy.
Curiously, for all the handwringing that Japan’s government has done (as well as pundits around the world) over the population problem, the notion of attracting more immigrants is never really an option. Japan has remained insular, with less than two percent of its population being foreign-born .
Allowing immigrants would theoretically raise the country’s birth rate as well as provide an influx of labor and consumption that the country dearly needs . But Shinzo Abe, when talking about immigration less than a year ago, rejected immigration, citing the experience of other countries where both immigrants and native residents became unhappy due to frictions occurring over immigration .
Japan’s insular culture has been cited as the reason why immigration is off the table. The government’s policy of small immigration quotas and difficult requirements to remain in the country has kept immigration low, reflecting a culture in which the term “gaijin” for foreigner is somewhat negative and descendants of Chinese and Korean immigrants, brought involuntarily during World War 2, still suffer the stigma of being outsiders.
Perhaps as an outsider of the culture, it is easy for me to dismiss this distrust of foreigners. Maybe it is my own experience as a daughter of immigrants, in a country that still sees itself as primarily Caucasian. But the stakes for Japan seem too high for it to continue on its own without immigrants.
While the fears of tensions between immigrants and native residents is all too real (as seen in Europe and the United States), in the end, immigrants provide crucial labor and consumption in industrial countries whose birth rates aren’t high enough to maintain their population. Japan can consider attempting to convince its youth to reproduce (which would be difficult, in light of high expenses related to raising children and the negative impact of motherhood on working women) or consider expanding immigration policies, both of which would be cultural shifts. In light of their stagnating economy, the choice has to be made rapidly in order to see results relatively soon.