Asia Pacific Bulletin: “Accepting Immigrants: Japan’s Last Opportunity for Economic Revival”

Books etc. by ARUDOU Debito (click on icon):
Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\" width=「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS on iTunes, subscribe free

Hi Blog.  Here’s some evidence of how the debate regarding Japan’s need for immigration is starting to percolate through USG policy circles — this time the Asia Pacific Bulletin.  It’s another well-intentioned brief article for busy policymakers, but with a couple of mistakes:  1) since the 2011 earthquake the number of foreign residents in Japan has also been on a downward trend” is not quite right since it was on a downward trend before 3/11 too (in fact, when I was debunking the “Flyjin” Myth in my Japan Times column I demonstrated how the decreasing trend in NJ numbers was largely unaffected by the multiple disasters); 2) the “stagnant policy discussion at the national levelhas in fact been restarted and quite actively discussed starting from May onwards (perhaps after Mr. Menju sent the article to press, but the APB website notes their turnaround on articles is mere weeks), as has been discussed here in detail on   But Mr. Menju does get some important things very, very right — as in the other J media-manufactured myth of NJ crime and social disruption (especially the NPA’s involvement in cooking the numbers), how this dynamic forestalls a healthy discussion on immigration policy, and Japan’s overall need for immigration despite all the years of active ignoring of local governments’ advice on tolerance and acceptance.  Decent stuff, and worth a read.  Arudou Debito


Analysis:  Accepting Immigrants: Japan’s Last Opportunity for Economic Revival
Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 169
Publisher: Washington, D.C.: East-West Center in Washington
Publication Date: June 27, 2012
By Toshihiro Menju, courtesy VW’s-last-opportunity-economic-revival

BIO:  Toshihiro Menju, (Facebook profile here) Managing Director of the Japan Center for International Exchange, explains why “A proactive decision on accepting immigrants could very well be a constructive solution for two of Japan’s most salient problems: a shrinking economy spurred by a declining population.”

Japan is very slowly beginning to recover from the enormous economic and infrastructural setbacks caused by the March 11, 2011, earthquake. One reason for the slow pace of recovery is due to Japan’s shrinking and aging population, a phenomenon that is gradually and detrimentally affecting Japanese society as a whole. As of November 2011, Japan’s population totaled 128 million, ranking it tenth in the world after Russia. Historically, Japan’s large population has contributed to its dynamic economic output, providing a well-educated workforce along with a large domestic consumer market. However, since 2005 the total population has been in decline for the first time since WW II. Indeed, over the next decade it is expected to decrease by 5.3 million people, a significant decline of four percent, more than the entire population of Shikoku, Japan’s fourth largest island.

Unfortunately, Japan, unlike other developed economies, has only experienced two brief baby booms. The first baby boom, which occurred immediately after WWII, lasted just three years, until abortion became legal in 1949. Ironically, concerns over a sudden swell in population resulted in an increase in the number of pregnancy terminations. Furthermore, that post-WWII generation started a national trend where each subsequent generation has had fewer and fewer children, as evidenced by the brief baby boom in the early 1970s. As a result, today, the demographic decrease in Japan of children under the age of 15 is a serious national concern. Since 2003, over 400 public elementary, junior high, and senior high schools have closed every year directly as a result of demographics. It is estimated that between 2005 and 2025 the Japanese labor force–ages 15 to 64–will decrease by approximately 14 million, and at the same time citizens aged 75 and over will increase by 10 million. The economic, civil, and societal implications for such a dramatic and sudden demographic change are unprecedented.

Lack of Political Debate on Immigration
Currently, Japan has strict controls regarding foreign immigration, and there is no coherent national government policy or debate on how to utilize immigration to constructively address the issue of a declining population. Foreigners residing in Japan during 2010 totaled 2.13 million, almost two percent of the population. Currently 690,000 foreign residents are Chinese. Koreans rank second at around 570,000, of which 400,000 are direct descendents of Koreans who immigrated to Japan before WWII. The third largest group, at 230,000, is of Japanese-Brazilian descent, with a sudden increase in the early 1990s due to a relaxation in the immigration law for Japanese descendants living in South America. However, the number of Japanese-Brazilians living in Japan decreased rapidly after the 2008 global economic crisis. In addition, since the 2011 earthquake the number of foreign residents in Japan has also been on a downward trend.

There are three obstacles that hinder acceptance of immigrants or that even prevent starting a discussion at the national level on the subject of immigration. These three impediments are: the fear of social disruption attributed to immigrants as often witnessed in Europe and the United States; an increase in the rate of unemployment for Japanese citizens, especially among the youth; and an increase in the number of crimes committed by immigrants.

The first anxiety is a byproduct of the Japanese media’s coverage of immigrant issues in Europe, as well as in the United States. Japanese media coverage only presents the negative aspects of immigration in these countries; there is very rarely any coverage on the positive attributes of immigrants in these societies. The second apprehension is also unfounded, as Japan can tightly control the number and educational levels of incoming immigrants. The labor deficit within the agricultural, fishery, manufacturing, and service industries is a significant problem, combined with the fact that many Japanese youth refuse to work in these labor intensive and low-paying jobs.

The increase in crimes perpetrated by immigrants is also a misconception. Japan’s National Police Agency has, since 1990, featured a special section on crimes committed by foreigners in the annual Crimes in Japan report, and this has fueled the debate on the possibility of a spike in criminal activity due to an influx of immigrants. However, what is not widely discussed is that the number of crimes committed by foreigners has actually been steadily declining since 2005.

Healthy discussion on immigration is also inhibited by a number of other factors including ultra-nationalistic groups who are very vocal and unduly critical of neighboring countries. Furthermore, the perception in Japan of Imin–immigrants–is generally negative, with the public belief that if the door is opened, a flood of poor people from around the world will suddenly rush in. In reality, Japan is surrounded by a high language barrier that hinders non-serious immigrants.

Local Initiatives
However, in spite of the stagnant policy discussion at the national level, some local governments and grassroots organizations have been very active in accepting foreigners. This trend developed in the 1980s to help increase the number of foreign students in local communities, and the movement was boosted in the 1990s when Japanese-Brazilians suddenly increased from just a few thousand to 300,000 within approximately ten years. Tabunka-Kyosei–living together in a multi-culture–became the buzz word for these local movements. Local governments, including Toyota city (home town of Toyota motors), formed the Coalition of Cities with Foreign Residents in 2001. This coalition has campaigned for broader acceptance of foreigners living in Japan. Initiatives include submitting petitions to the central government for the establishment of a national immigration agency and provisions for the education of immigrant children. More recently, some rural mayors have begun openly discussing the merits of accepting immigrants into their communities, explaining that without these additions their communities will soon become ghost towns due to aging and depopulation.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his ruling Democratic Party of Japan have already used their limited political capital working on controversial legislation to raise domestic tax rates and tackling the thorny issue of restarting Japan’s nuclear power plants. They will not take on another controversial topic such as immigration at this moment in time. However, pro-immigration grassroots movements will continue to grow and eventually their arguments will reach the national level.

But the question is when. If it takes too long, a healthy recovery fueled by new immigrants will be more difficult to achieve, and another opportunity for Japan’s economic revival will have been missed. A proactive decision on accepting immigrants could very well be a constructive solution for two of Japan’s most salient problems: a shrinking economy spurred by a declining population.

About the Author

Toshihiro Menju is Managing Director and Chief Program Officer at the Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE). He can be contacted via email at


32 comments on “Asia Pacific Bulletin: “Accepting Immigrants: Japan’s Last Opportunity for Economic Revival”

  • zoomtokyo says:

    “Fear of social disruption”? Japan has experienced plenty of such disruption in its modern history. From the Meiji Restoration to all-out world war, to postwar construction. Funny how little “fear” those developments engendered in a country noted for its stoicism. The real reason for anti-immigration sentiment is xenophobia, plain and simple. Fear, distrust, dislike of foreigners. Otherwise, this is a good article.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    A good article, and justly critical of Japan where such criticism is due.
    The way I see it, the Japanese really do like to believe that MILLIONS of undesireables from around the world really are setting Japan in their steely sights for immigration, followed by all sorts of welfare fraud and crime, no doubt. It is this kind of thinking that leads them to make policy about attracting NJ 1%ers (with fast track visa processes). This policy is misguided. Japan doesn’t need 2000 1%ers, it’s going to need millions of exactly the people it keeps telling itself it doesn’t want! (case in point; the Indonesian caregivers). After all, can Japan really get enough 1%ers to fill all those combini baito vacancies, clean toilets at stations, pick fruit and vegetables in some inaka sh*thole? No. The Japanese have shot themselves in the foot with a myth they have created for themselves about the attractiveness of Japan to NJ, and ideas about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ NJ.

  • Jim, unskilled labor continues to decline in demand in Japan as elsewhere. Business processes and automation continuously make such labor less and less necessary. See, e.g., “The Decline in Demand for Unskilled Labor: An Empirical Analysis Method and its Application to France”
    In the popular domain, we have “Despite Recession, Demand for Skilled Labor is High”. I encourage you to read this and academic literature about trends in labor markets if you are interested in the demand for unskilled labor in developed countries going forward. Even developing countries are starting to experience this trend.

    Japan’s policymakers are clued into this and pursuing a consequentialist economic policy to attract and retain skilled immigrants, who may pay significant amounts of taxes and contribute to society for longer periods of time, but not unskilled immigrants, who may eventually be replaced by machines or more efficient business processes and become unemployed or return home. Japan is not alone in doing so, and for that matter has not been particularly effective in the past compared with say Singapore or Hong Kong. Hopefully this new push will be more successful and attract sufficient “1%ers” to keep good internationalizing Japanese companies competitive and growing. I’m looking forward to benefiting from these measures, and those I have spoken with about this have also expressed interest. I think just hearing that there are special nice measures will make “1%ers” more receptive to the possibility of continuing to work in, returning to work in or beginning to work in Japan upon hearing of them. “Exclusive” benefits to those who meet the qualifications are a classic and successful marketing ploy, even where as here the benefits may not be terribly significant. The benefits may not be particularly meaningful since immigration is generally not a big hassle compared with other countries in my experience, but it’s nice that they’re putting in the effort, and such efforts should continue to get good press.

    I think it’s unfortunate that the per-capita economic benefit to importing unskilled immigrants and giving them a chance in a developed country is minimal and may be completely swallowed up by the cost of providing public services and welfare, while importing “1%ers” more substantially increases the per capita income and standard of living without incurring comparable welfare costs. ( I do not advocate excluding such unskilled immigrants. It is only from a consequentialist perspective that I believe that the practices of Japan, Singapore, Canada, the UK etc. with a points system is likely correct for societies that wish to preserve aspects of a welfare state.

    Is what Japan wants an “economic revival” with increased GDP, or maintenance of per capita disposable income, standard of living and welfare benefits? If you took a poll, I believe people would say the latter (and in fact have – I think I’ve read such polls here as well), and the government is acting accordingly.

  • I dont know, I was just called for an interview to pick lettuce in the inaka, something like 700 yen an hour, then after I refused and he got the impression I was white, it went up. I never went, seemed like a slave farm to me.

    — What did the wage rise to?

  • Bob, I think Jim (#2) might be on to something.
    Although the article by Goux and Maurin(2000) is an interesting (albeit dated) piece that applies an empirical model for analyzing the shifts in labor demand, I do feel some reservations on its applicability or relevance of its results for France to Japan’s context.

    First, it seems that the demographics of Japan and France (along with most industrialized Western countries) are significantly different in myriad aspects (natural change, migration, lifestyle, etc.) during the period of their study. Especially more so in the period after the study (2001-present).

    Second, you stated(#3):
    “Japan’s policymakers are clued into this and pursuing a consequentialist economic policy to attract and retain skilled immigrants, who may pay significant amounts of taxes and contribute to society for longer periods of time, but not unskilled immigrants, who may eventually be replaced by machines or more efficient business processes and become unemployed or return home.”

    Unfortunately this is somewhat unsupported by results from Goux and Maurin’s paper, as it indicated that for France: technology was only a ‘modest vector,[…] new technologies do not seem to have been particularly conductive to substitutions of skilled labor for unskilled labor […]’ (2000, p.606), moreover their study highlight shortcomings in the interactions with the institutions that regulate the labor market.

    As such, it is also worth considering the unique contexts of each country, perhaps things like the ‘K.K.K.’/’3D’ jobs that people are apprehensive to take may not be readily(technology unavailable) or eagerly be automated (lower income groups/minorities/unskilled NJs being available, or the cost-benefit ratio of automation not worth the investment when contrasted with the future demand). Also sadly, robots are not good income tax or pension payers (yet :-D) in a country where the aging population has to be replaced and supported by a significant amount workforce and market. So unless those 1%ers NJs are going to pay 1000x the income tax, pension, insurance, etc. and consuming 1000x more worth of food, etc. compared to the regular folks, the 1000 “unskilled/unwanted NJs” will still be contributing economically more to their society in the long run.

    Nevertheless, it would be interesting indeed to come across more recent scholarly publications that ‘honestly’ tackle the current woes faced by Japan economically and socially, along with the institutional stumbling blocks that accompany it. Right now, it seems that the “economic revival” that they perceive (or would like to happen) is becoming logistically untenable and demographically unsustainable.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Bob #3

    Interesting reading, thank you.
    I look forward to a Japan where all my daily interactions (post office, bank, combini, any shopping) are fully automated, I sincerely do! The less I have to suffer micro-aggression from uni-drop outs who can’t even speak keigo properly, the better. Hopefully, the day will arrive when I don’t have to suffer a conversation with anyone that I don’t seek to start one with.

  • He just sent a text, saying he would raise the pay. The other workers were filipino I guess. he did provide room and board, but it was a 6 day work week, if I remember and long hours.

  • bob,

    i dont neccesarily disagree with all you say,but I think it is fantasy to think that the 1% you talk to would want to come to Japan given current conditions when they have a wealth of options.despite the links you gave i cannot see what improvements the government has made that would make japan more attractive to the 1% at all in future.also,robots cannot reproduce (as far as I know)and dont shop so i cant see how this could be a solution to a disappearing workforce and domestic market.

    i do though think that jim needs to lighten up-if he is refusing to talk to anyone when he doesnt initiate the conversation,then i think its no wonder that he is not having a particularly enjoyable time in japan.

  • Anonymous says:


    You wrote “Jim is refusing to talk to anyone”, was that a reading comprehension mistake or purposeful misrepresentation?

    Jim wrote “I look forward to fully automated post office, bank, combini, shopping … Hopefully, the day will arrive”

    — We’re getting off track.

  • Jim,

    And I hope the robots aren’t designed to microaggress us with advanced facial recognition technology, switching to English and complimenting our chopsticks prowess!

    @Joseph – Robots don’t pay taxes, but companies that make robots and companies that use robots to achieve greater profits, and high-income skilled workers at such companies, do pay taxes. Net of government services, low income workers do not pay taxes but instead consume revenue in many industrialized economies, so in fact there is no need for there to be a 1000x production advantage for a skilled 1%er for the math to work out.

    I too would be interested to see more up to date empirical research, so if anyone has some please post. From a humanitarian perspective, I hope it turns out that unskilled laborers net-net benefit resident populations, but I haven’t seen good research that incorporates “externalities” like government services and still comes out with a per-capita benefit for resident populations from low-income immigrants.

    — Go ahead and critique these two, then:

    Robert Shapiro, former economic adviser to President Clinton, talks about the positive financial impact of new waves of immigration, in this case to the United States:

    The Effect of Immigration on Productivity: Evidence from US States

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Anonymous #9

    It’s ok, don’t worry.

    and @ Adamu #8

    I do need to lighten up, but I am a snob.

  • Debito,

    I have seen many job postings in Japan asking for overqualified people for crap pay. Ive noticed this pattern for sometime now, for example asking for an individual with a masters or CCIE or some advanced cert but paying like 200,000 yen per month. I think its fantasy thinking on the part of many japanese who think that the gajin is a commodity and we are willing to accept beans for the privilige to reside and work in Japan. Its like they ask recruiters to find these non existant people, like they are living in a dreamworld or something.

  • Jim Di Griz #2:

    I agree with your views that:

    “the Japanese really do like to believe that MILLIONS of undesireables from around the world really are setting Japan in their steely sights for immigration, followed by all sorts of welfare fraud and crime,”

    The article states that a reason why immigration debate does not occur in Japan is:

    “the fear of social disruption attributed to immigrants” and (wrongly I believe) attributes as “a byproduct of the Japanese media’s coverage of immigrant issues in Europe, as well as in the United States”

    I believe that the article has confused cause and effect.

    I believe that J media repetitively show the disruptive effects of immigration because of the fear amongst J of any immigration.

    They know what the J wants to hear — that hordes of NJ would eagerly set forth for Japan, and once here will engage in polluting acts that subvert J society.

    I am sure that it is true that “without these additions [from immigration] their communities will soon become ghost towns due to aging and depopulation” yet I would offer the thought that the article does not address the key issue:

    Are J truly prepared psychologically to be a society that welcomes (not tolerates grudgingly, or reluctantly agrees, or barely and only with intense distaste minimally tolerates) any significant number of NJ as equal (not sub-human or vassal-status) members of their society?

    I believe that the answer today is “no”.

    If I am correct, then the economic needs referenced, or the demographic demise of Japan, are not important.

    It resembles to me attitudes in Saudi Arabia, where I lived, and which has strong social values that generally make life for non-Muslims extremely unpleasant.

    J attitudes are more important and merit far greater discussion than the collapse in demographics or the economic needs.

    Many J it appears would infinitely prefer to live in a nation pure of foreigners with pretensions of equality, than in a nation in which NJ could ever aspire to full equality socially.

    NJ can aspire to legal equality through naturalisation, but to no other form of equality.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Charuzu #13

    I agree with you. I said some months back that I believe that the Japanese would prefer an (imagined) racially pure Wagnarian climax for ‘the Japanese race’. The reality will be nothing of the sort, rather a sharp decline in living standards into poverty, in a decaying society, where all the rich Japanese have taken off for Singapore and Hawaii. The fact is that Japan doesn’t want to accept the kind of economic immigration that it needs to prevent decline, and deludes itself that Japan is the ‘dream destination’ for international ‘high-rollers’. A typically Japanese lack of critical thinking is preventing the policy makers, and those with the power to influence social attitudes, from seeing that this thinking is unrealistic and doing anything other than form a few meetings.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @#12 and #14. The face saving “tatemae” is the perceived attraction of Japan to “high rollers”, the reality is that it is crap pay. Sure, other job markets are tough in a similar way nowadays,plenty of employers asking for a lot but paying little (its why the jobs are available) but there is a Japanese twist on all this: ten reasons why Japan does not attract more high rollers:

    1. The reliance on the “Exotic Japan” factor- foreigners will come for the “Japan experience”, not the money.

    2. Related to #1, the “money is dirty/demeaning, lets not talk about it directly” idea.

    3. The Confucian Obligation factor (I have also experienced this working in other Asian countries). I.e. its crap pay, but hey, we give you a nice “family feeling” and take you out to dine on local delicacies and buy you drinks. (Lets hope you are not teetotal or a vegetarian).

    4.The “have it all/have cake and eat it” paradigm whereby the Japanese are accustomed to bubble era quality, but are no longer prepared to pay for it.

    5. The J-take on Marx’s Commodity Fetish combined with basic exploitation, whereby an LV toting woman wants to pay you 1000 yen an hour for an English lesson because “she cannot afford any more, but here is a cake I made earlier as a bribe”, or more importantly, a potential employer rolls up in an expensive sports car but pleads poverty when you ask for a slightly higher salary (true story).

    6.The Youth Cult; the Japanese like their gaijin young, and young people will accept lower salaries. So, someone with an MA fresh out of Uni with no work experience who just wants a year or two of a Japan experience.

    7. The Genki factor- a major Japanese job requirement is that the gaijin is “genki or forget it” (words of my former employer). The younger the gaijin, the genkier they are.Genki trumps content.

    8. Related to #6 and #7, the “experience not so necessary” consideration. Just as new recruits in Japan are preferred so they are not ‘tainted” with outside ideas, and are easier to “mould”, though the “tatemae” is to acquire specialists, these specialists may bring unusual ideas that customers in fact do not want to hear.

    9. Japan wants the image, not the substance. Its all about prestige; a Japanese official wants to boast that Japan attracts the best of international talent, but the reality is these NJ high rollers will not usually be allowed to rock the boat (Powers, “Working in Japan” 1990). This is why you do not see any prominent NJs in certain industries like ad agencies, where the cultural differences kick in; the job is basically to give the J client what they want and warm seats, rather than tell them what they need from a specialist point of view. There was an Italian exec who did his homework on a certain Japanese company, identified their weak areas so he could help them, etc. They absolutely hated being told this and his presentation went down like the Titanic.

    10. Japan needs your money, they dont want you taking money out of Japan. Hence the crap pay.
    As it is with Communist China (still not allowed to transfer funds out of the country), Japan wants you to spend more than you earn and help the Japanese economy, post 3/11 reconstruction etc. The former head of police said he wanted wealthy (western) NJs to settle in Japan:

    That is a good gaijin.

  • I also look forward to robots doing daily menial tasks with very minimal risks of micro-aggression being thrown my way. 🙂 I just hope they don’t setsuden those bots too much.

    Let me highlight and clarify the main points of my last entry (#5)

    “reservations on its applicability or relevance of its results for France(or any other country) to Japan’s context […]
    demographics of Japan and France (along with most industrialized Western countries) are significantly different in myriad aspects (natural change, migration, lifestyle, etc.) […]
    the aging population has to be replaced and supported by a significant amount workforce and market. So unless those 1%ers NJs are going to pay 1000x the income tax, pension, insurance, etc. and consuming 1000x more worth of food, etc.”

    My points were made in connection to the analysis of Mr. Menju, the discussion here in this thread (Jim#2 used the 1:1000 example) and by considering the unique context of Japan.
    I also expressed apprehension in applying dated models or theories obtained from results “in many industrialized economies” that have yet to be empirically tested in Japan.

    (Bob #10)
    “Net of government services, low income workers do not pay taxes but instead consume revenue in many industrialized economies, so in fact there is no need for there to be a 1000x production advantage for a skilled 1%er for the math to work out.”

    You are of course free to apply comparative analysis on your own opinions – but refuting others based on unvalidated theory in Japan and claiming it as ‘fact’ is something else. I’m cool with personal opinions, but I don’t ascribe to personal facts.

    In regard to Robots, although I jokingly put the phrase:
    “Also sadly, robots are not good income tax or pension payers (yet 😀 )” complete with emoticon, it seems that you have taken it seriously. So, to address this let me again refer back to the main points of my argument in consideration to Mr. Menju’s article and your post in my reply:

    Due to aging population, Japan needs to replace its workforce (along with payments to taxes, pension, insurance, etc.) and its market (people to buy stuff they make or services they provide).
    Robots do not pay any of the above or engage in the market the way humans do. Yes their makers pay for them and buy stuff as well, but are there enough of those makers to support the aging population? Furthermore, it may become even hairier when the market is already oversaturated with the robots, or when it’s time to outsource the production facilities of the robots to cheaper places in order for “more efficient business processes”. I also wonder if there will be enough revenue (including royalties) made by the robots and makers to support the millions of eventual J pensioners which will comprise majority of Japan’s population.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Bob #10

    ‘I hope the robots aren’t designed to microaggress us with advanced facial recognition technology, switching to English and complimenting our chopsticks prowess!’

    You jest, but I was just looking at some Japanese technology demonstrators and they are all programmed to be as ‘life-like’ as possible by mimicking Japanese ‘politeness’ (by that I mean all the deferential body language, deferential spoken language; time wasting keigo sentence patterns). My first thought was; ‘Wow, I guess that there aren’t enough subservient women in Japan anymore- better get a robot receptionist so the Salary Men don’t have to feel challenged and intimidated!’ (after all, why challenge social gender stereo-types when you can spend millions of yen covering up the problem; such a Japanese solution!).

    My second thought was your comment. If the robots are being developed to so perfectly ape the way middle-aged old farts think women should speak to them, then the robots will surely also speak to NJ the way middle-aged old farts think they should.

  • Fight Back says:

    Those of us who have been posted in Japanese companies know exactly what this ‘internationalization’ entails. All of my suggestions for improvement were stonewalled simply because I was a foreigner.

    Within 2 weeks of joining the Osaka office I had indentified their mistakes in nearly all key areas but was told I was ‘overstepping my bounds’ by encouraging change. The logistics manager even asked me if I had a background in logistics. I told him I had a background in common sense!

    Needless to say I was told I didn’t understand ‘Japanese business practices’ and my recommendations were roundly ignored.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Fight Back #19, you were guilty of #9 on my list, which is, by trying to help, actually made them lose face by pointing out mistakes, however nice your manner or noble your intention. Plus you were the newbie gaijin in a seniority system. “Internationalization” is just a postmodern sign that has no real meaning. It is there to pay lip service to the UN inspectors (I must say it must be deeply embarrassing for Japan and Japanese to be on a UN blacklist for racism, etc, but I digress).

    The “mistakes” you pointed out probably were there to mask backhanders, or some other form of corruption, like at Olympus. You know, like “well our contract SAYS this, but in practice the customers never have to obey that cluase, well IF they are from a certain company subsidiary because he is an old friend of our president.”
    Or favoritism like e.g. “Yuko doesnt have to do that because she was once sexually harrassed by Tanaka Kacho, but she kindly did not press charges to avoid the company name being tarnished, etc. So she gets to skip making his tea even though its more logistically sound that she does as she is the most senior ranked tea maker.”

    You know, those everyday “human” occurrences and exceptions that occur in every workplace that you just have to get to know over time (Irony mine).

    I am speaking from J-experience, and I am only half joking.

  • Debito-
    Robert Shapiro, former economic adviser to President Clinton, talks about the positive financial impact of new waves of immigration, in this case to the United States:
    On fiscal impact:
    Shapiro tries a Jedi mind-trick here: immigrants are young and don’t bring their parents, while workers have parents on the dole, so getting a young immigrant is getting something for nothing!
    Well, guess what, those parents worked in the US their whole lives too, so it’s complete endogenous and a crap argument. That is, the immigrant one day too will be someone’s parent on the dole, and the non-immigrant’s parent, if you go back far enough, surely were as well, so there’s no fiscal net gain to be found here.
    He failed to answer the question in a substantive and honest way, which suggests he either doesn’t know the answer (doubtful) or doesn’t like it.

    On wage impact: Shapiro says immigrants on net do not raise or lower wages in the US, or rather that there is no evidence that they on net lower average wages. He says they lower wages for poor folks and increase wages for high wage folks, but on net it’s neutral. Does that seem like any kind of effect that is desired in developed countries, especially Japan?

    The Effect of Immigration on Productivity: Evidence from US States

    I like the conclusions in this article. It differs from other research, and I’m not sure a state level research in the US in the 1990’s and 2000’s with California as likely the most immigrant accepting state and simultaneously the site of Silicon Valley is going to have a statistically significant sample of states (there aren’t that many states in the US whose economies are going to have statistically significant recent immigrants during this time frame). However, I totally hope he is right and we get more and better research in the future along these lines.

    I think Scalise’s article in your second post really hits the nail on the head, and he even has statistics on the fiscal impact of services needed to support immigrant families. However, he is completely in line with my original post: consequentialists will go for more skilled immigrants and less low-wage workers, and Japan’s political body is consequentialist, so there you have it. This is the dominant view in Japan’s government, I think.

    — Thanks for the analysis.

  • And, sorry I missed stating the obvious – on the second article, the wage impact skips the fiscal impact, which is the real issue here for consequentialists I think (netted with wage impact).

  • @15

    Wow now I get it. Its why I cant find a decent job here anymore. Interesting to see how Japans future will play out, this site will offer a treasure of real life experiences for those who were asleep at the wheel and refused to take notice of what was going on around them.

  • In my opinion, there are very few incentives to lure well qualified foreigners`s, to come to Japan and take up a job for about the same salaries they would get in “immigration friendly-nations” like Australia, New Zealand or Canada.
    “English language” and extensive support network for newcomers are available in those countries, and Japan cannot match it. Japan cannot compete when it comes to creating, what we could call, “New Social Capital”.

  • @ Shirin, and Japan cannot match how China and Korea offer free accomodation (tho quality varies) and a paid airfare for young naive NJs who want to come and teach English and experience a different E. Asian culture. Japan offers neither, and the living costs are of course much more expensive in Japan, so fewer and fewer people can afford the start up costs in Japan on their own.

    My boss asked me to come back to Japan and work for him (without shakai hoken, btw) last year, he said he would *loan* me the airfare. Not pay, but loan. As I did not want to once again enter a debt trap as I did on coming to Japan previously, I declined. It was quite clear he was absolutely relying on my perceived desire to live in Japan, he thought I missed Japan and he was taking advantage of that. But my wife is not Japanese so I really do not have a compelling reason to come back.

    Sure, not everyone’s concerns are purely financial gain, or paying off a student loan, but I would say this factor certainly limits the number of westerners coming to Japan nowadays, along with radiation concerns.

    Still Japan can always rely on people from the more economically challenged countries in Asia to come and do 3k jobs, nursing or even English teaching (if the students/customers “do not mind” an Asian or a non blonde teacher), right?

    Ah, no wait- we discussed last week how nurses from the Philippines are no longer viewing Japan as an attractive destination.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Baudrillards list above, and many other commentators are correct.

    Japan wants ‘subservient’ NJ from less affluent asian countries to do it’s dirty and low paid jobs (and be damn grateful for the chance too!), but essentially wants westerners on a revolving door basis (the young and genki, the naieve and impressionable).
    Those kind of westerners are less likely to have enough life experience to know when the ‘but this is Japan!’ schtick is a cover for exploitative practices. Also, those fresh faced western graduates are more likely to go home after a few years (having been totally suckered in by the tatamae of Japan) and sing Japan’s praises to all and any who will listen. This is a major bonus for Japan because what Japan craves for more than anything else is international recognition and influence. It wants to be seen as ‘one of the big boys’ AND be in a position to push the weaker children in the international playground around. Japan is still craving the power that it didn’t get from WW2, and is still carrying an inferiority chip (vis a vis western nations) on it’s shoulders.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @Jim, they got the power in the 80s (money talks) but then blew it. However a lot of Japanese of certain age are still acting like it is the bubble (just my personal experience). Its as if Japan achieved great power status through economics, and this status is forever static. The respect that is undeserved, membership in the “club” while still retaining “unique” (racist) cultural traits.

    I do not think western graduates are going back and singing the praises of Japan like they did in the 80s, again because the economy is not as good as it was then and we have more varied feedback thanks to the internet. didnt exist back then, and all we could find out abut “mysterious” Japan was essentially hearsay and cliches about how clean, how rich, how “safety” (sic) Japan was. This was the zenith of Japan as Postmodern Superpower-even Marty McFly’s father was kowtowing to his abusive Japanese boss!

    I went for an interview for the JET program at the Japanese Embassy in the 80s and they made it clear to me they preferred someone with no experience of Japan, and someone who was all starry eyed about working in an out of the way location (not Tokyo). I had already visited Japan, had Japanese friends who lived overseas, and the interviewers’ smiles faded when they heard that.Also, cardinal mistake; I also spoke some Japanese!

    We have discussed before that the JET program’s stated aim was to create a generation of Japanophiles, which it did back then.

    Now though, the rest of us a bit less starry eyed and the backdrop of Japan’s economic and social problems, coupled with alternatives like China, people are emerging from JET and Japan a bit less brainwashed as before.

    “Most people coming to Japan nowadays are not here for big
    ‘bubble-era’ business, but rather as Japan fans. But after a few
    years and a lot of bad experiences, I often see them leaving as Japan
    detractors,” said Simon Jackson, president of Northpoint Network Inc.

  • It’s really interesting to see the myriad perspectives posted in these discussions – a veritable trove of information and experience that Japanese policymakers or even lay people should take into consideration when dealing with NJ issues.

    @Flyjin (#25), Shinrin (#24), Jim (#26), Charuzu(#13)
    I agree with your points, particularly how Japan is no longer an appealing destination for NJs due to the lack of incentives, and moreover with the considerable language barrier and duplicitous discrimination.

    Countries such as the Philippines that used to send many of its best and brightest to study/work in Japan, have recently started to opt for other destinations.

    “According to a Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics (BLES) report, the number of S&T workers who opted for overseas jobs rose […] S&T manpower includes physicists, chemists, mathematicians, statisticians, computing professionals, engineers, life science professionals, health professionals, and nurses and midwives […] The top 10 destinations for these professionals were Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, United States, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Qatar and Taiwan.”

    Even considering the supposedly overt exclusion/discrimination that Filipinos may have to face in some of these countries (particularly in the Middle East, based on some accounts shared with us), it is curious how at least the use of English, presence of foreigner support structures, and clear MOAs have allowed these countries to draw in Filipino S&T professionals. Some of the above mentioned countries only have a fraction of Japan’s GDP, but I think that they may be doing something better with their institutions that makes them more appealing now as options for foreign skilled labor.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Baudrillard #27

    Actually, thinking about it, I think that you are right. Japanese of a certain age developed an arrogance to match bubble era economic wealth, and now that the wealth is being shown to be squandered (national debt as % of GDP, corporate book-cooking), continue to act arrogant without the ‘cash’ to back it up. Unfortunately, I think younger generations have learnt this behavior from their elders, and continue to learn, that it is proper to act arrogant for the sake of it. Definitely won’t miss the arrogance of effete young men when I leave, nor the arrogance of uni-student ‘princesses’.

  • Baudrillard says:

    The article I posted the link to above contains all the signs and symbols of a pseudo fascist revival;

    “We are facing a really yabai (chancy) time,” says one male junior student of a prestigious private university in Tokyo. He is one of the desperate third-year students already looking for jobs for his post-graduation life starting in April next year.

    In 2009, many promises of jobs to college graduates were cancelled, unemployment among the young (age 15 to 24) rose to a record high at 9.6 per cent and only 61 per cent of new college graduates landed jobs before graduation.

    The Japanese economy appears unlikely to pick up soon after the traumatic triple-disasters of quake, tsunami and nuclear crisis of March last year.

    The college students are also swimming through “globalised” competition, not only with their Japanese friends but often with competent foreign competitors.

    Those are the people with whom the young Japanese are competing for jobs and in business, he warns. About 124,000 students from abroad are enrolled in higher education in Japan, more than half of whom are from China.

    Their blues rang clear bells to me when I realised these college students were born after the glorious years of Japan up to l980s. They never heard of Japan as No. 1, the best-selling book during l980s, or the Look East Policy of Malaysia.

    Incidentally, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is proposing a sales tax increase, coupled with the idea of reliable social security in the future. He says he aims to build a base for “Japan with hope and pride”.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Jim, I think patterns of behaviour need more than one determining factor; environment, upbringing and tradition also play a huge role. So, when post war, post modern Americanisms seem to match Confucian and “Japanese” customs, they become very, very consolidated. “We can choose what culture we import and accept” said one such “princess” to me in 1991 when I complained about the over commercialisation of Japanese TV, but I partially digress.

    A 60s treatise states that in business if you approach a Japanese company for something, they will usually ignore you, and that this is “an old Japanese battle tactic”, until the strength of the adversary can be determined and no longer ignored. In other words, exclusion is the fundamental modus operandi.

    Acting arrogant is therefore seen as a desirable trait, akin to not appearing too keen or too desperate. A kind of “treat the gaijin mean to keep ‘em keen”. Ever felt that whatever you came to Japan to achieve was always just out of reach, like a carrot being dangled? So you waited, and waited. You kept putting up with substandard work conditions and petty abuse; you kept an open mind about “cultural differences” because you thought that with patience it would pay off.

    And perhaps after 10 years you did get a few crumbs that resembled what you set out to achieve, but in retrospect it was all too little, too late for the time and effort you put into Japan.

    I used to be intimidated by stand-offish behavior in Tokyo. But now I see it as having its basis in insecurity, and I have myself matured and can feel pity for people who act arrogant out of insecurity and a search for identity. I in turn ignored such negative signs, ploughed ahead and try to focus on the positive aspects however miniscule they might be, as Nelson Mandela said. These people have issues, they need counselling-a role the NJ English teacher used to fill to a large extent.

    A term that recently keeps cropping up in Asian media is “Japan’s Ice Age (for young people)”. No wonder they are insecure, but act arrogant as a mask for this. This is something that needs to be written about more, and how the older generations exploit this, giving the young crap jobs as hostesses and eternal arubaitos..

    As NJs, we can take consolation and confidence, that we come from the privileged background of a country where we have more rights and social freedoms than the average Japanese- I would never state this to them and ruin their illusion of western democracy and symbols in what is in reality, until recently, a defeated, post-fascist authoritarian, partly feudal, polity essentially left in place since 1950.That is the painful truth that lies under all the happy shopping and Disney images. Sorry we did not give you real democracy, people of Japan, but the Korean War got in the way.

    This may sound like western arrogance, but this attitude should be reclaimed and reexamined when faced with arrogance from a failed system, and answered with sympathy and understanding. Human rights are universal and should not be substituted for a false sense of national pride. This is how fascism started.

  • @Flyjin (#25), Jim (#26), Charuzu(#13), Joseph (#28)

    I think that more newcomers from OECD country will find Japan an option for a short period of time, in order to experience “East Asia”. I agree.

    As for the Filipinos, I have notice that Canada, for instance, is luring a quite large number of qualified workers.
    Look at this case from a Filipino social worker moving to Newfoundland & Labrador (3 min.)

    Japanese immigration would benefit by watching videos like that, and not only reading “reports”.

    Yes, foreigners engaging in ” National branding”…How will Japan do something closer to that, in the next 10 years ?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>