Surprising survey results from Pew Research Center: Japan supportive of “immigration”


Hello Blog. Some weeks ago Reader FB sent along a link to an article which noted: “Spain and Japan were among the most open to the idea of increased immigration, with 28% and 23% of their respective populations supporting more immigration. Japan, known for its isolationist policies and historically low immigration numbers, is facing a dire economic threat — its population is getting older” (bold emphasis added). It cited a recent worldwide Pew Research Global Attitudes Survey of 27 countries on international migration of labor etc., which can be found as a pdf here and a report here.

I was incredulous. I’ve written before how Japan’s policymakers, even its demographic scientists, view the word “immigration” (imin) as a taboo term and topic of discussion. So I wondered if there had been some finagling of the question’s translation, as in, using the term gaikokujin (foreigner) instead of imin–because imin itself would be clumsy in construction as a disembodied term unlinked to people (i.e., there is as yet no popularized word iminsha for immigrant). Likewise, there is no official “immigration policy” (imin seisaku) in Japan either to convert newcomers into permanent residents and citizens.

So I wrote to Pew directly:

From: “Debito Arudou”
Subject: Question about your recent Global Attitudes survey
Date: December 11, 2018

To Whom It May Concern,
I [have] a question about your recently-released Global Attitudes survey.
Regarding the Japanese response to Q52:

Q52. In your opinion, should we allow more immigrants to move to our country, fewer immigrants, or about the same as we do now? 


Could you please send me the text of this question as rendered in the original Japanese? I can read Japanese text.
Thank you very much. Sincerely, Debito Arudou

I received the following answer:

From: Pew Research Center <>
Subject: RE: Question about your recent Global Attitudes survey
Date: December 11, 2018
To: “Debito Arudou”

Hi Debito,  Thank you for reaching out. The original Japanese text is below: 

[emphases added in boldface, highlighting imin no kazu, or immigration numbers]
Q52 In your opinion, should we allow more immigrants to move to our country, fewer immigrants, or about the same as we do now? Q52 日本に受け入れる移民の数を増やすべき、移民の数を減らすべき、または現状を維持すべき、のどれだと思われますか?
1 More 1.増やすべき
2 Fewer 2.減らすべき
3 About the same 3.現状を維持すべき
4 No immigrants at all (DO NOT READ) 4. 移民はまったくいない(読み上げない)
8 Don’t know (DO NOT READ) 8.わからない(読み上げない)
9 Refused (DO NOT READ) 9. 回答拒否(読み上げない)

Please let us know if you have any questions. 

 Best, [HT], Pew Research Center   


Well, if that’s the exact text Pew read over the phone to the Japanese respondents, I can’t doubt it. But I’ve never seen the word imin used in this context in Japan, moreover asked of more than a thousand respondents, as per the methodology of the Global Attitudes Survey:


More surprising were the responses from the Japanese surveyed:


Just gawk at those numbers. Japan has the lowest “Few Immigrants/None” and the highest “About the same number of Immigrants/More” combined of all the countries surveyed!

Again, the diehard skeptic in me wants to poke holes in this survey, especially given the constant duplicity of the MOJ and the GOJ towards NJ in general, especially when it comes to surveying the general public. But this is Pew, and they are among the most rigorous of international surveyors we’ve got. Given that they used the term “immigration numbers” (not just the “temporary-foreign-labor-on-revolving-door-visas” connotation that a mere term like gaikokujin would have allowed), this is on the surface quite promising.

Next stage, an actual Immigration Ministry (Imin Shou), which I believe may also someday be in the cards. The Immigration Bureau is being upgraded to an actual Agency (Cho), one step below a Ministry, come April.

Thoughts? Dr. Debito Arudou

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17 comments on “Surprising survey results from Pew Research Center: Japan supportive of “immigration”

  • AnonymousOG says:

    Well, since this is the culture which when the Japan government survey asked “Do non-japanese-races deserve human rights” a disappointing number of people raised in this culture of Embedded Racism didn’t morally reply 100% yes…

    The 1000 respondents in Japan, if they answered honestly (ahem, which is a big if, since such honest ‘honne’ answering is less prioritized in this culture here relative to worldwide culture), then even if assuming honest answers these results simply are due to Japan quietly mentally defining “移民” as: “merely temporary slave ‘trainees’ who will do the Kitanai Kiken Kitsui work which we Japanese citizens don’t want to do and then within a few years we force the temporary slaves to leave by simply not granting the renewal of the tight-leash visas.”

    Thus, this surprising “wow, Japan ‘wants immigrants’ more than other countries do, wow” appearance is simply due to the fact that: Japan’s unspoken “non-permanent temporary slaves without necessarily human rights” definition DOES NOT MATCH the actual definition of immigrants which the rest of the world used when answering, namely: immigrants are people who immigrate permanently and make this country their new home, and often nationalize to become citizens of their new home, and even before nationalizing have of course equal human rights from the moment of landing, and automatically receive permanent residency within a few years of course, and thus immigrants live in the new country with it being their new home, with their spouses and children and grandchildren into perpetuity.

    In which case, the surprising results of that survey are due to unfairly-differing definitions of what the word “immigrant” means. Mystery solved.

      • AManInJapan says:

        I remember one woman I met said Japan should welcome immigrants “because the country needs cheap labour” so obviously there’s still a bit of work to do

    • Only a cross referenced multiple choice questionnaire with the same questions asked repeatedly slightly differently will be able to distinguish between honne and tatemae in Japan.
      Do public surveys, get a tatemae answers. And a lot of J virtue signally too, no doubt.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Maybe the Japanese are ‘welcoming of immigration’ on the assumption that the survey meant ‘without giving them rights, being able to discriminate, and retaining entitlement overlord status until we chuck them out’?

    After all, I suspect that the majority of respondents are without the conceptual framework to see this as ‘accepting immigrants with equal status’ but rather as ‘accepting immigrants as second class residents’. Hence the high results.

    • Loverilakkuma says:

      This caveat shows us that we really need to be very cautious when information is translated from Japanese to English. Unless the study is about international comparison of cultural perception of immigration, discerning hidden meaning/semantic bias in Japanese term 移民 may be too much to ask.

  • I hate to sound like a broken record, but I am absolutely going to agree with Anonymous and JDG.

    Wajin attitudes towards racism are extraordinarily indicative of the nature of the problem. I’ve been participating alongside Wajin at anti-discrimination rallies and still get the gaijin treatment. I watched a woman passing out fliers opposing the arms trade at an anti-discrimination demo, and she specifically passed up all black and white participants and distributed the fliers exclusively to Asians. When I approached her and directly pointed this out, she dismissively replied, “Ok, ok, I’ll be careful.”

    It’s the same with “international exchange.” The very premise itself is based in exclusionary attitudes–interacting with minorities who are fellow residents and taxpayers of the same country is not “international exchange.” It is called interaction. That aside, the function of these “exchanges” is always the same: speak English at minorities, eat ethnic food, and “learn about ‘their culture.'” There is no emphasis whatsoever on shared identity as residents of Japan. The underlying attitude is “Let’s find out all the ways we’re different.”

    The problem is the same: Wajin have no idea of, or refuse to accept, the meaning of “equality.” Consequently, they have no understanding of what “opposing discrimination” means. Thus, even while chanting that they are opposed to racism, they discriminate.

    Given that this level of ignorance is the current state of affairs in Japan, it would be absolutely no surprise if Wajin indicated they would accept immigrants without realizing immigrants means hyphenated Japanese with the same equal rights and status in society as Wajin. I live in an area with a noteably large immigrant population, and I cannot fathom one in five Wajin around me saying they want us to increase and be equal members of society. And for what it’s worth, this is not elderly people I’m talking about. Young people are arguably worse.

    Sorry again to rain on the parade, but this result needs additional support before I’ll accept it as much more than an indication of how little Wajin understand the word “immigrant” (移民).

  • realitycheck says:

    From my experience of living in Japan, recently there has been a distinct shift among the usual general Japanese public member in relation to foreign labor coming as ‘guest workers’ – the idea is acceptable given the known shortages in a number of industries, so long as the workers ‘go home’ after a set period of time.
    This of course is not ‘Immigration’. The term itself indicates that people will be moving to another country and living there for the rest of their lives if they want to. As legal residents, as part of a clear social contract. The privilege of residency then citizen rights leads to obligations but that also entails a blinding obligation on the society that receives immigrants.
    The society that receives immigrants as immigrants and not ‘guests workers’ is obliged to give these people equal standing in the law. There are no second class categories – you are a resident or citizen and you have rights. Clear ones and if they are violated then you are afforded the active protection of the law. With any compensation that must be paid.
    Do I see this definition of ‘Immigrant’ and ‘Immigration’ in the Japanese media debate and in Government discussion let alone among the Japanese public? NO.
    It is all about ‘Guest workers’ and unlike the guest workers in Turkey and France who were not supposed to stay but have ended up there with the full rights of residents and or citizens, despite the flaws in both societies’ attitudes towards them at times, Japanese society has no intention of allowing real pathways for real immigrants to be treated exactly the same as Japanese citizens.
    It is the same old Japanese attitude – come when we need you, leave when we kick you out. The same old delusion that somehow Japan and the Japanese are exceptional.
    Just wait and see the sh—t show in 10 years time. Japan will be begging wealthy Chinese to put their money here and will implore Chinese nurses etc to come and keep their health/aged care systems running.
    Why Chinese? Largely because they look like the Japanese and the Japanese elderly who are generally difficult people anyway because of the way in which they are allowed to treat those younger or different as inferior to them, will have many hostile members who will be dreadful to south-east Asians and other developing nations’ countries people who look quite different.
    But as one of my friends said, her Chinese co-citizens will take their skills elsewhere. Why should they be treated that way when they can live and work in real immigrant societies with the same conditions and rights as anybody else?

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Maybe something is changing?
    Photo of NJ asylum seeking being taken to hospital in handcuffs and led by a rope sparks online criticism of immigration officials. The Supreme Court has already ruled you can’t do this to Japanese detainees.

    Immigration apologizes for not having concealed its abuse better; immigration officials usual change out of uniform for hospital trips and take detainees in through the back door.

    • Just wow. I HAD to read the article to believe it. But you have summed it up perfectly, you weren’t being ironic. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Japanese restaurant owners complaining of loss of earnings when ‘foreigners’ (especially Chinese) don’t turn up for their reservations.

    Maybe the reason why is in the article?
    One restaurant owner gave a group a reservation time that wouldn’t interfere with his Japanese customers, not the time the group requested. No wonder they were a no-show?

    Is this that famous ‘Onotenashi’ I’ve heard so much about?

  • Debito:

    IMO the survey below is a more accurate reflection of Japan’s attitude toward immigration:

    The Human Experience
    Presented to the World Economic Forum by SAP + Qualtrics

    Survey question: Would you say that new immigrants are mostly good or mostly bad for [your country]?
    Japan: Percentage saying new immigrants are “mostly good” for their country: 45%

    This survey was also covered here:

    Survey: Japanese less willing to welcome immigrants

  • AnonymousOG says:

    PEW claims 23% of polled people in Japan answer “we should allow more imin”

    WEF claims 55% of polled people in Japan answer “imin are mostly bad for Japan”.

    But the point remains: Japan’s answers can’t be correctly compared to the rest of the world’s answers, since: the word “imin” in Japan is defined as TEMPORARY, while the word “immigration” in the rest of the world is defined as PERMANENT.

    By the way, look at page 17 of that WEF pdf, it shows Japan is Number One in “Us versus Everyone Else” “It’s impossible for humanity to improve together” “Only Win-Lose Deals Exist” “my country’s success depends on other country’s suffering” thinking:

    64% of people polled in Japan think basically for Japan to become more well off: Non-Japanese countries must become worse off.

    Only 17% of people polled in USA, and only 20% of people polled in Western Europe, chose such a hopeless “my country’s success depends on other country’s suffering, humanity cannot improve together” answer, but a shocking 64% of people in Japan admitted to thinking basically “gaijins must lose for Japan to succeed.”

    • Wow! That’s really interesting!
      A couple of years ago on I laid out my belief that the Japanese don’t believe in ‘win-win’ situations, because they have a neo-Confucian world view that break everything down into binary relationships and outcomes (sempai/kohai, parent/child, that sort of thing) and as a result see every situation as ‘win-lose’, to the extent that if you present them with a ‘win-win’ situation, the assumption will be that you are cheating them, and they are in fact ‘losing’, even if they are getting what they want.
      And the results you found in the PEW survey (63%) would seem to prove me right!


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