DIJ Tokyo Symposium 2009: Japan’s Demographic Science overtaken by anti-immigration politics


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Hi Blog.  I’ve been in Tokyo the past couple of days attending a symposium sponsored by the German Institute of Japanese Studies (DIJ), which has, as always, provided much food for thought.

This year’s theme is “Imploding Populations:  Global and Local Challenges of Demographic Change“, and I’ve seen presentations on health care, migration (both internal and external), geriatric treatment in the media, retirement options, and the like.  Good stuff, if a little tangental to what I research.

How it dovetails with Debito.org is how the conclusions shared by all — that Japan needs to do something now about its demography — are studiously being ignored by the Japanese scientific representatives in attendance.

June 2’s series of talks by Japanese researchers was particularly enlightening.  Everyone concluded that Japan is facing a demographic juggernaut, given its aging society with low birthrate, depopulating countryside, and ever more populating cities.  Japan is not only greying, but also losing its economic prowess.

Yet these conclusions suddenly become null once you bring in the topic of immigration.

One speaker, a Mr Takahashi Shigesato, rendered in the program as “deputy director general at the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research” (kokuritsu shakai hoshou – jinkou mondai kenkyuujo fuku shochou — a big cheese), so glibly skipped over the issue that I just had to raise my hand at the end for a question.

Sez I:  “Thanks for your presentation.  You mention the entry of foreigners into Japan as an option only briefly in your presentation.  You also use the term ‘gaikokujin roudouryoku jinkou no katsuyou‘ (active use of the foreign working labor population) without any mention of the word ‘immigration’ (imin).  Why this rhetoric?”

Mr Takahashi gave a noncommittal answer, citing that Japan is (now suddenly) a crowded place, that immigration was not an option for our country, and that inflows must be strictly controlled for fear of overpopulation.  A follow-up with him one-on-one got him claiming there is “no national consensus” (he used the word in English) on the issue.  When I asked him whether or not this was a vicious circle (as in, no discussion of the issue means no possible consensus), he dodged.  When I asked him if this term was a loaded one, one political instead of scientific regarding demography, he begged off replying further.

This dodging also happened with every other Japanese speaker on the issue (one other person in the audience raised the same question with a second speaker, and he gave a begrudging acknowledgement that foreigners might be necessary for Japan’s future — although he himself couldn’t envision it).

This does not give me hope for the future.  There is a definite “deer in the headlights” attitude happening here, where we know that Japan’s population will drop no matter what (Mr Takahashi even extrapolated in his powerpoint that Japanese would go extinct by the year 3000).  Yet extinction is still preferable to letting in people to stay.  This is why I’m having trouble seeing any public policy (from the health-care givers from Indonesia and the Philippines on down) as anything more than a revolving-door labor exploitation effort:  offering the promise of a life in Japan in exchange for intensive labor, revocable after a few years either due to the vicissitudes of world economics, or if you don’t pass some kind of arbitrary and difficult test that even natives would find challenging.

It also does not give me hope for this branch of Japanese science.  As a doctor of demographics (a fiery researcher  to whom I could really relate) stated in a later conversation with me that day:

“Demographics is the study of population changes:  births, deaths, inflows and outflows.  How can the Japanese demographers ignore inflows, even the possibility of them, in their assessments?”

Because once again, science is being riddled with politics.  Immigration is another one of those issues which one must not mention by name.  Especially if you want to be a member of a national government thinktank.


14 comments on “DIJ Tokyo Symposium 2009: Japan’s Demographic Science overtaken by anti-immigration politics

  • From Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare:



    1 趣旨
    (1) 我が国の外国人雇用対策の基本的な考え方の周知
    (2) 外国人雇用状況届出制度の目的の周知とその厳格な履行
    (3) 外国人労働者の適正な雇用管理と労働条件及び安全衛生の確保対策
    (4) 多様な人材が能力発揮しやすい職場環境の整備
    (5) 留学生を始めとする「専門的・技術的分野」の外国人の就職支援対策
    (6) 日系人の就労支援・安定雇用確保対策
    (7) 不法就労防止対策

  • Mr Takahashi even extrapolated in his powerpoint that Japanese would go extinct by the year 3000.

    This guys doesn’t sound very scientific to me. First, how in the world does he define Japanese? It’s kind of like, what’s he talking about?

    Obviously none of us can predict the future, especially now as things are really uncertain. However, I would *guess* that before the current economic crisis is over, the yen will soar in value. Also Japan will recover relatively faster than most other developed nations. This will create a large internal demand for labor. (People will want to spend their money.) Given the supply available in neighboring countries, either the government will have to do something or the problem of undocumented workers will increase dramatically.

    Of course, the Japanese government could work hard to deflate their own currency via inflation. (A scary thought.) Thereby sticking it to their citizens and continuing to finance American debt, while exporting goods for worthless US dollars. But I think it’s getting to the point where they couldn’t even do this if they wanted to.

    Japan is going to be forced to make some hard choices within the next few years.

  • I think they will go ultra nationlistic and try to drop the American leash. We are talking WW2 all over again. There is a major player out there right now (perhaps Debito has his name, Im sorry I dont) that was in the JDSF. He has a book out that denies all wrong doings by the Imperial Army and wants to revert Japan back to the old ways. For some weird reason, Japan will not open up like Singapore did and hunkers down with their mind controling bureacrats. Why not open up to free trade, dropping the American dependance, learn English and start to internationalize? What other option do you have?

    — The major player is Tamogami Toshio, FYI.

  • Thanks Debito. I just read his essay here


    While some of what he wrote might be considered true, its sort of like how some people even today justified slavery in the US. I like how he says that many east asian countries like Singapore think of WW2 in a positive way. Thats strange because I have never met anybody from Singapore that likes Japan. Their country went ballz to the wall after war because of the japanese occupation and never want to repeat that nightmare. He fails to mention Nan King or the rape of the Phillipines. He also fails to mention Pearl Harbor and the loss of American life there. He is surely unhappy with US bases in his country, but he doesnt go into any details about how Japan was offered peace but continued to reject it and the outcome is what happened at Hiroshima. Scary stuff from a ex chief of staff.

    — That’s why he’s ex.

  • I have never wrote on here before, just read, but I would like to correct a comment made by Mike.

    Singapore was not a country in WWII, it was a British outpost, although there were some Chinesepeasants there, it was per British Est. 90+ percent Malaysians.

    Singapore became a country in 1965, and not a year before that, and thevast majority of the Malays left, and it was made a Chinese (meaing peoples origin) Country.

    The reason, most of the Singaporans hate the Japanese, has nothing to do with their history, They have none before 1965, particularly from te time the British abandonnedSingapore in WWII, until LKY was granted persion for a sovereign state in 1965, is because the Japanese, per Government Order are autimatically paid higher base Salaries than Singaporeans (Min. pay wage by Nationality can be foun on the Ministry of Manpower Website).

    Debito, I like your website and applaud your efforts, but I can tell you from Experience, that the Rascism in Japan, in Nothing when compared to the other Eastern Asian Nations, although the Xenophobia is worse.

  • Here’s some irony from the Toshio piece, but I’m not sure he would appreciate it:

    “A nation that denies its own history is destined to pursue a path of decline.”

    I have to wonder if the Japanese version is nuanced differently.

  • again, do not speak it, do not print it.
    If it is not in print, it can be ignored as it does not exist. Nice self fullfilling prophecy!

  • Mike, I don’t think that guy is relevant to any policymaking. Sort of like how Bill O’Reilly isn’t relevant to policymaking in the US.

    Anyway, Matt brings up good points as always, but there are a few other things to continue. I too can se the yen soar in value, but this will only harm Japan as dependence on exports to the US is still crippling. This is being mediated, and Japanese firms earned a record amount of profits in Asia in FY2008, but there is no one going back to ythe decoupling argument just yet.

    In a sense, Japan may seem to rcover faster due to lower lows. No other major economic power saw the huge GDP fall that Japan did last quarter. It’s easier to pull good numbers out of bad, especially when Japan reports GDP quarter to quarter. I have trouble believing in a significant pickup in domestic spending, however. The population is in decline, wages are declining, and full-time jobs with long-term security are harder to come by (currently 0.2 jobs per applicant).

  • On Jan 7 2008 Sir Hugh Cortazzi, former British Ambassador to Japan wrote in the Japan Times,”The approach of Japan, faced with an aging and declining population, seems to be that it would rather acquiesce to inevitable economic decline rather than accept significantly higher rates of immigration.” Sir Hugh did not see the fingerprinting or exclusionary policies as “as a recrudescence of Japanese chauvinism and isolation,” just yet. Your observation, Debito, that “extinction is still preferable to letting in people to stay.” would seem to indicate that for Japan, Sir Hugh’s “not just yet,” is now.

    Spain announced yesterday that 12-14% of its population were immigrants (from non EU countries, which are simply counted as ‘Community Residents’) and nobody batted an eyelid, even the right wing Franquista political parties! The place is hopping with children, often seen kissing and hugging their grandparents, and the one thing they have, even in this horrible economy, is hope!

  • True, he isnt but youd be supprised how many people support him. There are allot of people with the same views as him, Ive met them. Thats kind of scary to me. Ill agree with anyone who says that some of the US bases in Japan are a waste of money ( I didnt say all) but to promote the mind numbing subordinate way of life that Imperial Japan embraced and forced on its colonies is very dangerous.

  • hahahahahaha:

    “After the Greater East Asia War, many countries in Asia and Africa were released from the
    control of white nations. A world of racial equality arrived” Tamogami Toshio

    So that’s why foreigners have to carry ID cards 24/7 – Racial equality!

    He’s right of course, Japanese imperialism is soooooo much more dignified than western. After all, just ask Korea, Thailand and the rest of south east Asia – they were so pleased about it he writes – go on I dare you! So pleased I notice none have asked them back.

    It’s ok. guys like this are a dying breed (look at the demographics). The status quo is NOT going to change, and within a while the little alpha male guys bitter at having watched the Japanese phoenix soar too close to the sun will be gone, and Japan will inevitably open however reluctantly to the rest of the world as economics etc will dictate.

    Isolation can only happen if you don’t want to sell things to the rest of the world – a la North Korea. Japan wants to export its culture and as such it will have to import others to do so.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Mike, regarding Tamogami and possible future nationalism, you might be interested in this discussion of anti-Americanism in popular media:


    There are some extremely lurid and violent images in the beginning and towards the end, so be warned, but there’s also some good discussion of Tamogami, Aso, and another writer named Arai Shinkichi, who offers a more balanced view of Japanese nationalism and WWII atrocities. I’m not yet ready to give up on Japan sinking into nativist squalor just yet.

  • Thanks Mark. Thats some graphic stuff there. To counter that what that guy is putting out, Id like to referance the famous Unit 731. Im sorry I dont have the link, but there used to be a very good documentary on YouTube about it. It was interesting because one of the generals is still alive and made no apologies for what he did and said those Chinese he killed were not human. He said he would do it all over again. Its also interesting to me how many Japanese will protray a one sided picture of the US and all its wrong while running from or even denying their own attrocities. The hate between the 2 Koreas and Japan is mostly Japans fault if you read history. I see now where Japan is so eager to do a preemptive strike against N. Korea and even modify its constitution. Im no fan of N. Korea but its very strange to me how many Japanese would rather hate or maintain their supieroity in Asia before giving any thought to the fact that they are the leading democractic nation in Asia and should act like it.


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