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  • Another request for Debito.org Readers: What are merits/demerits of immigration?

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on March 26th, 2010

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    Hi Blog.  I’m currently at work at JIPI on my presentation for next Monday evening on why Japan needs immigration, and what Japan must do to bring it about.

    I’ve made a list of the Merits and Demerits of Immigration, and will deal with each one in turn in my powerpoint.  Plus I will talk about the issue in terms of a “give and take”, as in what the GOJ must give to Immigrants, and what Immigrants must be willing to give back to Japanese society in return.

    I have plenty of ideas, of course.  But let me ask Debito.org Readers for feedback on the above issues:

    • What are the merits of immigration?
    • What are the demerits of immigration?
    • What should the GOJ give to make Japan more attractive for immigrants?
    • What should immigrants do to make themselves part of Japan?

    It’s a very open question I’m asking, of course.  I just don’t want to think about this all alone and miss something important that we all should have said.  Fire away.  Arudou Debito in Tokyo

    14 Responses to “Another request for Debito.org Readers: What are merits/demerits of immigration?”

    1. PeteMcC Says:

      Try and learn the language. I think that when learning the language you are forced to also have to understand and hopefully respect the culture of this country.
      Trying to get by using only your mother tongue and asking the Japanese people to do something about your lack of Japanese is not the right way to go.
      Any assistance given in foreign languages should only ever be given to those with long-stay visas(minimum of a year)and only in the beginning to help them get up on their feet.
      In saying this, people without Japanese proficiency who are given visas should be given(compulsory) government monitored language programs.
      Too many misunderstandings due the inability to communicate have created a negative image of those who have failed to integrate into society after emigrating.
      So compulsory language learning which would require those taking it to reach a certain proficiency I believe could alleviate many problems.

    2. holmes Says:

      PeteMcC、sorry but you re being a bit naive. Most of the problems with police, immigration etc on this site are often encountered by Japanese speaking NJs; its not a language issue, which makes it all the more incredulous.

      Having said that, I find the attempts of the GOJ to make Japan on a par with,say, The Netherlands in terms of speaking English laughable, but fair enough, here is Japan, we ll speak Japanese.

      Slight tangent though, but often the way Japanese look at English is problematic:
      “The students should prepare for all the lessons” was interpreted by all Japanese staff and clients as an insult by the teacher; they thought he was indirectly complaining they werent prepared before, but I digress.

      The point I am making is that it indeed a good idea to speak Japanese to avoid miscommunication as you say, but most of the problems faced as immigrants in residents challenged on this site are nothing to do with language-thats often used as an excuse by xenophobes, along with “culture”.

      So to answer the broad question very broadly, it takes broad minds to open borders more. An anti foreigner mindset is not compatible with a policy increasing immigration, even if the economic necessity of dictates it to be so.

      Stop just using immigrants as work units.Treat them as people with rights.

    3. Level3 Says:

      By “merits of immigration”, do you mean merits to the country, or merits to the immigrant? I’d assume you mean merits to Japan?

      I’d also assume that many Japanese bureaucrats think anything that is seen as a merit to an immigrant must be a demerit to Japan, in some kind of xenophobic take on a “zero sum game”. Which is why (as I’m going through renewing my visa) it seems all the touted visa “reforms” just mean even MORE paperwork and hoops than before, but I digress.

      I think for demerits, you should snarkily include “Drop in rate of ____ crimes, as percentage of native Japanese decreases, leaves police force idle.” [since Japanese are more likely to commit many types of crimes than us dirty gaijin]

      Or, “Pressure on foreign languages to actually be taught directly (not as human tape recorders or dancing clowns in ALT jobs under native Japanese teachers who can’t even order food abroad) in public schools by the increasing number of qualified native speakers may cause friction with the teachers union seeking to protect jobs for native Japanese teachers of gaikokugo, regardless of ability.”

      Basically, list “demerits” that show that the problem is Japan, the system, the resistance to change, resistance to even the merits brought by immigration. What good are merits if Japan refuses to let them happen?

      [spurious claim deleted]

    4. Philip Adamek Says:

      The question must first be asked, for whom would these be merits or demerits? I think the spirit of the question is best responded to when we consider the merits/demerits for the sake of Japan, the Japanese, and/or Japanese culture. Arguing for the merits of immigration for the sake of immigrants will do little to advance the discussion beyond a small if significant minority.

      When we assume the Japanese majority as the beneficiaries of the merits, I think the most salient point, although hardly the easiest to put over in the face of a self-satisfied dominant majority, is that of cultural renewal. Immigration, as shown in so many historical examples, keeps a culture vibrant. It boosts science, inspires art, pushes forward innovation, and oils the wheels of invention. Where would modern French culture be today (or even in the past) without the infusion of North African culture? Where would European and Christian culture be without Muslim scholarship? Where would modern North American culture, language, and cuisine be today without the influx of Latin culture, principally via Mexico? What would the English language be–or, rather, could it be?–without the foundational imprints of Latin and Norman French? What, for that matter, would we call American music had the slaves in North America and their descendants not essentially created it for us?

      I think this is approach is bound to be rejected by many precisely because of the massive supposition in Japan that, to sustain Japanese culture, one must always protect oneself from outside influences and burrow into the past, assume the frozen poses of the ancients and mimic ancient manners, rites, and dress. However, the fact of modern Japanese culture belies this massive ideology in many respects. In this way, a giant gap between the ideology of Japanese culture and Japanese culture as it is actually practiced has been widening for well more than a century. While the Japanese continue to borrow and imitate heavily from abroad, the doctrinal thinking remains that “purity” is not only sufficient in itself but also the most powerful means of advancing Japanese culture. For this reason, the argument should be made not only that the ideology has now fallen far behind the culture; but also that the culture, to continue to evolve, would best be served by having influences from without brought into direct contact with Japanese society. Moreover–and this is the kicker–immigration is clearly the best way to assure such a potent, invigorating influence.

    5. Kimberly Says:

      Merits? A culturally and linguistically diverse society, a pool of workers who can speak foreign languages fluently and understand the customs and manners of foreign countries would help Japan be competitive in the global marketplace MUCH moreso than the current “train our current employees in Novausagi-Engrish and limp handshakes” system does. The introduction of new ideas and ways of thinking in all areas of society, from big business to raising families, can only be beneficial for the society. No one’s saying Japan has to adopt everything that every immigrant introduces, but being shown a different way to do something and ultimately rejecting it is better than not knowing it existed in the firstplace.

      Demerits? Linguistic barriers may mean that some documents would have to be translated at least for the newest of newcomers (although I agree with PeteMcC above, if you are going to live here leanr the language… manditory language classes for everyone who can’t test out of them would make that a little less of a problem). Schools, businesses, etc possibly having to make accomodations for religious and other differences (allowing Muslims to pray during work hours when their faith demands it, for example, is one thing that comes to mind) that wouldn’t have been so widespread before.

      What should the GOJ do? Labor law reform, or at the very least start enforcing the laws that already exist. Make a law against racial discrimination and enforce it. Free (manditory?) Japanese lessons for anyone who can’t already speak and read. Allow dual citizenship. Reform or abolish the koseki system so that, for example, the father can be Smith and the mother can be Yamada, but they can still choose to call their kids Smith or Yamada-Smith as they choose.

      What should immigrants do? Learn the language absolutely. I can’t believe they even take applications for permanent residency filled out in English. Obviously you’d have to be more lenient with spouse or dependant or trainee visas, for example… but even then, I’d be in favor of a minimal language requirement (being able to write hiragana, your own name and address and check your gender, answer a couple of simple questions, apologize and thank someone at the minimum) to get a longer one year or three year visa, a higher requirement for PR, and (this already exists but) an even higher one for naturalization. Maybe it shouldn’t be mandatory, but housewives or students who have the time to do it on a weekday could and probably should give to their community by teaching about their home country and culture… not as an ALT or anything, but giving a presentation at a local school in Japanese (with or without help as required) to help encourage understanding and internationalization.

      I’ve probably offered nothing new, but that’s what I’d say about it anyway.

    6. Norman Delaney Says:

      Any person who plans to live in Japan for more than 5 years, should be able to Speak, Read, Write and understand television/radio broadcasts in Japanese. How else can a person FUNCTION AS AN ADULT is this society?

      [tangent deleted]

    7. Behan Says:

      I agree with you Norman Delaney, but a lot of Japanese people assume that foreigners can’t speak or read Japanese and start communicating with them in English. I get this all the time. Many days I speak more English than Japanese, although I would prefer it the other way around.

      – Let’s get back on topic, please.

    8. Steve Says:

      The elephant in the room is not money, or rights, it’s race.

      Increased immigration leads over time to increased race-mixing.

      * What is the biggest MERIT of immigration?
      Over the next few centuries, Japan’s gene pool will receive a larger injection of non-japanese-genes, which some people think is thus a relative GAIN of heterogeneous-race-hybrid-vigor.

      * What is the biggest DEMERIT of immigration?
      Over the next few centuries, Japan’s gene pool will receive a larger injection of non-japanese-genes, which some people think is thus a relative LOSS of homogeneous-race-purity.

      * What should the Government of Japan do to implement the will of the majority of Japan’s citizens, the current majority of which have Japanese-genes?
      It depends on whether the current majority of Japan’s citizens think a greater injection of non-japanese-genes is a merit or a demerit.

      Some people will continue to DISCOURAGE their genetic line to be blended with other genetic lines as much as they can (for example: people with Aryan-gene-pride, people with Ashkenazi-gene-pride, people with Japanese-gene-pride, etc.)

      Some people will continue to ENCOURAGE their genetic line to be blended with other genetic lines as much as they can (for example: people with Human-gene-pride who see gene-blending as an important, essential, long-term-destiny for all the races to be eventually genetically-reunited as One-Homogenous-Human-Race.)

      * What should immigrants do to make themselves part of Japan?
      Either ACCEPT the current will of the current majority, or, try to CHANGE the current will of the current majority, or try to CREATE the future majority of Japan by creating lots of half-Japanese children, encouraging them to create lots of half-Japanese children, and encouraging them to encourage their children to continue this trend, until eventually half-Japanese children WILL BECOME the future majority of Japan.

      – Thanks for the lucid analysis. Encouraging immigration so that people can come here and breed and change things over generations isn’t something I can really argue as policy justification in my speech, however. As for encouraging the current immigrants to do so themselves, well, I doubt they need much encouragement.

    9. John (Yokohama) Says:

      Cultural benefits aside for the moment… the benefits of immigration to Japan and Japanese citizens are economic ones such as:

      – tax revenue
      – spending
      – capital investment
      – labor

      The coupling of a declining and aging population means in my mind that people should consider wether their aversion against immigration outweighs their own personal economic well-being and future.

      P.S. Thanks for the informative FRANCA meeting tonight in Tokyo. If I wasn’t so tired I would have stuck around afterwards.

    10. oioi Says:

      IMO, mass uncontrolled immigration is bad as much as it aggravates population problems rather than fixing them and social problems as well. But I am going to try and look at it objectively.

      As for the good points. It has proved to be a boost for all old world economies in prosperous times, but in bad times such as now, the immigrants are actually getting the shorter end of the stick of unemployment and poverty. So, in general, bad for the immigrants.

      If the Japanese government wants to attract immigrants it has to make it easier for them to work with less strings attached. Working visas in this country are hard to get. Maybe some short-term and renewable working visa would work. Other measures are tangential, and really people that feel that Japan is a closed minded country have never left their(prosperous one) in the first place.

      Immigrants that are going to stay for more than a year must learn Japanese to some degree, period, else any discrimination, whether perceived or real is to be expected. You can’t expect to be able to function in another community as an equal without being even able to communicate with its members.

      Basic literacy in Japanese can be hard, but being illiterate will be harder on you once you live here. Some of the bad experiences are really due to meeting racist or closed-minded Japanese, but many times people that barely know Japanese just don’t know what’s going around them, and blame Japan.

    11. Matt Says:

      Well, there are some pure Japan-wide benefits for immigration that we can naturally talk about.

      AS people have said, immigration is not zero-sum. As immigration rises, wages of labors will decrease disproportionally. This means that having a large number of immigration provides a larger and slightly cheaper work force. But the wealth of the displaced wages don’t disappear, a point that many immigration fear mongers like to conveniently forget. It gets redistributed, since that money comes directly from the costs of the company running the projects. New opportunities and investments are likely to follow, while basic industries and services become faster and cheaper. Almost everyone benefits from that kind of economic stimulation.

      Cultural diversity has other economic benefits, too. Yes, real empirical ones that economists have studied for a long time! One reason that the US has such a developed domestic market is because cultural diversity creates niches within markets and expands those markets themselves. This makes it easier for competitors to move into solidified markets by taking advantage of new cultural trends. As a result, domestic goods will be revolutionized; they will become cheaper, more targeted to consumers, and become more attractive internationally as well. This is another point many xenophobes forget. When you mix cultures, you create a new culture that… often times becomes attractive abroad again! Once again, just look at music, fashion, food, and art have changed in the US based on large immigration flows, and how those unique blended traditions a couple of decades later become big abroad. While I don’t have the data on hand, there is substantial research done in this field.

      Lastly, it can have political benefits too. Ironically, this is actually the point most xenophobes exaggerate to absurd points when they talk about immigration. Immigrant populations have the ability to quickly change political game space when they become empowered by dislodging long standing incumbents. While I can’t find a good empirical study to back up my intuition on this, I feel that any political system is healthier having a more diverse flow of politicians coursing through its veins. Isn’t corruption often accompanied by those who stay in power because they want to stay in power for long periods of time?

      I think the first two economic benefits are probably the most important ones to raise in convincing the opposition. There’s alot of data on it.

    12. mashu Says:

      I have been thinking a lot about this topic and I am left wondering–who exactly wants to immigrate to japan? Who (if japan is serious about immigration) does Japan think wants to immigrate to japan?

      Your thoughts?

    13. Kimberly Says:

      ” Encouraging immigration so that people can come here and breed and change things over generations isn’t something I can really argue as policy justification in my speech,”

      Maybe not, but this gives me an idea… I’d be willing to bet that the average number of children born between J-NJ couples is higher than the 1.3 or whatever that is the national average? Most Westerners that I know at least think it’s beneficial for a child to have siblings, or at least DON’T have the Japanese idea of “I can’t afford to send this one to juku and dress him in French couture if I have another one!” (obviously some people choose or are simply fated to only have one child, but the “I can’t afford it!” from the upper middle class seems to be a uniquely Japanese or at least Asian thing?) I don’t know if you could get a number on that… but not only do young, able-bodied immigrants contribute immediately to the (pension and tax-paying) workforce themselves, but if a larger percentage of foreign residents (and/or Japanese married to foreign residents) are having multiple children, that could be a plus to a government obviously trying to boost the declining birthrate.

      Maybe some people would prefer to increase only the “purebloods” yes, but someone’s going to have to fill jobs and pay into the pension system once the “I can’t afford kids on my 10 million yen a year!” generation retires. Looking purely at the numbers that may be an arguing point.

    14. jack Says:

      It can be tricky to talk about immigration as a whole, as if all immigrants are equal in their motivations for coming or their effects on their new country. There are all sorts of useful divisions to make, but an important one that bears keeping in mind is the difference between importing skilled vs. unskilled laborers.

      Japan needs more unskilled laborers, point blank, to keep its agricultural and industrial levels up. Getting them to come here is easy: plenty come already, despite working conditions that verge on slave labor in some cases. But Japan gets rid of them at the first sign of economic trouble, and systemically gets rid of the rest after a few years in-country. Japan needs to hold on to this workforce, and all they need to do is stop kicking people out.

      I’d say the merits to unskilled labor immigrants are fairly clear. However, there is a bit of a downside: large-scale immigration of less-affluent workers often breeds hostility toward foreigners. It’s the case with Latin American immigrants to the United States, and with Muslim populations in western Europe, just to provide two examples. Some serious efforts to assist integration with society are needed to mitigate this as much as possible, especially with language programs to let people interact rather than merely pass each other wordlessly on the street.

      Skilled labor is a much different ballgame. Skilled labor immigrants need more enticing reasons to choose Japan. The good news is the job is already half-done: Japan is very popular abroad. The problem is many people get discouraged from living here, especially for the long haul. There are a lot of intangibles (general culture) that cause this discouragement, as well as things that are hard to change (landlord difficulties), but there is at least one important thing that we CAN change: citizenship requirements. Japan is a very difficult country to naturalize in, and the no-dual-citizenship policy requires immigrants to burn their bridges in their country of origin. Sure, there are good reasons why it’s such a lengthy process, and why Japan requires renunciation of foreign citizenship, but when it comes down to it, these problems don’t exist in a lot of other attractive countries. I’ve talked to plenty of people who won’t consider living in Japan indefinitely because they don’t want to sever those ties. Allow dual citizenship and you can court that group.

      As for merits to skilled labor immigration, there are many; I’d wager that pound for pound, one skilled laborer has even more of a positive effect on the Japanese economy than an unskilled laborer. These merits are, however, less concrete; the need, less dire. In terms of unmeasurables, yes, skilled immigrants bring new ideas and fresh perspectives. More concretely, skilled laborers bring even more than just their specialist knowledge: they help bridge the serious foreign-language-capability gap that Japan faces in an increasingly international world. This gap exists with English, but even more so, it exists with respect to many other world languages, which will only become more important in the future as the English-speaking world becomes a smaller fraction of the overall world economy as countries develop.

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