JIPI’s Sakanaka in Daily Yomiuri: “Japan must become immigration powerhouse” (English only, it seems)

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Hi Blog.  Sakanaka Hidenori, former head of the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau who has been written about on Debito.org various times, had an article on the need for immigration to Japan in the Daily Yomiuri the other day.  Happy to see.  However, I can’t find a Japanese version in the paper anywhere.  Tut.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Japan must become ‘immigration powerhouse’
Hidenori Sakanaka / Special to The Daily Yomiuri
May. 26, 2010,
Courtesy of Daily Yomiuri staff

The size of a country’s population is a fundamental element of its government, economy and society. If the population keeps shrinking, it is self-evident that the nation’s strength will wane, the economy will shrink and the survival of society will be threatened.

Three elements contribute to demographic changes: births, deaths and migration across national borders.

In the face of Japan’s population problem, the government has focused on measures for boosting the birthrate. Huge sums of money have been poured into programs such as child allowances to help people raise children.

But will the nation’s population start growing just by continuing with these measures?

My view is that a low birthrate is unavoidable as a civilization matures.

Other industrially advanced countries have also turned into societies with low birthrates as they have matured. Advancements in education, increased urbanization, the empowerment of women and diversification of lifestyles also exemplify the maturity of a society.

Japan, a mature civilization, should expect to experience a low birthrate for at least the foreseeable future.

Even if the government’s measures succeed in increasing the birthrate sharply and cause the population to increase, any era of population growth is far away and will be preceded by a stage of “few births and few deaths,” where there are declines in both birth and mortality rates.

Accordingly, the only long-term solution for alleviating the nation’s population crisis is a government policy of accepting immigrants. Promotion of an effective immigration policy will produce an effect in a far shorter time period than steps taken to raise the nation’s birthrate.

We, the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, propose that Japan accept 10 million immigrants over the next 50 years.

We believe that to effectively cope with a crisis that threatens the nation’s existence, Japan must become an “immigration powerhouse” by letting manpower from around the world enter the country.

By allowing people from a wide variety of racial and cultural backgrounds to mingle together, a new breed of culture, creativity and energy will arise, which will surely renew and revitalize Japan.

If this proposal is implemented, the 10 million immigrants, most of whom will be young workers, will lessen the burden on young Japanese in funding social welfare programs for the elderly. The new immigrants will be “comrades,” not competitors in tackling the challenges of a graying society and a declining population.

Young Japanese workers will need to join forces with the immigrants to weather these difficulties.

Encouraging the acceptance of immigrants will not only help Japan out of the population crisis. The immigrants will also serve as a driving force in converting this homogenous and uniform society into one teeming with diversity, where a galaxy of talented people will interact to create a vigorous multiethnic society.

It also must be clearly stated that if Japan hopes to benefit by throwing its doors open to immigrants, it must become a place where immigrants have sufficient opportunity to fulfill their dreams.

Analysts at home and abroad have often declared the “sinking of Japan” because of its passivity over reform, but there can be no denying that transforming Japan into an immigration powerhouse should be the ultimate goal of any reform agenda.

If this country dares to implement the immigration policy we envision, the world will surely welcome the opening of this country’s doors to immigrants as a “revolution of Japan.” This, I believe, will boost the presence of the nation in the international community.

This is the “making of a new nation” that could develop into a change as radical as the Meiji Restoration.

The grand, revolutionary task of transforming Japan cannot be achieved without ambitious men and women in their 20s and early 30s, people like Sakamoto Ryoma and Takasugi Shinsaku at the end of the Edo period (1603-1867).

With this in mind, I plan to establish a school in July for young people to discuss what a desirable immigration policy should entail.

I hope this will help foster leaders for the Heisei era (1989- ) that will carve out a future for Japan.

Sakanaka, former head of the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, is executive director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute.


16 comments on “JIPI’s Sakanaka in Daily Yomiuri: “Japan must become immigration powerhouse” (English only, it seems)

  • This whole article (and most pro-immigration arguments) is predicated on the assumption that Japanese want to remain a strong nation (economically, politically, etc) and then searches for a method to do so. However, from what I’ve seen and heard, it seems most Japanese prefer decline over letting more foreigners in, which makes this whole argument moot. Does anyone know of a survey where Japanese were asked something along the lines of “Which do you prefer, a) Japan declines economically and politically or b) more foreigners are admitted to the country.” Based on many years of experience, I have a feeling the answers will be overwhelmingly (a).

  • @Eric

    I think the overwhelming majority would answer the imaginary (c), which will be something like “Japan remains the economical and political powerhouse of Asia and the world, while minimal foreigners are admitted to the country as usual, because Japan’s current model is too awesome to fail.” Basically they’re either dreaming or are in denial.

  • Mark Hunter says:

    Eric, totally agree. This is something that needs to be addressed, in terms of education, as this issue unfolds.

  • One thing I honestly do not understand with the shrinking population issues, is why it is believed that it will continue that way just because at the moment it is that way. There are many technological changes that will happen in the not so distant future . Although we can not be sure exactly when, and even through appeals to our most conservative values, most of us, with some thought, will admit that a change in the demand for human labor certainly within the manufacturing industry, and almost absolutely a sharp decrease, will occur in the not more than 100 years. So considering this, when the full robotic industrialization revolution occurs, it will come to the point that everyone’s role as workers will have to be examined, society’s structure itself will have to be examined. So assuming this, at a certain time people will have to change their perceptions on why we chose to have or not have children, and the reason will no longer be able to be a need for workers, or child rearing expenses for instance. I know this may seem rather like a tangent, but in honesty we are very near such a change, and it is always necessary to consider lessons from history, especially the most dominant one; technology dictates how human society can be set up, and values change drastically after technological revolutions. These things lessons must be considered over a static world view, or well will often as in history make wrong assumptions.

  • Bucky Sheftall says:

    Totally agree with Eric, too, and this stance is overwhelmingly supported from the standpoint of recent research in social and cultural psychology (btw, I think Mr. Sakanaka would benefit from a program of study in these fields). Sawanaka’s entire argument is predicated on the false premise that the preservation and/or aggrandizement of Japan’s international status is a goal for which the populace at large would basically be willing to subject itself and at least two or three future generations of Japanese to the most severe and sustained desymbolization crisis in the entire history of this culture. Is being able to chant “We’re Number Three! We’re Number Three!” for the next 50 years really worth the trouble the achievement of this “goal” woule entail?

  • @Eric “decline” is a very gentle word for the future facing Japan. In the longer term, if Japan doesn’t take drastic action (and increasing immigration is one option) national bankruptcy is a very real possibility – if not inevitable. The current economic setup is completely unsustainable.

  • [idiotic question and assertion deleted]

    @Eric and others

    I agree with your point of view but I need to ad that Mr. Sakanaka in his book “10 miljion immigrants will save Japan”(2007)also makes quite harsh judgments on European immigration policies and that he doesn’t present himself as a reckless/foolhardy (この場合「向こう見ずな」の適切な翻訳は?) immigration advocate. Although his views in this article may seem one sided, his whole plea on immigration is a lot more balanced. In his book he says than Japan should benefit from foreign workers but not become completely dependent on them. (chapter 6, p.156)

    On one hand Japan doesn’t have much of a choice in becoming (somewhat of) an immigration country. As Abe Atsuko argues: “Japan can hardly isolate itself from the flow of people if it wants to stay integrated in the global political economy. Simply put, Japan cannot stop immigrants from entering Japan (completely) and must, therefore, deal with the existence of foreign residents within its borders.” On the other hand immigration does proponent to perpetuate the occasional myth: that immigrants alone can counter the demographic decline. Economists say that just isn’t true. Robert Alan Feldman, an economist at Morgan Stanley, points out that immigrant workers almost always have lower productivity than natives, meaning that vast numbers of foreigners have to be brought in to make up the gap. Something which would not only be very unrealistic politically but also unwise according to Komai Hiroshi. He argues: “Lastly, on the issue of whether Japan should change its immigration policy to open the country to cheap labor, the Japanese industries in the mainstream have moved overseas, and I think this trend is irreversible. Therefore I think that the admission of cheap labor into Japan would only make an underclass stratum in Japanese society.”

    Papers and books cited:

    Abe, Atsuko:
    Japan’s new Challenge: Becoming a Multi-Ethnic Society?, in: The Electronic Journal
    of Contemporary Japanese Studies, review 3, 10 Feb. 2002

    Komai, Hiroshi:
    Japanese Policies and Realities. United Nations, 2007

    Sakanaka, Hidenori & Akihiro Asakawa:
    移民国家ニッポン: 1000万人の移民が日本を救う (Immigration State Japan: 10 million immigrants will save Japan). 2007

  • @ Eric

    I forgot. The Ministry of Justice has conducted an online survey in 2006.
    Of the 437 participants 426 said:
    ○ I oppose a more liberal acceptance / admittance of foreigners.
    ○With the current foreigners crime wave sweeping our country, the government should first convince the people that they will be able to come up with concrete measures that will guarantee the public safety.
    ○There is the real purpose for immigration (honne) and the pretext under which it is done (tatemae). Please give us a more concrete explanation (on what this change of immigration policy entails.


    Kōno, Tarō & Project Team of the Ministry of Justice:
    Kongo no Gaikokujin no Ukeire ni tsuite (About the Future Acceptance of Foreigners)
    June 2006 (Initial Proposition), (http://www.moj.go.jp/NYUKAN/nyukan51-2-1.pdf)
    August 2006 (Follow Up), (http://www.moj.go.jp/NYUKAN/nyukan51-3.pdf)

    The survey isn’t online anymore but I have a backup copy I could email you and probably so does Debito.

  • I agreed too with what Eric said. But on further analysis, I don’t think the whole pro-immigration argument can be boiled down to the assumption that Japan needs to do this in order to ‘remain a powerhouse’. Japan needs to consider immigration options to avoid economic catastrophe, which is not simply falling to ‘number three’ as someone mentioned.

    In the near future, the majority of the Japanese population will be senior citizens. In the history of civilization, a country has never been in this type of precarious situation before. So the argument is not if Japan’s GDP will dip slightly, but if it is economically possible for a country to support itself when the majority of its citizens are not working. A reasonable question indeed.

    As far as the whole robotic argument goes, even if robotic advancements suddenly accelerated at an unprecedented rate in the immediate future, robots don’t pay pension and taxes, which doesn’t really help things.

  • Eric I just read what you said, but there is a flaw in your thinking since it is rare that public opinion is actually seriously considered by any government when it comes to that issue. Government’s nearly unanimously seek a growth in power both inside their respective country; “domestically”, and in respect to other governments; “internationally”. The pervasiveness of “power hungry” is disproportionately high ( I have seen studies on this but as it has been quite some time I am having trouble locating links for you guys), which is simply a result that a government position is often one of power and privilege.

    Also, although politicians are universally portrayed as great wise men they are very often of only average intelligence, yet their decision will dominate the course of nations, and by now it is no secret that politicians stick to their own agenda except for pre-election times which they will promote populist ideas in order to get elected. Also, public opinion has been shown throughout modern history to be easy malleable by large media campaigns. The fact is mass media dictates what it important by the very nature of the material it chooses to display, for example in the history of all America’s wars the United States has lost 650,000 service men and women, compare that to the yearly loss from cancer victims of well over 500,000 lives per year. If the figures are compared to terrorism the comparisons get more ridiculous still, and a state’s budge almost always reflects what is selected to be though of as important through media campaigns.

    The fact is if public opinion really mattered and the public was often educated to think for themselves, then mass media would reflect that and effectively be unable to display content that was known to be of lesser important based on common values that educated people are known to share. One such value is that situations that cause the most suffering to people are thought to be in the most urgent need of improvement. The uneducated often hold these same opinions but due to the fact of not having learned to practice relativism, can’t discern that things such as war or terrorism are relatively the cause of less suffering to Americans compared to cancer. This is just one example. The basic idea is that we with the knowledge that 1. Opinions among uneducated peoples can change very quickly, 2. The vast number of people can not be considered to be studied in basic issues of media, government, history, etc, and therefore can not consider these subjects on their own accurately. 3. These said people are also know to overwhelming share the same views that the dominant media is at the time promoting.

    I don’t mean to be blunt, but today’s public opinion is unfortunately a measure of little because of how easily it can be influenced. These are again based on a static world view, but before any such assumptions can be made like this we have to consider the history of public opinion and its relation to the media. My point is if the people in charge wanted Japan’s citizentry to change their opinions, and become an immigration powerhouse than it could do it. History shows that no matter how “Unique” the society, and no matter how resistant to change it is, that through strong unyielding promotion of certain ideals, and views can change a society without entirely too much trouble, especially if the main media sources promote the same ideas.

    This is not about Japan in my opinion, but much more so it is about human nature, Japanese are humans and not unique, therefore applicable to some basic assumptions. ( I also want to note that there is a great deal of criticism towards sociology since it can not yet be considered an exact science, however just because sociology has not developed to the point which it can chemically and mathematically prove their hypothesis, doesn’t completely do away with the fact that sociology and human behavior should completely be forgone in favor of even more arbitrary interpretation of the give situation. )

    Debito San I am very curious on your view on Eric’s point, also I apologize if this is a little tangent-y, and I am not trying to promote my own way of thinking, but deeper thinking about these subjects in general since without some lens to comparatively judge a situation.

    — My opinion about Eric’s point is that public opinion in Japan matters little except when it’s going the way the GOJ wants it. There are always ways to shape public opinion in any society (Chomsky I thought proved that very well in his writings about “manufacturing consent”). But I think Japan as a society is particularly susceptible to what is deemed “popular opinion” because 1) people are always looking from side to side before speaking to see how things might be perceived (unless they’re particularly brave or emotional about the topic), and 2) very few people actually believe they can change much about the world around them (unless they have their hands on the levers of power, and in those cases few are vocal about their opinions anyway). Hence our job as activists is to keep injecting our opinion into the void and hope it changes the Ph of “public opinion” from acid to alkali, somehow, someway. It’s a hard nut to crack. But as Japan has shown every now and again, it can turn on a dime, regardless of what the intransigent-looking “public” thinks. Otherwise we’d still be under the Tokugawa Bakufu.

  • Another note to my last post;
    Maybe “educated people” is the wrong terminology and rather it should be academics. There is almost a disdain for academics in many societies in that everyone might admire an academic, but few feel that the academics and those pursuing academics seriously,’s but have not yet reached a publicly acknowledged post or degree, deserve similar respect, since they have not “done” anything. Modern society is far too complicated for people to not at least attempt to understand what occurs around them in an objective manner, which means questioning even friend and family’s views, let alone the government’s and media’s. I make no claim at great understanding of complete understanding of these subjects but I do my best to think objectively, and try to question even the accepted, and it makes sense that in our very complicated world that all “HUMANS” should try to do the same, and question the very notion of “NATIONALITY” “RACE” “NEWS” “TERRORISM”. All these subjects should be studied the same as any other, and their historys should at least be understood at a basic level in order to understand the “IDEAS” that theses promote.

  • Thanks everyone for your comments, especially Yosomono for the survey. I found another copy at:


    And you can find a writeup if you search for 「今後の外国人の受け入れについて」.

    I fully agree with Matt, Tony and the others that this isn’t a matter of growing (immigration) vs. shrinking (no immigration), but more of staying alive (immigration) vs. economic collapse (no immigration). Even still, I’m not convinced this argument will sway Japanese since it’s too general. As I see it, the problem is that the debt to GDP ratio is too high and will continue to grow. Although there have been nations with higher ratios (Britain after the American Revolution), these nations were growing.

    Let’s do some economic analysis, so brace yourself:

    The older generation is responsible for financing this debt with a relatively higher savings rate than the younger generation which are saving almost nothing (http://www.mof.go.jp/jouhou/soken/kenkyu/ron164.pdf Section 2). As the older generation uses up their savings, there will be less available to finance the debt.

    In recent years, average monthly household expenditures were conservatively around 30 man (http://www.stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook/c13cont.htm). The “model” retiree receives 20 man in pension, so let’s say they will use 120 man/year of their savings. The average net savings of retirement aged Japanese is around (http://www.stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook/c13cont.htm) 1800 man, meaning they will burn through their savings in 15 years. This assumes pensions don’t decrease, which they likely will. What happens then? The Japanese government can no longer finance debt through Japanese savings. In response, I see a few possibilities (in decreasing order of my perceived likelihood):

    1) Yen devaluation (printing more yen to finance debt). This will further destroy the value of any savings, though it will improve Japanese exports by making them cheaper.
    2) Decrease in pension, government assistance, government programs. This will particularly hurt retirees, especially if they are in nursing homes.
    3) Tax increases, for example raising VAT to 10%. This will mostly hurt working age people, since there will likely be exceptions for basic needs products.
    4) Foreign debt financing. Not so likely, since by this point Japan will have to raise the interest rate very high to cover the risk of default.
    5) Unofficial encouragement of retirees to “retire” early (suicide) and stop leeching from the system. This is also not so good for the retirees.

    Every one of these (except 4 and to a certain extent 3) will hurt Japanese retirees. I think the problem with pro-immigration arguments is that Japanese see no problem in the near future, especially those who are about to retire with what they perceive as a big nest egg. If they realize at age 70 they will be penniless, with a pittance of a pension buying more expensive goods and no one to care for them, it may motivate them to do something about it. Luckily I’m no longer in Japan, but I’d be curious if someone could try the line of reasoning above with one of their elder eikaiwa students and see if it works.

    For a more detailed examination of what I tried to explain above, see:


    — Excellent writeup. Thanks very much indeed.

  • As I am not supposed to comment about my work publicly there is nothing I can say in detail at all. However, I have worked for a central Japanese government ministry for more than half a decade.

    What readers might be interested to know about, however, is that given the hundreds of briefs and thousands and thousands of items of work I have processed over the this time not A SINGLE ONE makes any other assumption for long-term planning that Japan’s population is going to shrink (estimates vary) and I have never heard or seen of a single ASSUMPTION or change of immigration policy.

    There are simply no mechanisms or assumptions for anything other than the minimal presence of foreigners here in the Ministry’s plans through to 2030 and as far as 2050.

    In fact, in terms of planning, non-Japanese people do not exist; everything is done for the Kokumin; foreigners are a minor important guests on the extreme periphery to be dealt with. That’s one of the important memes, in fact; because we are seen to be dealt with specially (I can’t give any examples). It is assumed that we should be grateful. It’s the idea of different and treated specially. I won’t go on about this theme, because it’s one of the deepest and insidious barriers that exist sociologically and culturally in Japan.

    I was also very entertained with this point that someone above made: “Also, although politicians are universally portrayed as great wise men they are very often of only average intelligence, yet their decision will dominate the course of nations…”

    I might as well add that the same applies to the bureaucracy from what I have seen in Kasumigaseki- I have found time and time again that just because you went to Todai, it does not mean that you are necessarily highly intelligent even academically, let alone emotionally or socially. You know, it’s silly things like I press the “close” button on the elevator and a bureaucrat says in Engrish…”What, you understand Japnize CHINESE CHARACTER”…yes, this is the elite of Japan’s bureaucracy in action. But I can tell you, they are like hell going down the highway when it comes to making 50-slide powerpoints about Japanese leading this and that for foreign conferences.

    Unfortunately, on several levels I am writing about here is not founded on anything more than an informed hunch or experience, and I would be happy to be proved wrong. My point?

    To my experience there seems very little evidence in the under-30s ministry officials I work with that they are open to change either. Without being too trite, like attracts like. The central bureaucracy attracts naturally conservative people who are trained and intellectually socialized more often than not in Todai, and whose stake is dependent on being loyal and not rocking the boat. Who can blame such people for such an attitude?

    Paradoxically, I have come across lets say 15 or 20 of younger MOJ people (not the ministry I work in) and I feel that the young turks who are interested in immigration issues and have open minds, and they do exist in the MOJ, believe me, are one source of hope.

    But not while such loaded memes such 外国人犯罪が世を騒がす今,受入れに際しては「治安を必ず維持する」という覚悟と具体的な施策を盛り込み,私達国民を納得させるべき manufacture rather than reflect public opinion.

    BTW, I am am not a particularly strong supporter of Hatoyama beyond a default mode that at least, thank you, at last, the LDP got a kick up the backside. But on the other hand, we watched his press conference/ mea culpa/ explanation on the NHK special at 21:00 last night and I turned around to my wife and said I thought that Japan has a sincere, intelligent, articulate, well meaning Prime Minister- not some horrid poison dwarf like Aso. I was deeply impressed by his performance, his intellectual stamina, his sincerity and his delivery, and the way he answered questions- it was like, “come on, hit me!”

    Yet I was shocked by the follow-up by NHK- which seemed extremely negative and biased, IMO. I also regard NHK as part of the problem for us foreigners here, but that’s a different topic that’s another ax to grind!

    Debito, sorry for going a bit off-topic there.

    — No no, thanks very much for sharing this.

  • I have to side with Japan’s current immigration stance to be honest.
    It is telling that Mr. Sakanaka has not apparently published this in Japanese.

    — As if Mr Sakanaka is in control of the publishing process.

  • Interesting piece.

    There is also another argument that a major cause of the birth rate decline is that women are deciding to have fewer children due to lack of child care and inequity of domestic duties — and that the government subsidies to families with children will do little to address this problem. Immigration reform may be needed, but will it get at the root of the problem?

  • (株)飛日空 says:

    The content in this article is pretty much stuff most of us already know about except it was written by the former head of the Japanese Immigration Bureau and only published in English. Is it more than a small placation piece for foreign audiences and/or part of an elaborate composition to provide excuses for current lack of policy? One can hope.


    “…because we are seen to be dealt with specially (I can’t give any examples)”

    I understand that it would probably be of great personal risk to you but if there is any way for you to share the things you know in a way that won’t get traced to you (probably too late for that), the NJ community, or at least people on this forum would be incredibly grateful. Pure Japanese documentation would even be preferable so as to get the full meaning from the horse’s mouth.

    I would also be very interested in hearing your views on NHK regarding foreigners [snipe deleted].

    I also hope that the young ministers you mentioned as a ray of hope do not end up turning to the dark side in an effort to keep their careers, or get blindsided when they approach becoming a liability to certain people, or become marginalized and ignored.

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