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  • Asahi poll: Japan would rather be poorer as a nation than accept immigration

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on June 14th, 2010

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    Hi Blog.  This was brought up as a blog comment a few days ago, but let’s talk about it as its own blog entry.  The Asahi did an extensive poll on what people see as Japan’s future in relative economic decline.  Results indicate that people are distressed about China overtaking Japan, but they apparently aren’t ready to change much to change that.  Most germane to is the question:

    “On accepting immigrants to maintain economic vitality, only 26 percent supported such a move, while 65 percent opposed.”


    賛成      26 反対       65

    Meaning that people polled apparently would rather be poorer as a nation than accept immigrants.

    Of course, no immigrant without citizenship was polled (if even then), so ah well.

    That said, we had the good point, raised within the blog comments on this the other day, that it just might be better for organic acceptance of immigrants over time than to bring in huge numbers and force them on the populace (although I don’t see events over this past decade helping matters much, including the unfettered hate speech towards NJ during the PR Suffrage debates, political leaders publicly doubting the “true Japaneseness” of naturalized Japanese or Japanese with NJ roots, and other elements of officialdom blaming NJ for social problems such as crime, terrorism, and infectious diseases).

    Then again, a friend of mine also raised an even more pertinent point:  “What’s the point of asking that question at all?  We still haven’t had a good debate on immigration and why Japan needs it.  Nobody’s explained the merits of immigration to the Japanese public all that well.  [In fact, discussion of it is even taboo.].  So no wonder people are negatively predisposed.  Why change things when we don’t understand why?”

    Touche.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


    Poll: 95% fear for Japan’s future
    THE ASAHI SHIMBUN 2010/06/12, courtesy of John in Yokohama

    With China poised to replace Japan as the world’s No. 2 economy, Japanese are increasingly taking a more critical look at their country, once referred to as a nation of “economic animals” and known as Japan Inc.

    According to an Asahi Shimbun survey, about 95 percent of Japanese are worried about Japan’s future, while 62 percent say the nation is being rapidly overtaken by other countries.

    And while acknowledging that Japan’s economy–once the envy of much of the world–may no longer be a main source of pride, more than half of the respondents said Japan does not need to strive to become a major global power.

    According to the survey, 75 percent of Japanese have pride in their country, but only 34 percent said they had pride in Japan’s economy.

    Sixty-five percent of the respondents said the economy was not a source of pride.

    For the multiple-choice question on what aspects of Japan they are proud of, 94 percent cited the nation’s technological prowess, while 92 percent pointed to its traditional culture.

    Ninety percent of respondents in their 20s and 80 percent of those in their 30s said they felt pride in Japan’s “soft power,” or edge in creating anime and computer games.

    Toshiki Sato, a University of Tokyo professor of sociology, said the survey results reflect a society that has lost its identity.

    “If a nation has technological prowess, it would translate into economic strength. The fact that people express pride in technology (while holding a low evaluation of the economy) resembles the grumblings of a manager of an ailing company. It’s a reflection of a lack of confidence,” Sato said.

    Questionnaires were sent to 3,000 randomly chosen eligible voters nationwide in late April, and 2,347 valid responses were received by the May 25 deadline.

    Asked about their future vision for Japan, 51 percent said they hope to see a society that promotes economic wealth through hard work, while 43 percent said Japanese society should be one that achieves a relatively comfortable level of wealth without working too hard.

    Seventy-three percent said they preferred a nation that is “not so affluent but has a smaller income disparity,” against 17 percent who chose “an affluent society but with a large disparity.”

    Fifty-eight percent favored a large government offering full administrative services, such as social security, even at the cost of higher taxes, while 32 percent preferred a small government.

    As for Japan’s role in the world, 39 percent said Japan should be a major player with more clout and obligations, while 55 percent said they did not think Japan should be a global power.

    On accepting immigrants to maintain economic vitality, only 26 percent supported such a move, while 65 percent opposed.

    Along with 78 percent of respondents who said environmental protection should be prioritized even at the cost of stunting economic growth, the figures suggest that Japanese are clearly breaking away from the mind-set of their country being an economic giant.

    Sato said the survey showed that Japanese people were taking a hard, cool-headed look at their nation.

    “Since the Meiji Restoration (of the 19th century), Japanese have tended to bring about the worst consequences by developing unfounded confidence and pride, as with the defeat in World War II, rapid economic growth and massive pollution, and the economic bubble,” Sato said.

    “You don’t want to lose too much confidence, but the ability to be humble is a virtue. The survey results should be seen in a positive light,” he said.


    「日本は自信を失っている」74% 朝日新聞世論調査







    Not reported in the Japanese but reported in the English version was this question:


    賛成      26 反対       65



    (数字は%。小数点以下は四捨五入。質問文と回答は一部省略。◆は全員への質問。◇は枝分かれ質問で該当する回答者の中での比率。< >内の数字は全体に対する比率。特に断りがない限り、回答は選択肢から一つ選ぶ方式。調査期間は鳩山内閣の時期にあたる)

    「日本は自信を失っている」74% 朝日新聞世論調査



    大いに満足している 2

    ある程度満足している 46

    あまり満足していない 38

    まったく満足していない 13


    大いに不安を感じている 50

    ある程度不安を感じている 45

    あまり不安を感じていない 4

    まったく不安を感じていない 0


    誇りをもっている 75

    誇りをもっていない 19


    (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)

    誇れることだ   34 94 33 92 68 67

    そうは思わない  65 6 66 5 29 29


    快調に登っている 1

    急な坂を懸命に登っている 15

    息が切れて、後続の人に追い抜かれていく 62

    足を痛めて先に進めない 18


    自信を失っている 74 そうは思わない 22


    経済の行き詰まり 36<26>

    政治の停滞 49<36>

    国の財政の悪化 44<33>

    国際的地位の低下 17<13>

    少子高齢化 22<16>

    伝統的価値観の衰退 6<5>


    底力がある   56 そうは思わない  28


    重大な問題だ  50 そうは思わない  46


    (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7)

    当てはまる  46 45 45 77 20 35 26

    当てはまらない50 51 52 20 76 61 70




    精神的に豊かな生活を送れている 23

    そうは思わない 73


    報われる社会だ 25

    報われない社会だ 69


    仕事を優先した方がよい 36

    個人の生活を優先した方がよい 48


    一生懸命がんばって、豊かさを向上 51



    仕組みを大幅に改革することが必要 57

    いまの制度を維持しながら改良 40


    豊かだが格差が大きい国 17

    豊かさはそれほどないが格差が小さい国 73


    経済成長を妨げるおそれがあるとしても、環境への配慮を優先した社会を目指すべきだ 78

    経済成長を妨げるおそれがあるなら、環境への配慮はほどほどでよい 15


    好ましい    14 好ましくない   77


    期待する    78 期待しない    17


    賛成      26 反対       65


    大きな政府   58 小さな政府    32


    関係を深める方がよい 52

    距離をおく方がよい 34


    関係を深める方がよい 48

    距離をおく方がよい 42


    思う      12 思わない     85


    大国であるのがよい 39

    大国である必要はない 55


    アメリカの軍事力に頼るべきだ 38

    独自の防衛体制を作り上げるべきだ 48


    期待する    45 期待しない    51

    〈調査方法〉 全国の有権者から3千人を選び、郵送法で実施した。



    24 Responses to “Asahi poll: Japan would rather be poorer as a nation than accept immigration”

    1. feitclub Says:

      Note that question you highlighted addresses the dwindling Japanese population in the original language but not in English. When you read it that way, it almost sounds like 65% of respondents would prefer to die than accept outsiders. I’d be very curious to see how the age of the responents broke down on that question.

    2. Kimpatsu Says:

      This is like the anti-immigration lobby in the UK. They reject the stark dichotomy of immigration vs. economic decline, believing that Britain will always be economically powerful just because it’s Britain, a sort of divine right to be the workshop of the world, as the country was throughout the 19th century. This in Japan is no different: it’s a “divine country with the emperor at its core”, and as such, deserves to be the Number One economy in Asia by fiat alone. Any loss of economic power will be perceived as against the natural order of things. Frankly, there is nothing you can do about these people, but you can better educate their children, although that is unlikely to happen any time soon.

    3. John (Yokohama) Says:

      The question of why is right in the question – “economic vitality”. All other benefits aside it is about economics and peoples livelihoods. If people don’t care to understand the population curve and its effects on their own personal economic well being then they have no one to blame for themselves when the inevitable happens. Until more people get hit in the pocket book with higher taxes (such as a much higher consumption tax) the majority will continue to hold true to the notion that immigrants are unwelcome and not needed.

      Spinning this is a good thing IMHO is not productive. It should be recognized as an issue that needs improving – period.

    4. tony Says:

      “On accepting immigrants to maintain economic vitality, only 26 percent supported such a move, while 65 percent opposed.”


      The English and the Japanese here mean very different things. The Japanese question is: as the population decreases, do you support immigration to maintain the economy’s scale? In theory, if population and GDP decrease in parallel per capita income could remain the same or even increase, so opposing immigration does NOT necessarily mean those people prefer being poorer to welcoming immigration.

    5. tony Says:

      (Poorer as a nation is a rather ambiguous term because it could mean that all citizens become poorer. “Lose relative economic standing” is more precise, but with China and India’s rise that is going to happen whether Japan welcomes immigrants or not.)

    6. James Annan Says:

      The survey is idiotically worded. The issue is not population or economic size per se (agreeing with Tony at #4) but the fact that under current policies the anticipated population decline comes with a massive ageing (and consequential change in the ration of workers to dependants) that will be utterly catastrophic if not adequately catered for. Debito has posted on this a few times before (as have I). So asking whether people care about some shrinkage in the economy is an entirely inadequate way of raising the issue.

      Having said that, it could be argued that it is reasonable to just to put off the problem until it actually hits a bit harder. It’s a multi-decade time scale that doesn’t need to be handled right now. Immigration policies (and outcomes) can change on the <5y time scale, and *some* population decline would be no bad thing IMO. If *I* was a Japanese bureaucrat or politician, I suspect I'd be doing nothing to upset the status quo.

    7. John (Yokohama) Says:

      But the population is not decreasing evenly, society is growing older (Japan already has the highest average age in the world), thus putting increasing pressure on working age people to support the increasing number of retired people and others.

    8. Tony D Says:

      I like how they’re proud of technology but not of the economy. Um, do they even realise how they got that technology in the first place? How Sony and Toyota and Honda and all those other companies could afford to build their robots and cars and heated toilet seats?

    9. Sure'Nuff and Yes I do Says:

      With national debt running at 200% of GDP how can Japan possibly become any poorer as a nation. It’s only second to Zimbabwe.

      Whether immigration is accepted or not at the current rate of borrowing, Japan is right on track to become the Greece of Asia.

    10. John Says:

      There was a story on NHK’s 9pm news last week pointing to an opposite problem: Japanese students don’t want to go abroad anymore either. The main reasons given were fear of losing out in the job market on return and that class course credit abroad would not be recognised. They didn’t mention that neither the Japanese education system nor the media hardly cultivate an international mindset (more bulletins with no foreign stories…). They even quoted someone described as an “American Japanologist” right at the end of the broadcast who apparently said that the reason is that Japan is just “too good”.

    11. Mark Hunter Says:

      People might SAY they would rather be poorer, but when push comes to shove….nah, I doubt it. As an aside, I still haven’t read any argument that shows conclusively that Japan would be better off with large-scale immigration.
      Would not, for example, a much, much more efficient use of current tax revenues be just as effective as bringing in millions of immigrants? If anyone knows of such a study into how immigrants can improve Japan’s finances, I’d be very interested.

    12. E.P.Lowe Says:

      John@10 – the class credit thing happened to a very smart ex-student of mine – spent his last year of high school at an Australian school, on returning found he was not judged eligible for Uni. Currently doing an extra final year in his Japanese high school

    13. John (Yokohama) Says:

      The government is no where near getting to the point of seriously tackling the pork let alone the yearly deficit. Your dreaming if you think that pork cutting will make up for the decline in the tax base, support the aging population, etc.

      “Perhaps more important in economic terms is the narrowing of Japan’s demographic pyramid: Whereas 11 workers supported two retirees in 1960, the ratio was four workers to one retiree in 1999, and by 2050 the UN projects that only 1.7 workers will support one retiree. Those workers will face a heavy burden. A McKinsey study predicts that Japanese households will be no better off in 2024 than they were in 1997: “The continual improvement in living standards the Japanese have enjoyed during the last half-century will come to an end.””

      And the study that shows that immigrants would hinder Japan’s finances?…

    14. cstaylor Says:

      What about stopping the nenkin program altogether and ration health insurance to those over the age of 70? That could go a long way to alleviating the burden on younger workers.

      — What if we just practice geriatric euthanasia? Let’s get realistic here.

    15. Mark Hunter Says:

      1997 was not such a bad year for most Japanese people. A long, slow march to Swiss-like obscurity, admittedly without growth, might be just what most Japanese would be comfortable with. If surveys like the one above are to be believed, then perhaps seriously cutting the pork might be the lesser of two evils, the other being hoards of foreigners coming in. The current financial system is bust, so something needs to be done. Just what is that answer? I’m all for immigration (been an immigrant twice myself) but not knee-jerk opening of doors without doing the math behind it first. Refugees are another matter and I feel Japan should allow many, many more refugees in as a matter of compassion regardless of finances.

    16. John (Yokohama) Says:


      Plenty of people have done the math and hence the concern. If you choose to ignore that fact that is your and others perogative.

      Immigration can be planned and organized. Life is not just chaos or nothing.

      Cutting the pork alone will not suffice.

      John (Yokohama)

    17. John (Yokohama) Says:

      Cutting pork is hardly evil as well, nor is immigration. Figure of speech of course but the way people, or a survey, word a question can influence the result.

      A slow slide to “Switzerland obscurity” is not what Japan is facing. Muddle the reality and you will get muddled answers.

    18. Mark Hunter Says:

      Thanks for the comments John (Yokohama). Would you mind referencing one of the studies that show the financial benefits of immigration to a future Japan? I’m very open to being convinced, even hope immigration is finacially beneficial, but as I mentioned three or four posts ago, I have yet to read an analysis that spells out in dollars and cents, not just emotion, how the country will benefit. This is particularly germain as Japan has one of the world’s fastest aging societies. How would immigrants increase the tax base and not be a bleed on it, for example?I also think that until the existing population has this explained to them by people of influence, that large-scale immigration is highly unlikely in the future. In my experience, most Japanese people tend to be very pragmatic when faced with sets of facts – free of emotion, and this is how we might convince them that opening up doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Remove the emotion from the debate, point out examples of nations that have financially benefitted, explain how they did it through Ministries of Immigration and then see what happens. In order for an emotional type approach to work, the entire educational system would first have to be turned upside down to create a populace that does not view the world in its current binary form – us and them. In my opinion, that outcome is far more unlikely than convincing the populace through facts and figures – and hence the wallet. Money talks, or at least enough of it does.

      — Well, you’ve been around here for a couple of months, right? How about the post of May 7 citing an academic study saying how influxes of foreign workers boost economies, raising average incomes (based upon 50 years of data) 0.5% for every percent increase in the workforce that is foreign-born? Read it at

    19. Mark Hunter Says:

      Thanks Debito….actually, I did read that article, but completely forgot about it. How can this type of information be transmitted to the current ministries and media so that people here actually have a chance to learn about the positive aspects of immigration? What will it take, do you think, for scaremongering as a political tool to die away and for rational debate to emerge? It seems to me that the economics sited in the article are just the thing that can sway people, but that Japan will have to sink a lot lower for that message to truly take root. How far away from that level of economic decline are we? 10 years, 20? Or could we have a very sudden reversal like has happened before in Japanese history and see a Ministry of Immigration and proper laws protecting rights very soon? I think Japan will have to get to a point where the population demands an end to the waste of pork barrel politics before any talk of immigration will turn into reality, unless, and it’s a big unless, politicians see mass immigration as a way to CONTINUE pork barrel politics – anything to get reelected. Grim I realize.

      John (Yokohama), just reread post 3 in this thread. Couldn’t agree more. Money talks. Big time.

    20. Gary Says:

      Mark Hunter wrote:

      “It seems to me that the economics sited in the article are just the thing that can sway people.”

      I respectfully disagree, and the disagreement is meant to be constructive. Chances are one of the Ministries is already well aware of that one small paper and hundreds of others from around the world. It’s one working paper (not a peer-reviewed paper, which means that it’s just a “argument” at this stage) with the not-so-compelling proposition that opening to more immigration leads to “raising average incomes (based upon 50 years of data) 0.5% for every percent increase in the workforce.” Consider that: 0.5%. Not 1% or 5% or (more persuasively to raise eyebrows) 10%. 0.5%. Not much to get excited about for a Japanese citizen who *might* lose his or her job to increased competition. And even assuming the proposition were likely to be true (a debatable point), government decision-makers don’t operate in a vacuum; they would balance that one working paper with other working papers, and peer-reviewed papers, and government testimonies, and book chapters, and investment banking reports, consulting monographs, mounds of data, anecdotal evidence, and other social and economics spillover effects and benefits to make a well-informed decision based on Japan’s time-honored decision-making process of consensus-building. That’s the whole purpose of committees, ministerial bureaus, advisers, etc. The Democratic Party of Japan has not fundamentally changed that structure at all, despite the rhetoric.

      “How can this type of information be transmitted to the current ministries and media so that people here actually have a chance to learn about the positive aspects of immigration?”

      Mark, I admire your initiative. But if anyone is really interested in delving into the economics of immigration literature in order to persuade the public, one would be assuming without proof that there is a consensus. In my experience, the more you know the less you’ll end up knowing. The economics of immigration is a very complicated field and there is no “right” answer yet, let alone a economic consensus. The best you can hope for is to stay abreast of the literature on both sides.

      Just to demonstrate how deep and complex it is, let me bring up a couple working papers and economics chapters I found that argue the opposite based on research.

      George J. Borjas
      Working Paper 9755, June 2003
      National Bureau of Economic Research

      Native low-skilled workers suffer most from the competition of foreign labor. According to a study by George Borjas, a Harvard economist, immigration reduced the wages of American high-school dropouts by 9 percent between 1980 and 2000.

      And here’s another one:

      “Why Does Immigration Divide America?
      Public Finance and Political Opposition to Open Borders”
      Gordon H. Hanson
      University of California, San Diego
      and National Bureau of Economic Research
      March 2005

      There’s also the work in the other Newsweek article by Robert Feldman and Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare that I always wanted to read that seem to suggest that opening the floodgates to immigrants is a *bad* and counter-productive idea.

      The constructive point that I’m trying to raise is that none of us should be in the job of promoting propaganda simply because we have good intentions. And by “propaganda” I mean deliberately emphasizing one independent study over others for a political objective simply because its conclusion is something some of us want to hear. Talking about political points and counterpoints is one thing. Selectively talking about economic studies is another. The most anyone can hope for is to be well-informed about the complexities at this point. And I say that to be constructive and respectful.

      — Yes you have. Thanks.

    21. cstaylor Says:

      Who do you think is holding most of Japan’s domestic debt? Freeters? Why should an oldster with the means to pay the employer’s share for their own insurance get a free ride once they retire? Should national insurance programs fully cover end-of-life medical complications that just prolong the inevitable?

      Maybe I should go dust off my copy of Logan’s Run for another viewing…

      — Or maybe you just don’t understand the concept of “insurance”. Anyone who pays in gets the benefits when they need them. Rightful claimants are not “free riders”, except if seen through a politically-motivated lens.

    22. Mark Hunter Says:

      Gary, thanks. You may have to endure the wrath of those who believe that immigration automatically means economic benefit. Chuckle. Thank-you for showing the other side of the coin, so to speak. If Japan sinks far enough economically, it would not surprise me at all to see politicians use “studies” of any kind to convince the population of the need for immigration. Perhaps, at the end of the day, where we’ll end up is back at the key question of Japanese identity and what that means. One interpretation of the poll results above is that most Japanese people feel it is better to protect Japaneseness (whatever that means), than stay a rich nation. If that is the case, then all the studies in the world, pro and con the economic benefits of immigration will be moot. My final comment on this issue (and one I was attempting to make before, albeit poorly)was that an emotional agenda for immigration or multiculturalism or whatever, are very unlikely to work here. Japanese identity and the exclusiveness it seems to entail simply won’t allow a mass immigration ‘intrusion’ at this point in the evolution of its education system, politics and media. Thanks again Gary for a well written post.

    23. John (Yokohama) Says:

      Gary and Mark,

      Seems to be confusion that an immigration policy is only limited to “opening the floodgates”.

      The other knock against is limited to American examples one of which starts off with a leading question.

      Hardly a concrete conclusion in one for example:

      “The interpretation and policy implications of these findings require a more complete documentation and assessment of the many other consequences, including the potential benefits that immigrants impart on a host country.”

    24. KaZ Says:

      Well however much is said, the Jp people of the present day are used to outsourcing 3K(Kitsui,Kibishi,Ktanai) work to foreigners for low wages. To reverse this trend now is almost impossible. It is economically & demographically inevitable that more and more foreigners will take up jobs in knowledge work also, to call someone who lives and works with them everyday a foreigner based on his appearence, seems like we are back in the mediaval ages.

      “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
      — Martin Luther King Jr.

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