CBC interview on Japan’s shrinking population and prospects for immigration


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Hi Blog.  Here’s an interview I was invited to give in early October with Canada’s CBC Radio One, which was broadcast yesterday. Thanks for that, CBC.  Link to where you can listen to it, and the writeup on their website follows:



CBC Radio One, Nov 16, 2010 – Pt 2: Japan’s Population Crash, courtesy of MH&P.

The population of Japan is shrinking. Other countries have tackled that problem by embracing immigration. But Japan is an unusually homogenous — some say xenophobic — country. And the idea of a multi-cultural solution is ruffling some feathers.

Japan Population Crash – Sakanaka Hidenori

The population of Japan is officially shrinking. In 2005 — the latest year for which data is available — deaths outnumbered births by 10,000 people. At that rate, Japan’s population will drop by more than 15 per cent over the next 40 years. On top of that, Japan’s population is an aging one … facing fears of labour shortages and economic stagnation in the world’s third-largest economy.

Other countries have responded to declining population pressures by increasing immigration. But Japan is an unusually homogenous nation. And the idea of multi-culturalism ruffles a lot of feathers.

Sakanaka Hidenori spent 35 years urging his country to bring in more immigrants. He is the former Director of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau. And in 2005 he wrote, Immigration Battle Diary, a book that details his own experiences and lays out a manifesto for the future of Japanese immigration policy. Sakanaka Hidenori is now the Executive Director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute. He joined us from Tokyo this morning, as part of our project, Shift. Our producer, Chris Wodskou provided the translation.

Japan Population Crash – Ito Peng

Arudou Debito was born in the United States. He’s a naturalized citizen of Japan. He married a Japanese woman, and they had two daughters. But he’s not very optimistic when it comes to increasing immigration to Japan. We aired his story to illustrate why.

For more on how Japan has reached this demographic reckoning… And what the rest of the world should take from it, we were joined by Ito Peng. She’s the Associate Dean of Interdisciplinary and International Affairs at the University of Toronto.


COMMENT:  I come in from minute 11:55.  Sounds like I was in good voice that morning (we got to the radio station in Calgary at 8:30AM for a 9AM interview.  Good thing we did; the interviewer was late, and questions were a bit half-baked; it seemed as if she had forgotten our appointment).

Frankly, I’m a bit disappointed with the contents.  There was a good interactive interview with Sakanaka-san, who deserves it.  Also one with Dr Peng.  But all I got was a short storytelling of the Otaru Onsens Case (and an incomplete one at that — I never got my bit in about how even a naturalized citizen was treated by Yunohana Onsen, so Dr Peng then responds that it’s too bad foreigners got treated that way even though it’s not an issue of nationality); nothing else from a significantly longer interview.  Instead, we got Dr Peng talking inter alia about naturalization — incorrectly, too; one does not need a sponsor to naturalize (it’s not a work visa), one’s identity need not be that subsumed, etc.  Why doesn’t the person who actually went through the process get asked about it?  Because I’m not sure a question about it was actually prepared for my interview (don’t remember; it’s been six weeks).  Also would have liked a bit more research done and mentioned on my katagaki too (plenty of people marry and have children in Japan, so I would hope they contacted me because they thought I had something a bit more authoritative to say).

Ah well.  At least the subject of Japan’s future and the need for a possibility of immigration was broached.  Thanks for that, CBC.  Arudou Debito

8 comments on “CBC interview on Japan’s shrinking population and prospects for immigration

  • Dr Peng seems very reluctant to use the word ‘rascist’ and ignores the fact that racism is often encouraged (directly or indirectly) at government level in Japan. The build up to the world cup was a classic case of this. Instead of a focus on the good things the world cup would bring we got news item after news item about foreign hooligans and the untold damage they would cause, which of course didn’t materialise. Japan should have begun large scale immigration at least 20 years ago but government after government have buried their heads in the sand or frankly been too rascist to deal with it.

  • I am not so sure that it’s a matter of increasing immigration, as figuring out how to be fair to people who are already here. I think 90% of the problem is that there is a political ethic in place that seeks to push out the foreigners who arrive. (Even those from countries like America that help provide for Japan’s defense.)

    China will simply go around Japan, and choke it in 50 years. This will be, because Japan purposely isolated itself.

    Japanese citizenship? I am surprised there are threads about it.

  • Also, I noticed Dr. Peng used the word guest or visitor to describe foreigners in Japan, seemingly ignoring naturalized foreigners. A good first attempt by the CBC, but too shallow for Debito.org readers.
    I would say, however, that just the fact that the piece aired is good for publicizing some of the immigration issues Japan faces.

  • Japan needs large scale immigration to provide services such as nursing care for the elderly and to manufacture goods for export at the scale they have been used to. Creating a more equal society for those NJ residents who are alredy in Japan should be a central part of that drive but I can’t see that happening.

  • Guest? Visitor? I’ve been here for eight years. That’s “foreign resident” to you, thanks doctor. Where do these people get off with their attitude that I’m a great depression style transient? Their ignorance astounds…

  • Dr Peng seems not to know much about Japan, or living in Japan as a foreign resident or naturalized citizen, other than what appears to be second-hand information and somewhat half assed, stereotypical generalizations.

    Good they got Debito, a real expert.

    Why the doctor?


  • I can’t find much information on Ms. Peng other than what appears on the university website. What is her nationality? Where was she born? has she ever lived in Japan? Does she speak Japanese? Is she the same Ito Peng that appears in the SexTV documentary?:


    When I get time I’ll listen to the interview, but I’m at work and can’t do it right now.

    Anyway, from what I’ve read here so far, she seems to have a limited understanding on what problems immigrants face in Japan and merely perpetuates the normal attitude that foreign looking people can be called foreigners regardless of their nationality.

  • Wow I’m under-whelmed by the job the CBC did. I’d write them with a complaint about their fact checking. Unfortunately their butts are covered by the editorial nature of the program.

    Maybe you can do an interview for the retraction?

    For anyone else who wants to chime in with their 二円 http://www.cbc.ca/contact/

    Ryan V

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